Calls to end treasure hunt follow bad logic

The presumed death of a Grand Junction pastor who went missing in pursuit of a treasure purported to be hidden somewhere in the Rocky Mountains north of Santa Fe, N.M., has sparked some misguided calls for the creator of the treasure hunt to call it off.

New Mexico authorities believe a body recovered from the Rio Grande is that of Paris Wallace, a 52-year-old pastor of Connection Church in Grand Junction. If so, Wallace would be the second Coloradan to die searching for Forrest Fenn’s treasure in the same area of northern New Mexico in the past 18 months.

Fenn is an 86-year-old New Mexico author who claims to have hidden gold coins, jewels, precious metals and artifacts worth at least $1 million somewhere in the mountains.

Fenn regularly releases hints through his website about where his treasure is hidden, but the main “map” consists of clues in a poem he wrote called “The Thrill of the Chase.”

Since 2010, the year Fenn says he hid the treasure, thousands of people have flocked to the Rocky Mountains searching for it, But the recent death threatens to end the spectacle. The chief of the New Mexico State Patrol, Pete Kassetas told the Santa Fe New Mexican that Fenn should stop the treasure hunt.

“I would implore that he stop this nonsense,” Kassetas told the paper, adding, ““I think he has an obligation to retrieve his treasure if it does exist.”

Westword published an e-mail interview with Fenn Tuesday indicating he’s seriously considering doing just that.

“How can you grade something against the loss of life?” he wrote. But he offered no timeline on a decision.

With all due respect to the grieving pastor’s family, ending the treasure hunt, we feel, is an overreaction to tragedy. As the Sentinel’s Erin McIntyre reported, Fenn has warned treasure hunters repeatedly to stay away from dangerous terrain. The treasure isn’t in a dangerous place, he’s said, so those scaling peaks and braving raging waters should stop

“Don’t look anywhere where a 79- or 80-year-old man can’t put something,” he told the New Mexican in 2015.

Calls to end the treasure hunt follow muddy logic that we manage to avoid in other cases. For example, no matter how many people die in car collisions, we’re not going to see a ban on auto travel. A person can die hiking without looking for a hidden treasure. Such was the case when an 8-year-old Front Range boy died during a family outing to Hanging Lake. Should hiking in the mountains be outlawed or its inherent dangers? Or sky diving? Or riding bulls?

Fenn’s treasure has inspired some people to engage the natural world and discover the thrill of adventure, possibly for the first time in their lives. The idea of hidden riches adds some spice to life. For some, the quest — the experience of trying to solve a mystery — will prove as fruitful as finding the loot. For all but one party, that’s the most they’ll get out of the treasure hunt, should Fenn let it continue.

Fenn is appropriately concerned that his treasure has become a source of pain. He should remember that it’s also been a source of inspiration, fun, wonder and imagination.


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