Treasure hunters rescued from North Fork backcountry

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The lure of a Sante Fe man’s hidden gold got a pair of out-of-state residents stranded in some North Fork backcountry on Sunday — making it two out of three summers that they’ve had to be rescued from the area.

Madilina L. Taylor, 41, and boyfriend Frank E. Rose Jr., 40 — both of Lynchburg, Virginia — had been hiking a couple miles inside the Shoshone National Forest and north of Road 6BU (at the western edge of the Wapiti Valley) when Taylor fell and broke her ankle, according to information from the Park County Sheriff’s Office.

Taylor had to be located by members of the Park County Search and Rescue team and then taken by helicopter to St. Vincent Healthcare in Billings, the sheriff’s office said in a Tuesday news release.

The couple later told authorities they’d been out seeking the treasure of Forrest Fenn, a Sante Fe art and antiques dealer who says he’s hidden a box filled with jewels and gold worth over $1 million somewhere in Montana, Wyoming, Colorado or New Mexico.

Taylor fell around 6 a.m. while northeast of the East Fork drainage of Big Creek, the sheriff’s office said. Rose then hiked a couple miles south, toward U.S. Highway 14-16-20, before summoning help from people at the Grizzly Ranch off of Road 6BU.

“He (Rose) was calling across the creek to residents of the ranch that his girlfriend was injured, they were in need of assistance and he couldn’t cross the creek due to it being so high,” sheriff’s office spokesman Lance Mathess said in the release. Rose, whose feet had become badly blistered from footwear not intended for hiking, said he’d fallen into the water and lost his wallet and cell phone trying to get across.

Authorities were called at 11:20 a.m. Sunday.

Responding Search and Rescue members helped Rose across the creek. He explained that he’d left Taylor in an open meadow, wrapped up in a silver reflective safety blanket.

“Rose attempted to explain where she was by using a few fixed landmarks, and with the assistance of some local residents and the (Search and Rescue) team, Taylor was finally located,” Mathess said.

Rose and Taylor put themselves in a similar predicament back in June 2013. In that instance, they reportedly set out on a day hike from the Jim Mountain Trailhead but became lost and reportedly spent four days wandering the backcountry. The couple ultimately made their way to the bank of Big Creek near the Star Hill Ranch (just north of the Grizzly Ranch at the end of Road 6BU) and summoned help. Rose and Taylor were uninjured in that instance, but because of their exhaustion, they had to be helped across the creek’s swift waters by Search and Rescue personnel.

After Sunday’s incident, “deputies strongly recommended that Rose and Taylor not return to this area without proper training in environmental survival skills and he was warned that they would be arrested for trespassing if caught on private property in the future,” Mathess said. “Rose advised that he and Taylor would not return.”

They’re not the first to run into trouble while searching for Fenn’s treasure.

In March 2013, a 34-year-old hiker got lost in the New Mexican wilderness, ran out of water and spent a night outdoors while she looked for the treasure. The following month, a man got in trouble for digging up a memorial in search of the loot.

Fenn’s biggest clues to the treasure’s location come from a poem contained in his 2010 memoir, “The Thrill of the Chase.”

Some are skeptical that a physical treasure actually exists, but many others believe it’s not only real, but also within or near Yellowstone National Park. (Fenn frequently visited the park as a child, including camping at Fishing Bridge.)

One of the most prominent and dedicated seekers of Fenn’s treasure, Dal Neitzel, actually spent some time searching the Yellowstone area a few weeks ago.

Neitzel blogs about the search for the treasure on his website, www.dalneitzel.com, and he said the site gets between 600 and 1,000 hits an hour from visitors around the world.

Fenn has estimated that upwards of 30,000 people flocked to New Mexico last year to look for the treasure, and Neitzel figures at least as many have been searching Wyoming.

“So two rescued out of 30,000 looking doesn’t seem so bad,” Neitzel said in an email to the Tribune. “And those that look in an area for a few days buy food and stay in motels and visit antique shops and fly shops and get gas and rafting trips, so it seems likely that they are useful to the economy.”

The area that Rose and Taylor were searching meets the broad clues that Fenn has given over the years: it’s in the Rocky Mountains north of Sante Fe and it’s between 5,000 and 10,200 feet above sea level. However, Fenn has also indicated that he hid the treasure in a fairly accessible area — one that he was able to reach on foot at the age of 80, and while carrying jewels and valuables.

Neitzel can’t say whether the Virginia couple picked a good place to search.

“I can say that I think there are a lot more places I would have personally looked before I tried that area,” he said. “But everyone’s interpretation of the poem and its clues are different.”

It’s a known fact that Fenn has stashed some of his gold in the area, but it’s not what you might think: the Buffalo Bill Center of West’s vaults hold 1.425 ounces of Klondike gold that Fenn — a past board member — once gifted to the center.

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