By Jennifer Kocher, Cowboy State Daily
Ronnie Gonzales appreciates a good mystery. As an avid outdoorsman and climber, he also likes to explore remote terrain in a state he considers his “outdoor playground.” Given his combined interests, it’s probably no surprise that he spent eight years attempting to track down the Forrest Fenn treasure in the Rocky Mountains.
Now, in honor of Fenn and treasure hunting in general, he has hidden his own treasure in Wyoming and is inviting people to join the hunt.
In 2010, Fenn, a wealthy art dealer from New Mexico, self-published his memoir in which he wrote that he had hidden a treasure somewhere in the Rocky Mountains. The memoir contained a poem with clues about where the $2 million treasure could be found. Thousands of people searched for the treasure, Gonzales among them.
The chest of gold and jewels was reportedly found in West Yellowstone in 2020 by a 32-year-old medical student, Jack Stuef, whose identity was leaked following the hacking of his emails and texts to Fenn. There were also a handful of lawsuits challenging the validity of the find as well as Fenn’s role in hiding it, most of which have been thrown out of court. Fenn himself died at his home in Santa Fe, as many speculated on the exact location the treasure was found and whether Fenn shared the secret.
Gonzales later hiked to the spot where it is believed the treasure was found. He’s convinced it is the right place, putting an end to the mystery for himself at least.
Gonzo Treasure Hunt
It was on the drive home from Yellowstone that Gonzales conjured his own treasure hunt in Fremont Canyon near Alcova Reservoir, southwest of Casper.
In mid-May, he launched “The Gonzo Treasure Hunt,” complete with his own poem with cryptic clues on where to find it. It begins with an obscure starting point: “Pay no mind to North, South, East & West. Look to your clock to discover the rest. If you see Matt, stop and give him OUR best. Follow the (knuckles) to discover the chest.”
He’s by no means a poet, Gonzales told Cowboy State Daily Friday, but he wanted to pay homage to Fenn, and mostly, give people a fun excuse to get out of their houses and do some adventuring.
He had been considering doing a treasure hunt for a while, he said. But Gonzales, unlike Fenn, lacked the big bucks to throw together a treasure. Instead, he put together his own box of treasure that means something to him and also has value.
It’s a conglomeration of keepsakes and cool items Gonzales has picked up all over the country throughout his 15-20 years of travels. Along with some cash, there’s “a lot of really cool stuff” like a home-run baseball, collector baseball cards, vintage coins and even a piece of the historic Brown Palace, which is the oldest building in Denver. There’s also a T-shirt from his fizzled-out T-shirt company “Welcome to the Fistfight” as well as some “crazy, old climb gear” and other cool trinkets.
The treasure is buried in a wooden box with eagles on it, which is also one of the clues in his poem.
A Dark, Magical Place
Gonzales chose Fremont Canyon for his treasure hunt, because like Fenn’s childhood connection to Yellowstone, Gonzales has a reverence for the canyon and rugged terrain. It’s a place he finds magical and has spent much of his adult life climbing.
More than finding the treasure, Gonzales said, is discovering the views in a largely unexplored terrain.
“I really wanted to throw it back to Fremont Canyon,” he said. “It’s a place that I go often and that really hasn’t been fully explored because it’s a harsh place with a lot of magic and beauty.”
Along with the steep rock walls and premier fly-fishing, the canyon also has a dark past. In the early 1970s, two sisters were thrown more than 100 feet into North Platte River from the Fremont Canyon Bridge by two men. One of the sisters, 11-year-old Amy Burridge, died from the fall. The other sister, 18-year-old, Rebecca Thomson Brown, was raped before being flung from the bridge which she miraculously survived only to jump or fall from the same bridge decades later at age 37.
In 2001, 28-year-old climber Matt DeWitt perished in the canyon while climbing. DeWitt, along with Micah Rush, are two legends that Gonzales wants to honor with this hunt as legendary climbers who helped put Fremont Canyon on the map.
Despite these infamous encounters, Gonzales said Fremont Canyon is also a place with beautiful terrain and views well worth exploring.
“It’s just an awesome, magical place,” he said.
And though many in the climbing community speculate that Gonzales has hidden the treasure on one of the sheer walls, Gonzales said that you don’t have to be an avid climber to find it.
“You don’t need to be a professional rock climber,” he said. “Anybody could get to it as long as they work hard enough. That’s a clue in itself.”
Along with that clue and those in the poem, he also releases a new one every month. June’s clue was: “If you like wine and roses, then I’ll meet you at 12 o’clock.” July’s clue is a play on the Stealers Wheel song, “Stuck in the Middle With You,” with “I’ve got bridges to the left and dams to the right, and here I am stuck in the middle with you.”
Next month’s clue will be forthcoming in the next couple of weeks, Gonzales said, and so far, the treasure remains unfound.
The Forrest Fenn treasure was one of a few mysteries Gonzales enjoys tracking down in his adventurous life.
Along with hunting for Big Nose George’s allusive treasure that Gonzales believes is hidden somewhere in the Pumpkins Buttes in Campbell County based on a signed map he procured from a woman whose grandfather kept it folded in his billfold, he also helps look for missing people throughout the country. This includes the Gabby Petito case who he tracked from Utah to Jackson.
Another mystery that intrigues him is DB Cooper, the unknown hijacker who parachuted out of a plane with $200,000 in $20 bills, which has never been recovered, save for about $6,000 that washed up on the Columbia River in Oregon in the 1980s. Despite claims by a Georgia pilot that he solved the mystery, Gonzales has his own theories. In fact, he’s in the process of making a short Indy film with a Wyoming twist on the mystery in which a handful of “cowboy kids” get their hands on the ransom money. He hopes to have the film wrapped up soon with a premiere scheduled sometime in September.
In between shooting scenes outside Douglas on Friday, Gonzales talked about his zest for adventure and obscure, off-the-map places that he often finds himself in as part of his day job as a consultant for an oilfield production company.
He has spent a lot of time on oil rigs and drilling locations, an experience he likens to that of a pirate.
“I always felt that we’re (coal miners and oil field hands) kind of tied back to the pirates,” he said. “I feel like if you’re on an oil rig, or you’re out there on a big piece of equipment somewhere, if you blur your eyes long enough, you can believe you’re on a pirate ship.”
He’s always been into pirate movies and the folklore of treasures and all the various mysteries, he said, as well as spending as much time as he can out in nature exploring.
This is his real impetus for launching a treasure hunt – to get people “off their butts” and outside exploring.
“I knew that treasure in itself was more of just getting out in nature and burning calories and just enjoying themselves from different vantage points,” he said.
There’s also the camaraderie in the collective hunt that brings people together. For him, it’s all the unsolved mysteries and folklore that compel his exploration, and he hopes that others will find it equally intriguing.
“It’s just interesting and fun to meet all the cool people that are out there looking for something, whatever they might be chasing in life,” he said.
For more clues and to follow the treasure hunt, see Gonzales’s Facebook page.