The challenge and intrigue associated with the hunt for buried treasure is ingrained in our culture thanks to Indiana Jones, Lara Croft, and Jack Sparrow. I buried one and left a map behind. This is its story.
My three brothers and I have enjoyed backpacking together for 30 years in the many majestic Wilderness Areas in the western U.S. Being together has always been important to us. We come from a large family with a tradition of annual family reunions in central Illinois, The Flatlands.
The Mountains were discovered in college. I was smitten instantly by them and took up my wool blanket and boy scout pack to schlepp into the wilds every chance I could get in Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado. In 1980 my brothers and I made our first backpacking trip together to Vermejo Park Ranch in northern New Mexico where I was working as a forester. All were then smitten. Since that single trip, an annual one- or two-week trek to different Wilderness Areas out West has become our “tradition”. We each have unending and endearing stories about our many great adventures and the fishing, injuries, violent weather, and endless campfire debates to persuade the other to another view of things.
In 1996 while sitting way out in the Weminuche Wilderness in southern Colorado, we discussed how to encourage our young children to love the outdoors and each other as we did. We considered it tragic if they didn’t grow up to enjoy each other and the impressive Wilderness Areas as we had. So we decided to create “The Tully Brothers’ Treasure Hunt”, and in 1997, we buried a treasure in the Popo Agie Wilderness Area.
The plan was to bury a treasure with enough bounty to make it well worth any group of descendants to make the long trip and hunt the treasure. Then, should they find it, there would be enough riches that they would consider the adventure well worth the expense. In the process, we hoped our shared love for the mountains and each other would infect their lives and they would begin their own family traditions.
So here’s how we did it. We took the USGS 7½” topo map containing the treasure’s location and created thirteen jigsaw puzzles (one for each child). One Christmas Eve sitting around the tree in 1997 each child received the border pieces (and a few more) framed (for safe keeping). We held back many important “key” pieces. Then over the next ten years we gave a few more pieces of the map to our children at Christmas and on their birthdays. By 2007 (when the youngest child was 18 and old enough to endure a rigorous backpacking trip into the Wilderness) each child had the entire map and sufficient information to go hunt the treasure.
But to keep the hunt interesting a riddle was written across the front of the map puzzle:
“Where 2 lines meet west of a lake an island pyramid stands SSE looms a gray rock ledge etched across with 2 white strands on top a waist-high rock awaits engraved with Gini’s name under a hidden treasure lies filled with fortune and fame”To identify the precise location of the buried treasure we had to be a little more creative. Simply placing an “X” on the map to mark “the spot” would be too easy. So we added several. They will need to carefully examine the map puzzle, decode the riddle, and figure out how to use the X’s to find the treasure.
But if that was all, any one or small group of our kids could just take off at any time and retrieve the treasure and never tell their cousins. We needed a way to ensure that the treasure could not be found unless they all worked together. This is where the story gets really interesting and of which I cannot describe in detail because our kids still don’t know the multi-faceted nature of this treasure hunt. There is much more than what is simply printed on the map. I can say that even with the map in hand the “treasure” cannot be located until all 13 map puzzles are reviewed together. You see, there are other bits of information printed on each map puzzle that are the real “key” to the treasure and cannot be understood until after the treasure indicated on the map is unearthed and interpreted in light of all 13 map puzzles.
We also needed to provide an incentive for our children (& the parents of the younger kids in 1997) to protect the map puzzles over time from loss or destruction. So in 1997 when we introduced the Tully Brothers’ Treasure Hunt to our kids, nieces, and nephews, we gave them each a letter from the four Brothers explaining the adventure:
“Attention to detail and cunning will be needed to find the treasure. If anyone succeeds, the booty will be divided amongst you based on the number of puzzle pieces you still possess.”Their share in the riches will be proportional to the number of puzzle pieces they can produce. It is imperative they protect their map puzzles in case the treasure is ever discovered so they can get their share whether or not they participated in the adventure of the hike.
Finally, they were all forewarned in our 1997 Christmas letter:
“By working together, you or your descendants may be able to find the Tully Brothers’ Treasure. Until the puzzle is complete, take every opportunity to hike and camp with your families and friends. A strong heart, sound body and thorough knowledge of the wilderness will be required. Any expedition to recover the treasure may result in serious personal harm for the inexperienced, and the treasure may remain hidden forever. Prepare for the adventure of a lifetime!”Thus far, no attempts to retrieve the treasure have been made. Should our children have insufficient wilderness skills or compulsion to “hunt the treasure” then it will remain where it lies hidden forever. But our hope, in the end, is that our children and their young families will see that “family” is the real treasure and that what they have in each other is worth far more, and is far more exciting than any buried treasure in the Popo Agie…but enjoy the hunt!