Nevertheless, because of this blog, I am sometimes queried by individuals who believe themselves treasure hunters. Two of their questions stand out: “You’ve found it already, haven’t you?” or more often, “Just where are you looking?”
There is another question regarding Forrest Fenn’s treasure that I overheard so it doesn’t really count as someone seeking my advice even though I do know the answer—sort of. I have delayed giving it out because to do so could say far too much. I only do it now because…well, once again, I know you will share the treasure with me if you find it. The question is “What’s a ‘blaze?’”First, before we get into saying what a blaze is, we should mention what it isn’t. That is, a blaze is not graffiti though some graffiti may be significant and go a long way toward proving that you are standing near a spot where someone else once stood. If that person is of interest to you then it seems that that bit of graffiti can count as a “blaze.” The “graffiti” at El Morro National Monument in New Mexico, for example, consist of a large number of “blazes” if you are interested in things like Juan de Oñate’s excursions about the Southwest; and it would have been especially so if you were a part of his party but for some reason found yourself trailing behind on the return to San Juan from his “discovery” of the “Sea of the South.”
Second, there are all kinds of blazes—the white mark on a horse’s nose and forehead; the metaphoric successful first pass or attempt towards anything; the emblem near the breast pocket of the sport coat called, incidentally, a “blazer;” Usain Bolt’s lightening fast speed in the 100 and 200 meter races; the final scenes of Butch Cassidy and the Sun Dance Kid in which they go down in a ‘blaze of glory’; a fire, a lightning strike, a meteor arcing across the sky; trail markers made with any color of paint, surveyor’s tape, metal or plastic disks; spots cut out of a tree’s bark; rocks, sticks, or tufts of grass arranged in certain ways; natural or manmade marks of almost any size and kind occurring almost anywhere that indicate a trail; and, to the detriment of the entire concept, the name of Glenn Beck and friends’ misinformation blog.
Third, our world is full of things that look like blazes even though they are not. Rock and tree falls can knock out a chunk of tree bark identical to those made by humans. Animals (elk, porcupine) often eat the bark off of trees at just the right size and height and these marks can very much resemble a blaze. To make things even more interesting, any of these can still be used as a blaze if the trail maker and trail follower so choose. I have even been told by a Costa Rican when I asked for directions that I needed to turn right “where the giant poplar tree used to be.” Everyone else knew where he meant so why shouldn’t I?
Which brings us to the fourth thing we need to know about blazes; they are temporary and depending on what they are made of, can last from a few hours to hundreds of years—but in the end, they all will disappear. Forest fires or logging can destroy blazes placed on trees; weather will deteriorate paint, plastic and paper; visitors can and do destroy cairns, and natural erosion can take down even the most prominent of geologic formations.
And fifth, the definition of “blaze” that we are looking for can be found in just about any dictionary. What is important about all “blazes” meant to indicate a path toward something is that they do just that; they mark the beginning and/or middle and/or the end points of a path or trail—they signal that you are more or less where you are supposed to more or less be. Recreation managers on public lands use eye-catching blazes and there are a lot of them. On the other hand, marijuana growers on public lands make their blazes hard to see and they are scarce.
Forrest Fenn, because of his interest in history and the out of doors, would be attracted to the method used by the early trappers, explorers and settlers which is a hand-sized piece of bark cut out of a tree about eye level, and/or a conspicuous natural landmark that would remain prominent for a long, long time. But, as far as I know, Forrest Fenn is not in the habit of tagging anything or, for that matter, of knocking chunks out of trees with his axe; he probably used one that was already there—by which I mean the blaze, not the axe.
And last, about that title, “Forrest Fenn to Star in Remake of Blazing Saddles.” I was kidding.