It was a dark and rainy night and I was wide-awake thinking about a problem in which I was to figure out one of those natural history things that can be oh, so frustrating, yet oh, so much fun: why did a shrubby live-oak chaparral species grow in profusion in some places and not in others just a foot or two away?
The next morning, I sat at my desk sucking on an acorn as I pondered the same question, when an ecology professor I knew stopped in and asked what was wrong. I explained the problem, told him that I had tried everything and had come up with exactly nothing but a bag full of acorns. He stared at his corral dusted boots for a while and then asked if I had another acorn—I did. He popped it into his mouth and began staring at the ceiling formulating his response.
Now, being a more or less observant itinerate, I have learned that teachers, mentors, and sages come in all kinds, shapes, sizes and ages and the cowboy standing there beside my desk was about to become one of them.
He didn’t say, “Try it this way,” or “Try it that way,” or “Try it all again.” What he did say was, “Take a break.” “ Just go up there alone for a couple of days. Ride the back roads, look at stuff, and the only objective for the whole trip should be to have an ice cream cone in Sedona.” (This was when Sedona had maybe five houses, a church and a rustic restaurant hanging out over the river that had the only freezer within 50 miles—I loved that place).
So, to quote Kit Carson and to shorten the story: “I done so.”
And lo and behold, things clicked, eyes opened, the world smelled nice and ice cream never tasted better.
I tell this story because after spending more time than I should trying to fathom Forrest Fenn’s memory as well as his tea drinking habits and finding that “red, green and black” led to a promising search area of more or less 15,000,000 acres north and west of Santa Fe, I remained stumped and thought of an old sage with dirty jeans and cowboy boots who sucked acorns. And then I began to secretly plan a trip to Yellowstone just to look at stuff; and, the sooner the better, because New Mexico was burning.
Of course, this does not mean that preparation and homework would not be required so I went once again to REI and bought their only book on the national parks of Wyoming and Montana and then ventured once again into the mind of Forrest Fenn via his Memoir. I finished the books in a couple of hours and began looking for more references on western national parks on the internet machine. What I found were a few hundred articles on geysers and waterfalls, several geology references and a bunch of articles on fishing. Noting the quantity of space dedicated to fish and fishing in the Memoir I then Googled specifically, “Fishing in Yellowstone” and got back a large package of interesting information like the fact that, although introduced into the waters of the Yellowstone, the brown trout was one of the most sought after of the several species of fish that now occur there. Then I Googled “brown trout Yellowstone” and got back—wait for it—a map of brown trout distribution in Yellowstone National Park.
Of course, brown trout have been introduced into nearly all of the coolish waters of the Western Hemisphere, including the Rio Grande, but that fact didn’t slow me down. I went back to the Memoir and was stopped by the photograph of Forrest’s “Secret Fishing Hole” on page 124. What stopped me was that there was something vaguely familiar about it.
My mind went back nearly fifty years to a small lake in Puyehue National Park in Southern Chile. Rumor had it that this lake was full of brown trout put there by early 20th century German immigrants. I say “rumor” because friends and I had tried several times to catch said trout and we were not only always “skunked” but we were also eaten alive by the fierce Chilean tábano, a horsefly the size of an actual horse that has a bite that will take large chunks out of exposed and unexposed parts alike. But then one Fall day after the first frost and the tábanos had all gone to wherever tábanos go for the winter, we were walking along the stream that fed into the lake when I looked down and there it was—Forrest Fenn’s secret fishing hole!
Of course, it really wasn’t his secret fishing hole. His secret fishing hole is like 43˚N, 110˚W while this one was 46˚S, 72˚W, a difference of over 6000 miles. Nevertheless, the phenomena were the same; it was spawning time at the secret fishing hole and, I am told, his secret fishing hole resembles in surprising detail the hottest singles bar in Cody, Wyoming.
I also noted the two pages of photos of Forrest’s family holding up the fruits of what must have been several days of really, really good fishing, with identifying captions of where it all happened. Taking special note of the photo of a young Forrest standing in front of a water spigot captioned “Water Hole,” I recognized the exact spot from earlier forays into web-world and made a “memo to self” to visit that spot and everything around it on my trip up north.