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Rockwall treasure hunter enjoys ‘Thrill of the Chase’

Tracey Tousley treasure hunting at Arkansas River Royal Gorge. Photo by Robert Pritz.

ROCKWALL, TX (August 21, 2014) Treasure hunter Tracey Tousley might not have struck gold on her latest trip to Colorado, but the retired Scout leader and Clinical Neuromuscular Myotherapist says she found something even more valuable: ADVENTURE.

Since the release of the latest clue in May 2013, the Rockwall resident has been embarking on trips to the Rocky Mountains to search for the famous Forrest Fenn treasure.

Fenn is a multi-millionaire writer and art dealer who was diagnosed with cancer in 1988. He planned to hide a chest full of gold and gemstones in the wilderness and die there peacefully. When he survived the disease, he decided to wait and hide the treasure years later, and did so in 2010. Fenn released a book called “The Thrill of the Chase” containing a poem with nine clues about the treasure’s whereabouts. Fenn recently released a statement saying the treasure has not yet been found.

Tousley first heard about the treasure during a TV broadcast in which Fenn shared an extra clue to prevent hunters from digging up graves in pursuit of the treasure. This piqued her interest, and prompted her to purchase Fenn’s book.

“His book is a memoir of his life,” Tousley said. “It’s simply his way of leaving a legacy. People want to understand him, his way of life and the way he thinks, so they buy his book hoping for some insight to where he possibly may have hidden the treasure. It has rejuvenated my hunger for the thrill of adventure.”

Tousley’s method of treasure hunting is based upon her knowledge of the Rockies from traveling there on her own in the past. Her first attempt to decipher the clues led her to Yellowstone National Park. She explained that a particular phrase of the poem, “where warm waters halt,” caught her attention. Tousley decided to search Mammoth Hot Springs as her starting point. She eventually moved on to the northernmost waterfall in the park, Undine Falls, following a clue that references being wise. “Undine was named for wise, usually female water spirits from German mythology who lived around waterfalls and who could gain souls by marrying mortal men,” she said.

Tousley continued decoding key words in the poem and seeking out the hidden chest until tragedy struck in September 2013. While searching in the mountains near Glen Haven, Colorado, Tousley was trapped mountainside by a flash flood. Her van was stuck at the top of the mountain, and she was stranded with a volunteer firefighter and several other survivors.

“The Big Thompson River washed down the canyon taking anything in its path with it,” she said. “I heard debris hitting the bottom of the mountain and could feel vibrations in the ground with my feet. It took several hours to absorb what was happening. Partly, I was in denial. It was just too much to digest at once.”

Flood waters, rubble and debris cover Highway 34. Photo courtesy of Justin King.

After three days without fresh water or electricity, Tousley’s survival instincts kicked in. She ventured to the edge of the water and found a military first aid kit full of supplies and medicine.

“It was the first ray of hope in three days,” she said.

Tousley said initially there was speculation that the group could be trapped on the mountain for several months. To her relief, the National Guard rescued Tousley and the other survivors in a helicopter the very same day.

“It was terrifying, exciting and challenging all at the same time,” she said. “It was just all part of the thrill, and I wouldn’t change it for the world.”

The Loveland Colorado Fire Rescue Authority rescues survivors on the Big Thompson River, between Drake and Glen Haven on Highway 34. There were two children in the zip line. Photo courtesy of Justin King.

Despite that misfortune, Tousley’s enthusiasm for the hunt was not curbed. This July, she embarked on a two-week journey to retrieve some of her belongings lost in the flood and to continue her search in Colorado. Although she returned from the trip empty handed, she said the experience was ultimately fulfilling because of the many things she has learned.

Tracey examines a piece of Highway 34, still lying in a pile of debris from the flood. Photo submitted by Tracey Tousley.

“Mr. Fenn has a way of making me think,” she said. “I would love to find the treasure, but I am also fine with hunting it forever. I have learned so much from Forrest—he doesn’t even know…I love that he is extraordinary and thinks outside the box.”

Tousley’s admiration for Fenn stems not only from his brilliant mind, but also for the way he encourages his readers to live life to the fullest.

“Mr. Fenn is leaving a legacy,” she said. “Isn’t that what we all want to do: leave this earth better than we found it with a message? I think he wants people to know how he lived and why. He has had a great life and I for one am glad he chose to share it with us. Mr. Fenn is my hero, and when I grow up, I want to be just like him.”

Rather than discouraging the competition of fellow treasure hunters, Tousley welcomes anyone who shares an interest in “the thrill of the chase” and love of the outdoors.

“I don’t think anything makes Forrest Fenn happier than when a family first discovers the treasure riddle,” she said. “What a wonderful project for a family to do together. People have learned important lessons and gained valuable knowledge while having fun treasure hunting.”

So far, Tousley’s treasure hunt has led her to Colorado, Wyoming, and Montana. Her next destination? Forrest Fenn’s homeland. “My next trip is to New Mexico,” she said. “It’s time to meet Forrest Fenn.”

By Blue Ribbon News staff writer and reporter Julie Anne White. Flood/rescue photos courtesy of Justin King, justinkingphotography.com.

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