A treasure hunter from Virginia has been rescued for the third time in three years from the same rugged area in Wyoming by the Park County Sheriff's Search and Rescue.
Madilina Taylor, 41, of Lynchburg, Va., was found safe Monday after prompting a helicopter search of the Jim Mountain trails west of Cody, said the Park County Sheriff’s Office.
At about 12:40 p.m. Monday, Park County rescuers responded to a report of an overdue hiker at Jim Mountain trailhead. A nearby resident reported seeing a woman get out of a 2001 Dodge SUV and hike up the trail on Friday.
The witness said the woman appeared to be poorly equipped for the backcountry. She carried a small bag and was wearing sweat pants and a light jacket. He said the Dodge was still at the trailhead and he believed it had not moved for three days. A search of a national database determined Taylor owned the Dodge SUV.
On June 26, 2013, Taylor was rescued with her boyfriend Frank Eugene Rose Jr., after the pair spent four days lost in the forest. They were found in the Big Creek area of the Star Hill Ranch. The couple were suffering from exposure, and high water had prevented them from crossing Big Creek.
On June 14, 2015, Taylor fell and broke her ankle in the same area. She had to be airlifted to receive medical attention. After this incident, Rose and Taylor told emergency personnel they were in the area both times looking for treasure hidden by art dealer and author Forrest Fenn. Fenn claimed to hide a treasure worth millions of dollars somewhere in the Rocky Mountains and wrote two books with clues to its location, the release said.
The couple was warned after the second rescue not to return to the area without training in wilderness survival and told they faced arrest if found on private property in the future.
After the report on Monday, search crews performed an aerial search of the areas Taylor and Rose were previously found and the Jim Mountain trails. The search was called off after two hours because there was no way to tell which direction Taylor traveled or whether she was still in the backcountry, the release said.
At about 10 p.m., Taylor emerged uninjured from the wilderness near the Grizzly Ranch. She said she saw the search plane but didn’t think she was lost so she didn’t signal. She reported seeing grizzly bears on three separate occasions during her time in the wilderness and “had had enough.” Ranchers gave Taylor a ride back to her vehicle. She said she intended to drive back to the East and had no intentions of returning.
The release said Rose is suspected of accompanying her on the recent trip but was not seen during the incident.
Lance Mathess, public information officer and head of search and rescue for the Park County Sheriff's Office, said the cost of rescue operations isn't very high because searchers are volunteers. The two-seat, single-engine Aviat Husky aircraft is relatively cheap to fly with fuel expenses running about $50 per hour. The woman will not be charged for the response, and the sheriff's office cannot prevent the treasure hunters from returning to the public land in the future.
"The only thing the sheriff’s office can do is arrest them for trespassing on private property, if they go on private property," Mathess said. "For the most part they’re on national forest land."
He said all three times the couple have entered and exited the back country in the same locations.
Mathess said he hasn't read Fenn's books but knows the author has ties to the Cody and is familiar with the surrounding area. He thinks the couple saw specific landmarks they believe correspond with clues from the book and are returning to search a precise location. Their strong conviction will likely draw them back to the area again, but Mathess hopes they add backcountry survival guides to their reading list.
He said the treasure-hunting mindset makes it unlikely the couple will tell anyone exactly where they're hiking but they should at least leave a note on their vehicle detailing how long they expect to be in the forest.
"People from the big cities and metropolitan areas are so used to help being just a phone call away," Mathess said. "I just think they have financial blinders on or economic blinders on. They can’t see anything but the treasure."
Taylor and Rose aren’t the only Fenn treasure seekers to require a search and rescue operation. Randy Bilyeu, of Broomfield, Colo., set out with a raft and his dog to look for the treasure in a section of the Rio Grande river near Santa Fe, N.M. The raft and dog were later found, but Bilyeu has not been located. Fenn even joined the search after the official effort was called off. He chartered a helicopter and spent nine hours over three days looking for Bilyeu.
The Travel Channel is airing an episode of "Expedition Unknown" on Wednesday featuring the search for Fenn's treasure.
On Wednesday, Fenn said one or two treasure hunters go missing while searching for his treasure every year. Most are found alive. A few years ago, a man was rescued by a helicopter from a snow-covered mountain after an unexpected night in the wilderness.
“It’s always a concern but what do you do about that?” Fenn said. “A man goes hunting in the woods and gets lost, who do you blame? The man? The game? The fish? Who?”
Fenn is an 84-year-old retired United States Air Force Pilot who moved to Santa Fe in 1972 and started a career as an art dealer. He has also written 10 books. He said he hid the treasure about six years ago, before he finished writing his memoir "Thrill of the Chase."
Fenn adamantly maintains the treasure chest is not a hoax. He described the box as 10 inches by 10 inches and 5 inches deep. He’s never speculated on the total value or had the chest’s contents appraised. But he said he mostly filled it with gold because of its small size and high value.
Fenn said the box contains 20.2 troy pounds of gold including 265 coins and gold nuggets, some as large as a “chicken’s egg.” There’s also precious gems including rubies, emeralds and diamonds. He even threw in a couple pre-Columbian bracelets he said are more than 2,000 years old. The chest weighs 42 pounds loaded.
He said he decided to hide the treasure at the height of the Great Recession to give people hope. Anyone could go out and strike it rich while spending time with loved ones in nature.
“I wanted a man and his wife to get their kids off the couch, out of the game room and out in the mountains looking for treasure,” Fenn said.
Nine clues are included in a 24-line poem published in "Thrill of the Chase." He’s also said the treasure is hidden in the Rocky Mountains somewhere north of Santa Fe but south of the Canadian border. Most hunters are searching in New Mexico, according to Fenn.
He said he hid the box himself and hasn’t confided the location to anyone. He plans to take the secret to his grave. But he did offer some personal history that could make southern Montana and northern Wyoming prime hunting grounds.
Fenn said he grew up in Temple, Texas, but his father was a school teacher and the family spent their summers in West Yellowstone where coincidentally he sold the Billings Gazette and Montana Standard in his early teen years.
He has spent a lot of time in Cody as a former member of the board of trustees and current emeritus at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West. Fenn is also a lifelong pilot. He enjoyed flying into the Billings Logan International Airport and frequently visited the site of the Battle of the Little Bighorn.