Utah treasure hunters search for hidden $25,000

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Treasure hunters search for the hidden $25,000 in Utah. The fifth annual Utah Treasure Hunt is open to anyone to try to find the cash prize. (Payton Pingree)

The Utah Treasure Hunt is underway, with a chest full of $25,000 in cash for whoever finds it.

Every year since 2020, Utah real estate investors David Cline and John Maxim have hid a cash prize somewhere in Utah for people to go out and claim — the biggest challenge being solving the intricate riddle that leads to the treasure.

This year’s riddle for the Utah Treasure Hunt is written in Spanish. The fifth annual Utah Treasure Hunt is open to anyone to try to find the cash prize. (@the.cline.fam via Instagram)

Cline decided to start the treasure hunt during the COVID-19 pandemic, to get people outside and exploring during a difficult time. When thinking of who to call that might be interested in chipping into the cause, Maxim was the first person that came to Cline’s mind.

“I thought it was the greatest idea I’d ever heard,” Maxim said, “and here we are, five hunts later.”

The fifth annual riddle was posted on Saturday, June 15. The most noticeably different factor of this year’s riddle? It is written in Spanish.

Cline explained they get about 100 messages each year requesting for a version of the riddle in Spanish, so they wanted to appease those requests.

“We thought it would be really cool to throw all the treasure hunters a curveball,” he said.

While conducting “research” for the riddle by watching treasure hunt-based movies, Maxim said he noticed the clues are almost always in a foreign language.

“If we’re all daydreaming about being real treasure hunters, we should probably have to do it in a different language too,” he said. “And I think it just adds a huge level of fun to it.”

Maxim shared that, despite a slow start, they have continued to conduct the treasure hunt each year because of the positive feedback they have received from participants.

“The truth it, I don’t know if we’ve said this before, it wasn’t a very big success that first year. But we saw the potential of how great it was and … wanted to see if we could do it really well again,” Maxim said.

After seeing a surge in success during the second treasure hunt in 2021, Maxim said they just could not stop. The two have received many messages from people who struggle with mental illness and family problems sharing how much participating in the treasure hunt has lifted their spirits.

“The main reason we continue to keep going … is just the impact it has on people, always,” Maxim said.

John Maxim reflects on the success of the Utah Treasure Hunt and why they continue to do it. The fifth annual Utah Treasure Hunt is open to anyone to try to find the cash prize. (Payton Pingree)

The treasure hunt has left such a widespread impact on Cline and Maxim’s followers, including inspiring Utah residents Christian Jones, Caden Rhoton and Chad Zollinger to create a podcast to discuss theories about each year’s riddle. The three began the podcast “Cache Me Outside” in 2022, and have since put out multiple episodes each year where they dissect each line of the riddle.

While the podcasters do extensive research on the meanings hidden within the riddle and share some ideas with their audience, they also keep some of their ideas to themselves as they are searching for the treasure too.  

“We enjoy the element of building the community and collaborating with other treasure hunters,” Jones said. “But we are still definitely passionate about the treasure hunt itself and are active in trying to get it.” 

According to Jones, they have been close in their theories some years, but have not yet had success in finding the treasure.  

Creators of the “Cache Me Outside” podcast Chad Zollinger, in the gray polo shirt, and Caden Rhoton, in the black T-shirt, search for the treasure with their families. The fifth annual Utah Treasure Hunt is open to anyone to try to find the cash prize. (Courtesy of Christian Jones)

Jones’ biggest piece of advice for those trying to decipher the riddle is “to spend 90% of your mental energy and focus on the first 2-4 lines, because in every past treasure hunt, those are the most important lines to get you to the right trail and general area.” 

Last year, after the chest was found, Cline took to YouTube to post a video explaining how each line of the riddle gave clues to where the treasure was hidden. Some lines included hints to a monument marker number, the number of feet to hike off the trail and the degrees for lines that connect two locations. Cline admitted that the 2023 poem was “a little bit too complicated,” as it took 51 days for someone to find the treasure.

“We’re tiptoeing on that balance of the Goldilocks poem that is possible but difficult enough that it stumps thousands of people for at least a few weeks,” Cline said. “Every time we organize the poem and write it, the goal is once we reveal the logic behind it, most people will be like, ‘oh man, that makes sense, why didn’t we see that?’”

Those hoping to coax a hint out of Cline or Maxim are not likely to succeed. Cline shared that not even his wife knows where the treasure is hidden. “Loose lips sink ships,” he said.

Cline and Maxim shared that they will be giving hints every Friday until the treasure is found, in their weekly email and on social media. The first hints — a boundary map, punctuation clues and how far off the trail the treasure is hidden — were sent out on Friday, June 21.

“We don’t get too deep with clues until maybe the third week,” Maxim said. “Take two weeks and solve the poem. You can solve the treasure hunt with just the poem.”

BYU alumnus Brice Nokes, also known on Instagram as @treasurehunterwithasign, is one local treasure hunter determined to find the cash prize. He is documenting his experience on social media along the way.

In previous years, Nokes was busy with work and other responsibilities. But with a more flexible schedule this year, he is putting more energy into hiking nearly every day to try to find the treasure.  

“The goal is to search as many days as I can,” Nokes said. “I don’t have a lot of boundaries when it comes to exploring. I just love being out there in the wilderness.” 

Nokes said he felt confident after deciphering the riddle, with some help from his coworkers at BYUtv. He said his current game plan is exploring the area around the Kennecott Copper Mine, as that is where his interpretation of the riddle has led him.  

If Nokes finds the $25,000 prize, he said he will put the money into buying a house.  

Cline and Maxim offered a few helpful tips for those exploring Utah in hopes to find the treasure this year.

Cline explained that the treasure is hidden in a safe location, where even young children could hike to find it. The only danger is the heat, he said, so he advised treasure hunters to bring water on their hikes. And above all else, the point of the hunt is to have fun, they said.

For clues and updates on the hunt, individuals can follow @the.cline.fame and @onthejohn on Instagram and sign up for the weekly email.

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