In 2010, Forrest Fenn, a millionaire art dealer and self-taught archaeologist, buried a treasure worth millions somewhere in the Rockies. The now 87-year-old estimates that 350,000 people have gone searching for it since, with no luck so far.
Years ago Fenn said he was getting about 100 emails a day but, after CNBC Make It covered his story recently, he said his inbox was filling up with closer to 50 emails an hour. Most who reach out offer thanks or express criticism, and many share how the Fenn Treasure has affected their lives.
The emails he gets, he says, generally fall into these categories:
The main guidance Fenn has offered is a 24-line poem he wrote in his memoir, "The Thrill of the Chase." Many of the emails come from eager treasure hunters fishing for extra hints. "They try to bait me," he tells CNBC Make It.
"Have you ever hiked just south of Brown Canyon National Monument?" one person recently inquired.
People also ask for his assistance on matters unrelated to the treasure hunt. "I am surprised that [there are] so many people who say they are sick and ask for help," Fenn says. People email claiming to be going through tough times and request assistance, citing a disability, sick mother or another unmanageable expense.
Some insist the money could be put to better use if he donated the treasure's value. "I just wonder why you have made it so difficult for someone to get a little of your treasure when there are so many people who can benefit from your treasure right now, instead of 1,000 years from now?" one woman wrote him.
Others think the treasure is being put to great use already. "Your challenge gives me hope that we can find a way to encourage people to interact with each other and get outside more," someone wrote.
Fenn has said that encouraging families to spend more time in nature is his ultimate goal. "I hope parents will take their children camping and hiking in the Rocky Mountains," he said. "I hope they will fish, look for fossils, turn rotten logs over to see what's under them, and look for my treasure."
Others write Fenn to tell him how he has affected their lives. One man told him how his small town in Alabama hosted its own hunt for an $11,000 treasure, which led to a broader trash clean-up initiative. A kindergarten teacher emailed to tell him his students try to decipher his poem in the afternoons.
When an email is short and simple, Fenn's typical response is something like: "Good luck to you, John. --f." He doesn't usually read the longer emails, but sometimes he does and they prove worth it.
For instance, a U.S. Air Force Major recently reached out to tell Fenn, who is a former Vietnam fighter pilot, that he might be able to reunite Fenn with the two crew members who once rescued Fenn in an incident the millionaire recounted in his memoir. The Major invited Fenn to come speak to his squadron, and Fenn says he plans to accept.
But if the Airmen expect to get any clues about the treasure, they'll likely be disappointed, just like everyone else. Fenn is committed to secrecy.
"I stay quiet about it when I am with others," he tells CNBC Make It. "I was talking with a man who said he could read minds. He asked me where the treasure was and I quickly thought of a place where it wasn't. He didn't know, but I was not going to take any chances."
Like this story? Like CNBC Make It on Facebook!