Why your next Utah hike may make you $20K richer

John Maxim, left, and David Cline announce plans to hide $20,000 in the Utah wilderness during a press conference in Salt Lake City on Tuesday. This is the fourth time they’ve organized a treasure hunt. The chest pictured was made for them by a fan of the treasure hunts but will not be used to hide the treasure.

John Maxim, left, and David Cline announce plans to hide $20,000 in the Utah wilderness during a press conference in Salt Lake City on Tuesday. This is the fourth time they’ve organized a treasure hunt. The chest pictured was made for them by a fan of the treasure hunts but will not be used to hide the treasure. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)


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SOUTH SALT LAKE — John Maxim and David Cline had an interesting idea two years ago in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns.

They decided to hide $5,000 in a treasure chest somewhere in the Wasatch Mountain foothills, providing clues online to help people find it. The pair of real estate investors figured it would be a fun activity to get people's minds off COVID-19, while they also got to enjoy Utah's outdoor splendor.

"It was more like the pandemic sucks right now and why can't we all be Indiana Jones? That would be great," Maxim explained.

It seemed to work, as thousands of people took up the challenge in the first year. They brought it back last year, placing $10,000 in the treasure chest. They estimate close to 20,000 people trekked into the wilderness before the loot was discovered.

The exploration interest it has had over the past two years is why the two have decided on a third adventure, upping the ante by placing $20,000 in cash inside the treasure chest to be hidden somewhere in Utah's natural splendor.

The hunt will begin Friday when the two will reveal clues about the location on their individual social media pages. They will post a new clue every week until the money is discovered.

Their goal is to make it a little harder this year, so they can break their current hide-and-seek record of 17 days.

"We always underestimate the brilliance of the community, so we're hoping this year we can beat our record of 17 days and go a little bit longer — just for people to have more time to get out on the trails and look for this," Cline said. "We're excited for this year."

The treasure hunt hasn't always been fun, though. Salt Lake County Search and Rescue issued a warning last summer after a 49-year-old hiker injured his foot badly enough while searching for the treasure chest that he needed to be rescued out of Ferguson Canyon. County officials added that they encountered plenty of people who weren't prepared for the hiking conditions that day, as well.

Last year's chest was ultimately discovered in Heughs Canyon, just north of Ferguson Canyon by Cottonwood Heights.

Cline said safety concerns are why the two want this year's riddle to be harder than the hike. This year's location will be close to a trail that doesn't involve rock climbing or any "crazy" activity. If you feel like a mountain goat searching for the treasure, you're on the wrong path.

"You follow a trail pretty much the entire time. It's just right off a trail," he said. "It's a dance, it's a tiptoe to kind of make it ... possible but difficult enough where people can't figure it out in a few (days)."

John Maxim, left, and David Cline put $20,000 into a chest during a press conference in the Best Buy parking lot in South Salt Lake on Tuesday, May 31, 2022, as they announce plans to hide the money in the Utah wilderness. This is the fourth time they’ve organized a treasure hunt. Maxim and Cline said it will be very close to a hiking trail and won’t require any digging. The chest pictured was made for them by a fan of the treasure hunts but will not be used to hide the treasure.
John Maxim, left, and David Cline put $20,000 into a chest during a press conference in the Best Buy parking lot in South Salt Lake on Tuesday, May 31, 2022, as they announce plans to hide the money in the Utah wilderness. This is the fourth time they’ve organized a treasure hunt. Maxim and Cline said it will be very close to a hiking trail and won’t require any digging. The chest pictured was made for them by a fan of the treasure hunts but will not be used to hide the treasure. (Photo: Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

Don't bother to bring a shovel either because the treasure chest is hidden and not going to be buried underground, Maxim adds.

They're spreading out the hints this time around with the hope that it will prolong the hunt.

Maxim and Cline said they do plan on bringing the event back next year but they seem content with keeping the prize at $20,000 at the moment. They believe it's the right number to get people interested without having people get too crazy that it gets out of hand.

They believe the interest it generates online and outdoors is money well spent.

"For us, the real treasure is seeing families and friends rekindle their love for the outdoors and for each other," Cline said. "It's so fun to see everyone from a group of high school friends looking for it to some retirees with their grandkids. With social media, we can just follow along with hundreds of people every day out in different spots."

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Carter Williams is an award-winning reporter who covers general news, outdoors, history and sports for KSL.com. He previously worked for the Deseret News. He is a Utah transplant by the way of Rochester, New York.

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