ST. GEORGE- Legends of abandoned gold mines, hidden caches of Spanish silver and lost cities of ancient civilizations have long captivated residents of the American West, once drawing thousands of treasure hunters from near and far to explore canyons, caves and remote cliffs.
Today, everyday Utahns carry on the tradition by emulating annual events like the Summit Rock Hunt or the Utah Treasure Hunt. But a team of local treasure hunters wants to put the old legends to the test: and they start in southern Utah.
Timothy Draper, founder of Treasures in America, is a native of Utah with decades of personal and professional treasure hunting experience. Along with a team of close friends and scholars, Draper began production on “Uncharted Expedition”: a web series aimed at investigating stories of lost riches through historical research and real-world exploration.
“We got all of our talents together and said, ‘Let’s show our story,'” Draper said. “We wanted to show a real treasure hunt. Each episode will focus on a different location with a different treasure or legend. People are going to see that there’s Spanish stuff here, Native American stuff, Chinese stuff, and maybe even ancient Egyptian stuff in this area.
It might sound far-fetched, but Draper readily admits he hopes to challenge the established narrative — or at least fill in the missing gaps in the historical record.
While the legends explored in the first season will be a mixture of the familiar and the obscure, the series’ overarching goal is twofold: to make new discoveries and maintain authenticity without distorting the process or discoveries of the crew.
Shaun Fotheringham, head climber and safety specialist, said he also hopes the series will educate local residents about regional history and inspire people to do their own research.
“A lot of people don’t know that the Spanish Trail runs through our backyard,” he said. “They built old Route 91 right over it.”
There are plenty of stories of Native American tribes clashing with the Spaniards as they passed, Fotheringham said, adding that either the Spaniards had enough time to skim their treasure or the Native Americans grabbed it and took it. threw them in a cave somewhere.
“There are a lot of stories to that effect in this area, so it’s really exciting for us to dive into that,” he said.
Besides Draper and Fotheringham, the show draws on the expertise and talents of Todd Anderson, miner and prospector; Chuch Zitting, Chief Videographer; Marc Hoover, detective and diver; Antonio Mendez, researcher and interpreter; and Josh Blodgett, production manager.
The relatively large cast deviates from the standard mold of similar reality TV shows, Draper said, and goes against the secretive and possessive habits of many real-life fans.
“If you contact treasure hunters anywhere in the United States, they’ll tell you, ‘I work alone and I like it – that way when I find the treasure, it’s all mine,'” a- he declared. “I think power comes in numbers. There’s no way I can be an expert in every aspect we do there.
While several members of the crew had years of experience as amateurs, others were introduced to the lifestyle by participating in the show.
Zitting, who brought his photography and filmmaking talents to the show’s production, took a crash course in becoming a true Indiana Jones while trying to save everyone in the process.
“Before, I probably missed most things and didn’t even know what they were,” Zitting said. “With these guys, I can now recognize things like, ‘Yeah it’s Spanish, it’s part of this or that…’ It’s really fun to know the history of it all.”
So what happens if a team member makes a discovery on the show? As a general rule, it is crucial to know what laws govern the recovery of objects of historical significance before any attempt is made to claim or relocate them.
For the cast and crew of “Uncharted Expedition,” that means careful planning and getting permission from the person responsible for each location visited.
“We have worked with museums and historical societies in the past, and will work with them in the future,” Anderson said. “The law depends on where you find something: if it’s on private land, you deal with the owner. Public land can get a little risky, but you have to work within the system.
According to the Bureau of Land Management, most artifacts and objects over 100 years old are off limits to private collectors. If a visitor finds anything of archaeological significance, they should notify the authorities and leave it where it was found.
Draper, Fotheringham and the rest of the crew are keeping the lid on all the discoveries made so far after filming the first six episodes. Production began in February 2022 and will continue through the summer and fall, with the first season featuring primarily Utah locations and a goal to expand out of state in during the following seasons.
“Uncharted Expeditionwill premiere on November 25 with new episodes to be released weekly on Amazon Prime Video, iTunes and YouTube. Those interested in learning more or following the progress of the new show through its ongoing production can follow the show’s Facebook page.
Whatever clues or riches are revealed from week to week, the people behind the new show are excited to share their findings and contribute to the long tradition of American treasure hunting.
“We don’t want to take anything away from anyone – we want to add something,” Draper said. “If we make a big discovery and we disappear, we lose our show and we lose our credibility. We plan to share our discoveries with the public and share this lost story, which in some ways I think is much more important than gold, silver or artifacts.
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