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, remote caves and cliffs.
Now, all Utahns keep the tradition alive by imitating it through 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’re starting in southern Utah.
Timothy Draper, founder of Treasures in America, is a native Utahn with decades of personal and professional treasure hunting experience. Together with a team of close friends and specialists, Draper has begun production on “Uncharted Expedition” – a web series aimed at investigating stories of lost riches through historical research and real-world exploration.
“We brought 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 will see that there are Spanish things here, Native American things, Chinese things, and even possibly ancient Egyptian things in this area.”
It may seem like a stretch, but Draper admits that he hopes to challenge the established narrative, or at least fill in the missing gaps in the historical record.
While the legends explored throughout the first season will be a mix of the familiar and the obscure, the overall goal of the show is twofold: to make new discoveries while maintaining authenticity without misrepresenting the process or the team’s findings.
Shaun Fotheringham, who serves as lead climber and safety specialist, said he also hopes the series will educate local residents about regional history and encourage people to do their own research.
“A lot of people don’t know that the Spanish Trail ran through our backyard,” he said. “They built Old Highway 91 right on top of it.”
There are many stories of Native American tribes clashing with the Spanish when they arrived, Fotheringham said, adding that the Spanish had enough time to hide their treasure or the Native Americans grabbed it and threw it 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 it,” he said.
In addition to Draper and Fotheringham, the show draws on the experience and talents of Todd Anderson, miner and prospector; Chuch Zitting, main cameraman; Marc Hoover, detectorist and diver; Antonio Méndez, digger and interpreter; and Josh Blodgett, production manager.
The relatively large cast departs from the standard mold of similar reality shows, Draper said, and goes against the reserved and possessive habits of many real-life fans.
“If you talk to 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,’” he said. “I think power comes in numbers. There’s no way I can be an expert in every aspect of what we do.”
While several members of the crew had years of previous amateur experience, others were given their first introduction to the lifestyle through participation in the show.
Zitting, who brought his photography and film talents to the show’s production, was given a crash course in becoming a real-life Indiana Jones while trying to record everyone else in the process.
“Before, I probably missed most things and didn’t even know what they were,” Zitting said. “With these guys, now I can recognize things like, ‘Yeah, that’s Spanish, that’s part of this or that…’ It’s really fun to get the history of all of this.”
So what happens if a team member makes a discovery on the show? As a general rule, it is essential to know what laws govern the recovery of historically significant items before attempting to reclaim or move them.
For the cast and crew of “Uncharted Expedition,” that means careful planning and getting permission from whoever is in charge of each location they visit.
“We have worked with museums and historical societies in the past, and we will work with them in the future,” Anderson said. “The law depends on where you find something: if it is on private land, you arrange it with the owner. Public land can be a bit risky, but you have to work within the system.”
According to the Bureau of Land Management, most artifacts and items over 100 years old are off limits to private collectors. If a visitor finds something of archaeological importance, he must notify the authorities and leave it where she found it.
Draper, Fotheringham and the rest of the team keep tabs on any 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 predominantly in Utah locations and the goal of expanding out of state in subsequent seasons.
“unknown expedition” will premiere on November 25 with new episodes dropping weekly on Amazon Prime Video, iTunes, and YouTube. People interested in learning more or following the new show’s progress through its ongoing production can follow the Facebook page of the program.
Whatever clues or riches are revealed week after week, the people behind the new show are excited to share their finds and make their contribution 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 just disappear, we lose our show and we lose credibility. We are planning to share our discoveries with the public and share that lost history, which in a way, I think, is much more important than gold, silver or artifacts.”
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