In the early days of the pandemic, John Maxim and David Cline, to their surprise, checked their bank accounts and discovered COVID-19 stimulus checks deposited by their Uncle Sam.
Cline felt the money “should go to people who really need it,” and had an idea of what to do with the unexpected loot: cash checks, put the money in a chest, hide it in the woods and die let people search for it .
In June 2020, the friends stuffed $5,000 in cash and silver coins into a wooden box, hauled it up a hiking trail above Sandy, and buried the treasure in a hole.
They then wrote an intricate poem about where it was and posted it to their Instagram accounts.
They had no idea how much attention they would get, if any. “We joked that we’d come back in two months and dig it up ourselves because nobody would really care,” John recalls.
But holy God, were they wrong.
Four days and 8 million impressions on Instagram later, the treasure was found.
“We seriously underestimated the brilliance of people,” says David. Not to mention the excitement.
What they didn’t underestimate was how much they would enjoy it.
“We’re just kids at heart,” explains David – he’s 33, John is 43. Both have built successful careers in real estate, to the point that “we have the resources to do really cool things that we love.” would do it myself.”
For some, it might be a trip to Hawaii, restoring vintage Mustangs, or buying jazz tickets on the sidelines.
It’s hidden treasure for these guys.
Inspired by their first attempt, they put together a second hunt a year later in June 2021 and expanded the pot to $10,000. They came up with more elaborate clues that they thought would take a summer to figure out. You have once again underestimated. Found in 17 days, it garnered national and even international attention when European tabloids got wind of it.
That led to a third hunt in September 2021, this time a scavenger hunt using QR codes. It was worth $20,000. John and David contributed half of the money, while a sponsor, Kokonut Island Grill in Salt Lake City, contributed the rest.
Her new website – utahtreasurehunts.com – crashed every day for the first four days she was online. In less than a month it generated 3 million hits.
And yes, they have plans for a new hunt this spring or summer. They keep their maps close to their vests — it’s gotten to the point where they have to wear disguises and use a borrowed car to bury the treasure — over the details. When everything is ready, they will announce it on their website and Instagram accounts, which have each grown to more than 25,000 followers.
The question they get asked all the time, of course, is why are they sticking with it? Why would two dedicated capitalists put their own money—they estimate they’ve spent about $40,000 to date—in a game that makes others rich? Is there an ulterior motive, a hidden agenda, does it help your real estate work?
“Getting more followers doesn’t really help our businesses,” says John. “That’s not why we’re doing it.
“It’s just really fun for us and has a very positive effect on the people who do it.”
The feedback they have received has been overwhelmingly positive and encouraging.
There was one parent who wrote, “My teenager doesn’t even speak to me anymore and now he’s dragging me outside to go on hikes so we can find your sweetheart.” There was the woman with terminal cancer who said , she and her sister had spent three precious weeks together in search of treasure.
Or the couple telling them, “We couldn’t find anything together; now we’re more in love than ever.” Or the businessman isolated at home by the pandemic who said, “I haven’t been outside in months, now I have all these friends.”
People have told them that they went hiking for the first time in years and rediscovered the mountains. Families have sent them photos detailing how much weight they have lost.
“I can’t believe how many people said, ‘I was suicidal and then I found your hunt,'” says John. “They had no reason to live and then they found this. It just blows you away.”
Both men are a bit stunned by what they have done.
“We didn’t plan to do that at all,” says David. “We were just fooling around and doing something we enjoyed and all that stuff, it just happened. It is one of the amazing side effects. It’s probably the funniest way of giving back we could have ever imagined.”
And that’s why they want to keep going.
“As long as it stays positive, fun, safe and free, that’s the goal,” says John. “Because really, there’s nothing like seeing thousands of people trying to solve your mystery.”