(left to right) Josh Buck, Topher Reynolds and winning team members Donna Mitchell, Collien Aten and Cecilia Patton | Photo: Stephanie McGeary


After four straight days of driving across six states, hiking through dunes and canyons, braving storms and desert heat, Collien Aten, Donna Mitchell and Cecilia Patton of Crescent City arrived at a celebration at the Clarke Museum on Wednesday afternoon to be declared the winners of an extravagant treasure hunt and to claim their prize of $45,000 … worth of marbles.

That might sound a little crazy, but for members of the World’s Biggest Marble Hunt – a huge network of marble enthusiasts who hide and hunt marbles around the world – this days-long treasure hunt was the adventure of a lifetime.

“The awesome thing about marble hunting is you make yourself go places and go further to seek this treasure, to find this thing that someone else hid,” Patton told the Outpost during the treasure hunt celebration at the Clarke Museum. “You push yourself to go places you would normally never go.”

Patton, Aten and Mitchell during the journey | Facebook

Patton, Aten and Mitchell’s team, called “Done Deal” was one of six teams competing in the treasure hunt, which started in Colorado Springs on Saturday morning. Will Stuckenberg – a glass artist in Branson, Missouri and one of the founders of World’s Biggest Marble Hunt – orchestrated the event, posting “tasks” on social media for the teams to complete in various locations across the route. Each time a team completed a task and posted photo proof, Stuckenberg would post the next location and task the teams needed to complete. There were 17 total checkpoints throughout the approximately 1,750-mile route, which took the teams through various national parks, hiking destinations and interesting towns.

Seventy teams had initially signed up for the hunt, Stuckenberg said, none of them knowing where in the world it would begin. Three days before the official start of the treasure hunt, Stuckenberg posted a map on the Facebook group, showing the general area of the starting location, giving teams a chance to travel to the area. On Saturday morning, the first location – Colorado Springs – was revealed, and once the first team arrived, the other teams were given a 17-hour window to arrive, rest and prepare for the remainder of their journey. Of the 70 teams signed up, only six actually made it to participate in the treasure hunt.

Stuckenberg had planned out the route by embarking on a three-week road trip with his kids, visiting various towns and parks that he thought might make good locations and identifying whether they could work for the hunt. Stuckenberg wanted the treasure hunt to be challenging, so that only the real diehards would stick with it, but he also wanted to make sure it was not dangerous. He also needed to find locations that would be accessible any time of the day, since he knew the teams would arrive at different times.

Stuckenberg’s intense treasure hunt planning process (left) and map showing general start location for the hunt | Facebook

A marble Stuckenberg hid at the Grand Canyon | Facebook

The challenges Stuckenberg chose included a three-mile hike down the Grand Canyon, a hike through Garden of the Gods in Colorado, a long drive through Death Valley, a stop at the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, and – oddly – a stop to feed donkeys carrots in the town of Beatty, Nevada. Of course, he hid some marbles along the way for the treasure hunters to find.

One of the most challenging legs of the hunt was the hike through Great Sand Dunes National park in Colorado. “That is really hard – to hike on the sand, Stuckenberg told the Outpost in a phone interview earlier this week. “We had a lot of teams that had to do it in the middle of the night during a sandstorm.”

Aten, of the winning team, agreed that hiking the dunes was the most challenging part of the treasure hunt. Aten had been selected by her teammates to complete that hike on her own, so that they could finish more quickly. This was the only time during the journey that Aten almost gave up.

“It was brutal,” Aten told the Outpost at the Clarke Museum on Wednesday. “It was one of those things where you’d be like, ‘Oh good, I’m almost to the top of this sand dune,” and then you’d get to the top and be like “Damn it! There’s another one that’s even taller.’”

Aten in Great Sand Dunes Park, CO | Facebook

Aten and her mother, Mitchell, often go marble hunting together in Humboldt and Del Norte Counties. When Aten heard about the treasure hunt, she knew that this would be a perfect adventure to take with her mom. Needing a third member for their team, they asked Patton – who is Mitchell’s chiropractor – to join them. Amazingly, Patton was completely on board.

“I’ve always wanted to do an Amazing Race-like challenge,” Patton told the Outpost. “I wanted to see new places. So I thought ‘Yeah, OK. Let’s do this.”

The team flew all the way out to Colorado to start the hunt, and rented a car for the rest of the journey. Stopping at a hotel only once to take showers, the three took turns sleeping in the back seat of the car during their trip. They crossed the finish line at the Clarke Museum on Tuesday evening, only about 30 minutes before the second-place team. For most of the race, team “Done Deal” was just barely behind another team. But when they realized that the final leg was taking them through Humboldt County – where cell service and GPS can be a little unreliable – these gals knew they had the home-team advantage.

After a couple of checkpoints in San Francisco, the last leg took them through the Avenue of the Giants and the Drive-Thru Tree near Leggett. After hitting the final stop at Eureka’s Clarke Museum on Tuesday, the team drove back to Crescent City to get some much-needed sleep. They then drove all the way back to Eureka on Wednesday, to join the celebration and claim their prize – 158 marbles, each donated by a different artist, collectively worth $45,000.

Some of the prize marbles at the Clarke Museum | Stephanie McGeary

The collection, which has been on display all month at the Clarke, includes pieces from at least 20 famous artists, Stuckenberg told the Outpost. Some of these artists – including Mark Matthews, Josh Simpson and Yoshinori Kondo – are revered in the glass world and create pieces worth thousands of dollars. So it’s not surprising that some marble fans were willing to go to extreme lengths to win this collection.

Aten, Mitchell and Patton plan to send some of the marbles to one of the other teams that had to drop out of the race because one of the members had a leg injury. They are also giving some to another treasure hunter, named Tammy, who was competing alone. As of Wednesday, Tammy still hadn’t finished the hunt, but the winners said she is planning to complete the whole thing. The winners were so impressed that anyone would attempt this journey alone that they felt she deserved a prize too.

The remaining marbles they plan to split evenly among the three of them. “I will have the most epic marble collection in all of Del Norte County now,” Aten said.

Among the folks gathered at the museum on Wednesday to greet the competitors was Eureka Mayor Susan Seaman, Josh Buck (the new executive director of the Clarke Museum) and Topher Reynolds – local marble-maker and one of the hosts of World’s Biggest Marble Hunt.

After congratulating the winning team on their impressive feat, Reynolds thanked the museum, the contributing artists and the City of Eureka for their help with the treasure hunt, and helping to bring attention to the growing community of people who create, collect, hide and find marbles.

“This is just further proof that Eureka is the center of the marble universe and that the community here appreciates niche things,” Reynolds said to the crowd gathered at the museum on Wednesday. “Marbles are a very niche market and when you tell people you’re into marbles, you get a little bit of that look. But when you see what we’ve been able to put together here and you see what the community has done and you see what people are willing to do, it all starts making sense.”

Check out some much better photos of the entire marble collection posted by Brian Bowden.

A marble by Yoshinori Kondo | Stephanie McGeary