Randy Nelson discovered the Yule Log under the boardwalk at Rotary Park on Friday. This is the second time Nelson has found the log. In 1995, he found the log along with friend Randy Cochran. Cochran since has moved to Florida, but Nelson said he phoned the former Steamboat resident each day, and he helped solve the clues.

Photo by John F. Russell

Randy Nelson discovered the Yule Log under the boardwalk at Rotary Park on Friday. This is the second time Nelson has found the log. In 1995, he found the log along with friend Randy Cochran. Cochran since has moved to Florida, but Nelson said he phoned the former Steamboat resident each day, and he helped solve the clues.

Yule Log found at Rotary Park

Randy Nelson successfully searched under the boardwalk

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This year's clues

29th annual Yule Log Hunt

Clue No. 1: Throughout the day and in the dark,

The log lay last year in Rita's park.

Under her sign the log did rest,

Your start is here for this year's quest.

Clue No. 2: Take a spin around the loop.

Look high and low, even stoop.

The log could be most anywhere

Within the bounds of our city fair.

Clue No. 3: Old and new, buy and sell.

Where it comes from, you can't tell.

Holiday delight this shopping season?

Or are your eyes and teeth the main reason?

Clue No. 4: In 1805, the Brits beat the French.

Follow that name: It's still no cinch.

Ranching and water go hand-in-hand.

Should you go toward this titled land?

Clue No. 5: In 1890, the Pilot came to stay.

Six on a ribbon on a stormy day.

Tread from Whipple the wagon did go.

Keeping following the clues, the log may show.

Clue No. 6: Standing in a copse so green

Once senators, counts - now fit for a queen.

See 'P' reversed, you're on your way.

Where cattle once grazed on finest hay.

Clue No. 7: Fifty years ago ground did break.

At least 12 men had a stake.

Sun and storm, wind and rain,

Don't go there, cub and claw remain.

Clue No. 8: Hop on over and take a peek

Beyond Victory road, so to speak.

Check all turns, I'll tell you why,

You're close to where the log does lie.

Clue No. 9: Where mesa mountains start to flow,

Past rocks and hill and towns below.

Once a bear, still a root.

Find your way on bike or foot.

Clue No. 10: Spoke of a wheel, serve our town.

Take a gamble, look on down.

Follow the advice I gave to you,

In that early clue number two.

Clue No. 11: Does Bette Midler sing a tune

About the walk synthetically hewn?

You're over the log, to be sure.

Now the log tradition will endure.

— Randy Nelson's cell phone rang at 3:45 a.m. Friday.

On the line from Florida, former Steamboat Springs resident Randy Cochran read Nelson the ninth Yule Log clue, hashing out possible areas of the east end of Steamboat Springs where the 3-foot, 50-pound hunk of wood might be hiding.

By 5 a.m., Nelson was crawling around the boardwalk at Rotary Park, using his daughter's flashlight to peer under the wooden footpath. At 5:56 a.m., he had the Yule Log in hand.

"In a way, I got a little bit lucky. And you kind of need that (luck) when you're searching for it, because that sucker was in a really good spot," Nelson said. "If I had not borrowed my daughter's flashlight, which was stronger than the one I had been using, I never would have found it, because I had to look 50 feet underneath this boardwalk. I saw something, and I thought, 'God, that could be it.'"

Every year since the early 1990s, Nelson and Cochran have teamed up for the Yule Log Hunt, which is in its 29th year and is sponsored by the Tread of Pioneers Museum and the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association. The two found the log for the first time in 1995 while they were working at Perry-Mansfield Performing Arts School and Camp.

Since Cochran moved to Florida, he and Nelson have taken advantage of online clues and Google Maps to follow the Yule Log Hunt. Nelson said Friday's clue was a clear reference to the Yampa River, and a line reading "find your way on bike or foot" led him to the Yampa River Core Trail.

"It's kind of obscure, but it was a great spot and a great hunt," Nelson said. "Nobody was just going to happen across it and go, 'Oh, here's the Yule Log, it's my lucky day.' Somebody had to be really hunting it down to find it."

'The cloak of darkness'

Candice Lombardo, the executive director of Tread of Pioneers who hid the Yule Log and helped write the clues, said she was looking for a spot that wouldn't be too obvious but that would follow the hunt's rules of staying inside city limits, leaving out private property and leaving at least part of the Yule Log clearly exposed.

"When I got there, I didn't know if I would find anything like that," Lombardo said. "As I got closer to the boardwalk, it was perfect. I would go back, and I would check after the big snows, and it was protected."

Lombardo said she made a point to hide the log well before the hunt officially started Dec. 9, and she concealed the Yule Log - which she needed help carrying to the boardwalk - "under the cloak of darkness."

"It's so bulky and big and heavy that I actually had to get assistance to get it in there, because I had to walk on the bike path for like an eighth of a mile with this thing," Lombardo said.

"We were making sure no cars were around and making sure no one recognized me, or was saying, 'What is that large thing those people are carrying in the darkness down the bike path?'"

'Catch-and-release'

The Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association awards a $150 gift certificate to whoever finds the Yule Log. Nelson said his reason for hunting doesn't have anything to do with winning a prize - he plans to give the gift certificate to a family in need.

"We're just going to look at the entire process as a catch-and-release," Nelson said, explaining that he looks forward to the Yule Log Hunt for its link to Steamboat Springs' history.

"It's really the hunt more than anything, to tell you the truth," Nelson said. "It's a history lesson about Steamboat. Every time you do it, you find something out that you didn't know about Steamboat."

Lombardo said she worked with Tread of Pioneers board member Jayne Hill and curator Katie Peck to write clues that would take hunters on a journey around Steamboat, rather than point immediately to the log's location.

"You're probably not going to be on top of the log's hiding place until closer to the end. At clue three or four, you're probably going to be on your way, but you could still be pretty far away," Lombardo said.

Nelson said he usually waits until the fifth or sixth clue to get out into town and start searching. It's a tactic most hunters use, aside from members of the extended Farrell family, who have found the log more than a dozen times in the past 29 years, he said.

"Unless you're part of the Farrell family, who just goes out and randomly searches for every part of the day, you try to get on track for a while before you just go out and start looking," Nelson said.

Technology such as Google Maps helped Nelson and his cross-county hunting partner look up street names and clarify trivia-laden clues, but in the end, unearthing the Yule Log is about going out and looking for it, he said.

"If you're kind of adventurous, it's fun to try to get out there and find that darn thing."

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