Huffing and Dredging at 9000 feet.

Wyoming was high. High and Cold. We rolled into camp at Bobbie Thompson around eleven at night. It was in the forties. We promptly pitched a tent. You’ve never pitched a tent until you’ve pitched one in thirty seconds with three dudes in the Wyoming wilderness… It was the only point during the trip where my breath was obviously spewing forth, clouding through the red light of my head lamp. On the plus side, there were no bugs, and the smells of the forest were made pleasant by the chill air. Like fresh pine lettuce in a crisper, coated with mud, and a slimy creek nearby. On the down side, the pleasant smell of the night-time forest was erased. The Gas can for the Dredge had unfortunately been leaking all over the back of the truck, and our cots. Pow! Right in the olfactory!

On the second down side. It was cold. ‘Balls cold.’ (well, for summer and short sleeves.) The Medicine Bow Mountain Range was the only place which made me shiver. A full bodied shiver accompanied by gas huffing and a mess of un/intelligible swearing that questioned the personal motives of my freezing cold sleeping bags. The shivering didn’t last nearly as long as the powerful reek of gasoline emanating from Erik’s cot. We tried to sleep. Furthest from Eirk in the tent, I had the most success. After about an hour, Erik, spewing petrol induced nonsense, up and disappeared. After another half hour or so, Houston, choking out octane inspired curses, bodily ejected Erik’s empty cot from the tent. The gas station stink reduced almost immediately and we fell into a hazy sleep that didn’t seem to last long. By eight thirty am, the chill air of the Medicine bows had turned into the overly warm sunlight heating up the tent. Was that six hours? Up and out.

Our first day in the Medicine Bows was relatively slow. Possibly a reaction to the late and relatively short sleep, and the clouds of gas we had inhaled. Houston and I sat blankly for a while. Erik managed to resist the heat while sleeping the truck, (where he had fled the gas) for another hour or so. Finally, Captain Houston clapped his hands on his knees and said “What say we make this house a home?” Done. Over the next couple of hours, we unloaded and spread our camping equipment across the site. Performing menial tasks of setting up a camp helped to reforge the neurons damaged by hours of low grade chemical exposure. In the full day light, it was apparent that the campsite was completely ours. Additionally, there was a large somewhat odoriferous outhouse for our use. Erik greeted this discovery with humored disapointment, saying something along the lines of “Dude, you mean I’m going to make it through this trip with out needing to shit in the woods? I don’t know how I feel about this!”

Around noon Houston’s cousin Sam showed up. Sam had driven out from Saint Louis. Of course he pulled into camp where Erik and I were still spreading chairs and hanging a tarp, but Houston had decided to fight a more personal battle in the outhouse. Sam approached us with a look of curiosity and disappointment that he might have found the wrong camp site. But he was in luck, Sam, Erik and I introduced ourselves, and he became a part of the merry band who promptly decided to sit down for lunch before exploring our surroundings.

The area we were in was quite beautiful, but also ravaged by bark beetles. Many of the trees were brown and whithering, but those that were not marched across the hills offering a pleasant rolling scenery. The roads cut through the national forest were for the most part very well maintained. We traveled circuitously around the river bend that borderd our campsite, to find the road on the opposite bank. There was one potential mining spot, but it would have been a small hassle to put up the dredge. We ventured further down river past and found a large encampment of miners. RVs, Trucks, Dredges, RTVs and wetsuits were lain out all over. But no people, just a couple of kids who hid as we drove past.

We passed some old miner buildings, probably thrown up over a hundred years ago. Eventually arriving at another creek that looked to be bordering a kimberlite pipe. So we hoped out and worked our way across the creek and meadow, dripping hydrochloric acid onto rocks to see whether or not they sizzled audibly. Alas, there was no sizzle.  Our exploratory day found us following a few more odd roads, looking for easy creek access. Unfortunately, all the obvious ones had gold claim markers. We were told by a miner (found on our second pass through the large ecampment) that the small creek which was not a kimberlite pipe was unclaimed. So, feeling relatively assured we would at least be able to work somewhere, we headed out of the mountains, hunting for some cell signal to update the blog and inform other potential campers of our location.

We stopped along the edge of the main highway out of the mountains when numerous phones twittered to life. We were on a road built on a burme with a dried out depression surrounding us.  Houston grabbed his hydrochloric acid and said. “I’m totally testing this, it has to be a kimberlite pipe.” After a minute he returned, throwing the bottle of acid back into the truck with a triumphant grin, “I found one!” Lickety-split he had a shovel and was crouched down on the side of the road taking samples. Samples collected, blog updated, and messages sent, we headed back to the hills. Spagetti dinner, a smoky fire and an early bedtime were claimed by all.

Day Two in Wyoming was a middling late start. Bacon and Pancakes next to the morning fire fortified us. Then we loaded the dredging equipment, some lunch, took off. Our desire to dredge near our camp met the well meaning wall named Paul. Paul, probably in his mid sixties, was a bit shorter than my own 6’5″, was very obviously strong, and had the biggest most powerful hands I may have ever seen on a human being. Shaking his hand was a belittling experience. His pinkie was easily bigger than my thumb, and my hand felt as if it would be destroyed if he willed it so. But, Paul was informative, curious and very nice. He was skeptical about the possibility of finding diamonds on his claim. We also learned that most of the river entry points we had checked near our camp site, were on his claim. He was nice enough to give us a bucket of concentrates which he had already pulled the gold from, to test for diamonds, and was even willing to let us work his claim if we could come to an agreement on splitting profits. We thanked him, but decided to head back towards the false-kimberlite pipe, and see if we could squeeze in on a sparse section of river.

We found a good section, that we had missed the day before. It was a bit of a walk carrying all the dredge equipment from the truck to our river entry point, especially with the  elevation. We soldiered on, and by early afternoon we had figured it all out. We’d set up the dredge and sluice, and were sucking sand, water, dirt, and rocks just large enough to be sucked up into the dredge nozzle before clogging it. But it was Working!

(to be continued)

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