Have you ever pulled into a place, maybe at a gas station, a grocery store, or a particular neighborhood and thought to yourself, man, everyone who lives here is a complete moron! This is not a new thing; at the turn of the 20th century that place was Molson, WA.
John W. Molson had a bunch of money. His daddy had a bunch of money. Even his daddy’s daddy had a lot of money because he founded Molson Brewery, Molson Bank, Molson Shipping, and a bunch of other billion dollar ideas with the “Molson” name attached to it in Quebec in the early 1800s. Now, the original entrepreneur of the dynasty (let’s say his name is John Molson Sr.) who starts the empire is usually a smart dude. His scion (John Molson Jr.), grows up seeing his father handle the workload like a champ always besting the competition and inventing new markets, this young man knows that he has big shoes to fill and usually has something to prove to his father. Thus, he strives to prove that he can do just as well as (if not better than) daddy. When the business is passed on to him he runs with it like a horse out of the gate and the long sting of success and wins continues. It’s the third generation that is usually the problem. The scion’s scion, if you will (in this case John W. Molson). He has a lot of money, he’s always had a lot of money. He has never known life with out money. John W. Molson spent most of his years farting around and not learning much because daddy was never there to show him how to be a man, or whatever. He always assumed that since the cash flow had always been there, that is would always be there. John W. Molson was a rich brat.
George B. Meacham was a promoter, and by “promoter” I mean a flim-flam man, a grifter, a con man. I am sure that in Meacham’s mind he was a brilliant developer well before most communities were actually planned. I am going to give him, and history, the benefit of the doubt and presume that Meacham was just plain good at separating fools from their money.
In Northeastern Washington state and South central British Columbia there is a region of mountains called The Okanogan named for the native American tribe who inhabited the area. The Okanogan is quite ancient compared to the other rocks found in Washington State. This range is a bridge between the young, volcanic Cascade Mountains to the West, and the older towering Rockies to the East. Some geologists even claim that the Okanogan is technically part of the Rocky Mountains.
The mountains of the Okanagan hug the Columbia River North of the Columbia Plateau and stretch well into British Columbia. Today, the Okanagan is home to pretty much Canada’s only viable grape vineyards as well as some awesome skiing; but in 1900 The Okanagan was only home to some pretty impressive gold mines. About forty years earlier some American soldiers fled into what is now British Columbia to escape an attacking band of Indians and discovered gold at the confluence of Rock Creek and the Kettle River. This began the Rock Creek Gold Rush of 1859. A few months later the Colville Gold Rush began on the American side of the border. On my birthday in 1896 (May 22nd) gold was discovered a mile and a half South of the Canadian border on Mary Anne Creek. The ensuing mine was named the Poland China Gold Mine; thought to be named for the origins of the first investors. Shortly thereafter, the Molson Family, along with some moneyed gentleman from Ohio, purchased the property and operated the mine under a new firm named the Molson Gold Mining Co.
The mine was high in the hills and was not a suitable location for a townsite. George Meacham, who at the time it is believed, was foreman for the mine, told investor John W. Molson that he could find a suitable site on the Canadian side of the border and make a boom town out of it. Molson was stupid enough to believe him. In March 1900 Meacham chose a site he was certain was four miles Northwest of the Poland China Mine just across the border in Canada. He chose a site four miles due West, and clearly within the confines of the United States of America. Dumbass.
Too late to worry about what country they were in; it was “If you build it, they will come” time. So Meacham spent over $75,000 that first year (about $5.6 million in 2012 dollars!) constructing the infrastructure for the newly named town of Molson. They built a drugstore, a dentist office, a law office, and the Tonasket Hotel.
The Tonasket, named for the great Okanogan chief, might have been one of the most impressive hotels in Washington at that time. Built for the cost of $8,500 ($637,000 in 2012), it was an ornate three-story structure with 34 rooms, over sixty full-height windows, and a wrap-around ballustrade that encompassed the second floor. It even had a swank two-story outhouse! The hotel was showy and gimmicky. The promotional brochures for the Tonasket pictured steamboats charging up the Baker River to dock near the Hotel. In reality, Baker Creek was nothing more than a dribble originating from a spring or two a mile South.
Within a year of Meacham founding the town of Molson the population swelled to over three hundred. Something happened between Meacham and the town’s new fathers where Meacham got the hell out of town and fled to Texas to escape harm. Someone knows why, my guess is that Meacham blew $75k building a town in the wrong spot to house personnel for a mine that was playing out. Oh yeah, the Poland China Gold Mine was running out of gold by now. D’oh!
Within a few weeks the town of Molson was down to 13 residents. The town shriveled and and John W. Molson cut off the cash flow finally, and divested his shares of the Poland China (fool me once…). The town stayed dead for several years and then homesteaders started arriving.
Ranchers and farmers started staking their 160 acre quarter sections and the town began to thrive once again. In 1904 a stone grain house was constructed. In 1905 rumors of impending railroad construction started going viral and more people came; a new mercantile even opened shop. Eight saloons sprang from the Earth seemingly overnight and a deputy was hired. Molson was back, baby!
The town was booming and lots were selling for a premium–then Old McDonald filed his homestead. J.H. McDonald’s 160 acre homestead just happened to include the 40 acres of the town of Molson including the Tonasket Hotel! Meacham had forgot to stake the land when he founded his town. Moron.
McDonald was a dick. He posted notices for everyone to vacate and lawsuits and countersuits started flooding the courthouses in the county. The owner of the Mercantile threw up his hands and bailed choosing a site a mile North of town for his store where land ownership was not in question. Hundreds followed him. New businesses, saloons, and residences blossomed around the general store. By 1906 the town of New Molson and the town of Old Molson were roughly the same size and hated each other’s guts.
Fist fights and feuds were routine. An old geezer who went by the name Sutherland, took exception to a hog farmer allowing his pigs to run wild on his land and showed up in town with two big ass .45s and offered one to his nemesis. The coward refused. The duel may have been a bust but the pigs stopped swinging by Sutherland’s place.
In 1908 a one, Mr. L.L. Work, decided to open a bank in Old Molson but was having trouble aquiring land to begin construction. Much of this was due to the fact that McDonald built a fence around most of Old Molson. Mr. Work erected his bank on the skids in the middle of Main Street. Using a tent and some card tables, Mr. Work’s bank opened for business in a new place each morning. Finally in early 1909 the bank found land and a permanent residence. The grand opening took turn for the worse when the particpants stopped to watch, and then participate in, one of the more impressive street brawls in history. More than a hundred men had a good go at bashing each others’ heads in. The one deputy was a little overworked.
The railroad also finally arrived in 1909 bringing a little more boom to New Molson as the station had been constructed there. The train station in New Molson was the highest in Washington State at 3,708ft above sea level.
1914 brought an unusual truce between the two Molsons when it was decided that the children needed some learning and an impressive three-story school was built exactly in the middle of the two rival towns. The residents who were tired of all the fighting quickly built homes near the school and a third town of Central Molson began its run.
Old Molson had the post office and New Molson wanted it. In 1920 a resident of New Molson was elected post master but Old Molson wouldn’t give up the post office. You have to remember, back during this time if your town had a post office the town was legitimate. No post office meant no town, no street cred, no respect. So when the old post master went to lunch the residents of New Molson stole the post office!
The fights continued, the grand hotels began burning down, and the fifteen year old railroad was pulled up. The three Molsons were dying again. The last store hung on until 1955 and finally shuttered. By 1970 almost everyone was gone, the school was deserted, and the only remaining folks didn’t care which Molson each other was from anymore.
In 1859 Captain John Ingalls became seperated from his unit in the Washington Cascades. Being the genius he obviously was, he decided to climb one of the 8,000ft peaks around him to “see” where he was. Note to the reader: if you are ever lost, putting in an extra 4,000 vertical feet to get your bearings is a very stupid idea… even in the mid 19th century. Capt. Ingalls survived the climb and saw a series of three lakes connected by a mountain stream in a hanging valley below him.
Supposedly two of the lakes were dark and circular in shape but the third, the middle lake, was crescent shaped and green in color. Anyone who has hiked above the treeline and seen alpine lakes know that they generally are not green. Most green water is the result of algae that is found in warmer water at lower elevations. Ingalls found this color curious and descended into the valley/canyon for a closer look. Upon reaching the shore of this crescent lake Ingalls lost his shit. A giant quartz intrusion entered the lake from the mountain peak above and was loaded with flecks of gold creating an entire beach of gold and quartz rocks. Ingalls estimated upwards of “10 tonnes” of gold just at the surface!
Returning to his unit became the least important thing in Ingalls life from this point on. He stayed on the mountain for days and mapped and surveyed the area. He went deep into the valley below and continued mapping his path. Now, Ingalls, as we established earlier, was not the sharpest tool in the shed. The map he made, the only map to his lost gold load, he burried under a boulder at the mouth of either the creek that bears his name, Ingalls Creek, or at the mouth neighboring Peshastin Creek.
Q: Why would anyone bury an important piece of paper under a boulder that itself can easily be lost forever as one would likely have to make a second map just to find the first one, especially when that same piece of paper could just as easily fit into their pocket for the rest of their life?
A: Because that person is an idiot.
Captain Ingalls returned to his unit dreaming of his fortune in the hills. In the early Summer of 1861 the now retired Capt. Ingalls put together a party in his hometown of Portland, OR under the guise of heading North into Canada and the newly discovered gold fields of the Frasier River. The men included in the group were his son Ben, and his friends John Hansel and Jack Knot. Reports vary as to whether the men knew the real reason for the trip or not. Many accounts have Capt. Ingalls holding his secret pretty close to his chest; some say only Hansel knew of their real agenda.
For safety’s sake Ingalls attached his merry band to a much larger group travelling along the Columbia River as a large group would less likely be attacked by the local tribes. First they traveled East from Portland and then North from what is now the Tri-Cities (The Dry-Shitties, if you will). Upon reaching the mouth of the Wenatchee River, the city of Wenatchee had not been settled yet, Ingalls told the rest of the prospectors that he and his gang were going to go sight-seeing for a couple of days and to not wait up. Packing a few days of rations, picks, shovels, gold pans and other gear the men and paddled up river in canoes. They were delayed when they reached a waterfall and had to hike over it/around it . The brush was thick and they kept getting smacked in the face by switches thanks to the man in front (Captain Ingalls).
A particular branch got caught on the pick strapped to Ingalls’ back and as he felt the tension build on the limb he yelled, “Look out, Jack!” Behind him, Jack Knot did not have time to react. Himself loaded down with gear, and most likely a canoe on his head, Knot got whipped by the branch. This was bad news for Ingalls, for Knot also carried an older muzzle loader rifle in one of his hands. The branch hit the hammer on his rifle and a shot fired through Ingalls’ spine and a .50 caliber ball lodged into his belly. Whoops.
The men fashioned a stretcher and carried his dying body back to the larger group of prospectors camped on the Columbia. Ingalls lasted another two or three days; on his deathbed he began to divulge his secrets to Hansel, Knot, and his son Ben. He told them about the landmarks to look for, the boulder under which his map was buried, the placer gold in Peshastin Creek, and the lake of gold on top of the mountain. Ingalls’ dying wish was for his son to return to Portland and inform his mother of his father’s death. The party did just that. They buried his body on the East bank of the Columbia River in what is probably now East Wenatchee.
A few years later Hansel returned to the Cascades and made a homestead at the mouth of Peshastin Creek. For the rest of his days John Hansel searched for Ingalls’ lost load and the map that lead to it. He found bupkis.
Blewett Pass, Swauk Creek, Peshastin Creek, and Ingalls Creek have all produced a lot of gold, perhaps as much as 1 million ounces since the 1870s, but the lake of gold has never been found. Some believe that Ingalls was full of shit, others that the great earthquake of 1872 did a lot of damage on the summits of the mountains and buried/changed the lake of gold, or (as I believe) someone found the gold load, staked a load claim and mined the piss out of the thing until it played out; they just never knew they had found the fabled lost mine.
Someday I am going to scuba dive the Enchantment Lakes with a metal detector and put an end to this speculation once and for all! Until then, hikers, maybe you’ll be the one to find 10 tonnes of gold, good luck!
Saturday was my last full day in the Black Hills. Jesse and I cleaned some of the cabins at the lodge and then plopped ourselves poolside at the rec center in Spearfish. I love that freaking pool. Every community and neighborhood in America should have a rec center like Spearfish’s. After some unhealthy amounts of sun it was time for some burritos at Barbacoa’s (freaking delicious!) where we happened into Jesse’s cousin Micheala who was grabbing a last bite to eat before she headed to California for camping. I was glad to have the chance to say goodbye.
Inside Barbacoa’s also just happened to be Micheala’s mother who did not know her daughter was in the parking lot. Strange coincidences. Micheala’s mother is hilarious and Jesse and I had a nice lunch chatting with her.
From there we hoped into the grandmamobile and drove out beyond a the cowboy town of Belle Fouche to catch the last day of The Stone House Saloon. This is a little joint operated by a rancher and his family that is only open one week a year during Rally. It’s an old, bombed-out homesteader’s stone cabin. Inside the cabin is pealing and covered in “was heres” graffiti. Outside there is a BBQ and bar and about 50 giant wood cable spools for tables. Suspended above the spools is jungle netting like MASH unit might have had during ‘Nam for shade.
Jesse purchased a bloody mary and I got a Sprite and we went about investigating the place. I immediately noticed an older woman and her energetic little jack russell terrier seated on a log bench, so I moseyed over to pet the dog and strike up a conversation. She was the wife of a rancher from Montana and always came down for Rally. The dog was six months old and just stupid with energy, bouncing around like an idiot trying to eat every bug within snapping distance. Our conversation didn’t make it very far through pleasantries before she wanted to be sure I was one of the “good ones”.
Upon learning that I was a prospector and geologist she was keen to know if I was going to vote the “right way” in November. I told her delicately that I was confident that I was going to vote the “right way”, but that she and I probably had different views as to what the “right way” was. Then she started making me a little uncomfortable after a diatribe on the Keystone XL pipeline started getting racist when she began complaining about how all those “other people” were ruining a pure Norwegian population up in the Bakken. The Bakken is the area where there is thought to be upwards of 400 billion barrels of oil trapped in ultra-tough dolomite in Northwestern North Dakota; thousands of Americans of all races in need of work have been flooding the state in recent years. I was going to brush away a fly I observed that was having dinner on a scabbed over cut on her forearm, but I decided against it and viewed the little bug as a soldier in the ongoing war against assholes. Eat and grow fat on the evil racist woman, little fly!
I excused myself from the racist and her little dog just as a thundershower started to move in. The camo-netting did not hide me from the rain so I investigated the dilapidated stone ruins which still had a roof. Before I had the chance to go far inside Jesse texted and asked me to meet her at the back of the house. She was seated with her feet dangling out of the second floor window and wanted me to take a photograph of her. It’s a good picture. Then I got to go inside. In Seattle such a ruin as this would smell damp with pee. In the dry clime of South Dakota we could only, and barely, detect the slightest aged pee. One one of the tagged walls I found a tag that was circled on the slope of the ceiling of an upstairs bedroom that read, “Jim and Maryanne, Sturgis 1998”. Inside the circle was every year since (except 2009) written in different ink. That is a cute way to mark a tradition. I like that. The missing year got me thinking and I imagined what may have happened in 2009 that resulted in missing rally. Financial hardship, a death in the family, their daughter’s wedding, or perhaps a car accident… They had been so consistent before and since 2009 that whatever it was to cause them to miss that one year must have been really life changing and important for them to miss their tradition.
The thunder and lightning stared getting scary-close so Jesse and I left the stone house for her car before we all were zapped for being in the only thing taller than the grass for a mile in any direction. We drove back to Belle Fouche and stopped at the thrift store.
Last year we perused the isles of the store and I found that someone had donated the largest collection of kitsch asftershaves I had ever seen. There were bottles shaped like colt .45s, sports cars, cats, stage coaches, hot rods, cattle, Odie, and more. Almost all of them had their original box and almost all of them were from the 1970s. On the boxes would read something like, “Custom vans have become very popular in recent years. Acme Brand would like to celebrate this uniquely American sub-culture with this limited edition bottle of our exclusive Bedroom Eyes Aftershave.” There is another thing all of these glorious bottles of aftershave had in common: they all smelled like mustachio’d pornstar in a rainstorm; butterfly collar, polyester, lube and all. The first place I laser beamed to when we entered the thrift shop was the aftershave isle. All my old friends were still there waiting for someone with awful taste to purchase and take them all to a wonderful new home with the appropriate amount of wood veneer paneling and faded shag carpet.
Another thing to note about the Belle Fouche thrift store is that I have never seen so many wedding dresses in a second hand store in all my years. For something that at one time represented and consumed the thoughts of so many little girls for the majority of their lives, and was worn on what was probably then, the happiest day of their lives to be discarded and priced for $70 at a used clothing store is tragic. There were probably a hundred dresses on one rack and another dozen in giant fancy boxes on the shelf above glowing through the cellophane windows pleading, “Pick me! I am better luck the second time around!”
I purchased a couple of fantastic elaborately patterned shirts for my ever-growing collection and we drove back toward Spearfish. The rain was hammering the car and the wipers could not keep up. To our West we could see the front of this storm trying desperately to touch down in a tornado, but fortunately for the ranch it was teasing below, the danger never materialized. The “buh-blams” I said with every lightning strike did not seem to amuse Jesse as much as it does the boys when I do it, but I kept saying it anyway because, most importantly, it amused me even more!
We napped at the lodge for a few hours and drove to Deadwood for dinner at the Social Club above The Saloon 10… again! I ate a wild boar pasta and was so happy. The band downstairs played Nickelback for the 10,000th fucking time.
An early night and we went back to the lodge. Sunday morning I packed the truck and collected all the things the boys left behind. Judging from the amount of clothes I found Dave must have driven back to California naked. Jesse and I had a late goodbye breakfast at some oldpeople restaurant by I-90. The french toast was a definite and hearty bon voyage for me. I drove away already missing the place and not wanting to wait until next year to have the time of my life again.
I drive all day. First was West on I-90 to Buffalo, WY, then South on I-25 to Casper, WY. I then drove through Casper and passed the Albertsons and the Safeway where last year Aren, Erik and I made the grocery checker very concerned when all we purchased was role duct tape, a 24 pack of water, and a box of condoms. These are the things that should sound warning sirens inside a store when three dirty men purchase them together. These three items made complete sense to us, but the look on our checker’s face said that he had a dirty imagination.
I then drove South on SR789 through South central Wyoming. On the furthest edge of Red Rock Desert I passed what must have been hundreds of kimberlite pipes. Here in one of the most desolate and dry places in North America probably housed billions, if not trillions of dollars in precious diamonds. I will be returning soon to my new “Diamond Highway”. In Rawlins I merged onto I-80 and continued West only stopping for gas and mini donettes (or as like to call them “roadnuts”). I exited the freeway in Point of Rocks, WY and drove North for 20 miles on “9 Mile Road”. Yeah, that statement hurts my brain too.
I drove past the Jim Bridger Power Plant, a gigantic coal fire plant that is fed directly by one of Wyoming’s vast coal deposits right next door. On the Southwest side of the power plant is the Jim Bridger Recreation Area. Rad, you can breathe the sharp sulferous fart smell of coal-fire exhaust, and go fishing in the toxic retention pond at the same time. Wunderbar! But “No Overnight Camping!” reads the sign at the entrance. Don’t worry, bro, I’m not going to spend my night sleeping under the brain-tingling buzz of high-tension powerlines anytime soon.
The sun set just as the power plant came into view and I had a stunning twilight drive to Black Rock at the North end of the Lucite Hills. The Lucite Hills are named for the rare mineral found in the rocks there, lucite of course! About 900,000 years ago a very rare volcanic eruption flooded the area in lamproite lava, quite possibly the rarest rock on Earth. Lamproite is believed to be burped up from somewhere deep in the Earth’s belly and is rich in minerals like peridot, garnets, lucite, wyomingite, and…. Diamonds! Lamporite has only been found in a few locations on Earth one of which is the Argyle mine in Australia that produces some 45 million carats of diamonds per year and is the only significant source of pink and ultra-rare red diamonds in the world.
I made camp and set up my cot next to my truck about a mile North of Black Rock. I had a hell of a time getting any solid sleep as the coyotes were making a racket all around me, and every now and then, made their racket a stone’s throw from my bed (literally, I threw stones at them to get them to go away). I slept in later than I realized and was greeted by a cool overcast sky. I ate some donuts and drove toward Black Rock. I passed the remnants of an old ranchers cabin and took some photos. I find if fascinating that someone built a home out using the nearby rock, lived in this desolate place herding cattle, and never had enough curiosity to look at the shiny flecks in the rock of their home and wonder what all that green stuff was.
I parked the Honey Badger in a drywash and continued on with just the truck as the road was getting hairy. When I got close to Black Rock I marveled. From any distance beyond fifty feet or more any geologist would probably think Black Rock is just a weathered basalt mesa, replete with octagonal columns and all. Black Rock isn’t black though. It’s covered in lichens that give it a darker appearance but the rock is actually khaki in color. It is also very light and not dense like basalt that is found in crystallized columns can be. There are a lot of gas bubbles and strangely suspended minerals; most of which I could not identify.
My target this day were anthills. Ants, particularly red ants, are nature’s gem miners. They pull out anything pebbly and pile them outside their homes making the familiar cone of an anthill. They do this so that the stones act like shingles and rainwater would runoff and not into their elaborate colony. Fortunately, when red ants live in the soil of eroded, gem-rich rock, the pebbles they use to coat their hills are often valuable gemstones. I was going to steal their shingles like a meth-head steals copper wire, like I owned it.
The clouds started to clear and it got hot in a hurry. There were also no cattle for miles and the local biting fly population got to biting me, a lot. I probably could have gone for the full glory and just destroyed every anthill in my path with a shovel and classifier screens but one hundred thousand pissed off ants kind of gave me the willies. Instead, I opted to just crouch next to hill and pick the gems off the top and move on. Out of a dozen or so anthills I managed to gather around 200 carats of peridot, a few red pyrope garnets, and several diamond candidates. I was no mach for the flies and bailed about noon and drove for Nevada.
The drive was a breeze, and then it was a gale, and then it was a hurricane. In the salt flats of Utah my truck was being blown all over the road. Semi trucks were at a crawl for fear of tipping over, and visibility was minimal. I was in my first salt storm. Salt was blasting me at near 100mph and I have never had such a hard time staying on a road that goes more than fifty miles straight without one single turn.
When I got into the lee of the mountains surrounding Wendover I could see again. What I saw was thousands of awesome race cars, hot roads, rat rods, and drag bikes. It was speed trials week at the Bonneville Salt Flats and anyone worth their salt (yuck, yuck) were there to try and break speed records. I snapped a couple of photos of a salt encrusted ’80s mustang at a gas station and drove West. I reached Elko, NV about sundown and got a room at a Motel 6 ($48 a night was too much… I never thought I would think that about a motel room). I ate dinner at the Golden Nugget Casino where a very nice meth addict repeated her memorized lines to me over and over but at least she got my order right. I think she introduced herself to me as “Jennifer” on at least four separate occasions. I asked if I could have a Sprite and she said they only had Sierra Mist and I did my cliche’d mocking shocked-and-disappointed face. She thought I was seriously hurt that they didn’t have Sprite and kept apologizing to me for the duration of my meal. Meth will make you retarded, my friends. Don’t do it.
The next morning I poked along through Elko trying to find my friend Angie’s mom. Angie told me to stop and say “hello” her only clue to me was that her mother was named Yvonne and she worked at a general store or small grocery on the same side of the street as the Best Western. Well, she didn’t work at Roy’s Grocery, nor Elko General Merchandise. Inside Elko General Merchandise I saw a woman that could believably be Angie’s mother, they looked possibly related, and I asked her if her name was Yvonne. She told me no, “But a a gril named ‘Hannah’ works here, does that help?” Sigh.
I was chowing on some pancakes at a diner when Angie texted me: “I’m and idiot! She lives in Carlin, oops. It’s 25 miles away.”
To Carlin, where I found Yvonne just finishing her shift at Scott’s Grocery. She is a lovely woman and I think, at first, thought I was going to serve her with papers when I asked if her name was Yvonne.
West of Carlin I crisscrossed I-80 on the dirt access roads that orbit it and saw a lot of desert and hot, dry hills and mountains. I had a fun time hauling ass up a dirt road over a 6,000ft pass watching the Honey Badger shake his money maker in my side mirrors. I also passed a geothermal plant and wondered if it was the one local Bainbridge pariah Gary Tripp lost his shirt on. I hoped so. In my opinion convicted felons who talk endlessly about their alien abduction experiences and past lives, and who also lie about being PhDs, just shouldn’t try to be morally superior to everyone else; and it doesn’t make me a bad person to take joy in their financial demise when they have been terrorizing the poor for decades.
I wanted to hug the Humboldt River when I got outside of Battle Mountain so I drove Izzenhood Rd to a dead end… well, to The Izzenhood Ranch where I they would not let me drive the 300ft passed their home to the other rest of the road. I double back, with four gallons of fuel wasted. I got onto I-80 and exited again at exit 205. The road was fine dust, then it was dirt and graded, then the road vanished. My map said showed a road, I found the Union Pacific Railroad instead. Every now and and then as I blazed my new trail some frozen ruts in the mud would appear. It only occurred to me as I was driving through neck-deep grass (something you should never, ever, never do, by the way, as you might burn an entire state down with the hot engine and transmission! I had to do it because I couldn’t backup the Honey Badger for ten miles. I am not that skilled) that I was probably smushing the historic 160 year old wagon ruts of The California Trail. Oops.
After twenty miles of blazing my own trail I found an actual ranch road and made the turn around the north end of the Iron Range along the Humboldt. I could see the perfectly sculpted remains of the old Union Pacific Railroad and some of the old trestles even. I turned onto the Midas Highway and drove into Golconda passing several dozen mine buses. The mines are so far out into the toolies that no one lives near them so the mining companies have giant buses pick up the workers for their four-day-on shifts.
I breezed into Winnemucca by evening and got a room at Super 8 (only slightly better than Motel 6); I needed Internet to write these awesome trip reports you love so much. That is when I noticed yet another set of magnetic tail lights bit the dust (No really, they dragged in the dust for hours, and bit it).
Wednesday morning I got new tail lights and made a marathon run home. The minute I crossed the border into the Oregon Outback everything was dead. For a hundred miles I drove and every single hill side from horizon to horizon was a charred. By my estimate 1,000sq miles or more had burned. No one noticed, it didn’t make the news, and no one seemed to care since this is the least populated region in the whole of the continental United States. Yet another reason all the air in the Western United States was blue with smoke. I sped through Burns, OR and savored the daylight drive through Divinity Canyon. I made a stop to pan some gold out of the John Day River and got a taco from the cuties at the Shell station. I entered Fossil Beds National Monument and was in awe of Picture Canyon. The diverse terrain of the the Mountains of central Oregon are always overlooked. This thinly populated region is the most beautiful in the United States. Period. Big mountains, badlands, rainbow-colored ash layers, ancient forests, high plains, green pastures, ambling rivers, old west mining towns, cowboys, hill folk, and tons of animals dodging traffic. Just gorgeous!
I made it to the dry hay fields of Condon, OR as the sun set. A few miles later on my decent towards the Columbia River I was startled by the sight of the entire horizon blinking like red Christmas lights. Some clever person made all of the thousands of wind turbines blink on and off in unison. It’s hilarious.
Night time, it’s dark, I didn’t see anything, I got home at 3am. The End!
Tuesday morning the rest of the mining crew of Aren and Erik had to run on home. Jesse and I drove them to the airport in rapid City so that they could pick up their rental car. The boys had to drive to Denver to catch their respective flights. Aren’s brother Lars was supposed to come to Deadwood from Denver for the rally, and could also give them a ride back down, but he was a weenie and never showed (Lars, you’re not really a weenie, please don’t hurt me!).
After seeing my friends off, Jesse and I drove back to Sturgis to melt in the sun and take in the custom bike building world championships. The bikes were intricate and impressive. My two personal favorites were the steam punk cafe racer bikes. I like brass. There was also a gigantic bike that no rear axle. Weird.
The plan was to peruse downtown and then head out to the Full Throttle Saloon to see Sebastion Bach and Cinderella headbang away. Jenny and her posse were going to join us from One Eyed Jack’s. Rad.
Both Jesse and I wilted in the heat. Jesse decided not to go to the show and left me in Sturgis. I swung by One Eyed Jack’s to gather up Jenny et al and had some cola and about seven glasses of water. Jenny had to do her books so I hung out at the end of one of the bars and stared off into space slurping on my water. After about twenty minutes a haggard young(?) bartender came up to me. After studying me for a moment she took a long drag on her cigarette and said, “You can feel free to join the rest of us if you like. We are all here to have fun, after all.”
My zen-like, heatstroke trance was broken. I explained my drained state and asked for more water. Jenny was taking forever. The bartender that took over her station sucked at life. While deeply engrossed in inane conversation with two dudes the rest of her clientele went thirsty and ignored. They started clanging their empty beer bottles together making a racket in an attempt to get her attention. She didn’t notice. They left. Looking good in a bikini will only get you so far, but if you don’t have people buying beer from you then you aren’t going to make the $1000 in tips the other bartenders rake in.
I guess evening time is when everyone decides to start doing body shots. Body shots might be hot if it was two attractive people involved and one of them didn’t disinfect their bellies with rubbing alcohol afterwards. Instead what I witnessed was fat, old, gross, graybeards slobbering all over the tight stomachs of petite twenty-one year olds. The girls would put on their best fake smile, lay down on the bar top, fill their belly button with whipped cream, and stick a plastic shot glass to it. The girls probably could have put a shot of maple syrup in the glass and the customers wouldn’t even have noticed by that point; this was the closest they had been to a young woman in forty years!
After being made acutely aware of my surroundings by the spectacle before me I began to regain some stamina and felt my second wind coming. The girls behind the bar where I was sitting were hula-hooping. If there is one thing I am sure of it is that I can hula-hoop for days on end. I felt re-energized, so I informed my haggard bartender that I was in fact a better hula-hooper than everyone in this bar! She said, “you’re on,” and pulled me behind the bar were I was to face off against their best. She was tiny, tan, and smiley. All she had on were a pair of neon orange booty shorts and a Jack Daniels bandanna tied around her chest as a “shirt”. I crushed her.
I am a man. I do not have girlish hips. They do not sway, rock, or hubba hubba like lady hips do. I beat this seductress the only way I know how: by pelvic thrusting the shit out of that hula-hoop. Anyone who has been to a party at my friend Geno’s house knows about my amazing perpetual pelvic thrusting hula-hoop domination. Now this young lady knew it too. To add to her embarrassment was the indignity of her hula-hoop yanking that Jack Daniels bandanna off he chest like it was caught in a wheat thresher. It appears that I may have won twice.
Jenny was finally through doing the days books and we sat so she could eat for the first time since 6am. Three different reality TV shows had managed to interview her while I was hula-hooping. There were about twenty reality TV shows being filmed on every corner at Sturgis. Jenny’s sister, who also bartends at One Eyed, had no more voice and ditched u s to recover. Her other friends she traveled with ditched us too. We didn’t make it to the Sebastion Bach show and instead wandered Sturgis very slowly. Every fifteen seconds there was another request from some gentleman for a picture of Marilyn Monroe. We’d stop, and she would put on a tired smile, *click*. Then we’d walk twenty more feet, “Hey, Marilyn, how about a photo?” She was wearing her work attire.
I had no ride home. This meant that I was the luckiest boy in the whole wide world! Jenny put me on the back of her V-Star motorcycle and gave me a ride to the canyon. We’d pull up at a stoplight where there would be all these old guys on their $50,000 choppers with nothing but a little tractor seat where they sat all alone looking tough and mean. Meanwhile, I am on the back of a Japanese v-twin gabbing on to the hottest chick in town. Big, tough, biker man was instantly jealous and I was beaming like an idiot. It was in this moment that I realized that men have been doing it all wrong for 80 years–the girls should do the driving!
The drive out to the canyon was chilly and Jenny did not have much on. I literally gave her the shirt off my back for the return ride back to Sturgis. Jenny, if you’re reading this, send my shirt to me anytime you’d like. I look really good in that one, you know.
Wednesday was… did we do anything on Wednesday? Uhh… We went to the Rec center pool, puttered around Deadwood, and went to The Saloon No. 10 where we got a late dinner with our tiny friend Robyn at “The Social Club” upstairs. As we sat at the bar munching on flatbread pizza-type things Jesse’s cousin Troy brought over a disgusting bottle of white zinfandel and asked if we wanted it. No we did not. He opened it anyway.
Apparently there were two tables outside who were trying to outdo each other by purchasing more worse and worse drinks for the other table. The white zinfandel had won the contest and no one wanted it. Somehow the three of us ended up with it. I don’t drink, Robyn was done drinking as she was “fuckered”, so that left Jesse as the champ stuck with an entire bottle of sugary headache.
She sat starring at the sip of migraine poured into the glass before her with a disgusted raised lip. A suave gentleman with perfect young-gray hair in an expensive suit made the mistake of coming to the bar and striking up a conversation with us. He incredulously asked Jesse if she was drinking that entire bottle herself. This gave us the opportunity to try and get rid of some of this liquid garbage.
Jesse tried the hard sell, “This is a lovely bottle of Black Pine Vinyards white zinfadel.” She stroked the bottle. “Would you like to try a glass?”
He wasn’t biting. After a couple of jokes he returned to his table behind us. I then just grabbed the bottle and got a couple of glasses from the bartender and walked over to the man and his guests and plopped the whole setup in front of them. The man, named Pete, is the gaming director at Cadillac Jack’s, a casino down the road. His two guests happened to be Penthouse Pets; Ms. January: Jenna Rose, and Ms. June: Alexis Ford. Jenna loved the wine–then again, she is only 21 and probably likes anything that has alcohol in it.
The Penthouse Pets raved over Jesse’s wild big hair and caressed it while I tried to be hilarious and memorable. I had never met Penthouse models before, I figured my best bet was to treat them like normal people.
Pete was entertained by us and told us to swing by Cadillac Jack’s and he would buy us drinks. We agreed. Downstairs the cover band was at it again and they played Nickelback, again. Gross.
Thursday Jesse and I made a noon-time stop at Cadillac Jack’s to take Pete up on his offer but we saw him leaving in his Mercedes just as we were getting out of the car. Some other time then. we went inside the casino anyway to see what was going on. Inside sat our two new pornographic friends from the evening before. They were at a table signing photographs so we strolled on up and shot the breeze with them. I asked how the rest of their evening went and they thanked us again for the wine. They really liked it and were genuinely grateful that we gave it to them. Go figure. They each signed a photo for me.
“Houston, you are so fuckin’ SEXY! 😉 / P.S thanks 4 the wine! 😉 / XOXO, / -Jenna Rose”
“Houston / Blow a big load for me / Thanks for the wine at Saloon 10 / *heart sign* Alexis Ford”
Penthouse Pets are hilarious, who knew?
We headed back to our usual joint, The Saloon No. 10, where Jesse’s beautiful cousins Micheala and Charlie were signing their rally posters for charity. I had them sign my poster as follows:
“Erik, Aren, Dave & Lars are weak little girly men who are not man enough to stay for all of Rally! Houston is so much better!
*heart sign* Micheala and Charlie”
I am in love.
Inside we had some drinks with Wild Bill Hickock. Our friend Travis is literally the face of Deadwood. He plays the legendary lawman Wild Bill Hickcock in all the reinactments around town and gets paid to be shot in the back of the head twice a day. Rally is Travis’ week off and he has shaved off his required mustache for the first time in a long time. Travis has been invited backstage to that evening’s Jakyl show at the Full Throttle because he was featured on the Full Throttle’s reality TV show earlier in the week. I am jealous, but will be seeing Jakyl too! Or so I thought.
Jesse couldn’t make the show so I drove out to Sturgis to pick up Jenny, her sister, and anyone else who wants to go see a band that has chainsaw solos in their songs. I didn’t know where the ladies were staying so I had to wait to hear from them as to where to pick them up. Hours passed. I played a lot of solitaire on my phone. I got a text reply that just said, “11 miles.” What the hell does that mean?
Later I receive a text that says, “in the shops.” Que?
I wander Sturgis looking through the shops trying to find the prettiest needle in the haystack. I lose this game. By the time my frustration go the better of me it was midnight and I went back to the canyon. I missed Jakyl *sad face*.
The next morning I get a flood of texts from Jenny. She was already at the Full throttle the entire time and didn’t need the ride. So lame! The previous evening’s confusion started to make a whole lot of sense as I got a plethora of communique that had been digitally sent fourteen hours before, but the series of tubes that guide our lives decided not to pass them on to me until it was far too late.
That afternoon Jesse, Travis, and I went driving deep into the Black Hills. We grabbed burgers at the 100 year old Moonshine Gulch Saloon in Rochford. We dirt roaded to Hill City for drinks and a great southern rock cover band. We then headed back North and were stopped by an insane hail storm. The hail pounded the car for half an hour with stones the size of quarters. Motorcyclists were cowering under trees as several inches of hail covered the ground in places. I put my hand out the window. That was stupid; it hurt a lot.
After the hail moved on we continued our return to Deadwood for a second lunch at The Saloon No. 10. We made plans for going into Sturgis that night to whoop it up and gathered Jesse’s friend Lori who works the casino cage at The 10. The four of us made a go of it and moseyed into the Loud American Bar where we saw an awesome bad named “Judd Hoos”. The lead singer had pipes. The lead guitarist, who I am pretty sure was 15, shredded. Good times.
A swing through One Eyed Jack’s meant Travis was now to the point where he could belt the lyrics to every hair band song that blared on the loudspeaker. Behind one of the bars stood this plump middle-aged bartender who seemed totally out of place among the young skin that were the regular employees. There is a reason for this. It is because she is sofa king awesome!
These geezers would come behind the bar and she would just humilate and abuse them. They’ed get smart and she would put them in had cuffs and dunk them in the jockey box full of ice water and beer. She had the strength to pick these dudes up like t’weren’t no thang. She would rip their shirts off and paint effete and humiliating things on their chests. She would squirt whip cream on her boobs and set shots in her cleavage and wouldn’t let them have their shot until she was satisfied. I want this woman as part of my posse wherever I go from now on!
We returned to The Dungeon Bar when I heard from Jenny and her sister so I left Jesse, Travis, and Lori to go gather the temptresses. I found them in a vendor tent purchasing special insoles for their tired feet. We walked a few blocks and met up with the others at Easyriders Saloon and got a late dinner. The dinner of champions; fried pickles, fried cheese curds, and cheesecake (when I got back to Seattle my mother’s first comment to me when I saw her was, “you look like you’ve lost weight.” I don’t know how I do it).
The drive back to Deadwood to offload Travis and Lori was hilarious. Travis was completely overserved and was just being randy. He kept telling me to drift the corners so he could innocently fall into Lori’s cleavage. I heard no words from Lori the entire drive, just belly laughs. As we came into Deadwood I got pulled over by South Dakota’s finest. The breaklight was out. This was Jesse’s car so it was Jesse’s fault we got pulled over. Officer friendly had me leave my car and sit in his passenger seat while he wrote me a warning. I think he and his partner were very disappointed in me. They pulled us over and smelled booze just pour out of the car when I rolled down the window and they probably though, “jackpot.” Sorry to rain on your parade, fellas, but I am a designated driver doing the right thing driving my intoxicated friends home.
That night back at the lodge the Thunder, wind and lightning was intense and I slept hard.
The time for entering Sturgis was upon us. It was Sunday, the holy day of sinning… Wait, I think I got that backwards. Whatever.
By the time we found a place to park the car it was already a bajillion degrees outside. I made the mistake of bringing the wrong flip flops on this trip. Any water, sweat, or spilled drink and I am sliding around like a goof. I end up having to walk like an old man using all his concentration and energy to avoid breaking a hip. This day my feet are a bit sweaty and I am a goof.
A brief stroll through some of the bike builder tents, we take some pictures, and an agreement among us forms; fairings and giant windscreens on hog motorcycles are for old people. Fat, slow, not very limber, old people. I say this with my extremely abundant experience with motorcycles. After we cruise the bikes we go to a “little joint” called One Eyed Jack’s. There are easily twenty bars inside this one bar. Every single bartender is a young woman dressed to give the crowd overflowing with graying old men one giant collective heart attack. These old men won’t die though; thanks to all the Viagra lowering their blood pressure, but raising the randy factor by factors of ten.
The first bar top we stop at is OK. The ladies were OK. The service was OK. We moved deeper in and found another bartender who was OK. After about ten minutes Jesse turns and points and says, “We need to go over there!”
We look up and over to the furthest, most hidden, corner of the establishment and see this blond vision beckoning us over. On top of the bar is a crosslegged and nearly topless Marilyn Monroe. We do as she commands and go to her. She is funny, beautiful, and flirty. We all fall in love. Jesse and I decide that I need my picture with her to send to our friend Ben who was supposed to join us in Sturgis but wussed out. The photo is of me looking smug, and Marilyn looking amazing. The message to Ben was short and as follows: “We found you a wife!”
Ben then apparently used this photograph to convince everyone he met that this woman was, in fact, his wife.
We didn’t want to overstay our welcome with our voluptuous hostess so we ambled on. We saw shops, topless young woman, topless old women, lots of motorcycles… and bars! We went down the steps to The Dungeon. Dark, brutal, vandalized, and pounding with AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck”– The Dungeon is my kind of place! Aren and I had to duck our heads as we stumbled in. The walls are covered with evidence that thousands of customers were indeed “was here” at some point. The ceiling was awash in the panties of the ladies who felt that people like Aren and I like to have their dirty underthings hit us in the eye. We do.
We had no pens. Jesse was not about to drop trow and staple her ungies to the ceiling. I had to leave my “was here”. I felt that the panties-thing was a little to sexist, so I unraveled a condom and tied it around the neon Budweiser sign. Oh yeah.
We left The Dungeon and went to The Oasis for some karaoke. Some good singing before a crowd of hundreds was taking place. Dave was the first to up and wooed the assembled mass with Hank Williams Jr. A few songs later I was easily bringing down the house pelvic thrusting the faces of strangers and giving it my all through a healthy rendition of “Sweet Child of Mine” when the song just ended. I hadn’t even gotten to the “Where do we go now?” part. The “Where do we go now?” part is the entire reason to do that song! The crowd was as disappointed and confused as I was. The lady running the show took the mic from me . My moment in the sun was over. Jesse then made everyone fall in love by morphing into Tina Turner before our very eyes. Her voice was spot on, and the hair was definitely big enough!
By this time it was two o’clock and four out of five of us were drunk. Good job, Sturgis! We visited Jesse’s uncle Jeff were he was selling his line of clothing “Celtic Roar.” Then we ended up next door and Big Bertha’s Biker Bar. Free peanuts and girls with their boobs spilling out serving drinks. Perfect. Jesse was excited and started spanking me with her new Celtic Roar bandana, so I naturally stuck out my rump for some more abuse. Aren kicked me in the balls. My day was now ruined. Hunched over, I rested my hand on Aren’s shoulder and punched him square in the nuts. Aren’s day was now ruined.
For the next several hours Aren and I bitched about our lasting, throbbing pain. No one else cared. This was something only Aren and I would share together.
We crossed the ally to The Knuckle Saloon where the server never brought us our drinks. There is a radio station inside The Knuckle that broadcasts commercials. We sat there waiting for our drinks for half an hour and I am pretty sure I heard half an hour of spots for Ford Trucks and Budweiser. Since our server vanished, so did we. The troop stumbled on and went into some… place. It was empty and the bartenders were total babes. This was new. On a stage outside was the worst freak show I have ever seen. The crew was wasted and my balls were still smarting. I watched the most boring “Torture King” I have ever seen. He stood on glass! Yawn. He laid down on a bed of nails! Snooze. I wanted out of this place!
It was 5pm and everyone was wrecked. We kept losing Dave, the only member of our posse without a cellphone. I am pretty sure Dave took 11,000 photographs and I am also pretty sure that every single one of them was magnificent.
Water, lemonade, anything to hydrate. We bounced off the crowd and searched for something to revive us. The car was still blocks away and it was 97 degrees outside. My flip flops were useless.
The drive back to Deadwood was so hot. The back seat was nattering nonsense. Food was coming. We ate Mexican at a casino and Dave I think lost $80k in the slot machines. Once fed, over to The Saloon No. 10 we went. The evening is as blurry as the pictures. I do know that we ate chicken balls and the band played Nickleback, again.
I got everybody safely home and to bed. Monday morning Dave had to return to Trinity, California. Our constant buttcrack and our mascot (Mud) were leaving us. Sadness.
Since I believe the remaining gang was hung over, naps at the Spearfish Rec Center were in order. After powering up, using the Sun like the Supermen and Superwoman we are, we returned to Sturgis and made a stop at One Eyed Jacks to visit the only bartender we liked from the day before. There she was, a ray of light in a sea of leather Harley embroidered vests. Marilyn!
Aren and I did the flirting because he was upset that I got a photo with her and he didn’t. Marilyn, who we learned was actually named Jenny agreed to a photo with our Giant. She hopped up on the bar and wrapped herself around a beaming Aren. I told Jenny that she should come out to Deadwood–she asked me for my phone number. She asked me for my phone number? SHE ASKED ME FOR MY PHONE NUMBER!!!
uhh… umm… Do you have a pen? oh… uh…. mutter… Wait, I have a business card!
We left jenny and drove out to The Buffalo Chip to visit Jesse’s friend Molly who bartends there. We did not find Molly, but we did find a bar that overlooked a bikini bike wash. This would do. Aren and I were sitting on a bench staring at girls bedning over putting sponges on gas tanks when this giant man from Alabama sat down beside us. He was enormous. A head the size of a beach ball and no neck. He told dirty jokes and was a typical good-ol-boy. He thought we were cool. Jesse wanted a photo of Aren and I relaxing, so naturally, I rested my head on Aren’s shoulder and he, in turn, rested his head on mine. The perfect photo. The good-ol-boy didn’t think we were cool anymore.
We gave up on finding Molly and made our way back to Rim Rock because it was the night for the annual BBQ at Rim Rock Lodge. It took a while because just outside The Buffalo Chip a kid hit a motorcyclist and the police and aid crews were at work. Once back to the canyon the boys showered, sobered, played Uno, ate fancy steak, and were pleased. Then we went to Deadwood and the old time photo place. Jesse was not happy about this; the rest of were. Jesse’s ‘tude made for magnificent photos. Erik in a sombrero made for magnificent photos. Aren and I were along for the ride.
Hey look over there! Is that The Saloon No. 10. I see? The evening was rad. Jenny actually texted me. Holy crap. I received a text message from Marilyn Monroe! We danced, the band played Nickleback yet again. We ate chicken balls, and we may have put the nails into the coffin that housed Aren’s liver.
The party is not over. Stay tuned for more blow by blows!
We left the Colorado Rockies and wormed our way North and East destined for the vacation portion of our trip; into the Black Hills of South Dakota for the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally!
After a shower stop and breakfast at the Western Ridge Ranch (home of the family of ladies who like to flip Aren shit because he is a “spaz”–I approve of this place, by the way), we got back onto US287 and drove North to Laramie Wyoming. Even though breakfast had only been an our earlier we stopped in at one of the haunts from last year, the Altitude Brewery, to see if the worst server any of us have ever experienced was still working there. If you recall (and by “recall” I mean go back to last year’s posts) we had a pleasant server by the name JT, or “Just Terrible” who was just that: Terrible. He meant well, he just sucked.
Instead of JT we got a lovely, competent young woman who got us everything we ordered and nothing we didn’t. WOW! Aren thought he saw JT walking around. I was befuddled; Either management was incompetent or JT really worked through the bugs in his system and made himself worthwhile. I had to know, so I asked our server, “Does a guy by the name JT still work here?”
“Yup, he’s right over there. Do you want me to go get him?” She pointed to the gentleman Aren thought was the culprit, who was standing behind the bar yucking it up with some customers.
“Good God no. He was our server last year, and he was the worst server any of us have ever had…”
“He’s the general manager now.”
I gave her a shocked and pitied look and just put my hand on her shoulder. She gave all of us a knowing look of yeah, he sucks… hard.
It turns out management was incompetent. JT, I am sure you are wonderful person, I just don’t think restaurants are your calling.
We left the Altitude Brewery and went further North on SR34 to Wheatland and Interstate 25. All of Wyoming was in a haze. It was hot and the air was blue with smoke from distant fires. There were no green pastures, not like last year, and every lake and pond was dry. Once off I-25 we went East on US18 caressing the North Platte River along the way (the only river I saw on this entire trip through the Rockies that had a normal flow of water). US18 transitioned into US85 and there were many miles of brown, dead grass that followed. Then Dave vanished.
“Where did Dave go?” He had been a constant presence in my rearview mirror this entire time.
“I saw a puff of smoke. That might have been him.” Replied Aren.
I hung a u-ee, and headed back South to look for Dave. Nothing to fear, Dave putted passed us and gave a “shocka” while two entirely different types of smoke plumed from his tail pipe. One was white and sweet smelling, the other dark and ominous. We did another U-turn and pulled along side Dave and asked if everything was all right. All we got was a shrug and thumbs up. Good enough for me. I passed Dave but kept my speed to 55-60mph in case his Jeep felt like exploding at a higher speed.
A long line of converted 5th wheel 1-ton trucks passed opposite our gypsy caravan. I guessed these were trucks that had just delivered a bunch of Harleys for rich people attending the Rally. We arrived in Newcastle needing a fresh tank of gas. I filled our tank at a business who’s only identifier was the word “GAS” in large letters atop a pole seventy feet in the air. The four of us and Mud suddenly traveled back in time. The gas pumps were from the sixties and my guess was that none of the pumps had actually filled an entire tank since then either. I can’t imagine a driver patient enough to wait the four hours it would take to fill an 18 gallon tank. There was a man with a Winnebago next to us who had been there twenty minutes and managed to only squeeze three gallons into his 100 gallon tank! I bet that dude had a long night!
North we went, through Four Corners. *Blink*, gone. Then into South Dakota. We turned off US85 onto US14A and down Spearfish Canyon.
The land that is now the Black Hills was at onetime the floor of a vast ocean. Thousands of feet of sediment and limestone was laid down over millions of years. A funny thing about the ocean, no one realizes this, but there is one part per billion gold resting suspended in every drop of water. Much of this microscopic gold finds its way into the muddy depths and rests for a time on the bottom only to be covered even more gunk from above. That is until there is an orgy of orogeny!
Millions of years ago a great ball of magma rose from the depths yearning to break free of its lithic confines and pushed this once retired seafloor upward. In the carnage fractures appeared in the now rock-hard, former ocean bottom. Through these cracks water, super-heated by the molten rock below to hundreds and even thousands of degrees, wiggled its way up to the surface. Along its path the “one in a billion” gold that was once a negligible blot in the mud started melting and got fed into the highways of hot water. Soon all these lonely particles of gold found their long lost brethren in the sources of thousands of hot springs. As the water got closure to the surface, and further from its heat source, it began to cool. Pressurized water that was once well above the melting points for gold, copper, silver, lead, sulfur, and quartz was now cooling to the freezing temperatures of these minerals (still in the hundreds of degrees). Inside the fractures of the Earth from hence the hot springs flowed began a great condensation of riches. Load gold in big quartz stringers!
A few million years of weather later: rocks break down, crumble, roll into stream beds, and worked their way downstream. Some of the rocks that break down happen to be these frozen quartz intrusions. Some of these quartz intrusions happen to be full of blobs of gold. In 1874 miners in the South Black Hills found some of that gold in the rivers. In November 1875 the real deal was found in Deadwood Gulch in the North Black Hills. At the top of Deadwood Gulch resides the Homestake Mine; to this date, the single most lucrative gold mine in human history. More than 50 million reported troy ounces of gold from that one claim were produced over a 125 year span (that is $80 billion in today’s dollars!).
Spearfish Canyon had its own share of prospectors. The canyon walls show no mineralization save for the odd geode here and there, but high up the steep gulches, hidden by the black pines, white bands of quartz would shed their treasure and the nuggets and flakes of gold would roll down the creek. About five miles from the mouth of Spearfish Creek a miner’s cabin was built in 1903. 109 years later there are six cabins, a house, and a lodge owned by my friend Jesse’s family. Our drive down the canyon brought us to our home for the week: Rim Rock Lodge!
We all gave Jesse big hugs. I said hello to Jesse’s sweet parents, Bruce and Cheri, and made the introductions of my ragtag crew. A quick unpacking job in the lodge where we were staying and we piled into Jesse’s trusty white grandma car for an evening in Deadwood.
First stop: Mustang Sally’s for burgers and “chicken balls”. Spicy little deep fried marbles of cholesterol and chicken that we have come to love. They drank lots of beer. With our hunger quenched more libations were required, so on to the Saloon No. 10, the most famous site in all the Dakotas (a place that also happens to be owned by Jesse’s cousins)! In the beginning days of the gold rush of 1876 there sat a claim along Deadwood Gulch assigned the name of Claim No. 10. Seeing that beer, liquor, girls, and gambling was much more profitable and not as back-breaking, a saloon was built on the claim and carried the name with it. Wild Bill Hickock was shot in the back of the head here–and still is to this day… Actually, twice a day to tell the truth.
The fever was on. The band was playing, some foosball was had, and Jesse’s beautiful cousin Micheala brought the boys theirs rounds. Micheala is also a local celebrity as she and her cousin Charlie are both looking good straddling motorcycles in this year’s No. 10 rally poster (they signed one for me!). From The 10 we went to the Deadwood Tobbacco Company for the rocking blues band. Then last called from there we returned the to The 10. When I designatedly drove the party back home late that night the damage had been done. Aren went to bed first. It turns out Aren has a ten day limit on binge drinking. His warranty ran out, and his “check liver” light came on. Aren didn’t get out of bed until 5pm the next day and hasn’t stopping bitching since!
While Aren slept the day away Dave, Erik, Jesse, and myself went to the Spearfish Rec Center (the greatest rec center of all time) for water slides and intermittent sunshine. Then burritos and back to the lodge where I woke Aren up and gave him a football-sized curried chicken burrito. He whimpered, ate a few bites and returned to sleep. This routine went like clockwork for the next few hours until at last the giant arose. Aren said he wasn’t going to drink that night. Aren is a liar.
Last night Dave got awesome at the Pot Belly. He wanted Jody so bad. Jody is the only women in town. Let’s put it this way: There are not a lot of women in Red Feather Lakes, but there are tons of them. When we got Dave back to camp he just couldn’t shut up about Jody. He was in love.
After Dave passed out at about 10pm the rest of us ate a late fire-cooked potato and sausage concoction dinner and joked around. Aren put music on his Archos (an entertainment tablet of some kind) and set it on the canopy of the camping chair above him. We laughed, then we laughed harder. Aren was leaning forward to grab a bottle of wine from one of the others when his Archos fell into the campfire. Aren screamed like a scared child and dove into the fire to save his technology.
All was well, the leather case had a couple burns. But the machine itself was just fine. After we chuckled about the potential disaster our meal and chatter continued. A few minutes pass and Aren yelps again. In the curfuffle no one noticed that Aren’s cell phone fell into the fire as well and now it was shooting flames!
Aren’s first thought when he saw it was, “That’ strange. That log as a micro USB port just like my phone… weird… Wait, that is my phone!”
Using his foot Aren kicked the phone out of the fire and his brother Lars grabbed it with the cooking tongs. The phone is obliterated. Aren’s great misfortune continues, and yet, he is having the time of his life.
This morning we awoke, made breakfast, said our goodbyes to Lars and Echo, and set about filling in the pit. We don’t want some cow drowning in our handiwork. Caving in the sides and tossing the boulders we worked so hard get out back in; Mud was freaking out. This was the greatest day in his life–a six foot deep hole all to himself with things being thrown into it, what is not to love?
After the hole got filled we cleaned and loaded the dredge into my truck and then kicked the ball around for a couple hours. We find ourselves back at the Pot Belly filling our bellies and using the Internet once again. Tomorrow: Deadwood.
The day starts like any other. We wake up, sloth through breakfast, kick a ball around, throw a stick for the dog, and make our way to the pit to suck up some diamonds through the dredge.
Mud has begun to love the pit. Toss a rock in and he jumps into the six foot, opaque abyss and starts diving for the stone making silly sounds while barking/wimpering under the water. This routine is what takes place while I coat the dredge with the grease for the day and the others prime the pump. When the dredge starts up we begin sucking up the blue, rich clay that is the trademark of weathered kimberlite.
Deeper, we hit pockets of bright blue sand that iridesces with mica. Some of the coolest, most beautiful looking soil I have ever seen. It looks as though it should be pungent with bitumen but it just smells like dirt.
My diamond tester has begun to go on the fritz and Aren sent a message to his brother Lars and Lars’ girlfriend Echo to grab us a new one on his way out to meet us at our gypsy camp (by gypsy, I mean “white trash mess of a camp”; we are disgusting). My trailer (the Honey Badger) is ghetto enough as it is, but when covered with a torn green tarp with the bed of my truck as a makeshift kitchen and Dave’s Jeep acting as a contact point keeping the tarp suspended it looks pretty shabby. Add to this the empty beer bottles, and coke cans spilling out of recycling bins and strewn about the camp, the torn apart dog toys, the camping chairs that are usually blown over by the regular thunderstorms that make us cold and wet; we appear to be the slobbiest of refugees. The forest rangers avoid us… For we are “The Undesirables”.
By the the late afternoon, after Erik, Dave, Aren, and I call it quits in the pit we begin our afternoon routine of farting and telling jokes when Erik spots his nemesis: a chipmunk he keeps calling a “squirrel”. Erik asks Dave, “if I kill this squirrel will you gut it?”
Dave: “You bet.”
Erik: “I’ll be back in a minute without a squirrel.”
A few seconds pass and Erik shouts, “Holy shit. I just got it!” None of us really believe him, but his excitement got me curious, Sure enough there is a chipmunk on its back going through the last few twitches of life with serious head trauma. Erik has become the first man to brain a chipmunk with a rock in probably 150,000 years. Erik is now closer to our ancestors than any of us ever will be.
Dave is a squelcher. He refuses to clean the carcass so Erik and Aren begin the task with Erik doing the dirty work and Aren giving him directions using the knowledge he gained from doing the same with pigs when he was 13. Erik saws off the head using a steak knife. It does not go smoothly. The chipmunk does that dance those lipstick-clad models do in that Robert Palmer music video; rhythmically turning side to side while being very slowly decapitated.
The steak knife will not do. Erik goes back to our mining camp and retrieves the box cutter we purchased to cut away the bad sections of the pressure hose on the dredge. Next, utilizing the new sharp tool, Aren tells Erik to cut off the pelt and gut the sucker. Erik is the protégé, Aren the master. I over hear important tidbits of advice like, “now cut along the inside of each arm and peel it back. There you go!” And, “No, no. Cutaround the butthole!” When it is all done Erik puts the little bugger in a plastic bag and invents a marinade to soak it in.
This is when Lars and Echo arrive with two new shovels (we keep breaking them) and a Presidium diamond tester, just as Dave and Erik are burying the unused remains of the Chipmunk (the head and guts). The story gets recounted to our new gypsies. I liken the deceased to one of the effete chipmunks from those old Looney Tunes cartoons where they always talked about furniture and decor. I think one of them is named “Clarence”. Everyone concludes that Erik has killed Clarence.
The presidium says that everything we have found is not diamonds. Uh oh. I don’t believe it. I think the presidium needs faceted stones (cut stones, not rough like what we have) to get an accurate reading. I will get conclusive data when I am able to polish a “window” into several of the tones when I return to Seattle.
We kicked the ball around for a while, and when it got dark we built a fire. Then Erik grilled the Clarence to well-done and it was passed around. Not much meat on chipmunks, but Erik’s marinade was delicious! Everyone had a piece and strangely I bet we all wished there was more to go around. I can now say that I have eaten a chipmunk killed with a rock at 20 feet. We have become mountain men at last!
The next day (today) we awake and the wind is wild, the sky is full of lenticular clouds (the ones that look like spaceships) and we sloth through until the afternoon to begin work on the pit. The dredge (recently renamed “The Target of Opportunity) isn’t having much suction. We look at the engine, add oil, and things get a little better but not like the “old days”. Ideas are thrown about: the intake is clogged, the hoses are clogged, the depth of the pit is making it too hard to get good water flow back up the eight feet to the sluice box… I finally conclude that the impeller in the water pump is shot and we probably need to rebuild it. Thus, sucking sucks.
We should be moving six thousand pounds of Earth an hour. Instead, we are moving dozens of pounds and hour. That might be it for diamond mining on the trip as the impeller will need to be rebuilt and that will take a couple of days to find the parts and/or a shop to do the work. The afternoon thundershower moved through, Lars and Echo made delicious chili and we moved on to the Pot Belly for billiards, drinks, fried pickles and the Internet to make this post.
Tomorrow we’ll clean up the mine site and try to return it to it’s natural state as best we can. Then it will be time to bid adieu to the mountains of Colorado and push north to the Black Hills for the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. Our adventure is far from complete and further debauchery is assured!