Category Archives: Diamonds

Stay in the damned ruts!

A pretty close to last minute super drive to Wyoming and back was an adventure to be sure. I left Friday morning, April 22nd, from Seattle and returned Tuesday afternoon.  Not too shabby to do 2,500 miles of driving, a 6 mile hike… and almost being lost forever on the top of a ridge surrounded by snow hours from anywhere… all in less than five days!

The reason for the trip is still a little top secret at the moment.  Let’s just say that I had to take some pictures of opals for a PowerPoint presentation I have to give to some very important people, and I didn’t have any good photographs.  The last time I had been to my claim I was too excited finding stones to stop, take a breath, and then take the camera out of my pocket.

I left Seattle under gray skies and the gray continued through to Montana, but it was warm. 60s and 70s the entire way.  Idaho and Montana were especially in the bloom of spring.  Everything was so lush and green.  Leaves popping, grass growing as fast as it can….  This time of year the Rockies look like Seattle does most of the time!

I stayed at a Motel 6 in Missoula.  What a rip off.  Someone hot boxed the entire third floor (my floor) and about the time I was climbing into my rock-hard bed the police we raiding my neighbor’s room.  Montana does not share Washington State’s marijuana laws to be sure.

I woke early, made my way to the Cracker Barrel next door for breakfast because I had never been to one before.  For those of you left coast, latte-sipping, Volvo-driving, diploma-having, elites, let me paint a picture as to what Cracker Barrel is for you: It’s Pier 1 Imports for people with aesthetically questionable taste who also happen to like NASCAR… with a Denny’s inside.  Rather than name their breakfasts things like “French Toast” they will call it “Uncle Earl’s Morning Favorite” or something.  The food was OK, at least they gave me real maple syrup, but the inside of their restaurant smelled like a potpourri of a thousand scented candles. Not really my thing.

I had another 600 miles of driving ahead of me so it was road time. Earlier when I stated that Montana was so lush and green, this is not true.  All of Montana is so lush and green except for Butte.  Butte is brown and depressing.  It is brown and depressing in August, it is probably brown and depressing all winter, and it is brown and depressing at the height of spring. I blasted passed the Berkeley Pit, over the Continental Divide for the umpteenth time, through thunder showers in Bozeman, passed Livingston (without stopping; so sorry, Josh and Jennie!), and through the most ironically named Montana town “Big Timber” which is in the grasslands of the plains and has about five trees all shorter than any of the houses in the area.  Finally I made it to Laurel, Montana where I left I-90 and turned South onto US310, this took me through some farming country and tiny little towns like Bridger and Fromberg (which I assume is named this because this is where people come ‘from’ but do not move ‘to’).  I peeled off US310 onto state highway 72 which quickly become Wyoming State Highway 296 (ominously named the “Black and White Road” whatever that means) complete with thunder showers galore.

I reached Cody, Wyoming for the first time since I was a child, it seems to have boomed quite a bit since then.  The town still plays up the Buffalo Bill Cody theme and has built civic centers and museums all over the place to celebrate the cowboy way of life.  Every time I am on one of these trips I wish I could stop and smell the roses and visit a little more with each little burg I come to, but alas, I am on a schedule.  On my way out of Cody I noticed that the entire Southern portion of the town is build around four circular/oval lakes.  Each of these little lakes was full of birds and reeds, but also had what looked like to be white salt deposits on the shore lines and no substantially sized trees surrounding the lakes.  Interesting… I decided that I would have to investigate this further at a later date as this could means billions of dollars to the people of Cody, and drove on.

Alkali lakes of Cody, WY
Alkali lakes of Cody, WY

At the lakes I turned South onto State Highway 120 and that takes me over lots of broken and cracked hills exposing many of layers of rock; as I drove further South past the little town of Meeteese these scarps started to reveal thin bands of coal seams.  The bands are not thick enough for anyone to commercially exploit, but evidence none-the-less that Wyoming is rich in everything.

Coal seems of central Wyoming
Coal seems of central Wyoming

The tan rocks and bands of coal began to give way to red rocks and what looked to be layers of gray/green ash resting atop of it.  If I had been blindfolded and dropped here I would have though that I had appeared in Southern Utah.  The landscape looks almost identical to the Red Navajo Sandstone and gray/green ash of the Monitor Butte formation of the area (with my brother Loch we made an awesome discovery of metallic petrified wood in this layer just outside of Boulder, Utah).  In the heart of the red rocks is Thermopolis, Wyoming.  Supposedly home to the largest mineral hot spring in the world.  It’s dinosaur museum is also home to the only archaeopteryx fossil outside of Europe.  I really need to take my time through here someday… Stupid schedules!

The highway ends and becomes US20 and then the drive gets awesome.  A hop over the Bighorn River which instantly becomes the Wind River the moment you enter one of the coolest canyons in the world.  Wind River Canyon isn’t just beautiful, but it is also a mind fuck.  As you travel up hill you have the feeling as though you are continually going downhill.  Your brain cannot accept the fact that the water is flowing in the wrong direction the entire time.  This comes from the way the entire Owl Creek Mountains have been uplifted. Coming from the North the block of sandstone slopes up gently from Thermopolis, so as you enter the canyon you have the feeling of going deeper into it as the cliffs grow larger and larger off in the distance making for the illusion that you are traveling down hill.  It will wrinkle your brain.

The Nothern mouth of Wind River Canyon looking toward Thermopolis
The Nothern mouth of Wind River Canyon looking toward Thermopolis

The canyon is fairly unique in that the river is much older than mountains are.  The river was there first, the Owl Creeks formed after.  So as the rock began to slowly uplift millions of years ago the river would slowly and steadily cut through the rising hills leaving the scar of the canyon.  At one point the cliffs are over 2,500 feet tall to either side of the river with giant boulders the size of homes strewn about the canyon floor.  If you look up you can see above you where the near-perfect cubes of rock broke out of the cliffs and came crashing down to the canyon floor below.  It must be stupefying to witness such a cataclysmic avalanche of rock.

Wind River Canyon
Wind River Canyon
Wind River Canyon
Wind River Canyon
Wind River Canyon
Wind River Canyon

Towards the head waters of the canyon you get a treat: some of the oldest rock visible on Earth, some 2.9 billion year old precambrian metamorphic rock, makes an impressive display.  This black stone is twisted and gnarled and provides for some dramatic scenery as both the highway, and the train tracks on the other side of the river, cut through antiquated, dripping black tunnels in the jagged cliffs.  As the Owl Creeks uplifted they finally cracked and pulled up this most ancient rock exposing it for the first time in billions of years.  If there are any minerals to be found here, this well cooked rock would be the place as it is seeping rust of all colors, and cross cut with countless quartz veins.

2.9 billion year old rock in Wind River Canyon
2.9 billion year old rock in Wind River Canyon
Ancient gnarly rock
Ancient gnarly rock
These tunnels are the blackest of the black.
These tunnels are the blackest of the black.

At the beginning of the canyon you will find the Boysen Dam and the Boysen Reservoir which is as alien a landscape as any.  The first town south of the canyon is Shoshone.  Sad to say, it’s a shithole in the middle of a desert.  The only nice building in the town is the school, everything else is collapsing and in disrepair, including the numerous motels all named “The Desert Inn” or some facsimile there-of (sometimes I wonder about people from these towns and if they will ever stumble upon my blog and think, “Screw that guy, I’m from Shoshone and it’s really nice there!”… and then I realize they would have to have the Internet to do that.  Zing!).  The highway gives another weird mental funk as the road makes you feel like you are descending into Riverton (my destination) when, in fact, you re gaining elevation as you reach Riverton.  It’s weird out here.  It’s as if physics doesn’t exist.

I rolled into Riverton about 8pm and headed for the Wind River Casino to get a room. It was Saturday night and they were booked. So, I settled on the Days Inn.  It was cheap, and the rooms were new. I dropped off my dinner and went looking for “The Bull”. The concierge (can you call the desk person at a Days Inn that?) said that it was the best restaurant in town and it was only a block away. Sweet.

Inside “The Bull” on one side of the room resided stragglers from a wedding party in pink chiffon gowns and in tuxes with pink chiffon vests, on the other side of the room were dozens of high schoolers dressed to the nines because it was obviously some fancy school dance that evening.  Word. If high school boys are trying to impress girls by spending their meager earnings on this strip mall restaurant then I came to the right place! I ordered a ribeye, split pea soup, mashed potatoes, steamed veggies, and anything else I could fit in me.  It was OK at best, bummer.  At least I was in the Rockies so I was able to gorge myself for like $20.

I went back to the motel and turned in for the night.  There were two other cars in the parking lot and I think those were my two neighbors.  The neighbor to the right was playing Adel’s “Hello” on repeat on some tinny stereo.  The neighbors to the left were going at it like pigs in heat.  Paper thin walls, oh joy.  When the sex couple was done, the man did give Mel Gibson’s speech from “Braveheart” word for world in a terrible Scottish accent: “…just one chance to come back here and tell our enemies, they may take our lives, but they’ll never take… Our Freedom!!”

Coitus and Braveheart I can understand.  Adel on and endless loop I cannot. I cranked the air conditioner and was able to drown her out and shivered myself to sleep.  Sunday was the big day!

I awoke, filled myself with continental breakfast, and drove into the hills.  On the drive out my hear sank.  For a week each day I would check the forecast and it would say repeatedly that it was going to be 70 degrees and sunny on Sunday, April 24th.  Well, it snowed. Riverton was in the 40s and raining, and I could see the huge escarpment rising off in the distance with its fresh dusting of snow. Gah!

Snow, oh the horror!
Snow, oh the horror!

Riverton sits at just about 5000ft elevation, my claim is at 7,200 feet.  Lame.  The moment I got above 6,500ft there was snow everywhere.  Where I turned off the highway is a dirt road at about 7,000ft.  It was covered in snow.  Not much, maybe four inches, but I knew that the dirt underneath was going to be slick and awful.  I paused there and had a thought.  It was time to weigh the risk and reward: the amount of time and money this trip cost me, and wondering when I would be able to repeat this long-ass drive again; verses the time-frame I need to get the PowerPoint made and impress some investors before the mining season is in full swing in the Summer; verses being trapped in the snow-covered high desert mountains… alone… until I die…

This way there be a certain chance of dying.
This way there be a certain chance of dying.

Fuck it, if my previous adventures are any indicator, I am indestructible apparently.  I drove on.  Holy cow was this road slippery! When I had driven in the past I just remember a rather long, flat drive along this plateau out to the oil fields where the opals were.  Well, snow makes you realize how many hills there actually are in a place. Each time I was at the base of hill I hopped the truck could make it up to the top.  Each time I was at the top of hill I would hope that I wouldn’t come spinning down like a hockey puck across the ice.  My one hope was that my truck’s tires would find some good ruts and stay in them.  Ruts are like train tracks.  As is the case with trains, they are fine so long as it stays on the rails.

Making ruts.
Making ruts.

Huge waves of mud would wash over my truck as it kersplunked into a deep hidden puddle.  My wipers were going like mad as I crawled along at 5-10 mph for then next hour. What had been fresh, white snow in front of me had become a poopy brown swath of destruction behind me.  I finally reached a point I recognized where a cattle pen was but I could no longer see the road.  The oil wells of my intended goal were still miles away off in the distance and I was not prepared for a snow hike. I did a lot of cussing.  I had to cut my losses and drive back and regroup… Well, as much as one man alone in the wold can “regroup”.

The view from the captain's chair.
The view from the captain’s chair.

The drive back was now just a mud mess. Down the teensiest little hill my tires broke with the trusty ruts and I did a donut.  I’ll admit, this scared the piss out of me… or almost did.  When I righted the truck, I got out and took a piss so as not to accidentally do so in the cab on the next 360 spin.  I felt better and made it back to the highway without further trouble.  I used some of my emergency water to wash off my headlights, and windows because I could not see a thing!  My thinking at the highway was this: I’ll hire a helicopter. It will fly me right there for a few hundred bucks, I’ll snap a few photos and then fly back.

I hauled ass back to town, parked in the lot of the Days Inn for their free Internet, searched for a helicopter service, and then drove to the airport.  When I walked in the person behind the Great Lakes Airlines counter looked at me like I did not belong there and asked how they could help me. I replied, “I need to hire a helicopter.” She looked at the security guard/TSA guy and and he said, “Darrel went out of business last summer.”  Well, shit.

I drove back to the Days Inn and sat again using their internet.  I located a phone number for helicopter charter and the friendly fellow on the other end of the line said that they would have to fly a chopper in 300 miles from Jackson that that it would only cost me $5,500 for three hours of flight time.  Well, fuck that idea.  I can sacrifice another 2000 F150 for much less.

I drove to the sports store, geared up for a snow hike, and then went to the Wind Rivers Casino Hotel and this time was able to get a room.  It was sublime! It was about 1:30pm, and I decided that I would do the drive and hike the next morning… until I checked the weather forecast: Snow in frustrating quantities was expected by 10pm.  Welp, It was 2pm, sunset was at 8:07pm, I had six hours to get to photograph some opals and get out.  Let’s do this!

This is what my truck looked like in the Casino parking lot.
This is what my truck looked like in the Casino parking lot.

I put on my new long-johns and wool socks, threw on a new nit cap, pulled on my Oakley Special Forces combat boots, and jumped back into my muddy beast.  When I reached the summit with the turnoff to the oil fields I was pleased to see that my mud tracks from earlier had managed to melt all the snow!  I settled the track back into the ruts and began run number two. After about 45 minutes this time I reached the cattle pen and the snow had melted enough here that I could see the road out to the oil fields where my claim is.

This part of the road was a clay-filled nightmare.  There really wasn’t much in the way of ruts for my tires to follow as it is my guess that no one had been out here since before the winter.  It’s hard to grip a steering wheel and cross your fingers at the same time.  I made it to the first oil wells and the road dropped maybe a hundred feet off the mesa.  This was covered in snow. I could drive no further.

I figured I was about a mile from my claim at this point (turns out it was more like two to three miles… Amazing how a lack of trees makes distances seem shorter).  I made for a quick pace, almost running. I wanted to get to the opals, snap some photos, and be back to the truck by 7pm at the latest so that I could get out of this god-forsaken place before sunset and before the snow showers began again.  By about 4:45 I had made it to the far oil wells where the boulders live. I poked around, snapped some photos and high tailed it back to the truck.  Round trip I was back to the truck by about 5:30.  I was beat.  I basically ran miles and miles over hills, post holing in the snow much of the way in about two hours.  The War Rig and I did a celebratory donut in the muddy parking lot of the oil field and headed back out.

The War Rig says, "Let's do some donuts in the muddy parking lot." "OK,' I replied.
The War Rig says, “Let’s do some donuts in the muddy parking lot.”
“OK,’ I replied.

This drive was a lot of me cursing at the mud and the truck. “Stay in the ruts, you SOB!” and such.  I had to stay in the ruts because the road had a ditch to either side.  If I popped out of said ruts I would lose all control of the direction the truck traveled and was subject to the whims of hydroplaning, mud-filled tires. So, of course, my tires popped out of the ruts and I spun into the ditch.  At first just the driver’s side tires were in the ditch and I was too far leaned over to try and steer back up onto the road surface, thus I concluded that the expansive desert was my best option. Before I could make my attempt the truck spun and all of a sudden my rear tires were in the ditch and my front tires were almost out of it.  It’s a wide ditch.  The truck would go no where.

Well, shit.
Well, shit.

I couldn’t back out because the trailer hitch would dig into the road, and I couldn’t go forward because, well, the mud wouldn’t let me.  The tires just spun.  I beat the steering wheel and cursed, as one is prone to do in such a situation.  I had achieved my goal, and now I was stuck in the middle of nowhere, 10-15 miles from a paved road, with darkness and snow on the way.  If I didn’t get out of this ditch life was going to suuuuuuuuck.

I stepped out and took out a shovel and the 128 feet of 2×2 claim stakes that live in the back of my truck.  I first tried to dig out the road behind my trailer hitch and then wedge the stakes under the wheels to see if I could back out.  Nope.  I then spent the next hour digging under the tires and wedging the claim stakes under them so that I could drive out and into the desert. This method go me about two feet of success and my front tires were now out of the ditch and my back tires were no longer at the bottom of the ditch.  Another 45 minutes and I was still stuck like this.

Well, shit.
Well, shit.
Shiiiiiiiiiit.
Shiiiiiiiiiit.

My brain decided on one last feat of engineering; I spun the tires deep into the mud (sounds stupid, but hear me out). I then dug out a little behind each tire with my pick and shovel and back the truck up about 6 inches.  This gave me a deep little channel in front of each tire.  I started laying claim stakes across the ditch and jumping on them breaking them in two.  I then laid these stakes perpendicular to the front of the tires about 1-2 inches apart and build little ladders of wood for the tires to climb.

Once my contraption was built I hopped into the truck and gunned it. With the greatest of ease the truck climbed out of the ditch like it was never stuck.  Asshole.

What success looks like.
What success looks like.
Sadly, also what success looks like.
Sadly, also what success looks like.

The entire cab of the War Rig was now caked in mud.  I decided that the road could suck it, I drove the most of the rest of the way back next to the road using sage brush for traction.  I made it to the highway at 7:59pm.  I had beaten sunset by 8 minutes!

Forget the road, just smush the sagebrush. It has better traction.
Forget the road, just smush the sagebrush. It has better traction.

I washed off the windows and headlights again, drove back to the casino, took a shower, and then went to the restaurant labeled “fancy dining” and ordered a filet mignon.  It was the size of a baby and could be cut with a spoon. “The Bull” had nothing on this lonely 10pm steak. I have never had a filet that big.  This must have come from some freak GMO cow and it was amazing!

My room was comfy, the bed sublime, the soaps and shampoos to steal from the bathroom were top-notch.  Wind Rivers Casino Hotel, you have earned yourself 4 stars! I checked out at about 9 am, went to the Wagon Wheel Family Restaurant, sat at the bar and ate an omelet, and then reversed my road trip.

My original plan had been to be out of Riverton by noon on Sunday and then take the leisurely drive back through Utah and Nevada, go back to the scene of my rollover to see if I could find any more of my belongings in the desert and then hit some hots springs.  The snow ruined these plans.  So the reversal of my original drive out had to be done; back through the canyon, and back to Cody.  I used this opportunity to stop at the lakes at the South of Cody and walked to theshore of one of them and poured some hydrochloric acid solution on the “salts” and just as I suspected the “salt” bubbled and hissed.  Cody is built on a giant kimberlite formation.  After reviewing satellite photos I can see at least three kimberlite pipes in and around Cody. Several more may be obscured by farming activity.

Wyoming always perplexes me.  They will gladly chew up their countryside for coal.  Destroy their ground water via fracking for oil and gas, but won’t do a thing when gemstones worth more than any of their dirty fuel sources are more easily obtainable and less damaging to the environment.  It boggles the mind.  Literally trillions of dollars of gems are in Wyoming: diamonds, rubies, sapphires, opal, emeralds, aquamarine, iolite, peridot, etc… and no one digs for them. Instead they spend all this energy on oil and coal and dirty everything up in the process.

I blew through Livingston again (Sorry for not stopping again, Josh and Jennie!), through Bozeman, through Butte (it still sucks) and stayed the night again in Missoula at the Best Western.  The room they gave me smelled like someone cleaned a fish in there, had no wifi signal, and was across from the elevators and next to the ice machine.  Lucky me.  I asked for a new room and they gladly complied. Slept hard, and was back on the road to Seattle by 9am and in Seattle by 4pm.  Got home, washed the truck, washed my Subaru, and washed my roommate’s car, ate a salmon enchilada, watched the Mariners crush the Astros on TV and went to bed.  A productive day!

How to launder money

OK, time to think like a criminal! Let’s say you are a syndicate boss for the Chinese triads in a North American city like Vancouver, Los Angeles, or New York; your job is to get a huge, fat stack of cash to your jefe in Hong Kong.  The money you have, millions of dollars of it, was obtained nefariously and you need to not only conceal its existence, but also be able to move it out of the continent to Asia without anyone knowing such a transfer was taking place.  What do you do, and how do you do it?

Easy, put all that wealth on your wife’s (or girlfriend’s) fingers, in her ears and around her neck and no one will even think twice when she walks through airport security. Using a proxy to bid, you purchase one of a kind jewels from a prestigious auction house; your Christie’s, your Sotheby’s, your Bonham’s, etc…  You purchase said jewels at one of these public auctions so that everyone is now aware of how much they sell for and the items have now established a price precedence that can later be advertised.

Bonahms

What exactly did you purchase at auction?  Well, it has to be able to be worn.  So large items like paintings, sculptures, and antiques are all out of the question.  Fine Jewels like large diamond rings, jadeite necklaces, and south sea pearls are what you are looking for.  If one blue diamond ring, or one emerald pendant can be worth several million dollars this is a lot less messy to smuggle out of the country on a flight than the uncouth method favored by amateurs of strapping gobs of cash to one’s body like in The Wolf of Wall Street.

This is how dummies try to conceal the source of wealth. Don't be a dummy.
This is how dummies try to conceal the source of wealth. Don’t be a dummy.

Not only is the risk greater because it is less conspicuous, but it is much harder to argue that cash strapped to your body or stuffed into your briefcase was a family heirloom, or a gift from a lover.  This is exactly what customs and the TSA are trained to look for, but everyone has a wedding ring on their finger, so they ignore these.

In 2009 the economy took a dive and dragged down some rather large players in the scheme game.  Everyone knows the name Bernie Madoff, but Mr. Madoff wasn’t smart enough to actually have made-off with anything.  Others just as awful, but who put a little more thought into their getaway, where able to flee with much of their wealth intact.  Here in Seattle we had our own terrible white collar criminals in the Mastro family.

The details of what the Michael and Linda Mastro did are available on the web, but in short, the Mastro’s developed land, took out loans to do such, and then squelched on about $600 million in loans and skipped town when the real estate market collapsed.  They did all the normal white collar things; set up off shore accounts with dummy corporations in Belize, transferred ownership of all their fine things like their Rolls Royce and their home to said dummy corporations, and then moved to France.  It was this move to France which was almost genius as they put 40cts of diamonds onto a couple of Linda Mastro’s fingers and hopped a flight to Toronto and then on to Paris.  Like I said, “almost genius.”  These two didn’t bother moving to a non-extradition country with their millions of dollars in gems, so in 2012 French authorities arrested them and sent their wrinkly butts back to the states for trial.

Enough about the failings of the Mastros, so now back to you and your triad organized crime wealth and your future success  You need to get $5,000,000 from North America to Hong Kong, what are you buying?  Well, looking at what is up next for auction at Christie’s we find that the the June 16th “Important Jewels” auction in New York has several items that would entice even the most obtuse money launderers.  Well, just purchase the $2,000,000 sapphire ring (lot 232), the $2,000,000 art deco diamond pendant (lot 227), and the $600,000 diamond ring (lot 231) and you’re pretty darn close to $5 million right there (bidding wars are your friend because it drives up the value at the next auction).

csk-8127l

Now that you have your fine jewels and you have put them on the fingers and neck of yourself or your loved one, you need to then charter a private jet to fly you to Hong Kong, because really, who wants to wait in the TSA line like a commoner and then go through regular customs like some poor schlub?  Not you, you’re an important criminal!

Now that you are in Hong Kong you need to turn these gems into cash.  Well, just head to one of the offices of Sotheby’s, Christie’s, or Bonham’s in Hong Kong and put the same pieces of jewelry back up for auction!  The auction houses don’t care so long as they get their commission, and the fact that these items sold recently for an extravagant amount of money means that their perceived wealth is already fresh in bidders’ minds.  A few weeks later you get cut a check for your (almost) $5 million and present this to your triad boss and get a nice promotion and pat on the back.

People don’t realize this, but there is more wealth tied up in just diamonds alone than all of the stock markets combined.  Not every family owns stock, but almost every family (at least in the first world) owns a diamond.  Jewels have been a way of obtaining and moving wealth for thousands of years.  The Maharaja in India, the crown Jewels of England, the entire reason everyone and their mother has tried to invade and control Burma for the past several centuries, all has to do with maintaining and creating wealth via pretty things.  If someone has the jewels, you need to get the jewels.  If you need cash, you either sell them or pawn them, and I don’t care how rich you are; if you need to put a million dollar ruby up as collateral on a loan you just pawned the sucker.

the-jewels-of-the-romanovs-family-and-court

Drug dealers, organized crime syndicates, investment bankers, hedge fund managers, corrupt politicians, all of them, buy and sell fine jewels to launder huge amounts of wealth all the time.  So, when it is your turn be smart and don’t tape cash to your body; it is undignified.

Lessons In Not Getting Screwed, or Learning Things the Hard Way, or How to Sell Gems and Jewels

I just got back from the Banff World Media Festival where I met some fantastic people and learned a whole bunch about the entertainment industry.  One common theme most everyone seemed to relate to me was, “Be careful, don’t get screwed.”

Taking what I know about science, the Earth, and history to television is new territory for me and the education I am receiving from this adventure has its own parallels to my entrance into the world of gold and precious gemstones.  In other words, there is always someone who is a terrible human being who is going to try and screw you over and ruin you in the process.  Despite this risk you cannot let the prospect of terrible experiences keep you from reaching your goal.  Yes, there are monsters out there, but you have to find a way to test the waters and see who your future friends are and who your future enemies are as well (and I don’t use the term “enemy” lightly).

webuygold

What I have found in the gem and gold market is that those who advertise the most (especially to older demographics like the front page of the newspaper or on FoxNews) are usually the worst and most evil; I am still waiting for one just of these companies to prove me wrong.  I used to, and still do at times, visit estate sales during the winters to find unique gems and jewelry to add to my mineral collection or to later sell for a profit.  Depending on the gem or jewel you will need to do the footwork and research to see who wants what you have.  Some jewelers will resell most everything, others want only world-class specimens, some only want specific styles and may say things like, “I only deal in Edwardian jewelry.”  Your job is to take note of this and then keep such information in mind for when you do find that beautiful Edwardian filigree ring.

As far as loose stones and jewelry go do not ever expect to be the one to receive full market value for what you have.  Yes, I know that engagement ring cost $5,000, but the most someone will ever give you for that ring is probably $2,000 (even then, that is not too likely).  This is just the way it is.  The only people who can sell jewelry for that much money are those who have beautiful storefronts with security systems, security guards, fancy glass cases, and women with huge boobs standing behind said cases.

The best deals for you will come from being patient and consigning your piece through a reputable, high-end jewelry broker or from a prestigious auction houses.  Even then, you can only expect at most 80% market price in then end as everyone gets a commission.  This usually only works with really rare, one-of-a-kind pieces though.  Don’t expect to take your JC Penny tennis bracelet to Christie’s, Sotheby’s, or Bonham’s auction houses.

Some Tricks:

If you want to sell a gem or piece of jewelry for as much as you can there are a couple things you can do and chief among these is getting the stone (or stones) certified by a major laboratory like the GIA (Gemological Institute of America), the AGL (American Gemological Laboratory), the EGL (European Gemological Laboratory), the IGI (International Gemological Institute), the IGL (International Gemological Laboratory), the GRS (GemResearch Swisslab), or the BGL (Burapha Gemological Laboratory) just to name a few.  All of these labs are very honest and reputable, but some may offer a more in depth analysis and fancier report on your gems than others.

My experience with the GRS and the GIA are first class.  That is probably why these are the two favorites of almost everyone in the industry.  Most labs are very good with colored stone certification but when it comes to diamonds it is my experience that the only lab buyers trust is the GIA.  This seems ridiculous to me as diamonds are so easy to identify in the first place, but if you want the greenbacks you have to do what it takes to present your wares in the way your buyer likes.

What does certification even mean?  Well, when you spend a bundle of money to send a stone to a lab for certification what you get back is a detailed lab report as to the official color, cut, clarity, size, and overall quality of the stone.  Essentially the lab is saying this stone is what it is and are certifying it as such and putting their reputation on the line at the same time.  Sometimes, as with the GIA, they will even laser engrave a microscopic serial number into the stone upon request so that it can be tracked as it ventures through the markets.

Once a stone is certified the value of that stone skyrockets, and it can give you a negotiating tool.  A certified stone has prestige and a stone that is its exact twin without certification will sell for only 10-30% the value of its certified counterpart.  Also, if you are buying a stone it is a good idea to put a legal condition on the sale. Agree that you will only buy said stone if it can first be certified as what the seller says it is by a reputable lab.  Don’t assume that since they have the fancy store with the security systems, glass cases, and hot babes, that they are not just selling you pretty pieces of cut up Heineken bottles.

The other thing you can do is be sneaky.  Go to a jeweler who also buys or consigns stones or jewelry from estates or individuals and ask them to appraise it for you for “insurance purposes”.  Once they determine the value of the stone come back later and offer to sell it back to them.  When they low ball you, present them with their own appraisal.  It’s kind of a dick move, but it can really protect you from charlatans.

We Buy Gold!

Anyone who offers to buy gold on TV or in the Newspaper are out to screw you.  If they don’t list a “spot price” for your gold give them the finger and walk out.  Spot price should be between 90-95% current trading market price.  There are lots of mining shops, gold mutual funds, and investment funds who will pay you top dollar for your gold.

It helps if you refine your own gold first.  Educating you how to refine your gold is a blog for another day, just know that it is easier to sell 24k 99.9% fine gold than it is to sell a 12k gold plated chain necklace.

The same goes for silver or platinum, or any other metal for that matter.

Porcello Jewelers:

Porcello is a jewelry store in downtown Bellevue, WA who advertises on the front page of the Seattle Times almost everyday of the week and often has full page adverts found inside as well.  They claim to offer top dollar for the purchase of estate jewelry.  Let me sum up Porcello for you:

Fuck Porcello Jewelers.  They owe me $100,000.

Here is my tale:

A few years ago (2011), I had about twenty fine gem rings I had purchased at various auctions and estate sales.  The market value for the entire collection was in the $60,000 range and I was only interested in getting wholesale at a fraction of that price (I was hoping for $20,000, but would have taken as low as $10,000 since I had paid probably $2,000 for then entire lot).  Included in the collection was a platinum 2ct blue diamond ring which was accented with over a carat of near flawless rubies and almost a carat of VVS G-color diamonds. This piece was worth about $25,000 alone.  The man at Porcello said the ring was garbage and he would only give me $900 tops, and that was doing me a favor.  I pointed out that he had a blue diamond solitaire from the exact same designer in the case behind me for $36,000.  He held his ground.  Okay, I won’t sell this ring today.

This ring Porcello tried to screw me over.
This ring Porcello tried to screw me over.

The blue diamond ring was nothing compared to what came next.  The dude then gestured to a ring in my collection and asked, “What’s that?”

“That is a quarter carat enhanced red diamond in platinum.  The diamond is natural but the color is from irradiation.”  I replied.  Irradiation is a common technique, the blue diamond above is a result of irradiation too.

“That’s not a diamond.  That’s a garnet!” He almost screamed at me.

“No, that is a diamond.”

“I know a garnet when I see one, and that is a garnet.  I bet you $100,000 cash that if I take out my tester it’s not a diamond.” He challenged.

“Shit, you’re on, buddy. I’ve my tester right here too.”  I shook his hand and we both tested the stone. *beeeeeeep* went the testers affirming my statement that the stone was in fact a diamond.  I put out my hand and said, “Thank you for the hundred grand, you’ve made my day!”

This $1,200 ring has resulted in a $100,000 grudge.
This $1,200 ring has resulted in a $100,000 grudge.

He had security drag me from the store and accused me of cheating.  I reported Porcello to the Better Business Bureau and to the Washington State Attorney General.  If this is how Porcello treats an expert in the field what are they doing to the man who just lost his job or to the widow whose home is in foreclosure?  In other words, fuck Procello Jewelers.

Along your journey of making deals you will come across disreputable sorts like Porcello, and you will also come across sweet, knowledgeable, kind, trustworthy jewelers like K. Allen Smith in Seattle.  Just like how I am learning to navigate the world of television trying to market “Get Your Rocks Off With Houston” I once had to do the same with the world of gems and jewelry.

Good luck on your journey, and swing on by Porcello if only to ask them for my $100,000.

Sometimes You have to Go Home Just So You can Come Back Again!

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!

Until next time…

This is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things

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.

Erik Brains a Chipmunk

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!

We Got the Band Back Together.

Awake high in the hills overlooking Canon City we rolled into town and headed for the local BLM office.  The forest ranger inside called for the local BLM geologist to help me look up the claims in the area we were headed toward.  Out came a pretty young thing–she had a very familiar face.  After being the most helpful US government bureaucrat I have ever experienced I asked her about getting some maps.  The geologist asked the forest ranger and the forest ranger had one useful map but none of the topos I wanted, so she inquired if I was local and knew where a certain map shop was.  I told her no, and that I was from Seattle.  To which the geologist asked if I was from Bainbridge Island.  She was Amy Titterington. A girl in the class behind me in high school!  No wonder she looked so familiar… Duh!  She was thinking the same thing about me too.  Thanks for the help, Amy!

We left the BLM office and drove North to Denver to meet up with Aren and Erik.  It was a hot morning in the 90s and a bland drive being on the boring side of the Front Range.  We arrived in Downtown Denver in front of Aren’s Brother’s Apartment about Noon and we all got some lunch at a pub called Park & Co.  The food was good and our waitress happened to have gotten her degree from UH Manoa so everybody had a Hawaii connection.  The waitress thought our Hawaii meth jokes were hilarious.  They are.

We said adieu to Lars (Aren’s brother) and his girlfriend Echo and drove towards Ft. Collins.  We spent some time in Ft. Collins stocking up on food and gear.  Dave decided to push on ahead and set up camp before we got there while Aren, Erik, and I did some shopping.  I gave Dave my Colorado atlas and off he went.  About an hour later we followed North on US287 and then turned off on Colorado Road 80 (we drove this road last year too).  It was dirt, the we split onto an even rougher road and studied our GPS intently as we didn’t exactly know how to get there, even more so since Dave had my map.

Eventually we got to the Creedmoore Lakes Campground–I mean parking lot.  There was nothing there to indicate that it was an official campground; just a flat patch of dirt.  There was also no Dave.  Uh oh.  We set up our tent and crashed for the night right there in the parking lot.  About midnight we heard a truck coming down the road.  I jumped out of the tent thinking it was Dave finally finding us, but no, it was my cousin Sam!  We set up Sam’s tent and crashed again

In the morning we awoke and slurped on cereal and breakfast bars, when Dave finally showed up.  He drove about a hundred miles too far to the West the previous day and the dirt road he found us on was going to be his last stop before he gave up.

I decided we were going to try one of the “Lost Lakes”, a group of kimberlite pipes about five miles to our East for our first day of dredging.  The drive was green and lush, I think this part of Colorado has received a lot of rain since the fires in June.  The first couple of Lost Lakes were dry but the third one had water and that is where we set up shop.  The lake is more poop than water thanks to an endless supply of thirsty cattle that relieve and refresh themselves daily there.  It was gross.  It is gross.  It will always be gross!

With the dredge set up on the Northeastern shore of our lake I loaded up the sluice box with my petroleum jelly and Crisco concoction (diamonds are hydrophobic and love grease) and we started sucking.  It was late in the day so we did about three hours worth of mining and called her a day.  I scraped the goo off the sluice box into a pot, filled the pot with water, boiled it, and then set the pot to cool in the lake.

We decided to move camps to the lake since it’s next to our minesite and nicer than a dirt parking lot.  When we finished relocating the grease had settle in the pot and I checked our fist day’s spoils.  Diamonds!!!

We got about three carats of diamonds that first day.  Solid!  That makes up for the poo we get to muck around in.  It doesn’t take long to settle into a routine.  Throw sticks for Mud, eat food, tell fart jokes, suck some mud/poop out of the pond.  The clay in our hole has proved problematic but once we got passed it we started into actual kimberlite blue clay itself.  At the end of day three we now have about 15 carats of diamonds with several stones pushing 2 carats each!

Today was day four of mining and the pressure hose in my dredge sprung a bunch of big leaks. Into Red Feather Lakes we traveled for repair supplies, a blog post, and probably the rest of the afternoon lost to the bar and its pool tables.

I have photos but I forgot my camera back at camp so those will have to come later.  Sorry, I know many of you want to see some diamonds; soon, my friends.  Soon!

The great diamond hunt of 2011 looms!

Everything is getting packed. Tents, cots, Igloo coolers, chairs, shovels, rock hammers, picks, pry bars, dredges, sluices, gold pans, engines, gas cans, wet suits, hip waders, hiking boots, external-frame packs, towels, propane tanks… Freaking everything!

I hit the road and begin to collect my crew Wednesday morning and I don’t return from this adventure until August… hopefully rich and tan! Where am I going this year? Wyoming, of course! Our first stop is to a place I call “Secret Spot” to hunt for opals. Opals of all kinds; white, black, fire, precious. I don’t care. What I do care about though is setting a world record. Our goal: Find the largest opal boulder on record, bring it back to Seattle and polish it. It won’t take much to beat the current world record holder, the Galaxy Opal from Brazil, all we have to do is beat 5,000 carats polished. I don’t just want to beat it, I want to destroy the world record! I am shooting for 100,000 carats plus this year. Anything less will be a failure!

Second stop, and our shot at a second world record, Central Woming and the hunt for a giant iolite gem. We’re talking man-sized, hundreds of pounds. A real MONSTER. The goal: To find and facet the largest natural gemstone on planet Earth. The current record holder is the America Golden Topaz, also from Brazil, that weighs in at about 22,000 carats. I want to destroy this record too. I want a stone so big that when we cut it, the table of the stone can be used as an actual table!

Stop three, the Medicine Bow Mountains. Here is the main gold of the trip; to get as many diamonds as we can shovel and dredge. I chose a certain creek in the Medicine Bows for a good reason; for its historical gold production, and for the fact that 14 identifiable kimberlite pipes drain into it. If I’m not getting buckets of diamonds, I am sure as hell going to be getting some gold while I’m out there!

My crew will swell to as large as ten adventure hungry near-do-wells at times, and our backs will be breaking with the promise of riches that will await us in the rockies.

Opal, Iolite, and Diamonds 2011, Ho!