Not quite two years removed from Cliven Bundy’s moronic and dramatic showdown with the BLM (who were repo-ing his cattle for millions of dollars in unpaid fees, fines, and court ordered punitive damages) we find Cliven’s son Ammon forcing another showdown with government agents. This time over some ranchers who did bad things and got busted for it.
You have probably seen it splashed across your newsfeeds and made fun on of mercilessly on the late night comedy shows, but what does the showdown at a bathroom/gift shop at a remote wildlife refuge/bird sanctuary in the most desolate and sparsely populated region in the lower 48 have to do with anything (a well-sourced historical brief on the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge)? Well, I am going to explain it to you.
In 2001 Lincoln Hammond, Jr., 73, and his son, Steven Dwight Hammond, 46 were illegally hunting on protected federal land. After making several kills of protected wildlife, “Steven Hammond handed out “Strike Anywhere” matches with instructions that they be lit and dropped on the ground because they were going to “light up the whole country on fire.” One witness testified that he barely escaped the eight to ten foot high flames caused by the arson.” According to court documents in the case. Later, in 2006, the Hammonds then began a backfire in the Malheur Wildlife Refuge despite being told that there were BLM fire crews battling the fires in the path of the winds of any backfires and were explicitly informed not to do so. Their problem was that those same BLM crews also bore witness to their crime
The Hammonds were convicted of arson on federal lands and given a short sentence. The Federal Prosecutor in the case appealed the sentence because arson on federal lands carries a congressionally mandated 5-year sentence. Upon appeal the 9th Circuit Court resentenced the Hammonds to 5 years minus time served. The Hammonds were to report to prison on January 4th of 2016 and have done so… So why all the militia dudes in Oregon?
The militia dudes are there because they are angry about something but they have no clue as to what that something is and are using the Hammonds as an excuse to express their anger. They claim that the Hammonds have been set up by the BLM so the federal government can take their land (which has a bearing of truth since it can happen if the Hammonds fail to pay some $200,000 in outstanding restitution owed for their criminal violations; the ranch is collateral on this fine). The conspiracy surrounding this ranges from: “Those whacko liberal environmentalists don’t want anyone to eat beef!” to “Obama owes our Chinese creditors and Hammond ranch is rich in diamonds, gold, uranium, and natural gas so he is giving it to them.” Pretty much all of this is beyond moronic.
As all of you who are familiar with this blog know, I am an expert on laws regarding access to federal lands; I kind of have to be when my livelihood depends upon it.
First, nope, there is no natural gas in this region since there is no shale to be found.
Second, gold is found in about four locations all about 15-30 miles from the Hammond Ranch and all of it is in miniscule recreational quantities. (You’ll remember that I detailed this geologically boring region this past summer: “This stretch of Oregon is the absolute worst. One giant, salty, flat, treeless, sun-baked, wasteland. Everywhere along the route is half-finished ideas, and crumbling dreams. Broken trailers here, roofless barns there… Anyone thinking of living in this uninhabitable hell-scape needs to just fill their tank and drive until it runs out of gas. Wherever you end up will be better than here.”)
Third, Uranium is so ubiquitous as to not even be interesting to anyone who needs it. I can hop into my truck and drive to Nevada and claim a few million tons of yellow cake uranium ore out of the desert on already existing federal lands. No one needs to steal the Hammonds land to gain access to significant uranium lodes.
Fourth, the rock here is just flood basalts. Flood basalts are pretty much the most mineralogically undeveloped igneous rock on the planet. If you’re lucky you will find some peridot (but not likely) and that is about it. This means there is no Lamproite or Kimberlite from which one can get diamonds. There are no diamond-bearing rocks in Oregon. Period. If there were diamonds in Oregon I would have staked claims there a long time ago (since I am the only person with commercial diamond claims in the lower 48, I am definitely the expert on this).
Now that we have debunked all of these conspiracies, what is it that Ammon Bundy and his militia dudes are so bent out of shape about that they have taken over a visitors center and gift shop in the dead of winter? As far as I can tell the Bundy-klan object to the feds owning land at all. They do not believe the federal government should own any land of any kind. Why? Beats me, federal lands are what this nation’s wealth is built on and for some reason the rightwing has been trying in recent years to liquidate our federal lands anyway they can.
Now lets look into the types of people who arm themselves and take over a bathroom outpost in the middle of nowhere when it is basically the most awful time of year to be there, or just like to join militias in general: these militias are comprised of men like Ryan Payne who claims to be a former Army Ranger, but who isnt; or Brian Cavalier who serves as Ammon Bundy’s personal body guard and who claims to be a former Marine and war veteran but isn’t either of those things (but is a convicted criminal).
Others who heed the call to militant action include or white supremacists and members of the Neo-Nazis and Aryan Brotherhood such as Rance Harris, a member of the “Oath Keepers” (a right wing paramilitary outfit who as a group made a show of force during the Bundy Ranch fiasco and who posed a threat to BLM employees this past Summer at the Sugar Pine Mine in Oregon), whose arms and hands are covered in racist and Nazi tattoos (a friend of mine identified him from a news photo as a known white supremacist and I managed to hunt down his Facebook page and yup, a groovy heil Hitler “88” tattoo on his knuckles).
In general unregulated militias are largely populated by white supremacists and grew at previously unseen levels when Obama was elected president (Cavalier also has swastika tattoos on his eyelids, by the way [classy]).
These men claim they want the US government to give their lands over to someone, but whom? This I don’t know. What I do know is that many of the men in this movement are also members of groups who advocate race wars, secession from the government, sedition, and outright revolution against our democracy. These people are the worst of our society and I hope they become lily white frozen hate-cicles on the plains of the Oregon Outback.
Day 4, August 27th, When I awoke in my hotel room I found messages. Lots and lots of messages. From family, friends, insurance agents, claims adjusters, sheriff’s deputies… It took a while to respond to them all, then again I awoke about 5am so I had hours to kill until the tow company could make its way out to the wreck. USAA ordered me a rental car from Enterprise (they pick you up!), so after I showered again and picked more glass shards out of my back and shoulders, I dragged what meager belongings I had with me down to the hotel lobby and waited there for the rental company. I just wanted to scream into everyone’s face who passed by, “I’m fucking alive, isn’t it incredible!?!”
I was even still shaking a bit a day later. I don’t know if it was shock, adrenaline, or enjoyment from not being dead or grievously injured. regardless my body had a little hum to it. When my rental lady came I loaded my belongings into a teensy little Kia and I resigned myself to this itty bitty K-car as the ride I would have to stuff all of my broken shit into to. When we got to the Elko airport the girl kept apologizing for how slow the computers were and how long everything was taking. I didn’t care. I was alive. Take as long as you want, honey; I’m not dead. Slow computers are at the bottom of my give a shit list.
When she gave me the keys they were to a Chevy. “So the Kia isn’t mine?”
“Nope, I got you a Malibu.”
“Sweet, Consumer Reports gave the Malibu 99/100, and it’s big!”
We unloaded my shredded bags from the Kia and into the Malibu and I was on my way. Man, fuck Consumer Reports. This Malibu is the most uncomfortable ride I have ever experienced. I swear I am more injured from the poorly designed head rest of this P.O.S. than I am from pulling 12 Gs dancing through the desert in my truck. If the head rest is low, it sticks out and will poke you in the back of the neck. Or, in my case, in the only part of my neck that was stiff from the accident. If the headrest is high and you sit back it leans out so far over the back of the seat that it forces your head into your chin so all you can do is look at your lap. There is no way for me to drive while sitting back resting my sore neck and shoulders. The lumbar in the seat back is up around my shoulder blades so my back was arched in two directions, one over the weird lumbar position, the other forward trying to avoid the headrest.
To add to my new mid-size, pseudo luxury car misery, the bottom third of the steering wheel is solid with nowhere to grip the wheel. How the hell is someone supposed to drive 2,200 miles and not be able to rest their arms in their lap on a long, flat stretch of desert road and still control the wheel? A few days later when I was on the ferry boat returning home I was talking to a friend about the Malibu and they had rented one once. He noted that the steering wheel doesn’t match up with the seat, it is off center. Holy shit, he was totally right! The entire steering column is 1″ to the right of the center of the driver’s seat. Who designs this garbage?! Moreover, who at Consumer Reports tested this garbage and gave it a rating equal to the Tesla S?
My first stop with the rental car was Albertsons for fruit boxes and some bags with which to store all of my detritus from the wreck. Then I called the tow company who the previous evening had informed me they would be ready to head up into the mountains to claim my beast by this morning. It turns out that they had to turn the job down because their own truck just broken down. It took a while and a few calls to tow yards and USAA to discover who the new tow company was, American Towing. I called them and the woman on the line said that the truck had left a little while ago to the site. I headed out hoping to meet up with them and find my glasses. Honestly I can see ok, I just can’t read anything. I can tell there is another car in front of me, or that there are trees, just don’t expect me to be aware of the road sign notifying me of the exit I need or if a woman is truly attractive at 100ft or just an old lady or a dude with long hair.
The drive up Nevada 225 was dangerous simply because the comfortable zone for my foot on the gas pedal of the Malibu was at a cruising speed of about 100MPH and I really had to focus on not driving that fast. The car really wanted to go that fast, constantly. I was missing my truck already. It couldn’t even go 100MPH, it just poked along at a comfortable pace, with a comfortable seat, and a comfortable headrest…
There are a couple large gold mines up NV225, most notable is the Jerritt Canyon Mine. It’s huge, a producer in the ten million ounce range by now. The mine extends over five miles of the independence Range and includes perhaps as many as ten open pits as deep as a 1,000ft. Since 1993 the mining operations have been mostly underground as miners follow the veins of gold deep into the Earth. Jerritt’s website states that, “Gold was first discovered there in 1972,” but the BLM’s claims records for this range, and where the Jerritt pit exists today, date back to 1918 and probably even before that. What their website should read is, “Gold was first rediscovered there in 1972.”
For miles and miles of NV225 there are crews grooming the hillsides just to the west of the road and some miles North of Elko is a large transfer station. Brandon had told me the day before that this was an extension of a natural gas line that was coming all the way from Minnesota on its way to California. Whoa, that’s a lot of mountain ranges to wind around and through with pipes.
After about an hour I reached the turnoff for 746 and immediately I could feel how terrible this sport sedan was on dirt. The speed limit is 45MPH and I could go maybe 15 without spinning around. This car blows. I am one day removed from a gnarly roll over in a sturdy truck designed for these conditions and now I feel like this Chevy garbage can is going to finish the job. About four miles up the road I meet the tow truck making its way out. I waved them down and they told me to follow them to the tow yard. I turn around and follow suit.
It felt like a funeral precession. Staring into the now one-eyed, toothless, “aw shucks” grin, of my trusty steed as she rides to her final resting place I come to the conclusion that I will never love, nor be indebted to, an inanimate object more for the rest of my life. It is because of her I have a “rest of my life.” I am locked in on the completely crushed passenger side of my stallion. How was all the energy of my impact focused on where I wasn’t? If I had a passenger they would be dead right now. I feel sick. The only people who ride shotgun in my truck are loved. If one of my dearest friends had died while I walked away unscathed I couldn’t live with myself. I want to puke. Instead I cry like a baby the entire hour back to the tow yard in Elko.
That truck was my way of life. It saved my stupid ass more times than anything should. Some of my happiest, and my most exciting, and my most terrifying, and my most hilarious moments were made possible by that noble beast. I even devoted two whole pages of my photo book I passed out to VIPs at Banff to her.
“My truck has sheet metal because I do not” was my philosophy. I feel that a truck is tool. So long as the mechanics are in great maintenance, what do I care how it looks? To me each scratch, every ding, and all the beautiful dents on her metal body represented a story, an adventure, and a dear memory.
The first scratches down her sides were from some over grown bushes at Gazzam lake when I drove my brother and nephews into the neglected parking lot. My brother looked at me like a fool as the long “screeeeeeeaaaach” sound of the branches dragged down her sides. I shrugged and kept going.
The first dent in the rear tailgate was from a tree trunk in The Cove at Topaz mountain as I tried to k-turn in a little flat spot between cliffs. I didn’t see the little stump as I backed up.
The dozens of dents in the tailgate were from when I purchased the “Honey Badger” a little trailer made out of the bed of a 1976 Ford Currier pick up truck. The man who sold it me for $200 attached the trailer to Dentasaurus and waved me on my way. He attached it poorly. A few miles later at a stop light it felt like I was being jackhammered into the intersection and I looked in my rearview mirror to see the tongue of the trailer standing high in the air. The hitch had popped off because the dude never tightened it down on the knob. the safety chains then did their job like giant metallic rubber bands and used up all the trailer’s momentum by repeatedly smashing the newly free hitch into the tailgate again and again.
The giant dent on the passenger side was from crossing Cornelius Creek in northern Colorado. I had to enter the creek at an angle and the turn sharply in the stream bed and around some trees on the bank. After some frustration of trying to thread this needle I just used the trunk to the tree to pivot the truck around it and out to the other side of the stream.
A year later Dentasaurus fell off a cliff and into a small canyon. As the truck fell the 6+ ft into the river below I resigned myself to my death acknowledging that I was about to die upside down drowned in a mountain stream, alone, with no one knowing where I was. instead I landed upright, the only damage was to the running boards which became dented and cracked. I managed to drive the rest of the river down and over water falls thanks to my spectacular truck. It had saved my life. I owed my truck my life.
“My truck has sheet metal because I do not.” I lived by it from the moment I bought her. It was August 2008 and I needed a big, dependable 4×4 to haul dredging equipment deep into the mountains. I didn’t care if it was a Chevy, a Dodge, or a Ford; old or newer. I just wanted an extra cab, an 8ft bed, 4wd, and a diesel engine. To begin my search I had decided to drive up to Everett in my sporty “Space SHOttle”, my sleeper white Ford Taurus with a Yamaha Formula One engine in it, and work my way down US99 and all the dozens of dealerships located between there and Seattle.
The first dealership I found had several big trucks, one was a white late ’80s 3500 GMC that caught my eye. The salesman came out, you know the type, the kind of guy that immediately tries to make the sale via emasculating you and achieving a position of power and authority then pressuring you into a sale for something you don’t want. He asked, “How can I help you?” I told him I was looking for a big diesel 4×4 with an 8ft bed and mentioned that this truck caught my eye. His response was an incredulous and slightly disgusted, “Do you think you can handle that much truck?”
My response: “Hey, fuck you, buddy!” I reached in to my pocket and pulled out thousands of dollars in cash along with my middle finger and walked back to my car.
“Hey, I didn’t mean it. It was a joke. I wasn’t serious! Come back!” I got into my car and drove away. The next dozen lots had no trucks what-so-ever. I couldn’t find anything. Being that it was August ’08 and the economy was on the brink of total collapse, and gas had just hit $4 a gallon for the first time ever… I guess no one was keeping large trucks in stock. What ones I did find were such garbage that I wanted nothing to do with them. With most of the morning gone I hopped on the Bremerton ferry and decided to head to Port Orchard and work my way back North through all the dealerships on my side of the water. My first stop was Grey Chevrolet. I told them my requirements and the senior sales-bro on duty passed me off to the most junior douche-nozzle of the crew who talked my ear off about what a wonderful, amazing truck he had for me as we walked for what felt like miles and miles out to the far reaches of the continent. Finally we reach a 1988 lowered, 2wd, single cab, shortbed, Chevy CK pickup.
I inform Dingus that this truck cannot drive off road.
“No, bro. This truck is solid. It can go anywhere. It’s really solid.” He tells me as he tries to open the door, but can’t. “Trust me, take it for a spin and you’ll agree.” He still couldn’t get the door open.
“No, I’m out.” I walk away and he shrugs at his failure to try to put me into what I don’t want and stays behind trying to figure out how to open the door.
I drive into Bremerton and exit the highway where all the mega autoplexes reside and make my first stop Parr Ford Used Cars. The first person to greet me is John Hart and I tell him what I want. He ruffles his brow.
“To be honest, we have been shipping everything used that doesn’t get at least 30MPG far away. We haven’t sold a full-sized truck in over a month!” He now wrinkles his face and rubs his chin, “But I do have a 2000 F150 extra cab 4×4 with the off road package this gentleman over here is trading in right now as we speak. I’m sorry, but it is a gas engine and a short bed… Want to check it out anyway?”
“Sure, this is farther than I have made it with anyone else so far.” I appreciate his blunt honesty. We meet the man trading in his truck, he is in is early fifties and a contractor. He proceeds to inform me how much he loves the truck, how perfect it is, how much of a baby it is, how many upgrades he has done to it. He doesn’t want to get rid of it but his business requires an even bigger monster of a truck, an F450, to get the job done. He gives us the key to the green F150.
Outside is the truck. It’s shiny. It’s green. It has Flowmaster pipes. It has rear airbags that can be filled or deflated according to the load requirements… I climb in, it’s comfortable and the interior is very familiar and similar to my Taurus. We drive around the block and up a hill. I find a big pile of dirt and John asks me, “What are you doing?”
“Seeing what kind of shape the transfer case is in…” I shift it into 4wd and climb over the pile of dirt. She goes.
We drive back to the dealership and John asks me how I like it. I admit I like it, but that it is not exactly what I’m looking for. John asks how if he were to give me a screaming deal could the tuck become what I was looking for.
“What kind of deal?”
“This is where I go over to my manager and actually ask him a relevant question. Here, sit at my desk.” He walks off and leaves me to stare at over ten years of “salesman of the month” awards lining his cubicle. Since 1997 John Hart has won salesman of the month every single month. Every. Last. One. He has each plaque lining the walls of his cubicle along with his honorable discharge from the Navy dated just a couple months before his first award. There are no other awards in any of the other cubicles. John comes back a few minutes later, “…Because we haven’t even entered the truck into inventory, and because we are probably just going to ship it off to an auction house or second tier dealership any way, we’ll give it to you for $6,600.”
This truck’s blue book is over $12,000. Fuck it, I see now how John has won all those awards; he’s just made a sale. John tells me that they need to detail it and go over the mechanics before they can release it to me and to come by and pick it up tomorrow. I give them the money and sign the papers. On my way out I meet the truck’s former owner once more as he is standing outside admiring his new giant shiny black train engine of an F450. “Thank you for the truck, I hate to tell you this, because it’s your baby and all, but inside a month it is going to be completely unrecognizable, dented and scratched. She’s a beaut, but now it’s time to go to work.”
The next day I swing by to retrieve my new ride and John is apologetic. “I can’t give you the truck today, we discovered that the brakes were completely shot so we are replacing them for you. I am so sorry, but you have to wait an extra day. Here, for the inconvenience.” He hands me a check for $2,200. So, now I am getting a $1,500 brake job, and a mint $12,000 F150 for $4,400… Forget salesman of the month, John Hart deserves “Salesman of the Infinity”.
I sold my fast car as the truck was too great. I added my own upgrades: a CB radio, antenna amplifier, canopy, navigation system, power inverter, a bed shelf, a larger alternator, big tires, etc…
As I drive in my uncomfortable rental car now staring at the dead/dying husk of a former powerful beast on the back of a tow truck I thank it for all the good times. I could have died, but I didn’t. She has saved my life one last time. It is the only truck in Valhalla. I know it.
When we got to the tow yard near the airport the tow truck driver and his copilot unloaded Dentasaurus off the flatbed. When they were done they walked over me and could tell I had tears welling in my eyes. They both wanted to meet and shake hands with the “Indestructible Man”.
In 20 years on the job the driver had never towed a rollover like mine that wasn’t bathed in blood. They couldn’t figure out how it was even possible that I am not hurt.
I quickly unload everything that is recoverable from the truck. Books, maps, loose change, shoes, shovels, rock picks, gad pry bars, tri-folding futon, blankets, gold sluices, bear spray, sunscreen, hydrochloric acid, tool kit, road kit… I finally find my eyeglasses under the passenger side floor mat. They are ok! I stuff everything I can into the Malibu, I take note of what I am missing or is destroyed:
Both Thermarest pads are not there when they were yesterday.
The piece of shit gas can I had to buy because Grace still has my good one is gone. That garbage is someone else’s problem now.
My crevice sucker is obliterated.
The cooler is done.
I cannot find the awesome pocket knife my dearest friends Nick and Sarah gave me.
I have lost a few pounds of gold concentrates in the buckets that were in the back of my truck. Obviously dumped all over the Nevada desert.
About 1,000 carats of peridot from Black Rock, WY I had in my map holder is gone.
Several cool pieces of obsidian from Oregon I kept in various cup holders are out there returned to the wild…
I stuff what I can into bags and boxes and the shove these into the Malibu. I thank the drivers for everything they have done for me and give the beautiful smashed green sheet metal a kiss and say goodbye.
That truck was my Old Yeller, and just like the end of that movie I am in tears.
Day 3, August 26th, Today became a big day where a lot happened. A lot. Stay with me, this is a long one, but a good read.
I had bedded down for the night next to the Shoofly Oolites in southern Idaho, because, well, what an awesome name! These chunks of rocks are the limestone remnants of a giant fresh water lake that extended across the valley of what is now pretty much the bulk of Idaho about 11-13 million years ago. The Oolites are bits of limestone formed from tiny sealife particles which settled on the lake bottom.
The rare chemical properties of these oolites support five endemic plant species and are pretty rad to look at up close. Not too much time available to spend staring at such blocks of rock, I have to make up for all the progress I lost by being stuck in the middle of nowhere. I am hundreds of miles behind schedule and missed out on three desired stops yesterday. No Leslie Gulch, and no ghost towns of Silver City, and DeLorme, ID in the Owyhee Mountains. Nuts.
I stop at a hardware store and obtain a new water jug and fill it at a Shell Station while I grab some fuel.
I then drive down the long, flat, hot Three Creek Rd south of Bruneau, ID. This road is an eternity in a long straight line. I pass the captain obvious sign for the Saylor Creek Bombing Range I am about to traverse. Really? Things fall from planes on a bombing range?
the road is lined by two things: beautiful little sunflowers, and Stupid Little Birds (SLBs) who like to jump out in front of my truck as if I am a preditor seeking their eggs. Their goal is to draw me after them and away from their nests. My goal is to drive a straight line. Our goals collide. Often. My estimate is that one in 25 of these SLBs finds itself under my carriage. It wouldn’t be an adventure in the desert if my modern technology wasn’t a tool of natural selection changing the evolutionary outcomes of the previous few million years one Stupid Little Bird at a time.
Air Force A-10s were making bombing runs around me during my drive. Ironically I passed a sign that read, “Only you can prevent wild fires,” while bombers dropped 25lb incendiaries on dry grass around me…
After maybe 60 miles of such roads I finally begin to dip into the canyon where the “resort” town of Murphy Hot Springs, ID resides. The spring was known to local tribes prior to the white man, but the first recorded owner of the spring was Kittie Wilkins who was a well educated woman from Walla Walla, WA. She became world famous for her horse breeding and traded her horses around the planet. She was widely regarded as the “Horse Queen of Idaho. Kittie made a pool for the spring to fill out of rocks so that the ranch hands and locals could rest their weary bones. The pool became known as “Kittie’s Hot Hole”. I shit you not. I found out about this after I passed through town, otherwise I would have taken a dip in Kittie’s Hot Hole just to say I did.
Today the town is rustic resort where locals gather to vacation in the summer. The resort was built by a gentleman named Patrick Murphy who renamed Kittie’s Hot Hole to “Murphy Hot Springs” (boring). I got word that the Mexican food there is to die for. Should have stopped for a dip and a lunch… next time.
Since this is a trip of adventure and challenge I decided to climb the canyon opposite Murphy and head up the mountain. I wanted to descend into the town of Jarbidge, quite possibly the most remote settlement in the lower 48, via a road that goes down the canyon wall right into town. It is a road that is somewhat a legend for how steep, unkempt, and stupid it is to drive. Jarbidge self promotes as the “Off Road Capitol of America” and this wisp of dirt is its king. I passed several trucks with ATV trailers on my way to my wisp of a road. I also went by my second powerline crew of the day working on the walls of the canyon. They looked at me and my truck like I was either a stud or an idiot. I prefer to think of myself as a little of both.
The road down started steep and narrow right off the bat, but the view was spectacular.
I descended slowly and in 4-low. The rocks started small and crumbly but the road goes steep in a hurry. The only tracks I saw were from something tracked like a bulldozer. I couldn’t understand why a bulldozer would go down such a route and not grade it. Weird. The boulders started to get huge and my truck was plodding at a crawl over them. I got to a little flat spot tucked into the canyon wall where I came face to face with a dude on a bulldozer on the opposite side of downed power lines. Ah, there he is.
The look on his face was one of surprise. “What are you doing?” He asked.
“I’m heading down into Jarbidge”
“This road is not really that kind of road.” He incredulously put to me while pushing his orange hard hat back on his head.
“I know, that’s why I’m doing it.”
“Well, it’s going to be three hours until they pull these lines up so you are either going to have to wait or go around.”
Fuck, I am pressed for time, go around it is. “Guess I’m going back around. Nuts.”
“I am surprised you even made it down here. It’s not much of a road, more a bunch of rocks. Why didn’t anyone up there tell you we had downed lines down here?”
“Beats me. They just looked at me like I was a fool.”
“Jeeze… Good luck backing back up!”
And that is where I met my big challenge, taking a quarter mile of cliff face backwards and in four wheel drive. There is a lot of torque in reverse, let me tell you. I made it a couple hundred yards back up the slope, it took a while because I had to keep getting out to see what the rocks looked like behind me. Eventually I opted to just climb the rear end of the truck up the slope so that I was probably face down close to a 100% grade (45 degrees) and pivoted the nose of my truck and proceeded to do an Austin Powers multi-point turn around pirouette on the slopes of the canyon and get my truck facing forward. It worked. I’d rather see my impending doom coming than fall backwards off of it.
I made it to the top and passed the line crew again. This time they were all smiling at me. I wanted to shout, “The road didn’t defeat me, your stupid power lines did!” 45 minutes later I was back in Murphy and back on Three Creek Rd heading along the canyon into Jarbidge.
I got stuck behind another truck hauling ATVs and it was just blowing dust everywhere. I hate being the one behind someone on a dirt road. I don’t need to die of consumption because I had to drive behind someone. I decided to pull over and throw a whiz and kill a little time staring at a map of the canyon. Once I was sure I was clear of the dust machine I continued. The road is only 15 miles long or so, but takes a while as the fastest you will travel is maybe 20 MPH, but most of the time you’ll be doing 10-15 MPH. It is really winding.
Today Jarbidge is a town that is waiting. It is always waiting. Waiting for someone, anyone, to come along and provide something interesting and new to do. Every person enthusiastically waved at me with a gleam in their eye as if it is possible I could be their savior, or at the very least, their next round of entertainment
Jarbidge is a gold mining boom town through and through. It was the site of the last gold rush of the Old West in 1909. Exaggerations of gold discoveries brought thousands of prospectors that Winter and most had their fill by Spring of 1910. These genius prospectors tried driving claim-stakes into drifts of snow and discovered that digging for gold is darn near impossible when you have to make it through 18ft of snow first. When gold was actually discovered after the snow melt (duh), the town swelled again to perhaps 2000 by 1911. Teddy Roosevelt had created the Humboldt National Forrest in 1908 and a ranger station was built near where Jarbidge is today. A year later, upon news of the gold strike, President Taft exempted the Jarbidge Canyon from the national forest so that people could own land and settle there.
Shortly after the town boomed a second time it began it’s slow decline once again. Mechanization and consolidation of the mining operations dwindled the population to just those required to do the job for the Elkoro Mining Company by 1918 when Guggenheim purchased most of the mining interests.
The only connection Jarbidge had to the outside world prior to The Elkoro was via stagecoach to Rogerson, ID. This meant that Jarbidge was the site of the very last stagecoach robbery ever on December 5th, 1916 by one Ben Kuhl. The coach was supposed to arrive into town with over $4,000 in pay for the miners. When the coach didn’t arrive on time everyone logically assumed the 4ft of snow which had fallen that day had delayed the arrival. A search party was assembled to find the rig. A phone call up the canyon to Rose Dexter informed the men that the coach had passed her home and she waved at, but driver Fred Searcy didn’t wave back but was bundled in his coat at the front of the coach.
The search party found the coach hidden behind a tree with a frozen, dead Searcy slumped in his seat with a close range bullet hole in his head, complete with powder burns and singed hairs. Next to the coach was a mail bag, but missing was a second bag with the $4,000. The next day the group set out to follow a set of dog prints and foot prints in the snow that lead away from the crime scene. A stray dog began following the group started pawing the snow along tracks to reveal the missing bag, minus the $4,000. The dog’s paws matched the paw prints in the snow the group had been tracking. The party concluded that the dog had been at the crime scene and that it was mostly attached to Kuhl, a convicted horse thief. Regardless of who killed Searcy, the killer’s hands had been covered in the blood of the driver and then the same blood smeared the letters and envelopes leaving bloody palm and fingerprints behind.
The subsequent trial was the first time in US history fingerprints were admissible in court and two forensic scientists from California determined that the palm prints were an exact match to Kuhl resulting in his conviction and that of two associates. Kuhl was sentenced to death but his sentence was later commuted to life in prison.
The $4,000 was never recovered and to this day is the most substantiated buried treasure legend in the United States.
Rolling into Jarbidge I had about 1/3 of a tank of gas left in Dentasaurus, so a top off was to my benefit. The gas pump was different. One diesel, one unleaded and no one around. Just a sign informing me that if I can’t get my payment to work then I need to go to the saloon next door and use their phone to call Dennis. Of course this weird gas pump attached to a dial-up modem didn’t work. I had to call Dennis. A woman, I presume was his wife or girlfriend answered. “He’s on his way over.”
A few minutes later an angry white haired man on a four wheeler pulled up. “What’s the problem?”
I can’t get my payment to work.
“For Chrissakes, you have to wait until it clears!”
“I did, It just–”
“No you didn’t, Goddamnit! Give it to me.” Dennis is like Oscar the Grouch, if Oscar the Grouch wasn’t a children’s character. He slides my card into the gray machine and lifts his sunglasses off his face and onto the top of his head and squints at the little screen that looks sort of like a Speak&Spell. “You just have to wait… See, there it… wait, huh? ‘Rejected by Host’?… Your card doesn’t work,” and he tosses it at me nonchalantly and starts to walk away. It lands at my feet.
“I have cash if that will work.”
“I hate this fucking place. I hate everything about this fucking place. It’s not even my gas station. I cannot wait for them to fucking sell it.” I look at the Coldwell Banker sign with some portly woman with short hair smiling “FOR SALE” it reads. Sure ’nuff, the place is for sale. “Yeah, cash will work,” he sighs, and fumbles with a set of keys on the flimsy door of the dilapidated service station and walks inside a building that appears as though twenty different owners over the past century had begun a restoration project of the building before calling it quits and selling out to the next sucker.
Dennis lifts his glasses off his face again and squints at a little old school cash register like it’s the monolith at the beginning of 2001: A Space Odyssey. He fumbles with the keys and the cash drawer opens from which he withdraws a little white card and then storms passed me and my forty outstretched dollars.
He slides the little white card into the machine and does some more squinting and button pushing. “OK, pump the fucker.” I lift the nozzle and flip the handle up, the meter resets to zero. I pull the trigger. Nothing. “I FUCKING HATE THIS PLACE!” Dennis screams. “GOD DAMNIT, DON’T TOUCH ANYTHING!” More fumbling, more screaming at me, at the ‘confound’ machine, and at “This forsaken shit hole!”
Five minute later the pumps starts chugging. I try to get it to stop around $37 so that I can get $3 change to give to Dennis as a tip for the show he put on. I hand him the $40 and tell him to keep the rest. “Fuck you. I told you this isn’t my damned station. I’m going to give you your fucking change and then fucking kill myself.” Dennis must be a legend in this town. By now a dust-covered Toyota 4-Runner has pulled up to the pump and Dennis shoots it a glare complete with a thousands daggers and yells at the vehicle, “GOD DAMNIT!” I hop into my rig and pull away and out of town and watch Dennis hate everything with his new audience from my side mirror.
At the end of town began the steep switchbacks that lead up the wall of the canyon and is the start of the road to Elko. I drove by a forest ranger conducting a census along the laid lines of a transect, she would be the last person I see for the next few hours, and climbed and climbed until I could look out at the old mines high on the walls of the canyon.
The road continues up until and I passed through gorgeous stands of fir trees and aspens and I found myself at the top of a high peak about 8,500ft up. I could see al the way into Idaho and up along a gorgeous mountain valley.
The drive through the mountains afforded me cool observations of contact points between basalt flows and older sedimentary layers, metamorphic slates, quartz intrusions, hoodoos, and sweeping peaks.
I had to drive slowly through the mountains. The road is well groomed but the terrain is steep and gnarly. There is no way into Jarbidge if it is raining; this path would just be a muddy death chute to the valley floor below.
I hear the sound of metal clanging behind my truck like I am dragging something. I am.
I couldn’t break it off, the last strand of metal connected to the muffler had too much integrity. Well, add “new exhaust system” to the list for Dentasaurus Rex. I also notice that I had obliterated my tow package the day before was well… another item for the “list”. Why doesn’t Ford attach the tow package to a cutout in the bumper? Every time I go off road I just destroy that damned dangly little fucker? As far as the pipe is concerned? Fuck it, I’ll just drive until I stop hearing the sound. A few miles later I stopped hearing the sound of it dragging behind me.
About an hour down the road and on the South side of the slopes I pass a few abandoned mines and come to a ghost hotel outside the ghost town of Charleston, NV. I don’t know the history of this place, but it must have been 1950s swanky in its heyday!… There was also a mountain lion living under the hotel. It startled me.
The road forks, and I head West along Elko County Road 746 (the Charleston-Mountain City Road). It’s like any gravel road I have traveled tens of thousands of miles before. I am traversing the southern foothills of the mountain range as it works up and down the undulations as long ridges give out at the base of the range. For the most part the road is boring and flat with a few curves. It has been nearly three hours since I have seen another vehicle or person. Regardless on blind turns and hills I give up my middle of the road to the off chance someone else is coming the other way. The last thing I need is to be surprised by a wayward hunter or family on a camping trip.
My aim is to make my way to Elko, fill up on fuel and then dirt road it South deep into Nevada to investigate a quintet of ghost towns surrounding silver mines in the White Pine Range southeast of Eureka. I don’t make it.
I am about to round a blind, off-camber turn (a turn which slopes away to the outside making the vehicle want to pull to away from the turn, the opposite of a “banked” turn) on ECO 746. I am doing about 45MPH, the speed limit, but slow down to about 40MPH as I approach the turn. Rather that take the outside of the turn, like I normally would on such a curve when I have a long site-line, I play it safe and take the high side of this curve to the right on the off-chance that the rare fellow traveler happens upon this turn as well.
The road rises a little bit right before the turn and just as I begin the curve my front tires dip into a rut or pothole and pops the front of my truck up. When the weight of my truck resettles on the road my tires find themselves pushing into a deep pile of gravel or silt built up on the road. My already turned wheels crank hard to the right as they sink into this plush, loose, material. It whips the rear end of my truck around and to begins to slide through the corner. I crank hard on the wheel to steer into the turn and hopefully drift the truck around the corner fore something bad happens. Too late.
My front tires just stop in the fluff of material and I basically pull a quadruple toe loop with a 5,000 lbs truck. I have spent many an hour contemplating what I would do in the event of a roll over accident. With the thousands of miles I have travel on dirt roads it is almost an inevitability. These thought experiments are the best kind of practice I can conduct without actually flipping my truck. As I begin to tilt over I go through the motions I have worked through my head a thousand times before. I grip the wheel tight and push it hard away from me and into the dash. As a result this forces my body back into my seat and I push my head back with all my might into the head rest and flex every muscle in my body. I don’t want to go anywhere. I have seen too many videos of rollovers where arms and torsos flop out the door window as a result of centripetal force and arms and heads are severed as the vehicle rolls over them. The roof might crush me, but I am not going to lose an arm in the process.
Over I go. I have what feels like a thousand thoughts in just a few seconds:
Hold with everything you got. Count the rolls. There’s one. You’re an asshole for dying on your way to see Angie. How is she supposed to feel finding out days after you were supposed to arrive in Santa Fe that you died alone in the desert? I guess now this is what your last sensation of being decapitated feels like. Two. Keep your eyes closed tight, glass is exploding everywhere. I don’t want to get a new truck. Keep flexing. Three. You are at least a two hour hike to a paved road; remember to assess your supplies. Am I dead yet? I really wanted to see Angie, she’s the best. I don’t want to die yet. I want to go to Santa Fe. I think I just rotated entirely without touching the ground. Four...
I land upright and open my eyes. My hands immediately move to the top of my head to seek out any splits in my scalp. At first I am surprised that my hands are moving and that my eyes are watching my hands move. My brain was almost certain that I would send the signals through my arms and only bloody stumps would respond. No blood, coming from my head. I can’t even feel that my head hit anything. I cannot accept this, maybe the bleeding hasn’t started yet. I run my hands over my head again and again. Nothing, no blood. Next I run my hands around my torso looking for any shrapnel, large bruises, broken ribs, punctures. Again, nothing. I look at my knees and move my feet and toes. I stare at my fingers and wiggle all ten of them. My neck hurts. Oh no, I slashed my jugular, this is how it ends. I slide my palm along the left side of my neck where it hurts. Nothing, no blood yet again. This is fucked up, how am I not injured? I must be injured.
The stereo is still playing Sisters of Mercy “This Corrosion”, but the engine is no longer running. I turn the ignition off. The battery obviously works, use the CB radio and your very illegal antenna amplifier that can broadcast your signal over 100 miles. This is what you bought it for! I reach out and pull the microphone out of its cradle. The power swtich is damaged but it turns on. I turn to the emergency channel and just get a blare of static. I look out through the bashed in windscreen see that my antenna is no longer there. Shit.
I undue my seat-belt and open my door. Holy shit, my door opens! I then look at the steering wheel, no airbag have gone off. I look to the passenger side. It is completely flattened. Had I a passenger they would have been popped like a melon at a Gallagher show, no airbag either. What the fuck, no airbag? I should have a bloody nose and black eyes by now, damnit!
I step out of the truck and triage myself one more time. Nothing, no blood outside a few nicks from broken glass, one scratch on my right shin, and the abrasion on the left side of my neck from my seat-belt I thought was a slash to my throat. I’m OK! Holy shit, I’m OK!
Now is not the time to celebrate, you’re still tens of miles, if not a hundred miles from Elko. Time to start assembling supplies. I start walking around the truck, the canopy is 100ft away, all of my prospecting gear, bedding, books, clothes, food, electronics (everything!) is smeared along a debris field perhaps 150-200ft long. All my windows are broken out. The passenger side of the truck is pushed in like a thumb through play-doh. Holy shit my brain keeps repeating. Pull these things off the road so someone else doesn’t hit it. The truck is in the road and I can’t move this. I don’t want someone else to come around this blind corner and hit this or wreck trying to avoid it.
I begin piling items either in the bed of the truck or in the upside down canopy. I found my compass, good. I find my brand new water jug and half the water is gone trough a tear in the plastic, argh! There’s the piece of shit gas can, Oh look at that, the first time that hunk of garbage didn’t spill everywhere was when it was launched 50ft into the air during a heinous wreck. Asshole. I find one can of cola that wasn’t destroyed. Every other liquid is obliterated. Milk gone. Mexican Cokes gone. The Seattle beer I was bringing to Angie’s brother who is a beer blogger to review? Gone too. Cheerios are everywhere. Sandwiches are nowhere to be found. I can’t find my glasses and I can’t find my cellphone. I find my computer, clothes, various shoes, sleeping bag… all go into piles.
At this moment, it is probably only five minutes since the accident, I hear a truck approaching from the West and look up to see a cloud of dust. I walk out into the middle of the road and start waving my arms back and forth. The Toyota Tundra slows and the driver leans out the window, “Are you alive?… are you hurt?”
“I am alive, and no, miraculously I am not hurt!”
He pulls his truck to the side of the road and gets out to inspect me and make sure I am not just in shock and have entrails dangling out from behind me or an open wound on my scalp. “Holy shit,” he declares, “How on Earth are you alive?”
“I don’t know… Thank you for stopping. Thank you so much for stopping. Pretty much all my supplies are obliterated. It was going to be a pretty shitty hike back to the highway.
We introduce ourselves to each other. His name is Brandon. He is my hero. I can taste the metallic telltale of adrenaline pumping through my veins. My hands shake. He asks if I have a tow line so he can pull my truck off the road. I search through the debris and find both tow cables and open the plastic packaging and hookup the front tow hooks and hand him the other end which he attaches to his trailer hitch and drags my giant booby trap off the road.
Brandon then begins helping clear all of my belongings and putting them into the bed of the truck. “Is there anything you need right now?”
“Yes, I can’t find my cellphone or my glasses.” The thing about looking for glasses, is that without wearing them, it is really hard to find them. I immediately flash back to my last baseball practice at Lewis & Clark. The coaches decided to have a scrimmage and a little fun where the only rule was you could not play a position you had played throughout the season. Shortstops pitching, Catchers at third base, pitcher patrolling the outfield… The winning team got to have all the meal money for our last travel game of the season; losing got jack.
The team captains chose the teams, I was picked last because it was assumed that the skinny awkward knuckleballer would be the worst athlete on the team. I played left field and had the game of my life. I went four for six with 6 RBIs, four runs scored, a bases loaded double, and the play of the year. A long drive down the line and I gave chase. The shortstop kept yelling, “You have plenty of room! You have plenty of room!” over and over letting me know that I had a ways until I would crash into the fence so that I needn’t fear; I can get the ball. I chased and chased and just as the ball was about to land I leaped and discovered the fence was only a foot from me. I exploded into the fence, ball in glove. It hurt. I picked myself up off the ground and threw the ball into third to cheers of my teammates who never expected such athleticism from the weirdo nerd-pitcher.
The real pitcher for this game returned to the mound and got ready to throw to the next batter. “Time out!” I yelled, “I can’t find my glasses!” I dropped to all fours feeling along the grass searching for my specs. Every single one of my teammates also fell to the ground, but in laughter, as I blindly searched for my eyes with the palms of my hands patting along the ground. I hadn’t worn my contacts because I had assumed that this practice would be like every other one; I throw a bullpen, go for a jog, and then get out of the “real” ball players way. Game of my life and I can’t see shit. I eventually discovered that I fractured two fingers on my pitching hand on that play too…
I snap back to the present and find myself doing the same thing once more, this time instead of grass, I am on my knees crawling over an endless stretch of desert patting the ground with my hands hoping to come up with my sweet Oakley Metal Plate eyeglasses. Brandon and I search for twenty minutes or so. Brandon finds my phone. I give up the glasses search and decide to document the accident instead for myself, for the sheriff, for the insurance company, for this blog, and for my friends and family so that every one can know that once again I have proof that I am once again miraculously indestructible.
Brandon gave me and the important possessions we could find a ride into Elko. He was the best person to come along and discover my wreck. Calm, helpful, and kept me from descending into shock by conversing about everything under the Sun to keep my brain occupied. He is a mine tech for Barrick Gold and was out searching for elk as he has a tag for hunting. He was raised in Eureka and skis the local slopes in the winter by skinning up. His grandfather worked the Big Ruby mine and was murdered by men who thought he was a different man of the same name who had wronged one of them. I love Brandon, he is wonderful.
Brandon drives me to the Sheriff’s office so I can report the accident and patiently waits for half an hour as the dispatch has to call in a deputy. The deputy is also patient with me as I am still kind of vibrating from the accident. He asks me to email him pictures of the crash, they are already receiving calls from people who have happened upon the wreck. Just then he gets a word that a boat is sinking on the lake and has to go. He’ll be in touch. I go back to Brandon’s truck and he gives me a ride to the High Desert Inn so I can check in somewhere for the night and start figuring this shit out. He even helps me lug everything up to my room and gives me his number in case I need anything. I thank him a thousand times. All I want to do is shower and sleep.
I dump my belongings inside the door and call USAA to report the accident. The claims agent is wonderful. He asks about my health a dozen times, orders me a rental car, informs me of how awesome the coverage I have is, and starts ordering a tow truck to haul Dentasaurus Rex out of the wild. I upload the picture of me standing in front of the wreck and let the Internet know I am alive. I text my agent and let her know that I am alive. I call my mother and let her know I am alive. Before I can call my dad, he calls me. Every friend and family member is calling, instant messaging, and texting to see if I need any help. Everyone is so wonderful; I love my circle, everyone of them is magnificent. I shower and sleep. I sleep hard.
(Editor’s note: Many of you know already know what happened on this year’s ghost town trip. This article was written prior to the ‘Event’ but I did not have Internet access to update the blog before my laptop was destroyed. My hope is to maintain the feeling and emotions of the adventure at the time this was originally written and not taint it by adding to it my thoughts after my, yet another, near-death experience)
Day two, August 25th, Sleeping at the trailhead for Lookout Mountain was so peaceful. Not a single bug. Not one! It was so quiet, the only sound was some hooved animal snorting every so often, and an owl in the distance from time to time. The night sky was not like anything I have ever seen (and I’m an astronomer!). The intense fire smoke filling the entire region had turned all the stars red. ALL OF THEM. Trippy… Well, I guess it could have been all the gasoline fumes I was huffing due to my EPA certified “no spill” gas can spilling all over the place (thanks again, Grace). Who can tell? All I know is that I slept well and forgot most of third grade in the process.
I awoke with the Sun and consulted my maps. I decided to traverse the Ochoco Mountains to Pauline and gas up missing out on the Mother Lode Mine atop Lookout Mountain, nuts. Shortly along my path I encountered a little derelict gold mill and an abandoned bunk house. I have no clue what this place was named. Nothing in my maps tells me. It was beautiful in the amber morning light though.
The drive to Pauline, OR was an example in the National Forest Services interesting choices in road construction and maintenance . You go from dirt to paved. Then back to dirt, then on to beautiful two lane with large shoulders… then to unmaintained gravel… I don’t get it. I got to Paulina about 8:30am to find one gas pump and four cute little cattle dogs climbing all over me. I had about half a tank, but I wanted to be sure to have it topped off for the dirt drive to Burns. I didn’t know it, but those dogs were in on the con; while I scratched and patted the flurry of fur and wagging tails, the lady pumping my gas (yes, Oregon does not trust average citizens with the responsibility of putting a nozzle into a hole and pulling a trigger) was ripping me off. She exclaimed, “Wow, were you empty or something?”
“No, not even close.” I replied. I then look up to see that somehow 11 gallons of gasoline has become 23 gallons. My tank only holds 21. What am I going to do about it? She’s the only game in town and I pull no weight out here in the sticks. I just bought 23 gallons of gas. at twice the market rate. Lame. Note to self, do not buy gas in Paulina, OR.
Back into the mountains I have a nice long drive through a boring pine forest. I realized while turning the wheel and staring out the windscreen, that I really don’t care for pine trees. They suck. They are not pretty, they cover the ground in acidic needles that thwart undergrowth, and all of them looked like depressed trees just going through the motions. They wish they had the rainfall and clout of a Pacific forest, but they don’t. Instead every pine tree just looks like it is ready to die in a raging forest fire. Like it WANTS to die in a raging fire. The skeletons of charred pines look so much more at peace than the living ones. Pine trees are like the emo kids of the tree world. I can just imagine them chain smoking stolen cigarettes, listening the Sunny Day Real Estate on repeat, and writing poetry about how much they hate their parents.
In Burns I go to a McDonalds to steal their Wi-Fi only to discover that my laptop now wants to spend an hour “installing updates”. cap this off, it is low on battery and the McDonalds doesn’t have outlets anywhere. isn’t this a violation of some sort of building code? I hate everything. Fuck it, I’ll drive. I cross the street to the Shell station and top off the tank. The attendants are talking about how Canyon City just to the north is no more, destroyed by fire. Shame, Canyon City and its neighbor, the famous John Day, make up a marvelous part of the old mining west. Fire is everywhere this year. History and the Earth are burning.
I leave Burns about noon and am off to bucket list #3, Leslie Gulch and the mysterious blue landslide I want to touch. To get there traditionally I would have to drive around and around for hundreds of miles, or I could just off road and cut out the circuitous travel. I leave Burns heading east towards Crane. This stretch of Oregon is the absolute worst. One giant, salty, flat, treeless, sun-baked, wasteland. Everywhere along the route is half-finished ideas, and crumbling dreams. Broken trailers here, roofless barns there… Anyone thinking of living in this uninhabitable hell-scape needs to just fill their tank and drive until it runs out of gas. Wherever you end up will be better than here.
At the end of the Pavement is Crane, OR. Crane is a town, apparently, but all that seems to be there is a high school (“Home of the Mustangs!”), even the highway leading to there is sponsored by the “Crane Teachers Association” There are no businesses, just a Post Office and a high school. Weird.
Passed Crane the road is gravel and really nicely maintained. Those who know me are aware that I drive like a grandma. Dirt roads are no different (Editor’s note: yes, I am aware about how ironic the entire following piece is considering what happens the next day). It may seem to the outside observer that I am driving like an asshole, but there is great strategy in this. First rule of mountain or country driving: stay in the middle of the road except when going around blind turns or over hills with no visibility of oncoming traffic. This way you are less likely to hit large animals like deer and cows as they are more likely to be on the sides of the road eating than they are just standing agape in the middle of the lane (the boys and I once drove for a hundred miles in the middle of a highway as we passed millions of deer on migration in the Oregon Outback east of La Pine for what seemed like hours in the middle of the night, surreal experience). Rule two, if your rear wheels start to drift behind you, steer into the slide, this is to prevent a rollover (Editor’s note: yes, I am aware how fucking ironic this is, shut up).
I am driving through the “Stinkingwater Mountains”. Like the salty flatness before them, they too are not that great. More like long flat turds drying in the Sun. Not even mountains really, more hills of nothing worth noting. Just basalt and some ash. Boring!
Bombing the Crane-Vernator Rd, I eventually take Swamp Creek to the Crowley-Riverside Rd. This road kind of sucks and after 20 bumpy miles I come to a locked gate. Oof. I consult the map and turn around and go back a ways, then head northeast on McEwen Rd, then East on the stupidly named Granite Creek Rd (there isn’t any granite within 100 miles of here, maybe more), then Shumway Cutoff Rd, to the singular Crowley Rd, to Antelope Flat Rd, to Unnamed road, to Unnamed road, to Unnamed rd, to no road at all… a horse trail really. Everything in the bed of the truck is back to ping pong balls.
Driving such a 4×4 road requires intense concentration on what is 10 feet in front of you. It is a good thing the surroundings were lame, otherwise I would have popped my tires and died like a raison in the hot Sun.
There is no one out here. Every so often I find tagged cattle, but not much else. This last dirt road I am on is requiring me to open and close barbed wire gates like crazy. My hands are now full of splinters from these old, weathered gates. I am chugging up this last hill, jarring large basalt rocks pop my truck back and forth and at the crest of the hill one of the most beautiful desert formations I have ever seen. I see Red Bluff, the Owyhee River, and the crazy outcrops of the mineral-rich mountains surrounding Leslie Gulch. I take it in. So beautiful. One last gate to open and then close behind me and then I descend down closure to bucket list item #3 of the trip.
Fuck me, this road is not a road. It is a scar of dirt, large boulders, and one giant rut descending a couple thousand feet to the valley below. 4-low, 1st gear, and my white knuckles clinging to the steering wheel for life and I make my way down hoping not to die ricocheting about the cabin of my truck as it goes end over end to a place no one has tread for perhaps a decade, or more. Once I make it 20 feet down there is no going back. This is a one way trip, no truck is going to make it UP this thing as gravity will ensure it goes DOWN one way or another. I am leaning out over my dashboard trying to get any look at what is about to pass under my tires. This is fucked up. I’m an idiot.
An hour later I finally am out of the awful basalt layer and into the sweet softness of the ash. The road is smooth as butter… for about a half mile. Then it takes a turn from going straight down to a long traverse parallel to the ridge. Who does that? Now I have deeply carved dry wash after dry wash. Going back up isn’t an option and driving over a 6ft deep gorge is not that much better. This is fucked up. I’m an idiot.
The third gulch in my path is deep. Like really deep. I put the truck in park and get out to survey the terrain. I take pictures too, because this is what one does before doing something stupid, and plan my route. The key to crossing a crack, crevasse, slot, or creek, is to take it at an angle. The goal is to have at least three tires in contact with the ground at all times. It is also much smoother. I back the truck up so that I can approached this monster at as much of an angle as I can, shift it back into low gear and creep forward. The truck falls forward with a giant *crunch!* and I am no longer moving. The front clip is now firmly impacted into the opposite bank and my rear passenger tire is now about 3ft off the ground. I managed to achieve goal number one: have three tires in contact with the Earth! I can’t back up because the soft ash the front tires are in at the bottom of the gulch floor provides no traction, just puffs of dust, and the rear differential means that the passenger side tire in the air spins wildly while the rear tire sits locked in place. This is fucked up. I really am an idiot.
I am seventy miles from the nearest human, It is 3pm and approaching 100 degrees outside. What I have going for me: gallons of water, food, extra fuel, rock tools.
I check my supplies: Food: Soggy and warm, because I forgot to drain my cooler and get more ice. Way to go, moron. Water: punctured while bouncing around in the back of my truck. Dipshit. Fuel: The top popped off my leak-proof can and now there are gallons of fuel soaking most everything in my truck. Thanks, Grace. Rock Tools: A little slimy with gasoline but ready to lever, pick, and dig.
The first thing I do is dig out the front end of the truck and give her a go. Nope. I them cram rocks under the front tires for traction. Nuh-uh… I sit down, sweat already dripping from me even though I haven’t really done any work yet, and drink what little water I have left and start to engineer a plan. I begin by rolling big boulders down the hill and into the gulch. I make a several foot high pile of these rocks under the tire that is high in the air. My god, it is hot outside.
Next I take one boulder and put it under the drive train of the front driver’s side. I place my crappy little jack on top of this rock and start lifting the truck. Unlike Lookout Mountain there are bugs here, and they love me. The flies are buzzing and biting while I lay on my back, shirtless, under my truck spinning the jack a hundred time to watch it raise an inch. Just like stuffing some coasters under the opposite corner of a wobbly table leg, I am now stuffing a jack under the opposite corner of my tire that is three feet in the air. As the driver’s side front tire lifts off the ground the rear passenger side begins the settle on the pile of rocks I made. Once I get the jack as high as it can go I stuff rocks under the now raised driver’s side front tire. Along with these rocks I take a piece of plywood that makes up the shelf in the bed of my truck under this as well; like a ramp going up the embankment. Once everything is in place I lower the jack and everything settles. All four tires are now making contact and three of these tires are on rocks and not ash.
Two hours have gone by. I am very eager to see how my engineering has fared and I climb back into the cab and turn the key, put it back in gear, this time 4-low and 2nd gear so as not to have too much torque and press the pedal down. The engine growls and like a bolt of lightning the truck is up and on the top of the bank. Smooth like butter. I am no longer an idiot. I am now a 4×4 god and genius engineer. I dance while I throw my tools and plywood back in the truck. I realize I forgot to document my genius with pictures. Oops. I don’t care that my bedding smells like a fuel dump. I’m not going to die alone in the desert!
I drive forward 100ft and there is another gulch. FUCK!
This time I am proactive and fill the gulch with boulders. I drive over them, another gulch, another fill of boulders… another gulch, and so on, and so on. Finally, four hors have progressed from when I reached the bottom of the valley and began driving on the ash, I get reach the Owyhee River and to where I am going to cross, and the water level is high. Too high. There is no way I can get across (I knew I should have built a snorkel for my intake). I have managed to find the only river in the West that is at a normal water level. So much for planning. Well, back to my maps because there is no way I am getting out the way I got in…
I find a trail that runs up the opposite side of the canyon (the East side) from where I came down, the trail sucks, but not as bad as the previous one. Only two gulches need to be filled with boulder. hooray. The shadows are growing long, and now I am really driving like an asshole up a shitty road with one goal in mind: Get to cellphone coverage before my mother makes me a news story by reporting me missing in the Oregon Outback. I promise her I will check in everyday I am doing stupid stuff alone in the toolies. As she is fully aware that I have no sense and exhibit pretty much no fear when attempting morinic things in the name of exploration. She witnessed my childhood. She’s seen my medical files.
I finally make it to US20 by 9pm. That is about 60 miles of terrible “roads” in two hours (with two ditch fillings). These roads should be treated at a crawl. Again I am the most fortunate of idiots. Also, thank you, Les Schwab tires for not exploding on me in the dark.
After placing a call to mi madre, the next goal was gasoline not in Oregon, but Idaho, please. I want to pump my own gas like a dignified human being. Now here I sit in a Denny’s to use their Wi-Fi and then after 30 minutes they kicked me off the Wi-Fi and won’t let me log back in. My shitty fucking meal hasn’t even arrived yet. Kiss my butt, Denny’s!
Note, things I need for the truck:
a high lift Jack
somewhere outside of my tuck I can store a gas can, for the love of god!
(Editor’s note: Many of you know already know what happened on this year’s ghost town trip. This article was written prior to the ‘Event’ but I did not have Internet access to update the blog before my laptop was destroyed. My hope is to maintain the feeling and emotions of the adventure at the time this was originally written and not taint it by adding to it my thoughts after my, yet another, near-death experience)
August 24th, Today I began a trip just to visit ghost towns. I have never set out to only visit ghost towns, usually these relics are left as side trips to one of my larger prospecting outings. I wanted to dive into the history first hand and leave the geology as the side trip this time.
I got my best start on a solo adventure in years; I left the house only an hour late!… part of this was due to the fact that I couldn’t find my main gas can anywhere. One cannot go on an 1800 mile off road adventure where one finds one’s self up to 300 miles or more between fuel stations. Then it occurred to me, I lent my gas can to my friend Grace so she could fuel up the little motor on her sailboat. She never gave it back. She’s like the female version of Dagwood Bumstead’s neighbor/best friend Herb.
After a stop at Ace for a new can, I finally got out on the road. South through the Tacoma Narrows Bridge and then I had to snake around I-5 as one of my goals on this trip is to not set tire to Interstate the entire way down to Santa Fe. Some wiggling through Tacoma I managed to get onto highway 7, and then I got to witness full on Spanaway right up in my face. If you have never been to Spanaway imagine all the abandoned towns in “The Walking Dead” just with even worse lawns, and instead of Zombies looking for brains, it’s skinny people aging too quickly looking for meth.
South of Spanaway the road turns beautiful and winding. The draw back to all this nature is about 30 miles of the most roadkill I have ever seen. There were hundreds of raccoons, dozens of deer, bunnies, opossums, and even my first porcupine laying by the wayside. It was as if it had rained animal carcasses from above and snowplows had to clear the road for us drivers leaving drifts of carnage like so much snow on the side of the road. It was metal. Every so often their would be a break in the trees and I would be afforded a majestic view of the Northwest’s most dominant land feature.
I drove along the Nisqually River and along Alder Lake I was pleased to find the river valley ablaze. How quaint. I have a feeling that forest and wild fires are going to be a running theme on this journey.
A turn onto Highway 12 towards White Pass and then a jig to the right down Forest Service Road 23 and I finally found myself in my element; on a shit road. For the next 50 miles I got to watch all of my mining equipment, fuel, water, clothing, and bedding bounce around like ping pong balls at a Lotto drawing. Here is an interesting fact: my brand new EPA certified “leak-proof” fuel can I was forced to buy (thanks, Grace) leaks like the mother of twelve after a sneezing fit. Well, Erik, it is my turn to have to trippy gas fume dreams as I sleep in a cocoon soaked in cancer.
Further down NF23 on the way to the Columbia I saw an arm waving about from the side of the road. I slowed because I thought it was someone in distress, but the fact that I was in the sun and they were in the shade of a tree played tricks on me. It was just a couple of bearded trustifarians in about $1,000 in hiking gear looking for a ride. I told them the truth, “Sorry, guys, I don’t have the room.” Which is totally true; I am packed to the gills and I move the Box of Knowledge for no man (except Aren), and especially not for two strangers with B.O. Then I told them a lie, “Don’t worry though, there are two more trucks coming up right behind me!” Then they sat back down in the shade and I floored it. Why did I do this? Because I’m a dick… Well, it might not be a lie ultimately. It’s a mountain road. There will always be two trucks behind me. Eventually.
Crossing into the Columbia Gorge the vast scenery was so hazy as to be not even real. Almost everything looked like a distant memory bathed in blue hues and amber Sun. One thing that cannot be missed in The Gorge is the towering cliffs of basalt. 16 million years ago Eastern Washington and Oregon sat above the what is today the Yellowstone hotspot. Back then the hotspot only had to worry about oceanic basalts that like to get all melty and flowy and not the herky-jerky continental stuff that forces it to have apocalyptic eruptions every few million years like today. No, back then it was downright diuretic. Every 8,000 years or so it would lay down a free flowing layer of lava that would cover thousands of square miles, just pouring over everything like a glass of water spilled onto your kitchen floor. The Columbia Flood Basalts cover in the neighborhood of 100,000 square miles up to 2,000 feet thick. That is enough lava to cover the surface of our entire planet in a foot of hot lava. Be impressed by this.
I finally made it to Washington’s Stonehenge in Maryhill over-looking the Columbia. It has always been on my list of things to do before I die. Though technically checked off, my bucket list check was forever ruined by a loud obnoxious family who couldn’t read any of the markers to themselves but had to share each plaque with someone 200ft away. I hate people.
Across the river in Oregon I refilled my tank and decided not to get a sandwich since hundreds of children from some summer camp unloaded off their buses and into my way. I concluded that it would be better to starve to death than wait in a line while these whippersnappers played tinny sounding YouTube videos to each other.
Heading South on US97 I passed by two towns that are not listed as ghost towns, but they are. They are so dead. Both Grass Valley and Kent, Oregon have nothing left in the tank. Between the mechanization of farms, consolidation of family spreads by larger outfits, and the fact that no one in their right mind would want to live in such a desolate, sun-baked shit hole, ensures that both towns are crumbling shells of their former glorious selves. The general store in Grass Valley advertised they were the last stop for groceries for the next 67 miles. It was closed. For good.
The first ghost town on my list was Shaniko mainly because someone renovated the grand hotel there. The town consisted of the hotel, a guy sitting on a bench in front of what looked like a knickknack store catering to a tourist who would have to be lost to end up in there, and one gas pump on a hill. Quaint, but not what warms my heart. I prefer more desolate. More broken. In the past this was the case. Shaniko was the name the natives gave a german immigrant with whom they trusted and did business. They couldn’t pronounce his actual name, Herr August Scherneckau, so “Shaniko” would have to do. The town got its start as a railroad hub for the newly minted Columbia Southern Railroad as a way for large sheep ranchers to get their wool to market.
At its peak, Shaniko had the Grand Hotel, a large two story firehouse and 13 brothels, or “sporting houses” as the locals referred to them, catering to the needs of the thousands of sheepherders and railroad men who would make their way into town for supplies and nookie to stave off the loneliness of the Oregon high desert.
I broke off US97 at Shiniko and headed toward Antelope on a winding highway 218. Antelope was about as lively as the three previous burgs I passed. It did have a green ghost school though and someone actively filling their U-Haul with their worldly possessions in a real-time GTFO. Cool, not too often you get to witness the act of the actual abandonment of a ghost town.
Antelope was the main stagecoach supply point between The Dalles on the Columbia River and the important gold mining town of Canyon City. After the mines slowed, and highway were built, the need to a weigh station like Antelope ceased to be exist. Thus another town bites the dust! Side note: In the early to mid 1980s a religious cult established their headquarters just outside of the town replete with corruption, paranoia, and the largest biological terrorism attack in US history. Let’s just say jailarity eventually ensued. I want to save this story for another blog post because it’s a doozy, so please bear with me!
A few miles east of Antelope I turned onto a dirt road and worked my way into some mountains. A note to the National Forest Service: the BLM is better at roads than you.
Each turn yielded more spectacular scenery. Golden hills, steep canyons, derelict ranches… My goal for this stretch of my day’s jaunt was to make my way toward Horse Heaven, a dead mining town high in the hills. After about an hour I found it and it was buried under tailings from, well, a mine. It appeared as though someone open pitted most of the town and dumped the workings on the rest sometime in the last 40 years or so. Pity, as of 1971 it still had a bunch of standing buildings.
Horse Heaven got its start when a couple of high schools kids, Ray R. Whiting Jr and Harry Hoy, were shown how to pan cinnabar out of a local stream (Cinnabar is an ore of mercury, mercury sulfide to be exact). In the summer of 1933 the boys decided to start tunneling into rock where their cinnabar pannings vanished upstream assuming this was where it was coming from. They managed to dig more than 60ft through solid rock into the side of the mountain using nothing but hand tools (badass for some kids) and couldn’t find anything… That is until Ray kicked a rock over that was wet on the bottom and the bright red tell of cinnabar was blazed across the stone. They had managed to remove hundreds of tons of ore not realizing that it had to be wet to be able to see the red tones of the cinnabar!
The boys sold out to a large mining outfit for 11% of the proceeds of the mine each and instantly became rich. Ray turned his wealth into a famous Hollywood restaurant frequented by the stars, I don’t know what became of Harry. When Ray’s luck with money ran out he was back up at Horse Heaven in the Summer of 1971 searching for another lode of mercury near the site of the original mine. From the looks of the remnants of the old mining town I’d say he found it.
As I continued down these mountains from Horse Heaven I passed through the most glorious private ranch I may ever lay eyes on. It was complete with signs threatening to castrate me and more if I stopped my truck. I wanted to stop and take pictures of the amazing canyon and the painted hills, but I want my testicles more. Sorry to fail you all.
After some time my dirt road turned to pavement and a sign directing me to the Painted Hills fossil site made me take a right. Bucket list item #2 of the day complete. The Painted hills are remarkable erosion features consisting of millions of years of volcanic ash and fills the entire horizon with vivid colors. Yellows bleed onto grays who then melt into deep crimsons. These ashes house the remains of lots mammals and plants. Don’t climb on the hills or dig for fossils though or else some bored park ranger is going to fuck you up. He’s just waiting for you to be an asshole so he can disappear you in a little spot in the Oregon Outback somewhere he picked out just for you to become a fossil yourself.
Driving further South my goal was now to make it to the summit of Lookout Mountain for the night. I didn’t make it. The old road that leads to the top is now a foot trail and I am not strong enough to hike my F150 up 2,000ft of vertical. Thus, tonight I spend in the parking lot of the trailhead.
Day one is pretty pleasant, day two on the otherhand…
Pioche, Nevada (pronounced Pee-O-Shee) isn’t much of a ghost town any more. Today it now has about 1,000 residents thanks to the boom in gold and silver prices. Forty years ago, however, it was a near empty relic. Lying along the Western edge of the state and abutting the Northern Slopes of what was, of course, later named the Pioche Hills; an eastern spur off the southern part of the more impressive Highland Range, Pioche is easy to find. It lies along US93 as it winds itself South towards Las Vegas 165 miles away. These days Pioche is a more somber town than its glittering neighbor to the South. It didn’t used to be that way. It used to be Hell on Earth.
The town got its start in1863 when a bunch of Mormon farmers, lead by William Hamblin, settled the valley. The original town site was called Panacker after what they named the valley floor; the “Panaca Flats” (Hamblin and his kin were thought to be the first white people to settle here). Shortly after settling the area Hamblin is then credited with the discovery of lead-gold-silver ore (the Panaca lode), but this is not entirely true. In reality Hamblin convinced some Paiute Indians friends, who had no use for such glittery things, to show him where said metallic rocks could be found. His staked claims resulted in $40 million in ore (to put this into perspective, in modern dollars this is about $2 billion!). Don’t we all wish we had friends who could basically hand us $2 billion in gold and silver?
Hamblin was poor and bit too incompetent to develop the mine himself, couple this with the delays caused by the Civil War and the fact that the Paiutes were no longer his friends and were sick of all the white men invading their territory, and he was essentially forced to sell the claims to a French banker from San Francisco by the name of Francois Louis Alfred Pioche in 1869; hence the town changed its name to “Pioche”. Hamblin eventually died in awful desperation to return to his original hometown of Gunlock, Utah, this was part in thanks to the awful, violent reality that was Pioche (more on this later).
By the time Francois Pioche bought the mines Nevada had already become a state, yet law enforcement was a little lacking (and what law there originally was had been corrupted by bribes and threats), so violence ruled supreme. Tombstone, Dodge, and Deadwood have nothing on Pioche. By the time the town had experienced its first natural death some 75 people had died via “lead to the head” or beatings. Violence was so ubiquitous that the mine owners and foremen imported their own muscle to protect the mines from encroachment, bandits, and poachers at the rate of 20 men a day. These hired guns were basically assassins and their death rate was so high that they quickly filed the cemetery on Boot Hill at the top of town. This cemetery even has a section known as “Murderers’ Row” with over 100 executed men (most of whom were executed without trial).
The story of a bartender just known as “Faddiman”, as reported by Lambert Florin, was typical of the town. When a job for an opening in a saloon was posted in Pioche Faddiman jumped at the chance for work that didn’t involve being underground. Friends, family, acquaintances, and strangers alike told him not to go: “You’re as good as dead if you go to Pioche.”… “No bartender ever lasted longer than a year in Pioche.”…
Feddiman told everyone to get bent, “I need a job and I don’t care where it is. I can take care of myself.” He made his way to the then mining camp and stayed there. His second week on the job he cut off an intoxicated customer.
His last words: “You don’t need another drink.”
The customer promptly shot him in the face, stepped over his body and emptied the till. He went next door to the butcher shop where the curvaceous “N-word Liza” worked, raped her, slit her throat, and stripped the till. When he proceeded to leave he was met at Liza’s door by the Sheriff who shot him in the head. The killer’s name was never known, but was pretty typical of how the rows of unmarked graves that line the cemetery at Boot Hill grew so long so fast.
Violence was such a way of life that in 1873 the Nevada State Mineralogist reported to the State Legislature “About one-half of the community are thieves, scoundrels and murderers […]. You can go uptown and get shot very easily if you choose […]. I will send you a paper with an account of the last fight…I was in hopes eight or ten would have been killed at least, as these fights are a pest in the community. Peaceful! Sure, if you stayed out of the way of the bullets.”
The town at its peak in the mid 1870s had 6,000-10,000 residents, 72 saloons, and 32 brothels. it was drunk, gun-fueled mess. The local paper wrote: “Some people do not hesitate to fire off a pistol or a gun at anytime, day or night, in this city. Murderers who shoot a man in the back get off scot free but the unfortunate devil who steals a bottle of Whiskey or a couple of boxes of cigars has to pay for his small crime.”
September 15th, 1871 a structure containing over 300 barrels of blasting powder went *boom* during a town fire killing 13 people, injuring 47. The fire ultimately resulted in over $500,000 in damage ($25 million in today’s dollars), and left upwards of 3,000 people homeless.
A mini war between the Raymond & Ely and the Hermes Mining Company over control of the main lode claim in 1872 broke out resulting in dozens of murders. William Hamblin was tapped as a key witness in the subsequent trial over the claim rights. Just before he was set to testify one of his drinks was poisoned. In a frightful terror upon the realization that he was going to die he rode for his family in his hometown of Gunlock, UT. He only made it as far as Clover Valley, UT before succumbing to the poison’s inevitability. He is buried in Barclay, UT.
The town had its own awful stupidity too. It was made the county seat of Lincoln County and in 1871 an $88,000 courthouse was erected which far beyond the original estimated costs budgeted at $16,000. The courthouse became known as the “Million Dollar Courthouse” due to the public being swindled by financing, refinancing, and the issuance of public bonds for the building totaling more than $1 million. On a note of awesomeness, the building was condemned in 1933; three years before it would have finally been paid off. It has since been restored.
A curious thing happened in 1876 that is unique to Pioche as far as I can tell. For some reason women began to flood the town and men began getting married in droves. This was due in part to the strong will of the women as much of that of the weak will and decision making abilities of the alcohol inside the men. The bachelors were so scared of waking up married that they formed a men’s liberation movement. I shit you not.
The July 8th, 1876 edition of the Pioche Daily Record reports:
“An association is being formed in Pioche amongst the unprotected male sex, the object being to protect themselves from the encroachment of the female sex, which of late have become so dangerous, that the poor male is getting to be the object of pity.
“Many lately have been caught up and married before they hardly knew it. Females are arriving from all directions by stages, by private conveyances… In consequence of this frightful state of affairs, that men are getting so timid that they hardly venture in the streets for a short walk for fear that they will be married me before they return. This association proposes to ameliorate the condition of affairs.”
The Single Men’s Protective Association held its first meeting in a small, smoke-filled room. The idea was to devise a plan to protect the men from the “tricks” of the women who were apparently thirsting for the hand of these miners. The new organization elected a president, vice president, treasurer, secretary, and one Joseph R. Hoag as Sargent at Arms. Hoag’s role was to ensure that no females enter the secret meetings. The men agreed to $5 dues and a pledge that none of the men present would get married for the rest of 1876. This was when the doors were broken down and the women of the town trampled Hoag in outrage. The men scrambled falling over chairs and diving out of glass windows to escape the women. Again, I shit you not.
The influx of women and the rash of marriages in 1876 did have an upside: the town went almost two months that summer without a murder!
By the late 1870s the gold and silver lodes began to dwindle and the town was nearly empty by 1900. Pioche had a resurgence during WWII when the need for Zinc and Lead for the war effort took precedent. Today the old town has many historic buildings restored and is one of the great ghost towns to visit and explore. The next time you find yourself in the middle of nowhere, NV swing on by Pioche and relive the weirdest, most violent days of the frontier.
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).
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.
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 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.
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!”
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.
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.
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.
After my initial posting, done in the parking lot of some steakhouse/casino on my phone, I filled up the tank and made my way East towards Austin. My first stop was the Grimes Archaeological Site where there are some petroglyphs. They are old and not very exciting… Moving on!
I continued on US50 (the “Loneliest Highway in the World”) and drove passed some salt lakes. Mirages are strange. The way that light refracts through rising air (heat waves) makes any flat surface reflect like it is water. I can imagine how frustrating that must be if you were really thirsty and hot and your horse died and life sucked.
I turned on to HWY722 which is the old route for US50 and got stuck at a flagger for 20 minutes where I had a conversation with the flag lady while we waited for the “pilot car”. Her first comment to me was, “Geez, you really scratched the shit out of truck. What the fuck were you doing?” I informed her that I was a badass geologist and liked ghost towns, thus the shit scratching.
She got excited and wanted me to check out her opal one of the old guys who lived down the road gave her. It was a beautiful white opal that was at one time a limb of a tree millions of years ago. She was excited when I explained to her that it was once a tree, but I don’t think she understood that the tree had been petrified with opal and not that there are some trees out there made of opal.
After I got through the road construction I turned South onto an unnamed dirt road and burly manned it through the desert. These roads are not always the best maintained. Every time I look in my rearview mirror I am surprised I am not seeing the Honey Badger kartwheeling behind me like it had been smashed by some Decepticon in yet another Michael Bay shitshow while all my gear yardsales into the dust cloud that remains.
After about 30 miles of washboard roads I climbed out of the basin and into the range to arrive at Ione. The claim to fame for Ione is that their population was so egomaniacal that they forced the state to make a new county by splitting up two others just so they could be the county seat of something. Then the gold ran out and everyone left; like 10 months later. Whoo!
South or Ione lies Berlin and the town’s Ichthyosaur. Since people marvel at the 100 million year old sea creature a state park was made. Since a state park was made, the ghost town of Berlin has been rebuilt. The stamp mill is awesome and probably full of mercury. I loved it! I didn’t get to see the Ichthyosaur since they put a building over it and locked the door. Lame.
I decided to hit up one more ghost town before heading back up to US50 and went down the road a ways to Grantsville. The road was a piece of cake and the Honey Badger was bouncing along when *BAM*! Well, more like a high pitched *Weeeeeeeeeeeeeeee*! Uh oh.
I jumped out of the truck and ran to the sound. My rear passenger tire had a golfball-sized rock impaled through it. Neato. I reacted like the crisis manager I was trained to be by Mama Wade. I grabbed my can of fix flat and read the instructions: “If possible, remove object.” Check. “Shake can vigorously for 30 seconds.” Check. “Fill tire.” And the horns go *wuh wah*.
Fix a Flat doesn’t do what they claim, and I had to change a tire on a truck, attached to a trailer. What joy. It is really hard to use a jack under the rear axle of a truck that is lifting a gross weight of like 9000lbs. After about an hour of being manly some more I got my spare on and it is only 4 inches smaller in diameter than my $400 badass impenetrable tire that got penetrated.
I got back in the truck and GPSed the closest Les Schwab. The closest Les Schwab is in… duh dun Dah! Fallon 94 miles away. That’s 94 miles at 40mph down mostly dirt roads because you shouldn’t go fast when your drive wheels are different sizes.
On my way over a pass to connect with a different, paved highway (HWY 361) my breaks started to melt, yay! I low geared it to a crawl and managed to pull over to let the breaks cool. I got out to tour the truck and check my spare when I notice that yet another magnetic trailer light set was dragged to its death. Gar! $44 dollars a pop and you’d think they’d make better magnets.
All was not lost, after I get my tire fixed in the morning I plan on double backing to HWY361 and check out some promising quartz veins when I make my way out to meet Dave in Ely.
Now I am back in Fallon staying in a Holiday Inn Express because I deserve it… and I needed the shower