Hunting for the opal of my eye.

July 19th.

We awoke around seven am, in our camp off the side of a Wyoming highway. I received a voicemail from Jon Grolez telling me that he and his parents were on the dusty road which would supposedly lead us to opals. Houston, Erik and myself packed our cots and our tent, and got underway. We joked, with painful truth about the fact that the truck went through about an eighth of a tank of gas as we climbed a nine degree slope in the highway. However, the truck clawed its way up, probably over a thousand feet. We reached our target dirt road and drove for a mile inland before deciding to abandon our decidedly non-four wheel drive trailer. We parked our darling little, baby blue, white campered, broken windowed, rust flecked trailer, on the side of a dirt road. It looked remarkably natural.

Unencumbered by trailer, we blasted along a few miles faster than we should have. The dirt road would have been remarkably smooth, if not for the enormous pair of tire ruts. Those ruts, in some cases probably a foot deep, insisted on grabbing our tires and making for a very shifting and shuddering ride. In all the drive was still quick, and the call of the opal had us all excited. We caught up with Jon and his parents, Ned and Brenda, after about twenty minutes. The had stopped near a small gas well and prospected for some small stones. They had also managed to wrangle a horny toad, which to someone who has only seen them on television, was remarkably small. Likely the altitude and Wyoming winters contribute to that particular physical trait. After conferring with Jon and family, and scouting via the truck’s GPS navigator, we set our sites on a promising set of roads and ventured onwards.

Since the land we were searching is an established gas mine, we had our hopes set on finding the road cuts which the gas company had created to install and maintain their gas wells. Those cuts we hoped would have uncovered a wealthof large opals. After another ten minutes of driving, we spotted a well with a road cut! We followed the twisting road to the well and parked at the bottom of a machine made earth slip around forty feet high and twice as wide. It was mere minutes before Jon’s mother, Brenda, found our first opal encased in a larger stone. A few more small opals were found as we scoured the road cut. Eventually a white truck pulled up and a maintenance man for the Gas company asked us what we were after. Unfortunately, I personal was up the slope hunting for my own opal, and did not hear the conversation. What I did see were handshakes, gestures towards some of the other buildings and wells visible from our position, and Houston, hopping into the front seat of the truck and driving away. After searching for another twenty minutes or so, i worked my way up over the lip of the roadcut and followed a crease in the hillside likely caused by snow melt. I found a number small embedded opals along with an interesting geode, which Houston dubbed ‘hillbilly teeth.’ By the time I had turnedback down the hill with my handful of stones, the white truck had returned with Houston. Houston hopped out and quickly transferred a large stone from the bed of the company truck, to the tailgate of his. Dwarfing my own collection of interesting stones, was an opal laden stone, probably around forty pounds in weight, which will be cut and polished upon return to Seattle. Ned, Jon’s father, turned to me and said, “Uh oh, has opal fever caught you too?”

“Why of course!” I replied, “I had it before this trip ever started!” From subsequent conversations, I learned that the gas company man, a regular maintenance worker on many of the wells in the area, had picked up plenty of opals and was able to take Houston to a recently excavated area. It was at that area that Houston was able to claim the prize stone of our trip. After that stone dwarfed, by far, anything we’d picked up on our first stop we decided to move and look at other sports. We drove past some wells which had warning signs for Di-hydrogen(? H2S) Sulfide and smelled intensely of sulfur egg farts to another promising road cut. Our luck after an hour or so was limited. The most interesting part of the stop was finding a wash point which was filled with small rolled and colored stones. It was similar to digging through the numerous bins at a rock shops to pick out a handful of interestingly colored stones for a few bucks. The location, in the bright Wyoming sun, overlooking the rolling hills of sage, crouched into a jumbled pond of stone, and catching the occasional wiff of egg fart, was much, much better.

We realized, finding a monster opal in that area would require some major heavy equipment and test trench after test trench. So we decide to backtrack and find a way out to an untouched hill off in the distance with clearly visible eroded cliffs. Another twenty minutes of bouncing along dirt roads cut through sage brush, we got as close to the hill as we could. By this point, a few hours into our adventure. Erik, Houston and Myself were lamenting the fact that we had left almost all our water, and the gigantic ‘manwhich’ that was our lunch, in the trailer we had abandoned miles away. Fortunately the Groelz’s took pity on us, and fed us an enormous mound of watermelon.

After fortification with fruit, it was about a ten minute walk from our cars to the bottom of the hill. Another five minutes saw us up the side near the cliffs which had looked so promising from a distance. We all complained about walking uphill at altitude, though physical fitness level might possibly have been a culprit. We split up and covered nearly the entirety of that large mound. Unfortunately, our search of the hill was fruitless. For myself, lust of the eye kicked in and I became more focused on reaching the summit than I was on scouring the earth for opals. The view from the top was striking. The wind was whipping so powerfully that i was forced to abandon my hat, held down by the head of the pick I had been carrying. I spent a good amount of time on the summit, splitting my attention between the ground and the view spreading in every direction. I found a US Geological marker from 1948 pegging the altitude around 7500 feet. As I searched a section of the summit which looked promisingly dug by wildlife, a large hare jumped from cover. It raised a white tail and skipped away, disappearing over the edge of the hill. Although sighting a hare might be trivial to someone from Wyoming, or anywhere else for that matter, it has maintained a prominent spot in my memory of that day. Prior to my accent up the opal-less hill, I had spoken with Brenda about the scale of the landscape and the differences of continental geography compared to that of my home islands. Now, in hindsight, I find that those small things, such as hares and horned toads, which exemplified the differences I was observing, have stuck prominently in my mind. Of course, having already found a forty pound opal, hiking up a hill on a beautifully sunny day with seventy degree weather and blasting wind, make a pretty good impression on their own.

As I noted, our success on the hill was limited. There was hope that one spot which Jon had spotted might contain nice brown opal, but this was not the case. The only success was my own. After hacking into the side of the hill for a short time, we determined Jon’s site had no opal. As I reclaimed the hat and bucket I had set a few feet away, I found a relatively large shard of brown opal sitting on the surface. We looked around briefly but could not discover where it might have originated. However, we had already decided to change spots, and Ned and Erik were nearly back to the trucks. So we clambered back down the hill with our single opal shard. Returning to the truck, we decided to continue on the road we had followed to our hill. The road was nothing more than a discoloration caused by a pair of semi-visible wheel cuts through the sage brush, it wrapped halfway around our hill and looked to cut back towards another more obvious road. We followed the bouncing path, through a couple herds of cows, and past a large herd of pronghorn antelopes. Unfortunately we misjudged our bouncy rut of a road and wound up right back where we started – next to the first roadcut and the fart wells.

We decided to press on in the opposite direction, having just made a giant circle. What a choice. We found another relatively fresh road cut, and a recent construction project. This final site was the jackpot. “Oh, there’s one.” was the first thing out of my mouth as I stepped from the truck, and everyone seemed to repeate that statement every other step. Most of the opals were embedded in host rock, and many more had begun to change colors in the sun. We did realize however, that to take the opal laden boulders which we found the most impressive, we would need a flatbed with a crane. Our last stop lasted a long time.  We continuously picked up promising opal stones, only to promptly drop them for more promising stones. Eventually everyone found their choice examples to take home. Around three pm the Groelz family decided it was time to get on the road back to Utah, and we had decided it was time to find our trailer which held the promise of an enormous ham sandwich. We said our goodbyes, piled into our respective vehicles and followed the now familiar dirt roads out of the Wyoming hills.

After stopping to reattach the trailer and to eat a sandwich so full of ham it made our jaws hurt, Houston, Erik and I worked our way towards Wheatland, Wyoming for our next stop. The initial plan was to stop and camp somewhere and finish the drive in the morning. But fortified by caffeine and wondering if we would outrace the thunderstorms over Wheatland we ended up pushing into the hills. We followed a four wheel drive trail until we reached a section of road flat enough to pitch our tent. We did so, cursing the clouds of flies and mosquitoes which were drawn to our headlamps and open mouths. It was too late to cook dinner, but the sheer number of bugs I swallowed managed to tide me over.

Erik and I poured two fingers of celebratory whiskey. Some nice Glennfiddich scotch, which we drank from the sawed off bottoms of twelve ounce water bottles. Fortified, we settled down to sleep and dream of man sized iolite…  That is to say, sleep as well as we could in a tent which repeatedly tried to pummel us to death through the night.

Again, any errors are my own, including such things as maybe using the wrong or multiple names for Jon’s Mother. Sorry.


Notes from a Hawaiian Born Hammer Swinger.

This update comes from a tent hidden in the mountains in Central Wyoming, and is as far as i could get before departing once more into the world of no data signal.
Starting on the 14th of July, Houston and I departed Portland to take the long drive down to California. This was the inaugural leg of the longest overland journey I have ever taken. We left Portland in the morning and headed towards Drain, Oregon to visit the farmstead of Steve and Karrina O’neal. Their house, built by a shipwright homesteader during the eighteen hundreds, was solid and creaky. The farmstead was an impressive swath of land abutting a creek and mountain forest reserve. Their garden, healthy and beautiful and the lunch they treated us too was delicious. The conversation was lively ranging from astronomy, through modern fiction, to theories of evolution and creation. The downside of the stop at the O’neal farmstead was that the stop was limited to two hours of visitation time before We had to hit the road again. The same day, we needed to reach the Armadillo Mining shop in Grant’s Pass Oregon. Armadillo, one of the best supplied mining shops in America. Our goal was to get there before the shop closed to by a three inch dredge hose.
After successfully equipping ourselves with an impressive amount of hose, we blasted along the I-101 until Leggett. We decided for visual appeal to follow highway 1 along the northern coast of California. Somewhere between eleven pm and midnight we reached the coast, finally. Our trip between Leggett and the coast was a slow winding affair. The compass in the Truck, swung from Northeast to South, and back again. every half mile. But Houston managed the trip safely, and we found a nice pullover spot above a large sea cliff at which to pitch our cots. We slept soundly, ignoring the mist rolling off the Coastal cliffs above us.
July 15th. The Journey down Highway 1 was visually stunning. Sea cliffs, beaches of all colors and winding road filled with giant trucks pulling sleeper trailers. Our ultimate goal was Sebastopol, in Sonoma County. Upon reaching Sebastopol we promptly located D’s Diner, a local eatery featured on an album by Les Claypol, lead member of the band Primus. “Who wants to go to D’s diner? I Do!” We enjoyed well executed and delicious diner food and ventured onward. Our goals in shopping that day were to pick up a few kitchen utensils, towels, two weeks of clean underwear for myself, and a bag of stick on googly eyeballs.
On the evenings of July 15th and 16th, we lodged at the home of Wayne and Nancy Honeycutt in Sevastopol. On the 16th we attended the wedding of Lauren Klopp, who is now Lauren Williams. The weather was superb, and the ceremony an was a heartfelt with a mixture of comedy, involving a forgotten wedding ring on the part of Matt’s best man. The family and friends of the newly-weds were gracious and welcoming to all. The reception, held in a grove of Redwoods on the family vineyard, had delicious assortment of food. The selections of wine were even more impressive. Though this is unsurprising considering Klopp Ranch Vineyards, owned by the Father of the bride, produces Award Winning Pinot Noir. After dinner, Houston, Aren, and their cohorts from Seattle, Nick Heppenstall and Sarah Knights, managed to kick up the quality of the reception via superb and entertaining dancing skills. (warning, previous statement may have slight bias/been fueled by alcohol clouded memories.) The night, in short, was a great celebration of Lauren and Matt’s marriage.
July 17th saw a late start. Where the original plan had been to depart early, dancing to the wee hours of the 16th prevented the seven am departure time originally scheduled. After rising late, and enjoying what could potentially be our last hot showers in two weeks, Houston and I got onto the road by the crack of 10am. We had around 740 miles to cover, and a plane to meet in Salt Lake City at nine am on the morning of the 18th. The drive through California was relatively uneventful. The MLRU mining vehicle, a 4×4 Ford truck pulling a $200 dollar trailer crafted from the camper covered bed of a Ford Courier. Maintained a low but higher than expected gass milage. The only real problem was that the GPS/Music System in the truck decided that, of the 5000+ songs it contained, it would play the same 200, on repeat shuffel. California otherwise was a series of dry highways, flanked by vineyards, and jokes about decidedly unhappy looking cows. This was untill we climed over the Sierras. Scenery which one can observe taking the I-80 into Nevada was gorgious. Many of the mountain peaks still held snow, and our weather was glorious. My only complaint, and it would become a regular one on the trip, was that my Camear is incapable of capturing the sense of scale which, in many cases, is more impressive than any independent part of the landscape. Now it could be that my my childhood on an island minuscule in comparison to North America has left me with an odd sense of appreciation. Whatever the reason, I left many nose marks on the passenger side window as we wound our way through the Sierras.
The decent into Nevada was impressive in its own right. The heat and the scale of the desert was impressive in its own right. Though it made me glad to be blasting across the salt flats at 75mph instead of trying to wagon train through. Once we left Reno in our dust we decided to stop and have a little fun. This is where the googly eyes purchased in Sebastopol re-enter the story. Nevada, it turns out, has cattle crossing signs which are just begging to have googly eyes attached to them. Well begging in their stationary metal, ten-foot-off-the-ground-need-to-stand-on-a-truck-to-reach-them, sort of way. We made as many signs as we could find, look very surprised. Eventually, we crossed out of Nevada into Utah, leaving the cow signs safe for the time being.
By around 11pm we had been in contact with Erik Small, and Jonathan Groelz. The plan had changed in our favor, for Jon to fetch Erik from the airport and meet us for a much needed breakfast of pancakes bacon, and eggs in Salt Lake City. Fortified by this knowledge, Houston and I pulled off the highway 60 miles from SLC, and pitched our cots in the 80 degree desert. Where we had initially worried about the temperature in the desert dropping drastically, the cloud cover obliged to help keep us warm all evening long. It also obliged to throw sheets of the fattest raindrops I have ever felt. The only saving grace for our lack of tent, was the fact that the rain was sporadic enough, that only the outside layer of our sleeping bags remained wet. Otherwise we remained dry, if not a little overheated from needing to use sleeping bags as rain coats in 80 degree weather.
July 18th. Bleary eyed and dusty, we packed up and drove the last hour too breakfast in Salt Lake. Over breakfast, there was much discussion of the up and coming foray into central Wyoming to look for Opals. We managed to convince Jon that it might be a fun trip and possibly pay out in Opals.
After parting ways, and taking Erik through the local REI to get supplies, we were back on the road by noon. That day we drove for ten hours, from Utah into the eternal Wyoming Highlands. In route, Jon called, to let us know he and his family were also driving up from Salt Lake. We located the dirt road which we’d planned on taking into the opal fields, only to venture in for about two miles before realizing that doing the drive with our trailer on would be a pain. We also discovered that the front window in the trailers camper had been shattered out by a jarring impact, or perhaps a rock kicked up by our truck. We drove another few miles north to attempt shorter and more direct route into the hills. Unfortunately we were warned away by obviously placed private property and no trespassing signs. The combination of this legal roadblock and the realization that we needed a gas refill, led to a quick trip to the nearest town, and another evening camping off the side of a highway. Wise to our last experience, and warned by great clouds and lightning on the horizon, this time, we pitched a tent.
(Note, This entry was written in notepad, any spelling and grammatical errors are my own for being lazy and updating via a tethered cell phone)

An update of concluding proportions.

The end of the Great diamond mining adventure of 2011 is nearly a month old, and many of the finer details of my vacation are lost in my hazy memory. Or perhaps were obliterated by the alcohol consumption which began in Deadwood South Dakota, and continued through Seattle Washington. Driven by a need to bring conclusion to my dangling ‘to be continued” I’ve decided to take a stab at wrapping up my recollection of the ‘mining’ section of my vacation.

A month ago, I left off with our merry band standing quadriceps deep, dredging a hole into a river in Wyoming. It took a little while to get rolling as only Houston had used a dredge before. But, our cohesion as a work crew grew pretty quickly. Admittedly there is really not much to moving the big rocks out of the way of the man holding the sucky end of 50 feet of dredge hose. Once we figured out the problems with clogging and how to backflush our dredge nozzle, we were sound as a pound… or is that sounds a yard (of material moved by a powerful water pump in mere minutes)? We were able to work for a couple hours, occasionally stopping to clear the clogs. On one of these stops, Erik called out, “Houston, company.”

A man had come to the bank of the river and waved us over. His opening statement was not a pleasantry, more of a gruff “Do you know where you are?” After answering the question, and explaining where we were, who we were, what we were doing, the man informed us we were on the Bacon n’ Beans claim. Now, we had been diligent and kept our eyes open for the claim markers which are required by law if one desires legal recompense against ‘claim jumpers.’  The problem comes when men, intending to intimidate you off of a claim, come along and warn you about the regularity with which gold miners in Wyoming carry guns. Since we had bear mace, but no guns, we decided to be polite and living members of society and pack up. The man who warned us away and explained where the functional legal claims on the creek were, also confirmed that he found diamonds in his sluice. ‘Plenty of them.’  But since the creek was claimed out, we decided to test pan another section of a neighboring creek. Houston knew that that diamonds were unlikely, but heck, maybe we could find a bit of gold for out troubles. The test pan did have gold! A flake or two. On the upside, we got to find gold in the wild. On the down side, for as much work as we would have done, we would have just been wasting time and money.

Now, being kicked off the river was disappointing, however it was by no means a crushing defeat to the Great Diamond Mining Adventure of ’11. Houston, shortly before the adventure began, had discovered and alternate site, which promised the possibility of success a few hours to the South in Northern Colorado. The secondary site was less than a day’s drive away, so we packed up camp and moved out.

The hills of Northern Colorado were just as impressive as those of Wyoming. To me, Colorado had the feeling of being higher altitude, as far as the visual aspects of the place. I believe our site in Colorado was actually lower  in altitude. There were other hints as well. The oxygen quality and weather seemed more hospitable, while the bugs and biting flies seem painfully more active.  None the less, our supplies stocked, and our hopes un-dashed, we descended into a river valley campsite, and looked for a place to throw in our hose. This is where the anecdotes and stories start to to become a coagulating mass. The moments that sneak out of my memory are those such as our success at hiding a birthday cake, and presenting it to Sam for his Birthday. Throwing tinfoil wrapped potatoes into the fire, and forgetting about them to the point that they had disappeared when we finally raked the coals. Other moments are more vivid, such as crushing my finger under the trailer hitch of the honey badger. For the most part though. by Colorado, our conversations had degraded to baser subjects, discussed in an amalgamation of oft repeated catchphrases, grunts, gestures, and bodily odors. In short, it was a blast!

Our mining activities in Colorado were more successful than Wyoming, in the sense that we managed to work more hours. We dredged a hole into the bottom of one of the nearby creeks. We found garnets, we thought we found diamonds, we found the sole of what looked like a woman’s shoe, burred a couple feet down in the riverbed. At the end of our first full day of dredging, Houston realized we were on the wrong fork of the collection of creeks. For real diamond discovery, we wanted the more southern fork, which had cut through a different set of hills. Time for relocation. We packed up the dredge, sluice, and tools, then moved them a mile down river to set up again.

Once more, we moved a sizable amount of material, and began to carve a good hole for ourselves into the river. By Colorado we had perfected the grease plate and were using a mix of Crisco and petroleum jelly to coax our little diamonds out of the water. The evening of our relocation, we also sorted through the concentrates we’d picked up on the first day of dredging the wrong creek. We found honest to goodness diamonds! The diamond tester, a little plastic device which hit the stone with a small charge, squealed like an excitable middle-schooler when pressed against a diamond. It ignored everything else as harshly as middle-schoolers often ignore those people they see no value in knowing (at least in my experience). Numerous small diamonds were sorted out, and many more small quartz stones were disposed of with the careless flick one might use to dismiss a booger or toenail clipping. Diamonds. We were heartened, and ready to dredge more the next day.

For my part, I ran to civilization the next day. We were out of Vaseline. If I learned one thing, it is that two jars of Vaseline will not stretch Nearly as far as you want them too. I headed drove along the dirt road version of a superhighway to get out of the Colorado hills. The dusty wide road was rather exciting, and while I never endangered the truck, I could imagine given a little power, and a little practice, how dirty track racing could be extraordinarily fun. I restocked our supplies, and climbed my way back up the dusty roads into the hills. What I discovered upon returning to camp was disappointing. Apparently, during the days work, some nice men wearing semi-official badges had requested that the guys halt their dredging. We had looked up Colorado laws about dredging, and had complied with them in our activities. But apparently the volunteer rangers were adamant and so the work had halted for the day while they tattled on us to higher authorities.
Unfortunately, a nice ranger rolled up the next day. His badge was official looking, as was the large handgun and numerous clips of ammunition. “So, you guys are looking for diamonds? Are you panning and such?” he asked. “Yeah,” Houston replied, “we’re doing some panning and we’ve got a three inch dredge.”

“Oh!” the ranger chuckled. “Yeah, Ok, No. You’re gonna have to shut it down.” Apparently we were messing with a river preserve for steel-head trout. And since we were in a state forest, the rules for mining were different (read also, prohibitive) He was nice enough even though he was “gonna have to run ya out of here.” He was curious about the diamonds, told us a little history of the area we were in, and was generally pleasant enough. But, it ended our Plan B, to which we had no Plan C.

Sam had already planned on leaving this day. So we took apart the dredge, and packed it back out. It felt like more than half a mile, especially because I got my boots wet and was carrying the generator on a pack. (Ok, I can’t complain that much, I did it on purpose so i could brag about lugging 150 pounds of stuff out of the wilderness) The pack out was done quickly enough and we loaded the truck. Sam departed early to get back to Missouri, while Houston, Erik and I returned to Laramie Wyoming, and stopped to have dinner. Our great diamond mining trip was over. We had success in the form of a small handful of microdiamonds, and knowledge of where one might go to find diamonds in the future.

To celebrate our microsuccess, and mourn the end of the mining section of our vacation, Erik and I got drunk with dinner. We then made the drive to South Dakota, blasting music, singing along, stopping along the way to refresh ourselves, and laughing uproariously when Houston pointed out lightning bolts by shouting “Bluh-blayum!” We followed a thunderstorm for hours (you can imagine the endless hilarity of ‘bluh-blayum’ing), and rolled into Deadwood South Dakota around midnight.  Then we hit the Bars. We went dancing with Jesse, our host in Deadwood, and received the compliment that we all smelled like campfire. The adventure had come to a close, and the vacation had begun. Within a few days the campfire smell had washed off and the laundry was clean once more. The vacation lost the last little remnants of work, and became purely fun, and lounging poolside.

Thanks for reading.


Huffing and Dredging at 9000 feet.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(to be continued)

Hiking for a purpose turns into just another hike

It’s a bummer, man.  That is what I have to say about blue iolite.  I am pretty confident to conclude that there are no blue iolites in the granite gneiss of Grizzly Creek in the Laramie Mountains just West of Wheatland, Wyoming.
After a punishing, windy night in our tent we set out in the trusty MLRU (Mobile Land Raping Unit v1.3) up a very hairy stretch of unnamed 4×4 road.  We made it about a mile before the ruts became about 6ft deep and had to set out on foot.  Boy was that a bad idea…
About four valleys and 1000+ft of elevation gain later nothing had changed in the rockscape.  We were still amongst impressive plutons of metamorphic granite gneiss and no closer to finding the giant stone of our dreams.  We saw lots of cows, the wind was so powerful that at times we were being blown off course and stumbled from the trail.
After summiting one of the nearby peaks for impressive views of the nearby basin where Wheatland lay below us, Erik noticed red berries.  Wild Raspberries!  Woohoo!
I ate what seemed like a thousand of the little buggers, grabbing a few more off of every bush that we passed.  They were so tiny and yet the most flavorful raspberries I ever had.  There we were, almost 8,000ft above sea level, a glorious bluebird day, the wind trying to pound us back down the slope and I noticed we were on the wrong ridgeline.  D’oh!
Below us, 1,500ft down and to our West, lay the actual Grizzly Creek.  We saw a road wind between a saddle of the ridgeline we were on and down into the valley below were an old homestead cabin and some rusted out Model A’s were amongst a herd of skittish cattle.  The peak that was our final destination towered over us another 1,500 to 2,000ft.  Another 3,000+ft of elevation and a few more miles of hiking to get to where we were supposed to be in the first place; and one 12oz bottle of water between the three of us.  What the hell!  And away we go!
Down a steep, log-covered slope we crossed to the dirt road at the saddle.  The trees, all felled and torched by fire some years earlier, proved to be similar to an NFL combine, only with 50% grades, rocks, thorns, and the most annoyingly painful grass seed hitchhikers my socks have ever experienced–at least there were raspberries!  Once on the road the travel down to the old cabin was a breeze; the only hesitation was a stop to pick my socks clean of my parasite-like pain seeds.  Once in the base of the valley we found the actual Grizzly Creek; a slow-flowing sop of mud that was spread thin via the hoof prints of thousands of head of cattle over the past century.   That is when it first occurred to me that I am sometimes a complete dufus.  There was no need to walk all the way to the bottom, we could have crossed from the road to our desired slope via the hanging valley now above us.  Double d’oh!
We climbed, climbed, rested, climbed, rested, rested, rested, climbed, rested… climbed.  We made it to the main granite face on the peak and still not a single sign of anything other than the common minerals found in granite gneiss.  It would have been more productive to go to a home store and look at granite countertops than the 10 mile circular hike I just lead us on.  Grizzly Creek was a bust.  I had researched and found countless photos of geologists standing next to million carat iolite crystals and not even a bb-sized stone was present in the entire valley.  Was this all some sort of hoax?  Every book I read claimed the stones were there!  Bupkus!
Erik, Aren, and I decided to head back to the truck and our second manwich of the trip. Back down, to the hanging valley this time, and over the saddle.  Then it was over the next ridge and down, down, down, down, to the truck where water, a warm cola, and our beloved manwich awaited us. Oh manwich, you have so much ham to give our gurgling bellies!
We went back to camp, packed up, and blew that popsicle stand.
Flying down Palmer Canyon road and back through Wheatland to I-25.  Once on I-25 we wound our down to Laramie where we went through some awesome road construction.  Boys, Men, most people in general get a little giddy when they get to see half a dozen giant caterpillar dump trucks driving around.  I also think I saw a new discovery of giant opal boulders in one of the road cuts but I couldn’t stop to investigate as we were being led by pilot car through the miles of massive road construction.  Once in Laramie we took some well deserved showers at a truck stop, got some supplies at the hardware store and went to the Altitude brewery for steaks.  JT was our server and Erik later joked that JT stood for Just Terrible.  He sucked.  Sorry JT, if you ever read this, just know that it’s true, you are a terrible server.  Nice guy, but just terrible at your job.
We made it into the Medicine Bows late that night where we made camp at the Bobbie Thompson Campground for the first round of diamond mining to come!

Make it to Portland to pick up a Viking

After a day of wrestling with a trailer and road construction on I-5 I arrived in Portland to pick up Aren and meet a geologist friend of his family’s.  Portland is full of hipsters and their Safeways are terrible!

We go to Safeway to pick up some wine for his friends and some toothpaste and brush for me (because that is the only thing I forgot to pack… believe me I managed to get everything else I own into that truck!), to find that only one checkstand is open leaving huuuuuuge lines for the self check lane–the worst inventions of all time!

There we are, with four items: toothpaste, toothbrush,  wine, and hair bands for Aren’s flowing locks.  Twenty minutes later the same hipster who rode to the grocery store on his fixed-gear is still trying to find the code for his organic avocado and the other remaining fifty single items from the produce department.  Self checkout stands work just about as well as self checkin stands at the airport.  We all know the glorious time saving device that has become.  “Why didn’t it print out my baggage ticket?  I just paid this damned machine $45 for a baggage ticket!

“Just give your card to me, ma’am, and I’ll check your bag.”

“Hell no!  I was just charged $45 bucks to check a bag and now you want to charge me again!”

“No I won’t, ma’am.”

You get charged again.

Why didn’t they just have the person behind the counter do it the first time?  Because they want to make sure you’re good a pissed off before you board.  That way they can send you to Guantanamo for finally losing it mid flight.

After pulling teeth in line at Safeway, Aren and I headed off to Paul and Maureen’s home for some pasta and petting dogs and cats.  They are some cool people.  We talked story and tried to get my trailer stuck in their driveway.  It was a good night.

In just a couple more days I’ll start talking about the rocks we find; but not until we go to my friends’ wedding in Sonoma.

I made Aren an account here, maybe he’ll post something.  He’s a better writer than I am anyway.

The great diamond hunt of 2011 looms!

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

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

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

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

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

Opal, Iolite, and Diamonds 2011, Ho!

Explore the world one rock at a time!