Tag Archives: diamonds

Stay in the damned ruts!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Coal seems of central Wyoming
Coal seems of central Wyoming

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Making ruts.
Making ruts.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well, shit.
Well, shit.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

webuygold

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

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

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

Some Tricks:

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

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

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

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

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

We Buy Gold!

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

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

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

Porcello Jewelers:

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

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

Here is my tale:

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

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

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

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

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

“No, that is a diamond.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Progress, Regress, and Continuation.

When last our band of ne’er-do-well’s touched down, we had ventured into the town of Red Feathers to gather supplies, acquire the parts to repair the heretofore broken dredge, and to lose the afternoon to pool and beer at the local potbelly lodge.  I’m happy to report that we had great success, there were many parts and numerous games of pool.

Indeed the following day proved significantly productive. Dave was up early. Before breakfast he had cut the offending length of split open dredge hose away from the suction head, and had reattached the shorter but not leaking hose with the collection of metal hose clamps we’d picked up in Red Feather. We fired up the dredge and were disappointed by poor performance. The dredge nozzle has two functions, suck, and blow. It either uses water to vacuum up loose rock and sediment, or it blasts pressurized water out to help unbury rocks and blast apart compacted sediment. It could do neither. We shut her down, morale took a palpable hit. Without a functional dredge we were out of luck. I pulled the head of the dredge off the connecting tubes. We hunted for clogs. We jammed sticks down every tube we could, hoping to knock loose a giant lump of clogging dry clay. I worked the nozzle lever which switches between blast and vacuum, with the hope that a clog would come free, and finally, I used a small flathead screwdriver to clear a copious amount of clay and small stones from the dredge nozzle. Doing everything we could without actually soaking the dredge overnight in some sort of dissolvent, we plugged her back in.

Houston and Erik fired up the pump and we were back in Business! Our haphazard repairs had functioned, and we were blasting and sucking at full power.

Our good luck lasted for about seven minutes. I twisted the dredge head at the wrong angle and promptly ruptured the pump line, Again!

Dave, with a sigh, pulled on his engineer hat, and repaired the dredge hose, again.
Removing me safely from the head of the dredge, we worked for the rest of the day without incident. We burned through two tanks of gas in the dredge pump that day. The hole which we’re working was over four feet deep and nearly six in diameter.

The following day, we performed the same. Dave had to make a run to town, and while Houston, Erik, and I were waiting for our Crisco/Vaseline mixture to cool, we gathered up shovels and headed into the muck. Using good old fashion manpower, we doubled the footprint of the hole. We stirred up a large amount of (hopefully) diamond retaining material. In addition, we worked on our tans. Now, the hills of Colorado might be a curious place to work on a tan, but when your work crew is one of significantly white men, a little bit of dappled light and clouds are a good start.

It must be noted that we went overboard, and all of us now bare interesting sunburns in the patterns which we cannot reach on our backs. Supposedly mine is in the form of North America, with Greenland on the wrong side. It would, be simple I suppose, to have slathered each other’s backs in suntan lotion. Since we’ve never seemed to have a camera at hand, there was no way to record ourselves spreading lotion on each other. This means there was no point really, so we each spent a good amount of the day awkwardly bending our arms in an attempt to spread sunscreen on our own backs. We are not pros.

Other than our attempts at sunscreen, this weekend has been one of productivity and success. We’ve moved a lot of material and now have a large number of possible diamonds.
The only hiccup came yesterday, on what will heretofore be known as Aren’s bad day. It was a day filled with work. The dredge worked, there was a great lunch, and a happy mid-afternoon buzz generated by “full-throttle whiskey sours”. That buzz did not translate to much hard work on my part after lunch, but we did make plenty of headway. I have come to gauge my sense of time on how long it takes the dredge pump to run through a tank of gas. We completed another tank of dredging, or rather, Dave, Erick and Houston completed the hour, and I spent the time wearing my environmentalist hat, creating a dam which would block the silt runoff from reentering the lake. It was a success though, it didn’t add much positive work to the effort.

After our work day, it was decided that we’d head back into Red Feathers and find a shower. It had been a week since any of us had bathed and it was high time to wash away the grime. Bright eyed and bushy tailed we loaded clean clothes and our smelly bodies into the truck. We made it to the general store and were happy to find out there was a restaurant nearby which offered showers. We stepped out of the general store into torrential downpour and an amazingly loud thunderstorm. I suppose, had we been really desperate we could have stripped down and run around Main Street in Red Feathers. It was raining hard enough. But we decided to have a warm shower, find a nice meal, and maybe meet a waitress to name our dredge after.

In these things we were successful, almost. The side by side shower stalls in the Western Ridge Restaurant proved fickle. While Erik received a shower hot enough to scald, I was on the nozzle end of a shower with water cold enough that i swear it had frozen to hail by the time it hit the floor of the stall. To top it off, when either of us adjusted the temperature it had the opposite effect on the other. Erik’s options were hot and scalding, mine were freezing and luke warm trickle. I may as well have showered in Main Street back at Red Feathers.

Admittedly the rest of our desires were a success, we indeed found a cute waitress, though we were somewhat snubbed after describing who we were and what we were up too. Dinner was tasty and filling. But my desert was a little less than desirous. I ordered a milk shake. It was followed by a curious desire to see what the combination of porter and milkshake tasted like. I took a swig of milkshake and drained the dregs of my porter, only to discover that Dave had used the bottle as a depository for chewing tobacco…. yuck. It had at least three out of the four of us laughing extraordinarily hard. Dinner over, we headed back to camp.

Unfortunately upon returning, we found that the enormous thunderstorm which had ripped over Red Feathers had also hit our camp. It had flipped mine and Houston’s tent onto its head, which had tangled our cots and piled our bedding. Houston’s books were damp, as were mine. The poles of our tent had multiple cracks. I addition, my cot and bedding had ended up on top, and as a result, were absolutely soaked. From a bit too drunk to work productively, through someone else’s chewing tobacco, to a soaked pile of bedding, the jokes about Aren’s bad day abounded.

Really though, I can’t complain. It is the kind of ordeal that is pretty easily survivable, and might literally be a good story. We relocated the tent into a spot in which the sun may not wake me with blasting heat, and we were able to name our dredge. Target of Opportunity will suck again!

-Aren

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

Saturday was my last full day in the Black Hills.  Jesse and I cleaned some of the cabins at the lodge and then plopped ourselves poolside at the rec center in Spearfish.  I love that freaking pool.  Every community and neighborhood in America should have a rec center like Spearfish’s.  After some unhealthy amounts of sun it was time for some burritos at Barbacoa’s (freaking delicious!) where we happened into Jesse’s cousin Micheala who was grabbing a last bite to eat before she headed to California for camping.  I was glad to have the chance to say goodbye.

Inside Barbacoa’s also just happened to be Micheala’s mother who did not know her daughter was in the parking lot.  Strange coincidences.  Micheala’s mother is hilarious and Jesse and I had a nice lunch chatting with her.

From there we hoped into the grandmamobile and drove out beyond a the cowboy town of Belle Fouche to catch the last day of The Stone House Saloon.  This is a little joint operated by a rancher and his family that is only open one week a year during Rally.  It’s an old, bombed-out homesteader’s stone cabin.  Inside the cabin is pealing and covered in “was heres” graffiti.  Outside there is a BBQ and bar and about 50 giant wood cable spools for tables.  Suspended above the spools is jungle netting like MASH unit might have had during ‘Nam for shade.

Jesse purchased a bloody mary and I got a Sprite and we went about investigating the place.  I immediately noticed an older woman and her energetic little jack russell terrier seated on a log bench, so I moseyed over to pet the dog and strike up a conversation.  She was the wife of a rancher from Montana and always came down for Rally.  The dog was six months old and just stupid with energy, bouncing around like an idiot trying to eat every bug within snapping distance.  Our conversation didn’t make it very far through pleasantries before she wanted to be sure I was one of the “good ones”.

Upon learning that I was a prospector and geologist she was keen to know if I was going to vote the “right way” in November.  I told her delicately that I was confident that I was going to vote the “right way”, but that she and I probably had different views as to what the “right way” was.  Then she started making me a little uncomfortable after a diatribe on the Keystone XL pipeline started getting racist when she began complaining about how all those “other people” were ruining a pure Norwegian population up in the Bakken.  The Bakken is the area where there is thought to be upwards of 400 billion barrels of oil trapped in ultra-tough dolomite in Northwestern North Dakota; thousands of Americans of all races in need of work have been flooding the state in recent years.  I was going to brush away a fly I observed that was having dinner on a scabbed over cut on her forearm, but I decided against it and viewed the little bug as a soldier in the ongoing war against assholes.  Eat and grow fat on the evil racist woman, little fly!

I excused myself from the racist and her little dog just as a thundershower started to move in.  The camo-netting did not hide me from the rain so I investigated the dilapidated stone ruins which still had a roof.  Before I had the chance to go far inside Jesse texted and asked me to meet her at the back of the house.  She was seated with her feet dangling out of the second floor window and wanted me to take a photograph of her.  It’s a good picture.  Then I got to go inside.  In Seattle such a ruin as this would smell damp with pee.  In the dry clime of South Dakota we could only, and barely, detect the slightest aged pee.  One one of the tagged walls I found a tag that was circled on the slope of the ceiling of an upstairs bedroom that read, “Jim and Maryanne, Sturgis 1998”.  Inside the circle was every year since (except 2009) written in different ink.  That is a cute way to mark a tradition.  I like that.  The missing year got me thinking and I imagined what may have happened in 2009 that resulted in missing rally.  Financial hardship, a death in the family, their daughter’s wedding, or perhaps a car accident…  They had been so consistent before and since 2009 that whatever it was to cause them to miss that one year must have been really life changing and important for them to miss their tradition.

The thunder and lightning stared getting scary-close so Jesse and I left the stone house for her car before we all were zapped for being in the only thing taller than the grass for a mile in any direction.  We drove back to Belle Fouche and stopped at the thrift store.

Last year we perused the isles of the store and I found that someone had donated the largest collection of kitsch asftershaves I had ever seen.  There were bottles shaped like colt .45s, sports cars, cats, stage coaches, hot rods, cattle, Odie, and more.  Almost all of them had their original box and almost all of them were from the 1970s.  On the boxes would read something like, “Custom vans have become very popular in recent years. Acme Brand would like to celebrate this uniquely American sub-culture with this limited edition bottle of our exclusive Bedroom Eyes Aftershave.”  There is another thing all of these glorious bottles of aftershave had in common:  they all smelled like mustachio’d pornstar in a rainstorm; butterfly collar, polyester, lube and all.  The first place I laser beamed to when we entered the thrift shop was the aftershave isle.  All my old friends were still there waiting for someone with awful taste to purchase and take them all to a wonderful new home with the appropriate amount of wood veneer paneling and faded shag carpet.

Another thing to note about the Belle Fouche thrift store is that I have never seen so many wedding dresses in a second hand store in all my years.  For something that at one time represented and consumed the thoughts of so many little girls for the majority of their lives, and was worn on what was probably then, the happiest day of their lives to be discarded and priced for $70 at a used clothing store is tragic.  There were probably a hundred dresses on one rack and another dozen in giant fancy boxes on the shelf above glowing through the cellophane windows pleading, “Pick me! I am better luck the second time around!”

I purchased a couple of fantastic elaborately patterned shirts for my ever-growing collection and we drove back toward Spearfish.  The rain was hammering the car and the wipers could not keep up.  To our West we could see the front of this storm trying desperately to touch down in a tornado, but fortunately for the ranch it was teasing below, the danger never materialized.  The “buh-blams” I said with every lightning strike did not seem to amuse Jesse as much as it does the boys when I do it, but I kept saying it anyway because, most importantly, it amused me even more!

We napped at the lodge for a few hours and drove to Deadwood for dinner at the Social Club above The Saloon 10… again!  I ate a wild boar pasta and was so happy.  The band downstairs played Nickelback for the 10,000th fucking time.

An early night and we went back to the lodge.  Sunday morning I packed the truck and collected all the things the boys left behind.  Judging from the amount of clothes I found Dave must have driven back to California naked.  Jesse and I had a late goodbye breakfast at some oldpeople restaurant by I-90.  The french toast was a definite and hearty bon voyage for me.  I drove away already missing the place and not wanting to wait until next year to have the time of my life again.

I drive all day.  First was West on I-90 to Buffalo, WY, then South on I-25 to Casper, WY.  I then drove through Casper and passed the Albertsons and the Safeway where last year Aren, Erik and I made the grocery checker very concerned when all we purchased was role duct tape, a 24 pack of water, and a box of condoms.  These are the things that should sound warning sirens inside a store when three dirty men purchase them together.  These three items made complete sense to us, but the look on our checker’s face said that he had a dirty imagination.

I then drove South on SR789 through South central Wyoming.  On the furthest edge of Red Rock Desert I passed what must have been hundreds of kimberlite pipes.  Here in one of the most desolate and dry places in North America probably housed billions, if not trillions of dollars in precious diamonds.  I will be returning soon to my new “Diamond Highway”.  In Rawlins I merged onto I-80 and continued West only stopping for gas and mini donettes (or as like to call them “roadnuts”).  I exited the freeway in Point of Rocks, WY and drove North for 20 miles on “9 Mile Road”.  Yeah, that statement hurts my brain too.

I drove past the Jim Bridger Power Plant, a gigantic coal fire plant that is fed directly by one of Wyoming’s vast coal deposits right next door.  On the Southwest side of the power plant is the Jim Bridger Recreation Area.  Rad, you can breathe the sharp sulferous fart smell of coal-fire exhaust, and go fishing in the toxic retention pond at the same time.  Wunderbar!  But “No Overnight Camping!” reads the sign at the entrance.  Don’t worry, bro, I’m not going to spend my night sleeping under the brain-tingling buzz of high-tension powerlines anytime soon.

The sun set just as the power plant came into view and I had a stunning twilight drive to Black Rock at the North end of the Lucite Hills.  The Lucite Hills are named for the rare mineral found in the rocks there, lucite of course!  About 900,000 years ago a very rare volcanic eruption flooded the area in lamproite lava, quite possibly the rarest rock on Earth.  Lamproite is believed to be burped up from somewhere deep in the Earth’s belly and is rich in minerals like peridot, garnets, lucite, wyomingite, and…. Diamonds!  Lamporite has only been found in a few locations on Earth one of which is the Argyle mine in Australia that produces some 45 million carats of diamonds per year and is the only significant source of pink and ultra-rare red diamonds in the world.

I made camp and set up my cot next to my truck about a mile North of Black Rock.  I had a hell of a time getting any solid sleep as the coyotes were making a racket all around me, and every now and then, made their racket a stone’s throw from my bed (literally, I threw stones at them to get them to go away).  I slept in later than I realized and was greeted by a cool overcast sky.  I ate some donuts and drove toward Black Rock.  I passed the remnants of an old ranchers cabin and took some photos.  I find if fascinating that someone built a home out using the nearby rock, lived in this desolate place herding cattle, and never had enough curiosity to look at the shiny flecks in the rock of their home and wonder what all that green stuff was.

I parked the Honey Badger in a drywash and continued on with just the truck as the road was getting hairy.  When I got close to Black Rock I marveled.  From any distance beyond fifty feet or more any geologist would probably think Black Rock is just a weathered basalt mesa, replete with octagonal columns and all.  Black Rock isn’t black though.  It’s covered in lichens that give it a darker appearance but the rock is actually khaki in color.  It is also very light and not dense like basalt that is found in crystallized columns can be.  There are a lot of gas bubbles and strangely suspended minerals; most of which I could not identify.

My target this day were anthills.  Ants, particularly red ants, are nature’s gem miners.  They pull out anything pebbly and pile them outside their homes making the familiar cone of an anthill.  They do this so that the stones act like shingles and rainwater would runoff and not into their elaborate colony.  Fortunately, when red ants live in the soil of eroded, gem-rich rock, the pebbles they use to coat their hills are often valuable gemstones.  I was going to steal their shingles like a meth-head steals copper wire, like I owned it.

The clouds started to clear and it got hot in a hurry.  There were also no cattle for miles and the local biting fly population got to biting me, a lot.  I probably could have gone for the full glory and just destroyed every anthill in my path with a shovel and classifier screens but one hundred thousand pissed off ants kind of gave me the willies.  Instead, I opted to just crouch next to hill and pick the gems off the top and move on.  Out of a dozen or so anthills I managed to gather around 200 carats of peridot, a few red pyrope garnets, and several diamond candidates.  I was no mach for the flies and bailed about noon and drove for Nevada.

The drive was a breeze, and then it was a gale, and then it was a hurricane.  In the salt flats of Utah my truck was being blown all over the road.  Semi trucks were at a crawl for fear of tipping over, and visibility was minimal.  I was in my first salt storm.  Salt was blasting me at near 100mph and I have never had such a hard time staying on a road that goes more than fifty miles straight without one single turn.

When I got into the lee of the mountains surrounding Wendover I could see again.  What I saw was thousands of awesome race cars, hot roads, rat rods, and drag bikes.  It was speed trials week at the Bonneville Salt Flats and anyone worth their salt (yuck, yuck) were there to try and break speed records.  I snapped a couple of photos of a salt encrusted ’80s mustang at a gas station and drove West.  I reached Elko, NV about sundown and got a room at a Motel 6 ($48 a night was too much… I never thought I would think that about a motel room).  I ate dinner at the Golden Nugget Casino where a very nice meth addict repeated her memorized lines to me over and over but at least she got my order right.  I think she introduced herself to me as “Jennifer” on at least four separate occasions.  I asked if I could have a Sprite and she said they only had Sierra Mist and I did my cliche’d mocking shocked-and-disappointed face.  She thought I was seriously hurt that they didn’t have Sprite and kept apologizing to me for the duration of my meal.  Meth will make you retarded, my friends.  Don’t do it.

The next morning I poked along through Elko trying to find my friend Angie’s mom.  Angie told me to stop and say “hello” her only clue to me was that her mother was named Yvonne and she worked at a general store or small grocery on the same side of the street as the Best Western.  Well, she didn’t work at Roy’s Grocery, nor Elko General Merchandise.  Inside Elko General Merchandise I saw a woman that could believably be Angie’s mother, they looked possibly related, and I asked her if her name was Yvonne.  She told me no, “But a a gril named ‘Hannah’ works here, does that help?”  Sigh.

I was chowing on some pancakes at a diner when Angie texted me: “I’m and idiot! She lives in Carlin, oops. It’s 25 miles away.”

To Carlin, where I found Yvonne just finishing her shift at Scott’s Grocery.  She is a lovely woman and I think, at first, thought I was going to serve her with papers when I asked if her name was Yvonne.

West of Carlin I crisscrossed I-80 on the dirt access roads that orbit it and saw a lot of desert and hot, dry hills and mountains.  I had a fun time hauling ass up a dirt road over a 6,000ft pass watching the Honey Badger shake his money maker in my side mirrors.  I also passed a geothermal plant and wondered if it was the one local Bainbridge pariah Gary Tripp lost his shirt on.  I hoped so.  In my opinion convicted felons who talk endlessly about their alien abduction experiences and past lives, and who also lie about being PhDs, just shouldn’t try to be morally superior to everyone else; and it doesn’t make me a bad person to take joy in their financial demise when they have been terrorizing the poor for decades.

I wanted to hug the Humboldt River when I got outside of Battle Mountain so I drove Izzenhood Rd to a dead end… well, to The Izzenhood Ranch where I they would not let me drive the 300ft passed their home to the other rest of the road.  I double back, with four gallons of fuel wasted.  I got onto I-80 and exited again at exit 205.  The road was fine dust, then it was dirt and graded, then the road vanished.  My map said showed a road, I found the Union Pacific Railroad instead.  Every now and and then as I blazed my new trail some frozen ruts in the mud would appear.  It only occurred to me as I was driving through neck-deep grass (something you should never, ever, never do, by the way, as you might burn an entire state down with the hot engine and transmission!  I had to do it because I couldn’t backup the Honey Badger for ten miles.  I am not that skilled) that I was probably smushing the historic 160 year old wagon ruts of The California Trail.  Oops.

After twenty miles of blazing my own trail I found an actual ranch road and made the turn around the north end of the Iron Range along the Humboldt.  I could see the perfectly sculpted remains of the old Union Pacific Railroad and some of the old trestles even.  I turned onto the Midas Highway and drove into Golconda passing several dozen mine buses.  The mines are so far out into the toolies that no one lives near them so the mining companies have giant buses pick up the workers for their four-day-on shifts.

I breezed into Winnemucca by evening and got a room at Super 8 (only slightly better than Motel 6); I needed Internet to write these awesome trip reports you love so much.  That is when I noticed yet another set of magnetic tail lights bit the dust (No really, they dragged in the dust for hours, and bit it).

Wednesday morning I got new tail lights and made a marathon run home.  The minute I crossed the border into the Oregon Outback everything was dead.  For a hundred miles I drove and every single hill side from horizon to horizon was a charred.  By my estimate 1,000sq miles or more had burned.  No one noticed, it didn’t make the news, and no one seemed to care since this is the least populated region in the whole of the continental United States.  Yet another reason all the air in the Western United States was blue with smoke.  I sped through Burns, OR and savored the daylight drive through Divinity Canyon.  I made a stop to pan some gold out of the John Day River and got a taco from the cuties at the Shell station.  I entered Fossil Beds National Monument and was in awe of Picture Canyon.  The diverse terrain of the the Mountains of central Oregon are always overlooked.  This thinly populated region is the most beautiful in the United States.  Period.  Big mountains, badlands, rainbow-colored ash layers, ancient forests, high plains, green pastures, ambling rivers, old west mining towns, cowboys, hill folk, and tons of animals dodging traffic.  Just gorgeous!

I made it to the dry hay fields of Condon, OR as the sun set.  A few miles later on my decent towards the Columbia River I was startled by the sight of the entire horizon blinking like red Christmas lights.  Some clever person made all of the thousands of wind turbines blink on and off in unison.  It’s hilarious.

Night time, it’s dark, I didn’t see anything, I got home at 3am.  The End!

Until next time…

Erik Brains a Chipmunk

The day starts like any other.  We wake up, sloth through breakfast, kick a ball around, throw a stick for the dog, and make our way to the pit to suck up some diamonds through the dredge.

Mud has begun to love the pit.  Toss a rock in and he jumps into the six foot, opaque abyss and starts diving for the stone making silly sounds while barking/wimpering under the water.  This routine is what takes place while I coat the dredge with the grease for the day and the others prime the pump.  When the dredge starts up we begin sucking up the blue, rich clay that is the trademark of weathered kimberlite.

Deeper, we hit pockets of bright blue sand that iridesces with mica.  Some of the coolest, most beautiful looking soil I have ever seen.  It looks as though it should be pungent with bitumen but it just smells like dirt.

My diamond tester has begun to go on the fritz and Aren sent a message to his brother Lars and Lars’ girlfriend Echo to grab us a new one on his way out to meet us at our gypsy camp (by gypsy, I mean “white trash mess of a camp”; we are disgusting).  My trailer (the Honey Badger) is ghetto enough as it is, but when covered with a torn green tarp with the bed of my truck as a makeshift kitchen and Dave’s Jeep acting as a contact point keeping the tarp suspended it looks pretty shabby.  Add to this the empty beer bottles, and coke cans spilling out of recycling bins and strewn about the camp, the torn apart dog toys, the camping chairs that are usually blown over by the regular thunderstorms that make us cold and wet; we appear to be the slobbiest of refugees.  The forest rangers avoid us… For we are “The Undesirables”.

By the the late afternoon, after Erik, Dave, Aren, and I call it quits in the pit we begin our afternoon routine of farting and telling jokes when Erik spots his nemesis: a chipmunk he keeps calling a “squirrel”.  Erik asks Dave, “if I kill this squirrel will you gut it?”

Dave: “You bet.”

Erik: “I’ll be back in a minute without a squirrel.”

A few seconds pass and Erik shouts, “Holy shit. I just got it!”  None of us really believe him, but his excitement got me curious,  Sure enough there is a chipmunk on its back going through the last few twitches of life with serious head trauma.  Erik has become the first man to brain a chipmunk with a rock in probably 150,000 years.  Erik is now closer to our ancestors than any of us ever will be.

Dave is a squelcher.  He refuses to clean the carcass so Erik and Aren begin the task with Erik doing the dirty work and Aren giving him directions using the knowledge he gained from doing the same with pigs when he was 13.  Erik saws off the head using a steak knife.  It does not go smoothly.  The chipmunk does that dance those lipstick-clad models do in that Robert Palmer music video; rhythmically turning side to side while being very slowly decapitated.

The steak knife will not do.  Erik goes back to our mining camp and retrieves the box cutter we purchased to cut away the bad sections of the pressure hose on the dredge.  Next, utilizing the new sharp tool, Aren tells Erik to cut off the pelt and gut the sucker.  Erik is the protégé, Aren the master.  I over hear important tidbits of advice like, “now cut along the inside of each arm and peel it back.  There you go!” And, “No, no. Cutaround the butthole!” When it is all done Erik puts the little bugger in a plastic bag and invents a marinade to soak it in.

This is when Lars and Echo arrive with two new shovels (we keep breaking them) and a Presidium diamond tester, just as Dave and Erik are burying the unused remains of the Chipmunk (the head and guts).    The story gets recounted to our new gypsies.  I liken the deceased to one of the effete chipmunks from those old Looney Tunes cartoons where they always talked about furniture and decor.  I think one of them is named “Clarence”.  Everyone concludes that Erik has killed Clarence.

The presidium says that everything we have found is not diamonds.  Uh oh.  I don’t believe it.  I think the presidium needs faceted stones (cut stones, not rough like what we have) to get an accurate reading.  I will get conclusive data when I am able to polish a “window” into several of the tones when I return to Seattle.

We kicked the ball around for a while, and when it got dark we built a fire.  Then Erik grilled the Clarence to well-done and it was passed around.  Not much meat on chipmunks, but Erik’s marinade was delicious!  Everyone had a piece and strangely I bet we all wished there was more to go around.  I can now say that I have eaten a chipmunk killed with a rock at 20 feet.  We have become mountain men at last!

The next day (today) we awake and the wind is wild, the sky is full of lenticular clouds (the ones that look like spaceships) and we sloth through until the afternoon to begin work on the pit.  The dredge (recently renamed “The Target of Opportunity) isn’t having much suction.  We look at the engine, add oil, and things get a little better but not like the “old days”.  Ideas are thrown about: the intake is clogged, the hoses are clogged, the depth of the pit is making it too hard to get good water flow back up the eight feet to the sluice box…  I finally conclude that the impeller in the water pump is shot and we probably need to rebuild it.  Thus, sucking sucks.

We should be moving six thousand pounds of Earth an hour.  Instead, we are moving dozens of pounds and hour.  That might be it for diamond mining on the trip as the impeller will need to be rebuilt and that will take a couple of days to find the parts and/or a shop to do the work.  The afternoon thundershower moved through, Lars and Echo made delicious chili and we moved on to the Pot Belly for billiards, drinks, fried pickles and the Internet to make this post.

Tomorrow we’ll clean up the mine site and try to return it to it’s natural state as best we can.  Then it will be time to bid adieu to the mountains of Colorado and push north to the Black Hills for the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.  Our adventure is far from complete and further debauchery is assured!

The adventure begins anew!

I’m hitting the road again to meet up with my merry band of neardowells. I’ll first be poking through Nevada and getting my fill of ghost towns where I will eventually meet up with my old roommate Dave (my first friend in Hawaii when I moved there); in Elko maybe?

Thent Dave and I will mosey through the rest of Nevada, Utah and Colorado, where on the 23rd we meet up with Aren, Erik, and probably Aren’s brother Lars in Denver. We go North from Denver to Fort Collins where my cousin Sam just might be waiting for us–then it’s the push into the wild where our diamond mining begins!

Stay tuned for the trials and tribulations of the gang and see if we get significatly more diamonds than we did last year. Come on “retirement stone”!

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.

-Aren

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!