Tag Archives: ghost towns

It has sheet metal because I do not.

Day 3, August 26th, Today became a big day where a lot happened.  A lot.  Stay with me, this is a long one, but a good read.

I had bedded down for the night next to the Shoofly Oolites in southern Idaho, because, well, what an awesome name!  These chunks of rocks are the limestone remnants of a giant fresh water lake that extended across the valley of what is now pretty much the bulk of Idaho about 11-13 million years ago.  The Oolites are bits of limestone formed from tiny sealife particles which settled on the lake bottom.

Shoofly Oolites of Idaho. Fun to say.
Shoofly Oolites of Idaho. Fun to say.

The rare chemical properties of these oolites support five endemic plant species and are pretty rad to look at up close.  Not too much time available to spend staring at such blocks of rock, I have to make up for all the progress I lost by being stuck in the middle of nowhere. I am hundreds of miles behind schedule and missed out on three desired stops yesterday.  No Leslie Gulch, and no ghost towns of Silver City, and DeLorme, ID in the Owyhee Mountains.  Nuts.

I stop at a hardware store and obtain a new water jug and fill it at a Shell Station while I grab some fuel.

I then drive down the long, flat, hot Three Creek Rd south of Bruneau, ID.  This road is an eternity in a long straight line.  I pass the captain obvious sign for the Saylor Creek Bombing Range I am about to traverse. Really? Things fall from planes on a bombing range?

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the road is lined by two things: beautiful little sunflowers, and Stupid Little Birds (SLBs) who like to jump out in front of my truck as if I am a preditor seeking their eggs.  Their goal is to draw me after them and away from their nests.  My goal is to drive a straight line.  Our goals collide.  Often.  My estimate is that one in 25 of these SLBs finds itself under my carriage.  It wouldn’t be an adventure in the desert if my modern technology wasn’t a tool of natural selection changing the evolutionary outcomes of the previous few million years one Stupid Little Bird at a time.

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Air Force A-10s were making bombing runs around me during my drive.  Ironically I passed a sign that read, “Only you can prevent wild fires,” while bombers dropped 25lb incendiaries on dry grass around me…

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The little dots are A-10s making bombing runs. They are faster than my ability to turn my camera into a phone and snap a worthwhile photo.
The little dots are A-10s making bombing runs. They are faster than my ability to turn my camera into a phone and snap a worthwhile photo.
Crews working on the powerlines above Fast Fork of the Jarbidge River before reaching Murphy Hot Springs.
Crews working on the powerlines above Fast Fork of the Jarbidge River before reaching Murphy Hot Springs.

After maybe 60 miles of such roads I finally begin to dip into the canyon where the “resort” town of Murphy Hot Springs, ID resides.  The spring was known to local tribes prior to the white man, but the first recorded owner of the spring was Kittie Wilkins who was a well educated woman from Walla Walla, WA.  She became world famous for her horse breeding and traded her horses around the planet.  She was widely regarded as the “Horse Queen of Idaho.  Kittie made a pool for the spring to fill out of rocks so that the ranch hands and locals could rest their weary bones.  The pool became known as “Kittie’s Hot Hole”.  I shit you not.  I found out about this after I passed through town, otherwise I would have taken a dip in Kittie’s Hot Hole just to say I did.

A glimpse up river as I cross the bridge in Murphy Hot Springs
A glimpse up river as I cross the bridge in Murphy Hot Springs

Today the town is rustic resort where locals gather to vacation in the summer.  The resort was built by a gentleman named Patrick Murphy who renamed Kittie’s Hot Hole to “Murphy Hot Springs” (boring).  I got word that the Mexican food there is to die for.  Should have stopped for a dip and a lunch… next time.

Looking down on Murphy
Looking down on Murphy

Since this is a trip of adventure and challenge I decided to climb the canyon opposite Murphy and head up the mountain.  I wanted to descend into the town of Jarbidge, quite possibly the most remote settlement in the lower 48, via a road that goes down the canyon wall right into town.  It is a road that is somewhat a legend for how steep, unkempt, and stupid it is to drive.  Jarbidge self promotes as the “Off Road Capitol of America” and this wisp of dirt is its king.  I passed several trucks with ATV trailers on my way to my wisp of a road.  I also went by my second powerline crew of the day working on the walls of the canyon.  They looked at me and my truck like I was either a stud or an idiot.  I prefer to think of myself as a little of both.

The road down started steep and narrow right off the bat, but the view was spectacular.

The canyon road above Jarbidge, NV
The beginnings of something beautiful

I descended slowly and in 4-low.  The rocks started small and crumbly but the road go steep in a hurry.  The only tracks I saw were from something tracked like a bulldozer.  I couldn’t understand why a bulldozer would go down such a route and not grade it.  Weird.  The boulders started to get huge and my truck was plodding at a crawl over them.  I got to a little flat spot tucked into the canyon wall where I came face to face with a dude on a bulldozer on the opposite side of downed power lines.  Ah, there he is.

The look on his face was one of surprise. “What are you doing?” He asked.

“I’m heading down into Jarbidge”

“This road is not really that kind of road.” He incredulously put to me while pushing his orange hard hat back on his head.

“I know, that’s why I’m doing it.”

“Well, it’s going to be three hours until they pull these lines up so you are either going to have to wait or go around.”

Fuck, I am pressed for time, go around it is.  “Guess I’m going back around. Nuts.”

“I am surprised you even made it down here.  It’s not much of a road, more a bunch of rocks.  Why didn’t anyone up there tell you we had downed lines down here?”

“Beats me.  They just looked at me like I was a fool.”

“Jeeze… Good luck backing back up!”

And that is where I met my big challenge, taking a quarter mile of cliff face backwards and in four wheel drive.  There is a lot of torque in reverse, let me tell you.  I made it a couple hundred yards back up the slope, it took a while because I had to keep getting out to see what the rocks looked like behind me.  Eventually I opted to just climb the rear end of the truck up the slope so that I was probably face down close to a 100% grade (45 degrees) and pivoted the nose of my truck and proceeded to do an Austin Powers multi-point turn around pirouette on the slopes of the canyon and get my truck facing forward.  It worked.  I’d rather see my impending doom coming than fall backwards off of it.

I made it to the top and passed the line crew again.  This time they were all smiling at me.  I wanted to shout, “The road didn’t defeat me, your stupid power lines did!” 45 minutes later I was back in Murphy and back on Three Creek Rd heading along the canyon into Jarbidge.

I got stuck behind another truck hauling ATVs and it was just blowing dust everywhere.  I hate being the one behind someone on a dirt road.  I don’t need to die of consumption because I had to drive behind someone.  I decided to pull over and throw a whiz and kill a little time staring at a map of the canyon.  Once I was sure I was clear of the dust machine I continued.  The road is only 15 miles long or so, but takes a while as the fastest you will travel is maybe 20 MPH, but most of the time you’ll be doing 10-15 MPH.  It is really winding.

Today Jarbidge is a town that is waiting.  It is always waiting. Waiting for someone, anyone, to come along and provide something interesting and new to do.  Every person enthusiastically waved at me with a gleam in their eye as if it is possible I could be their savior, or at the very least, their next round of entertainment

Jarbidge is a gold mining boom town through and through.  it was the site of the last gold rush of the Old West in 1909.  Exaggerations of gold discoveries brought thousands of prospectors that Winter and most had their fill by Spring of 1910.  These genius prospectors tried driving claimstakes into drifts of snow and discovered that digging for gold is darn near impossible when you have to make it through 18ft of snow first.  When gold was actually discovered after the snow melt (duh), the town swelled again to perhaps 2000 by 1911. Teddy Roosevelt had created the Humboldt National Forrest in 1908 and a ranger station was built near where Jarbidge is today.  A year later, upon news of the gold strike, President Taft exempted the Jarbidge Canyon from the national forest so that people could own land and settle there.

Shortly after the town boomed a second time it began it’s slow decline once again.  Mechanization and consolidation of the mining operations dwindled the population to just those required to do the job for the Elkoro Mining Company by 1918 when Guggenheim purchased most of the mining interests.

The only connection Jarbidge had to the outside world prior to The Elkoro was via stagecoach to Rogerson, ID.  This meant that Jarbidge was the site of the very last stagecoach robbery ever December 5th, 1916 by one Ben Kuhl.  The coach was supposed to arrive into town with over $4,000 in pay for the miners.  When the coach didn’t arrive on time everyone logically assumed the 4ft of snow which had fallen that day had delayed the arrival.  A search party was assembled to find the rig.  A phone call up the canyon to Rose Dexter informed the men that the coach had passed her home and she waved at, but driver Fred Searcy didn’t wave back but was bundled in his coat at the front of the coach.

The search party found the coach hidden behind a tree with a frozen, dead Searcy slumped in his seat with a close range bullet hole in his head complete with powder burns and singed hairs.  Next to the coach was a mail bag, but missing was a second bag with the $4,000.  The next day the group set out to follow a set of dog prints and foot prints in the snow that lead away from the crime scene.  A stray dog began following the group started pawing the snow along tracks to reveal the missing bag, minus the $4,000.  The dog’s paws matched the paw prints in the snow the group had been tracking.  The party concluded that the dog had been at the crime scene and that it was mostly attached to Kuhl, a convicted horse thief.  Regardless of who killed Searcy, the killer’s hands had been covered in the blood of the driver and then the same blood smeared the letters and envelopes leaving bloody palm and fingerprints behind.

The subsequent trial was the first time in US history fingerprints were admissible in court and two forensic scientists from California determined that the palm prints were an exact match to Kuhl resulting in his conviction and that of two associates.  Kuhl was sentenced to death but his sentence was later commuted to life in prison.

The $4,000 was never recovered and to this day is the most substantiated buried treasure legend in the United States.

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I had about 1/3 of a tank of gas in Dentasaurus, so a top off was to my benefit.  The gas pump was different.  One diesel, one unleaded and no one around.  Just a sign informing me that if I can’t get my payment to work then that I need to go to the saloon next door and use their phone to call Dennis.  Of course this weird gas pump attached to a dialup modem didn’t work.  I had to call Dennis.  A woman, I presume was his wife or girlfriend answered. “He’s on his way over.”

A few minutes later an angry white haired man on a four wheeler pulled up.  “What’s the problem?”

I can’t get my payment to work.

“For Chrissakes, you have to wait until it clears!”

“I did, It just–”

“No you didn’t, Goddamnit! Give it to me.”  Dennis is like Oscar the Grouch, if Oscar the Grouch wasn’t a children’s character.  He slides my card into the gray machine and lifts his sunglasses off his face and onto the top of his head and squints at the little screen that looks sort of like a Speak&Spell.  “You just have to wait… See, there it… wait, huh? ‘Rejected by Host’?… Your card doesn’t work,” and he tosses it at me nonchalantly and starts to walk away.  It lands at my feet.

“I have cash if that will work.”

“I hate this fucking place.  I hate everything about this fucking place.  It’s not even my gas station.  I cannot wait for them to fucking sell it.”  I look at the Coldwell Banker sign with some portly woman with short hair smiling “FOR SALE” it reads.  Sure ’nuff, the place is for sale.  “Yeah, cash will work,” he sighs, and fumbles with a set of keys on the flimsy door of the dilapidated service station and walks inside a building that appears as though twenty different owners over the past century had begun a restoration project of the building before calling it quits and selling out to the next sucker.

Dennis lifts his glasses off his face again and squints at a little old school cash register like it’s the monolith at the beginning of 2001: A Space Odyssey.  He fumbles with the keys and the cash drawer opens from which he withdraws a little white card and then storms passed me and my forty outstretched dollars.

He slides the little white card into the machine and does some more squinting and button pushing.  “OK, pump the fucker.”  I lift the nozzle and flip the handle up, the meter resets to zero.  I pull the trigger.  Nothing.  “I FUCKING HATE THIS PLACE!” Dennis screams.  “GOD DAMNIT, DON’T TOUCH ANYTHING!”  More fumbling, more screaming at me, at the ‘confound’ machine, and at “This forsaken shit hole!”

Five minute later the pumps starts chugging.  I try to get it to stop around $37 so that I can get $3 change to give to Dennis as a tip for the show he put on.  I hand him the $40 and tell him to keep the rest.  “Fuck you.  I told you this isn’t my damned station.  I’m going to give you your fucking change and then fucking kill myself.”   Dennis must be a legend in this town.  By now a dust-covered Toyota 4-Runner has pulled up to the pump, “GOD DAMNIT!”  I hop into my rig and pull away and out of town and watch Dennis hate everything with his new audience from my side mirror.

At the end of town began the steep switchbacks that lead up the wall of the canyon and is the start of the road to Elko.  I drove by a forest ranger conducting a census along the laid lines of a transect, she would be the last person I see for the next few hours, and climbed and climbed until I could look out at the old mines high on the walls of the canyon.

Jarbidge mines
Mines high up on the slopes. New permits were issued in 2013 and these derelict old claims are going through a rejuvenation.

The road continues up until and I passed through gorgeous stands of fir trees and aspens and I found myself at the top of a high peak about 8,500ft up.  I could see al the way into Idaho and up along a gorgeous mountain valley.

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From the summit of the pass into Jarbidge
From the summit of the pass into Jarbidge

The drive through the mountains afforded me cool observations of contact points between basalt flows and older sedimentary layers, metamorphic slates, quartz intrusions, hoodoos, and sweeping peaks.

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I had to drive slowly through the mountains.  The road is well groomed but the terrain is steep and gnarly.  There is no way into Jarbidge if it is raining; this path would just be a muddy death chute to the valley floor below.

I hear the sound of metal clanging behind my truck like I am dragging something.  I am.

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I couldn’t break it off, the last strand of metal connected to the muffler had too much integrity.  Well, add “new exhaust system” to the list for Dentasaurus Rex.   I also notice that I had obliterated my two package the day before was well… another item for the “list”.  Why doesn’t Ford attach the tow package to a cutout in the bumper so that every time I go off road it doesn’t destroy that damned dangly little fucker? As far as the pipe is concerned?  Fuck it, I’ll just drive until I stop hearing the sound.  A few miles later, that worked just fine.

About an hour down the road and on the South side of the slopes I pass a few abandoned mines and come to a ghost hotel outside the ghost town of Charlston, NV.  I don’t know the history of this place, but it must have been 1950s swanky in its heyday!

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The road forks, and I head West along Elko County Road 746 (the Charleston-Mountain City Road).  It’s like any gravel road I have traveled tens of thousands of miles before.  I am traversing the southern foothills of the mountain range as it works up and down the undulations as long ridges give out at the base of the range.  For the most part the road is boring and flat with a few curves.  It has been nearly three hours since I have seen another vehicle or person.  Regardless on blind turns and hills I give up my middle of the road to the off chance someone else is coming the other way.  The last thing I need is to be surprised by a wayward hunter or family on a camping trip.

My aim is to make my way to Elko, fill up on fuel and then dirt road it South deep into Nevada to investigate a quintet of ghost towns surrounding silver mines in the White Pine Range southeast of Eureka.  I don’t make it.

I am about to round a blind, off-camber turn (a turn which slopes away to the outside making the vehicle want to pull to away from the turn, the opposite of a “banked” turn) on ECO 746.  I am doing about 45MPH, the speed limit, but slow down to about 40MPH as I approach the turn.  Rather that take the outside of the turn like I normally would on such a curve when I have a long site-line I play it safe and take the high side of this curve to the right on the offchance that the rare fellow traveler happens upon this turn as well.

The road rises a little bit right before the turn and just as I begin the curve my front tires dip into a rut or pothole and pops the front of my truck up.  When the weight of my truck resettles on the road my tires find themselves pushing into a deep pile of gravel or silt built up on the road.  My already turned wheels crank hard to the right as they sink into this plush, loose, material.  It whips the rear end of my truck around and to begins to slide through the corner. I crank hard on the wheel to steer into the turn and hopefully drift the truck around the corner fore something bad happens.  Too late.

My front tires just stop in the fluff of material and I basically pull a quadruple toe loop with a 5,000 lbs truck.  I have spent many an hour contemplating what I would do in the event of a roll over accident.  With the thousands of miles I have travel on dirt roads it is almost an inevitability.  These thought experiments are the best kind of practice I can conduct without actually flipping my truck.  As I begin to tilt over I go through the motions I have worked through my head a thousand times before.  I grip the wheel tight and push it hard away from me and into the dash.  As a result this forces my body back into my seat and I push my head back with all my might into the head rest and flex every muscle in my body.  I don’t want to go anywhere.  I have seen too many videos of rollovers where arms and torsos flop out the door window as a result of centripetal force and arms and heads are severed as the vehicle rolls over them.  The roof might crush me, but I am not going to lose an arm in the process.

Over I go.  I have what feels like a thousand thoughts in just a few seconds:

Hold with everything you got. Count the rolls. There’s one. You’re an asshole for dying on your way to see Angie.  How is she supposed to feel finding out days after you were supposed to arrive in Santa Fe that you died alone in the desert?  I guess now this is what your last sensation of being decapitation feels like.  Two.  Keep your eyes closed tight, glass is exploding everywhere.  I don’t want to get a new truck.  Keep flexing. Three.  You are at least a two hour hike to a paved road; remember to assess your supplies.  Am I dead yet?  I really wanted to see Angie, she’s the best.  I don’t want to die yet.  I want to go to Santa Fe.  I think I just rotated entirely without touching the ground.  Four...

I land upright and open my eyes.  My hands immediately move to the top of my head to seek out any splits in my scalp.  At first I am surprised that my hands are moving and that my eyes are watching my hands move.  My brain was almost certain that I would send the signals through my arms and only bloody stumps would respond.  No blood, coming from my head.  I can’t even feel that my head hit anything.  I cannot accept this, maybe the bleeding hasn’t started yet.  I run my hands over my head again and again.  Nothing, no blood.  Next I run my hands around my torso looking for any shrapnel, large bruises, broken ribs, punctures.  Again, nothing.  I look at my knees and move my feet and toes.  I stare at my fingers and wiggle all ten of them.  My neck hurts.  Oh no, I slashed my jugular, this is how it ends. I slide my palm along the left side of my neck where it hurts.  Nothing, no blood yet again. This is fucked up, how am I not injured.  I must be injured.

The stereo is still playing Sisters of Mercy “This Corrosion”, but the engine is no longer running.  I turn the ignition off.  The battery obviously works, use the CB radio and your very illegal antenna amplifier that can broadcast your signal over 100 miles.  This is what you bought it for!  I reach out and pull the microphone out of its cradle.  The power swtich is damaged but it turns on.  I turn to the emergency channel and just get a blare of static.  I look out through the bashed in windscreen see that my antenna is no longer there.  Shit.

I undue my seatbelt and open my door.  Holy shit, my door opens!  I then look at the steering wheel, no airbag has gone off.  I look to the passenger side.  It is completely flattened.  Had I a passenger they would have been popped like a melon at a Gallagher show, no airbag either.  What the fuck, no airbag?  I should have a bloody nose and black eyes by now, damnit!

I step out of the truck and triage myself one more time.  Nothing, no blood outside a few nicks from broken glass, one scratch on my right shin, and the abrasion on the left side of my neck from my seatbelt I thought was a slash to my throat.  I’m OK! Holy shit, I’m OK!

Now is not the time to celebrate, you’re still tens of miles, if not a hundred miles from Elko. Time to start assembling supplies.  I start walking around the truck, the canopy is 100ft away, all of my prospecting gear, bedding, books, clothes, food, electronics (everything!) is smeared along a debris field perhaps 150-200ft long.  All my windows are broken out. The passenger side of the truck is pushed in like a thumb through play-doh.  Holy shit my brain keeps repeating.  Pull these things off the road so someone else doesn’t hit it.  The truck is in the road and I can’t move this.  I don’t want someone else to come around this blind corner and hit this or wreck trying to avoid it.

I begin piling items either in the bed of the truck or in the upside down canopy.  I found my compass, good.  I find my brand new water jug and half the water is gone trough a tear in the plastic, argh!  There’s the piece of shit gas can, Oh look at that, the first time that hunk of garbage didn’t spill everywhere was when it was launched 50ft into the air during a heinous wreck.  Asshole.  I find one can of cola that wasn’t destroyed.  Every other liquid is obliterated.  Milk gone.  Mexican Cokes gone.  The Seattle beer I was bringing to Angie’s brother who is a beer blogger to review?  Gone too.  Cheerios are everywhere.  Sandwiches are nowhere to be found.  I can’t find my glasses and I can’t find my cellphone.  I find my computer, clothes, various shoes, sleeping bag… all go into piles.

At this moment, it is probably only five minutes since the accident, I hear a truck approaching from the West and look up to see a cloud of dust.  I walk out into the middle of the road and start waving my arms back and forth.  The Toyota Tundra slows and the driver leans out the window, “Are you alive?… are you hurt?”

“I am alive, and no, miraculously I am not hurt!”

He pulls his truck to the side of the road and gets out to inspect me and make sure I am not just in shock and have entrails dangling out from behind me or an open wound on my scalp.  “Holy shit,” he declares, “How on Earth are you alive?”

“I don’t know… Thank you for stopping.  Thank you so much for stopping.  Pretty much all my supplies are obliterated.  It was going to be a pretty shitty hike back to the highway.

We introduce ourselves to each other.  His name is Brandon.  He is my hero.  I can taste the metallic telltale of adrenaline pumping through my veins.  My hands shake.  He asks if I have a tow line so he can pull my truck off the road.  I search through the debris and find both tow cables and open the plastic packaging and hookup the front tow hooks and hand him the other end which he attaches to his trailer hitch and drags my giant booby trap off the road.

Brandon then begins helping clear all of my belongings and putting them into the bed of the truck.  “Is there anything you need right now?”

“Yes, I can’t find my cellphone or my glasses.”  The thing about looking for glasses, is that without wearing them, it is really hard to find them.  I immediately flash back to my last baseball practice at Lewis & Clark. T he coaches decided to have a scrimmage and a little fun where the only rule was you could not play a position you had played throughout the season.    Shortstops pitching, Catchers at third base, pitcher patrolling the outfield…  The winning team got to have all the meal money for our last travel game of the season; losing got jack.

The team captains chose the teams, I was picked last because it was assumed that the skinny awkward knuckleballer would be the worst athlete on the team.  I played left field and had the game of my life.  I went four for six with 6 RBIs, four runs scored, a bases loaded double, and the play of the year.  A long drive down the line and I gave chase.  The shortstop kept yelling, “You have plenty of room!  You have plenty of room!” over and over letting me know that I had a ways until I would crash into the fence so that I needn’t fear; I can get the ball.  I chased and chased and just as the ball was about to land I leapt and discovered the fence was only a foot from me.  I exploded into the fence, ball in glove.  It hurt.  I picked myself up off the ground and threw the ball into third to cheers of my teammates who never expected such athleticism from the weirdo nerd-pitcher.

The real pitcher for this game returned to the mound and got ready to throw to the next batter. “Time out!” I yelled, “I can’t find my glasses!” I dropped to all fours feeling along the grass searching for my specs.  Everysingle one of my teammates also fell to the ground, but in laughter, as I blindly searched for my eyes with the palms of my hands patting along the ground.  I hadn’t worn my contacts because I had assumed that this practice would be like every other one; I throw a bullpen, go for a jog, and then get out of the “real” ball players way.  Game of my life and I can’t see shit. I eventually discovered that I fractured two fingers on my pitching hand on that play too…

I snap back to the present and find myself doing the same thing once more, this time instead of grass, I am on my knees crawling over an endless stretch of desert patting the ground with my hands hoping to come up with my sweet Oakley Metal Plate eyeglasses.  Brandon and I search for twenty minutes or so.  Brandon finds my phone.  I give up the glasses search and decide to document the accident instead for myself, for the sheriff, for the insurance company, for this blog, and for my friends and family so that every one can know that once again I have proof that I am once again miraculously indestructible.

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Roll over accident survivor!
As you can see the passenger side is death, the driver’s side is life. My truck has saved my life one last time. I love you, Dentasaurus!

Brandon gave me and the important possessions we could find a ride into Elko.  He was the best person to come along and discover my wreck.  Calm, helpful, and kept me from descending into shock by conversing about everything under the Sun to keep my brain occupied.  He is a mine tech for Barrick Gold and was out searching for elk as he has a tag for hunting.  He was raised in Eureka and skis the local slopes in the winter by skinning up.  His grandfather worked the big Ruby mine and was murdered by men who thought he was a different man of the same name who had wronged one of them.  I love Brandon, he is wonderful.

Brandon drives me to the Sheriff’s office so I can report the accident and patiently waits for half an hour as the dispatch has to call in deputy.  The deputy is also patient with me as I am still kind of vibrating from the accident.  He asks me to email him pictures of the crash, they are already receiving calls from people who have happened upon the wreck.  Just then he gets a word that a boat is sinking on the lake and has to go.  He’ll be in touch.  I go back to Brandon’s truck and he gives me a ride to the High Desert Inn so I can check in somewhere for the night and start figuring this shit out.  He even helps me lug everything up to my room and gives me his number incase I need anything.  I thank him a thousand times.  All I want to do is shower and sleep.

I dump my belongings inside the door and call USAA to report the accident.  The claims agent is wonderful.  He asks about my health a dozen times, orders me a rental car, informs me of how awesome the coverage I have is, and starts ordering a tow truck to haul Dentasaurus Rex out of the wild.  I upload the picture of me standing in front of the wreck and let the Internet know I am alive.  I text my agent and let her know that I am alive.  I call my mother and let her know I am alive.  Before I can call my dad, he calls me.  Every friend and family member is calling, instant messaging, and texting to see if I need any help.  Everyone is so wonderful; I love my circle, everyone of them is magnificent.  I shower and sleep.  I sleep hard.

Fuck you, gas can.
Fuck you, gas can.

 

Don’t go to Pioche (you can, just don’t time travel to there, ok?)

Pioche, Nevada (pronounced Pee-O-Shee) isn’t much of a ghost town any more.  Today it now has about 1,000 residents thanks to the boom in gold and silver prices.  Forty years ago, however, it was a near empty relic.  Lying along the Western edge of the state and abutting the Northern Slopes of what was, of course, later named the Pioche Hills; an eastern spur off the southern part of the more impressive Highland Range, Pioche is easy to find.  It lies along US93 as it winds itself South towards Las Vegas 165 miles away.  These days Pioche is a more somber town than its glittering neighbor to the South.  It didn’t used to be that way.  It used to be Hell on Earth.

Pioche today.
Pioche today.

The town got its start in1863 when a bunch of Mormon farmers, lead by William Hamblin, settled the valley.  The original town site was called Panacker after what they named the valley floor; the “Panaca Flats” (Hamblin and his kin were thought to be the first white people to settle here).  Shortly after settling the area Hamblin is then credited with the discovery of lead-gold-silver ore (the Panaca lode), but this is not entirely true.  In reality Hamblin convinced some Paiute Indians friends, who had no use for such glittery things, to show him where said metallic rocks could be found.  His staked claims resulted in $40 million in ore (to put this into perspective, in modern dollars this is about $2 billion!).  Don’t we all wish we had friends who could basically hand us $2 billion in gold and silver?

Hamblin was poor and bit too incompetent to develop the mine himself, couple this with the delays caused by the Civil War and the fact that the Paiutes were no longer his friends and were sick of all the white men invading their territory, and he was essentially forced to sell the claims to a French banker from San Francisco by the name of Francois Louis Alfred Pioche in 1869; hence the town changed its name to “Pioche”.  Hamblin eventually died in awful desperation to return to his original hometown of Gunlock, Utah, this was part in thanks to the awful, violent reality that was Pioche (more on this later).

By the time Francois Pioche bought the mines Nevada had already become a state, yet law enforcement was a little lacking (and what law there originally was had been corrupted by bribes and threats), so violence ruled supreme.  Tombstone, Dodge, and Deadwood have nothing on Pioche.  By the time the town had experienced its first natural death some 75 people had died via “lead to the head” or beatings.  Violence was so ubiquitous that the mine owners and foremen imported their own muscle to protect the mines from encroachment, bandits, and poachers at the rate of 20 men a day.  These hired guns were basically assassins and their death rate was so high that they quickly filed the cemetery on Boot Hill at the top of town.  This cemetery even has a section known as “Murderers’ Row” with over 100 executed men (most of whom were executed without trial).

The story of a bartender just known as “Faddiman”, as reported by Lambert Florin, was typical of the town.  When a job for an opening in a saloon was posted in Pioche Faddiman jumped at the chance for work that didn’t involve being underground.  Friends, family, acquaintances, and strangers alike told him not to go: “You’re as good as dead if you go to Pioche.”… “No bartender ever lasted longer than a year in Pioche.”…

Feddiman told everyone to get bent, “I need a job and I don’t care where it is.  I can take care of myself.”  He made his way to the then mining camp and stayed there.  His second week on the job he cut off an intoxicated customer.

His last words: “You don’t need another drink.”

The customer promptly shot him in the face, stepped over his body and emptied the till.  He went next door to the butcher shop where the curvaceous “N-word Liza” worked, raped her, slit her throat, and stripped the till.  When he proceeded to leave he was met at Liza’s door by the Sheriff who shot him in the head.  The killer’s name was never known, but was pretty typical of how the rows of unmarked graves that line the cemetery at Boot Hill grew so long so fast.

Violence was such a way of life that in 1873 the Nevada State Mineralogist reported to the State Legislature “About one-half of the community are thieves, scoundrels and murderers […]. You can go uptown and get shot very easily if you choose […]. I will send you a paper with an account of the last fight…I was in hopes eight or ten would have been killed at least, as these fights are a pest in the community. Peaceful! Sure, if you stayed out of the way of the bullets.”

The town at its peak in the mid 1870s had 6,000-10,000 residents, 72 saloons, and 32 brothels.  it was drunk, gun-fueled mess.  The local paper wrote: “Some people do not hesitate to fire off a pistol or a gun at anytime, day or night, in this city.  Murderers who shoot a man in the back get off scot free but the unfortunate devil who steals a bottle of Whiskey or a couple of boxes of cigars has to pay for his small crime.”

One of several fires during the 1870s that burned most of the town to the ground.
One of several fires during the 1870s that burned most of the town to the ground.

September 15th, 1871 a structure containing over 300 barrels of blasting powder went *boom* during a town fire killing 13 people, injuring 47.  The fire ultimately resulted in over $500,000 in damage ($25 million in today’s dollars),  and left upwards of 3,000 people homeless.

A mini war between the Raymond & Ely and the Hermes Mining Company over control of the main lode claim in 1872 broke out resulting in dozens of murders.  William Hamblin was tapped as a key witness in the subsequent trial over the claim rights.  Just before he was set to testify one of his drinks was poisoned.  In a frightful terror upon the realization that he was going to die he rode for his family in his hometown of Gunlock, UT.  He only made it as far as Clover Valley, UT before succumbing to the poison’s inevitability.  He is buried in Barclay, UT.

The town had its own awful stupidity too.  It was made the county seat of Lincoln County and in 1871 an $88,000 courthouse was erected which far beyond the original estimated costs budgeted at $16,000.  The courthouse became known as the “Million Dollar Courthouse” due to the public being swindled by financing, refinancing, and the issuance of public bonds for the building totaling more than $1 million.  On a note of awesomeness, the building was condemned in 1933; three years before it would have finally been paid off.  It has since been restored.

This courthouse cost over $1,000,000 in 1870s money.  Let's put it this way: would you spend $50,000,000 today for said building in the middle of nowhere NV? No, you wouldn't.
This courthouse cost over $1,000,000 in 1870’s money. Let’s put it this way: would you spend $50,000,000 today for said building in the middle of nowhere NV? No, you wouldn’t.

A curious thing happened in 1876 that is unique to Pioche as far as I can tell.  For some reason women began to flood the town and men began getting married in droves.  This was due in part to the strong will of the women as much of that of the weak will and decision making abilities of the alcohol inside the men.  The bachelors were so scared of waking up married that they formed a men’s liberation movement.  I shit you not.

The July 8th, 1876 edition of the Pioche Daily Record reports:

“An association is being formed in Pioche amongst the unprotected male sex, the object being to protect themselves from the encroachment of the female sex, which of late have become so dangerous, that the poor male is getting to be the object of pity.

“Many lately have been caught up and married before they hardly knew it.  Females are arriving from all directions by stages, by private conveyances…  In consequence of this frightful state of affairs, that men are getting so timid that they hardly venture in the streets for a short walk for fear that they will be married me before they return.  This association proposes to ameliorate the condition of affairs.”

The Single Men’s Protective Association held its first meeting in a small, smoke-filled room.  The idea was to devise a plan to protect the men from the “tricks” of the women who were apparently thirsting for the hand of these miners.  The new organization elected a president, vice president, treasurer, secretary, and one Joseph R. Hoag as Sargent at Arms.  Hoag’s role was to ensure that no females enter the secret meetings.  The men agreed to $5 dues and a pledge that none of the men present would get married for the rest of 1876.  This was when the doors were broken down and the women of the town trampled Hoag in outrage.  The men scrambled falling over chairs and diving out of glass windows to escape the women.  Again, I shit you not.

The influx of women and the rash of marriages in 1876 did have an upside: the town went almost two months that summer without a murder!

By the late 1870s the gold and silver lodes began to dwindle and the town was nearly empty by 1900.  Pioche had a resurgence during WWII when the need for Zinc and Lead for the war effort took precedent.  Today the old town has many historic buildings restored and is one of the great ghost towns to visit and explore.  The next time you find yourself in the middle of nowhere, NV swing on by Pioche and relive the weirdest, most violent days of the frontier.

 

 

Molson, Washington: Founded by idiots.

Have you ever pulled into a place, maybe at a gas station, a grocery store, or a particular neighborhood and thought to yourself, man, everyone who lives here is a complete moron!  This is not a new thing; at the turn of the 20th century that place was Molson, WA.

John W. Molson had a bunch of money.  His daddy had a bunch of money. Even his daddy’s daddy had a lot of money because he founded Molson Brewery, Molson Bank, Molson Shipping, and a bunch of other billion dollar ideas with the “Molson” name attached to it in Quebec in the early 1800s.  Now, the original entrepreneur of the dynasty  (let’s say his name is John Molson Sr.) who starts the empire is usually a smart dude.  His scion (John Molson Jr.), grows up seeing his father handle the workload like a champ always besting the competition and inventing new markets, this young man knows that he has big shoes to fill and usually has something to prove to his father.  Thus, he strives to prove that he can do just as well as (if not better than) daddy.  When the business is passed on to him he runs with it like a horse out of the gate and the long sting of success and wins continues.  It’s the third generation that is usually the problem.  The scion’s scion, if you will (in this case John W. Molson).  He has a lot of money, he’s always had a lot of money.  He has never known life with out money.  John W. Molson spent most of his years farting around and not learning much because daddy was never there to show him how to be a man, or whatever.  He always assumed that since the cash flow had always been there, that is would always be there.  John W. Molson was a rich brat.

George B. Meacham was a promoter, and by “promoter” I mean a flim-flam man, a grifter, a con man.  I am sure that in Meacham’s mind he was a brilliant developer well before most communities were actually planned.  I am going to give him, and history, the benefit of the doubt and presume that Meacham was just plain good at separating fools from their money.

In Northeastern Washington state and South central British Columbia there is a region of mountains called The Okanogan named for the native American tribe who inhabited the area.  The Okanogan is quite ancient compared to the other rocks found in Washington State.  This range is a bridge between the young, volcanic Cascade Mountains to the West, and the older towering Rockies to the East.  Some geologists even claim that the Okanogan is technically part of the Rocky Mountains.

The mountains of the Okanagan hug the Columbia River North of the Columbia Plateau and stretch well into British Columbia.  Today, the Okanagan is home to pretty much Canada’s only viable grape vineyards as well as some awesome skiing; but in 1900 The Okanagan was only home to some pretty impressive gold mines. About forty years earlier some American soldiers fled into what is now British Columbia to escape an attacking band of Indians and discovered gold at the confluence of Rock Creek and the Kettle River.  This began the Rock Creek Gold Rush of 1859.  A few months later the Colville Gold Rush began on the American side of the border.  On my birthday in 1896 (May 22nd) gold was discovered a mile and a half South of the Canadian border on Mary Anne Creek.  The ensuing mine was named the Poland China Gold Mine; thought to be named for the origins of the first investors.  Shortly thereafter, the Molson Family, along with some moneyed gentleman from Ohio, purchased the property and operated the mine under a new firm named the Molson Gold Mining Co.

The mine was high in the hills and was not a suitable location for a townsite.  George Meacham, who at the time it is believed, was foreman for the mine, told investor John W. Molson that he could find a suitable site on the Canadian side of the border and make a boom town out of it.  Molson was stupid enough to believe him.  In March 1900 Meacham chose a site he was certain was four miles Northwest of the Poland China Mine just across the border in Canada.  He chose a site four miles due West, and clearly within the confines of the United States of America.  Dumbass.

Too late to worry about what country they were in; it was “If you build it, they will come” time.  So Meacham spent over $75,000 that first year (about $5.6 million in 2012 dollars!) constructing the infrastructure for the newly named town of Molson.  They built a drugstore, a dentist office, a law office, and the Tonasket Hotel.

The Tonasket, named for the great Okanogan chief, might have been one of the most impressive hotels in Washington at that time.  Built for the cost of $8,500 ($637,000 in 2012), it was an ornate three-story structure with 34 rooms, over sixty full-height windows, and a wrap-around ballustrade that encompassed the second floor.  It even had a swank two-story outhouse!  The hotel was showy and gimmicky.  The promotional brochures for the Tonasket pictured steamboats charging up the Baker River to dock near the Hotel.  In reality, Baker Creek was nothing more than a dribble originating from a spring or two a mile South.

Within a year of Meacham founding the town of Molson the population swelled to over three hundred.  Something happened between Meacham and the town’s new fathers where Meacham got the hell out of town and fled to Texas to escape harm.  Someone knows why, my guess is that Meacham blew $75k building a town in the wrong spot to house personnel for a mine that was playing out.  Oh yeah, the Poland China Gold Mine was running out of gold by now.  D’oh!

Within a few weeks the town of Molson was down to 13 residents.  The town shriveled and and John W. Molson cut off the cash flow finally, and divested his shares of the Poland China (fool me once…).  The town stayed dead for several years and then homesteaders started arriving.

Ranchers and farmers started staking their 160 acre quarter sections and the town began to thrive once again.  In 1904 a stone grain house was constructed.  In 1905 rumors of impending railroad construction started going viral and more people came; a new mercantile even opened shop.  Eight saloons sprang from the Earth seemingly overnight and a deputy was hired.  Molson was back, baby!

The town was booming and lots were selling for a premium–then Old McDonald filed his homestead.  J.H. McDonald’s 160 acre homestead just happened to include the 40 acres of the town of Molson including the Tonasket Hotel!  Meacham had forgot to stake the land when he founded his town.  Moron.

McDonald was a dick.  He posted notices for everyone to vacate and lawsuits and countersuits started flooding the courthouses in the county.  The owner of the Mercantile threw up his hands and bailed choosing a site a mile North of town for his store where land ownership was not in question.  Hundreds followed him.  New businesses, saloons, and residences blossomed around the general store.  By 1906 the town of New Molson and the town of Old Molson were roughly the same size and hated each other’s guts.

Fist fights and feuds were routine.  An old geezer who went by the name Sutherland, took exception to a hog farmer allowing his pigs to run wild on his land and showed up in town with two big ass .45s and offered one to his nemesis.  The coward refused.  The duel may have been a bust but the pigs stopped swinging by Sutherland’s place.

In 1908 a one, Mr. L.L. Work, decided to open a bank in Old Molson but was having trouble aquiring land to begin construction.  Much of this was due to the fact that McDonald built a fence around most of Old Molson.  Mr. Work erected his bank on the skids in the middle of Main Street.  Using a tent and some card tables, Mr. Work’s bank opened for business in a new place each morning.  Finally in early 1909 the bank found land and a permanent residence.  The grand opening took turn for the worse when the particpants stopped to watch, and then participate in, one of the more impressive street brawls in history.  More than a hundred men had a good go at bashing each others’ heads in.  The one deputy was a little overworked.

The railroad also finally arrived in 1909 bringing a little more boom to New Molson as the station had been constructed there.  The train station in New Molson was the highest in Washington State at 3,708ft above sea level.

1914 brought an unusual truce between the two Molsons when it was decided that the children needed some learning and an impressive three-story school was built exactly in the middle of the two rival towns.  The residents who were tired of all the fighting quickly built homes near the school and a third town of Central Molson began its run.

Old Molson had the post office and New Molson wanted it.  In 1920 a resident of New Molson was elected post master but Old Molson wouldn’t give up the post office.  You have to remember, back during this time if your town had a post office the town was legitimate.  No post office meant no town, no street cred, no respect.  So when the old post master went to lunch the residents of New Molson stole the post office!

The fights continued, the grand hotels began burning down, and the fifteen year old railroad was pulled up.  The three Molsons were dying again.  The last store hung on until 1955 and finally shuttered.  By 1970 almost everyone was gone, the school was deserted, and the only remaining folks didn’t care which Molson each other was from anymore.

 

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…

Heading up to Colorado Territory

This is being written utilizing a phone, thumbs, and no spellcheck; please bear with me…

Last night I was attacked by flying ants. They like my hair a lot, but at least I got to sleep on a Futon!

I awoke about 7:30, grabbed a much needed shower, and then chatted with my brother about life. Boulder is a pretty cool place and I need to spend more than two days there.  Especially since Loch made Dave and I waffles and I got to have some deliscious agave syrup on mine!

We had a nice morning at the Wade compound. Our bellies were full, Mud was thuroughly humped by Loch’s dog Ralph, and it was time to push on.

We got back on SR-12 and headed North this time. The first leg of today’s journey was going over Boulder Mountain. The trucks didn’t have much oomph this morning but after an hour we cleared the highest summit of our trip to date at 9600ft. The view from the top was spectacular (as to be expected). The drive down was quicker and at the bottom we turned East onto SR-24. This road is beautiful. We descended through Capitol Reef National Park and the reds exploded all over the place. Narrow Canyons, red rivers, lush trees; a sight to behold. The only issue were the terrible drivers towing boats back from Lake Powell. They like to drive in both lanes.

As we exited Capitol Reef, we entered the Moon! Erie gray mounds of eroded soil. No vegitation or signs of life save for the road we were on. Eventually we came to a really rad ghost stone building. I don’t know why it was there or what it had been used for, but it was nice to look at.

We went through Hanksville where we crossed Dirt Devil Creek and headed North through the San Rafael Desert. After the landscape we just saw everything was just boring… And hot.

We got to I-70 and went East into Colorado where the temperature was 99 degrees. Mud was quite the panter. About 50 miles into Colorado US50 splits off into Grand Junction. I had heard things about the disgusting sprawl that is Grand Junction. Those rumors were not fair. Grand Junction is much worse. If I could give an award for the shittiest, most poorly planned city in America the award would be called “The Grand Junction Award for Never Meeting a Stripmall We Didn’t Like.”

Why on Earth did my hometown of Bainbridge Island hire as our city planner the former planner for Grand Junction? Was the planner for Houston, TX or Stockton, CA not available?

Outside of that shithole we drove through some more thundershowers and entered the Rockies. A restful stop at Blue Mesa Lake where Mud chased sticks and stones into the water we climbed all 11,300ft of Monarch Pass (what may be the highest pass of the entire trip).  After Monarch we made our last push to our campsite outside of Canon City, CO.

Tonight I am sleeping in my truck because of lightning. I still have flying ants ambushing my head. I dislike flying ants.

Ucame, Utah, Uconquered

After I posted last night’s entry I headed West out of town to look for a spot to lay my head by the road.  I found a nice gravel pit right by the “Welcome to Ely” sign.  I was too tired to setup my cot so I slept in the passenger seat of the truck.

There is a big open pit mine up the hill and I could see the lights of the giant Caterpillars hauling ore all over the mine site.  It was hard to hear, but I could feel when one of these huge machines would dump their load of processed ore adding to the man-made mountains that the tailing piles began to resemble.  Ten minutes would pass and I would feel a rumble through the body of my truck.  Another load down.  Another day closer to the depletion of the ore body.

Mines are like a kitchen timer.  Once the claim is staked it is only a matter of time until they have gotten every last drop.  Ding!  Put a fork in it, this turkey is done.

All these ghost towns I have been visiting were so abrupt and seemingly spontaneous in the origin and boom times.  Two years later the thousands of people who live there are gone onto the next big thing.   Unionville played out?  Go to Virginia City.  The Comstock load run dry?  I hear there’s a stike up on the Colville Reservation in the Washington Territory.  Colville all done?  Word is the Canucks found gold on the Frasier.  And so it goes…

It is mind boggling to think that if every single ghost town in Nevada had it’s peak population today the state would have somewhere in the neighborhood of twenty million residents and be the second most populous state in the union.  The fact is Nevada never had that many unique residents.  The people from Goldfield, moved to Elko.  The people in Elko, moved to Pioche.  The people in Pioche were probably murdered, since that is what Pioche did best back then; kill new comers.

Night of dreaming about these has-been mining towns came to an abrupt halt with a loud knock on my window.  Freaked out and startled, I awoke and my eyes saw nothing, just inky blackness.  Then I realized I still had my sleeping mask on (yes, I sleep with a sleeping mask, because I am a weirdo; and when I fall asleep my eyes open up, ok?) so I removed it and saw Dave’s smiling face and his big brown dog named Mud.  I opened the door and gave Dave a hug from the confines of my car seat, only then realizing that Dave may be the first man I have ever hugged while technically not wearing any pants…

It was early, not even 7am.  Gross.  I threw on some shorts and our new caravan of two vehicles drove into Ely in search of some breakfast.  We found it at the Silver State Cafe and dove in.  The waitress, who I don’t think was too bright, but nice, informed us that there was a tire shop called, “The ‘Super 8’ or something,” just down the road.

By 8am Dave, Mud, and I were waiting outside the “Big 8 Tire” for the lads who would make the Honey Badger’s gimp knee ready for the playoff drive.  The mechanics wasted no time beating the holy hell out of the trailer’s tire with various sized sledge hammers until the biggest sledge I have ever seen finally got the rusty rim off the wheel hub.  Why didn’t they just start with the biggest sledge first?  Why work their way toward the inevitable and take the long route?

Whatever.  An hour later the Honey Badger was holding 40psi and was ready to roll.  Away we drove.  See ya later, Navada; we’re Utah men today!  A couple more mountain passes and desert valleys (aka hundreds of miles) and we arrived in Delta, UT.  We made a stop at the Thriftway for ice to refresh our coolers and studied a map of the state.  I decided we should head South to Boulder, UT and pay my brother Loch and his wife Kelly a visit.

While ironing out the details of our route we heard girls yell “HELLO!” and turned around to see the sliding window of the drive-through SnoCone stand slide shut.  Delta is very Mormon; they don’t do drive-through espresso here.  After our brief distraction we returned to our geography lesson.  “We like your dog!”  A quick turn to see the window shut again.

If the ladies running that SnoCone stand want some of the these lads, who are we to argue with their marketing genius?  We went to get a SnoCone.  The window slid open and there were two 12 year olds.  Lame.

What’s the deal with child labor laws in Utah anyway?  In Washington when you approach a drive through stand their is a young lady (of legal age!), wearing a bikini ready to serve coffee.  In Utah, it’s the over sugared middle schoolers serving SnoCones.  Oh well, I ordered a 16oz blackberry/mango, and it was only $2.50.  I tipped the girls two bucks and the look on their faces was that of two young people who not only had never seen a tip before, but that of naivety to the fact that tips even exist at all.

Dave, and I sat in the shade of the a tree while I enjoyed my flavored ice and the two young ladies bounced around and did laps in their little hut.  Dave pointed out that these girls were probably doing shots of syrup all day long and were wired beyond control.  I think you’d have to be.  It seemed like I was their only customer all week. Come on, Delta, it’s 94 degrees outside, get a dang SnoCone!

Dave and I headed back to our to our little gypsy caravan and the girls slid open their window to thank us.  Then a few more steps and they slid open their window to wish a good trip.  As I was getting into the truck the window slid open again and the wished us a fun adventure.  As I was pulling out of the parking lot one of the girls ran out of the SnoCone hut to wave and wish me safe travels…

They need a YMCA in Delta or something.

Delta, may have been 94 and bluebird, but 30 miles South was the beginning of some monsoon.  The temperature plummeted into the 70s and sporadic downpours were making Dave’s clothes wet (they are strapped to the top of his Jeep).  We took US50 to I-15, to SR-20, to US89, to SR-12.  The weather was rumbly and awesome.  Once on SR-12 we entered Canyon Country and were on the doorstep of Bryce Canyon National Park.  The rocks were bright red and spectacular.  SR-12 is one of the most beautiful drives in existence; especially when thunderheads and sunshine are mixed in equal parts!

We drove through Tropic and a beige canyon that will live on in infamy in my mind.  Two years ago I was passing through the same narrow canyon when a huge mountain lion ran in front of my truck.  That was exciting enough, but around the next bend I saw Him.  Standing next to a shiny red Ford Focus rental car was a short, fat man with a waxy bald head, no teeth and a $3000 suit on.  He looked me in the eyes and stroked his huge .50 caliber sniper rifle as I passed by.  Terrified that this wack-a-doodle was going to snipe me in the face as the road followed the river bend back around for a picture perfect shot, I drove the next 400 yards blind, since I was crouched under the dashboard of my truck.

This time around I wasn’t terrified of the fat man in the expensive suit holding a six foot military-grade weapon.  I wanted him to be there.  I wanted Dave to see this reality.  I wanted so desperatley to not feel like the crazy one, when I know fat-sniper-rifle-guy must be the crazy one!

As we drove out of the canyon and into a high valley my disappointment abated and gave way to sweeping views of the terrain below.  Canyons just look so good.  Good job, Nature.  After we made it through the burg of Escalante the real awesome part began:  Hell’s Backbone!  We were in for a treat, just as we made it to the top of the ridgeline the thunderheads had just passed leaving a hole in the sky for the sun to shine through on the canyoned Earth below us.  The light reflected off the fresh streams of water now cascading off the smooth rocks of the mesas and canyon walls.  It looked as though someone had poured quicksilver over the whole of Southern Utah just to watch it shine!  It may have been the most beautiful thing I have ever seen in my life.  I will take that view with me to the grave.

Coming off of Hell’s Backbone we arrived at our destination of Boulder.  Home to 200 residents and two members of the Wade family.  Only I didn’t know where they lived.  They had moved since the last time I was here.  Dave and I killed time by eating all fancy-like at the Hell’s Backbone Grill.  We both got filet mignon and enjoyed the thunderstorm and out meals.  Our waitress happened to be friends with my sister in law Kelly and told us where to find her.  Instead, she found us!

Once we arrived at the new Wade Family compound on three gorgeous acres, Loch showed us the garden and his plans for the amazing water wheel grist mill that will run off the irrigation water from Boulder Creek.  construction is slated for next year.  Loch and Kelly took Dave, Myself and all the dogs to the top of the hill in the back yard to view the valley and watch the thunder storms surrounding us.  A good monsoon indeed.

Tomorrow Dave and I head to Colorado.  I am not sure if or when I will be able to update next.  I will try to get something written at soon, but internet connectivity may prove elusive.  Stay tuned!

Butterfly Murder.

I have contributed to the death of thousands.  Butterfly after butterfly gets eviscerated by the grill of my truck.  Beauty and tragedy at 70mph.

I woke up about 8:30 and got what was left behind by the rest of the hotel guests at the Holiday Inn Express.  Some warm milk, a cinnamon roll with what looked like a finger hole in it, and Raisin Bran.  Dreamy.

Last night, after I made my trip update, my computer’s battery was real low so I got my charging cord out.  Well, I should say I got half of my charging cord out.  I apparently left the half that plugs into the wall somewhere that is not my computer bag.  Hrrmmm…  Another thing to do in Fallon when your almost dead, go to Radio Shack.

I then took my bruised beast of an F150 to Les Schwab to get my tire fixed.  I chatted with the tire guy and he had all the same questions everyone else has when they meet me out here,  “What the hell did you do to your truck?”

“More manly things than anyone else with trucks around here it seems,” Has become my reply.

They took off my tire and saw the golfball-sized hole and said they couldn’t fix it.  I had to get a new tire and they didn’t have what I needed.  The dude said I could go to either Winnemucca (115 miles away to the North), or Sparks (51 miles away to the West).  I am trying to go East!  Onward to Sparks, I guess!  It was noon by this time, and the drive took about an hour as I was still driving like a granny with my two drive wheels of different diameters.

I rolled into Sparks and, guess what, got another tire tech who wanted to know just what in the hell had I been doing to my truck.

They took about an hour to get a new big ass Wild Country AT tire on my rig.  The charge: $308!  Whaaaaaa?  I then took my warranty out of pocket and asked, “Does this help?”

Yessir, it did.  The charge dropped to $174.  Not as bad.  It was now 2pm and I had hoped to be in Austin, 200 miles to the West of Sparks, by this time.  Sigh.

Back on the road and flying.  An hour later I was in Fallon, yet again.  Filled up on gas, and I was outta there.  Still cruising US50 I drove passed the tanks in the desert again.  This time they were being loaded onto flatbeds.  I guess play time was over.  Since I was retracing my steps I turned back down HWY361 to scope out some of those promising rock formations that had potential for riches.  I found three old mines, one new one, and biggest dribble of bird crap ever (it fooled me, I thought it was a quartz intrusion from about a mile away; that was a long hike to get a good view of tremendous amount of poop).  I am really good at being 150 years late to all these gold loads.

I hopped over the mountain range and crossed the big valley back toward Ione.  I had initially planned to cross the next range there yesterday and now was my chance.  Waved to all the no trespassing signs people who squat in abandoned houses in ghost towns always place on their fences and blew through Ione.  Been there, done that.

I was not a mile East of Ione, when, I can’t say it is maternal instinct, since I’m not a lady  and unless you consider the Honey Badger my child, but a thought popped into my head: Check on the Honey Badger, the little guy needs you.  I halt my rig and get out thinking that I might be dragging my tail lights again (I had just bought my 4th new pair in a year that morning back in Fallon).  Nope, taillights are copacetic.  Then I hear the hisssssssss of air coming from my trusty trailer.  The driver’s side tire had a crack in it.  Lame.

I split into action and grabbed my mostly used bottle of Fix-A-Flat.  I shook that sumbitch vigorously for 30 seconds and the emptied the can into the tire.  I do have a spare tire for the trailer, but I don’t happen to have a tire iron that fits the lug nuts on the wheel (note to self: get a second tire iron).  I had to hope the can of goo would stall the inevitable; there was another 50 miles of dirt roads between me an Austin… Where I should arrive at about 7:30, well after everything has closed.  I drove through, what looked to be an indian reservation that was the size of a football field and seemed to contain no residents.  Just cows.  And cows who don’t move for trucks at that.

The valley was gorgeous.  Bathed in the long light of the late afternoon sun the greens of what was a much more watered valley than all the other scrub brush desert I had be through.  In fifty miles I saw maybe ten homes, and one very determined dog who angerly chased my truck for about a mile even though I was doing about 30mph.

About 20 miles South of Austin I came upon a ghost ranch.  Rad.  I blew by it and took photos at speed of the homestead making a metal note to return and explore the abandoned big brick ranch house someday.

The road was weird.  There would be a mile of smooth, expertly paved road, followed by a mile of graded gravel, followed by a mile of pavement, and so on.  I reunited with HWY722, and then US 50, and chugged up the mountain into Austin where my first stop was the town’s gas station for fuel, ice, and two cans of Fix-A-Flat for the Honey Badger.  The tire was low but the hiss had stopped.  The little buddy just had to make it to Ely to get some new duds 150 miles away.

Away from the 8000ft pass that markes the exit from Austin the evening light began to bathe the next valley in reds, purples, and rainbows.  Puffy little cumulus clouds began to drop their hard days work of gathering the moisture from the rising air warmed by the sun earlier in the day giving me a colorful view.  The high desert is so stunning.  I could totally live here if it wasn’t for the lack of ocean and the constant bloody boogers.

Cars are few and far between.  I see more deer on the road than fellow travelers.  As the last remaining rays of light bend over the curve of the Earth and night begins I saw a dark vehicle off in the distance, barely, coming toward me with it’s lights off.  As it got closer I did the neighborly thing and flashed my lights on and off to remind him that he turn on his lights.  Turn on his lights he did.  Then he did a U-ee and pulled me over.

“Why are you flashing your highbeams at me?” asked the fat tub of sherrif’s deputy glaring through my window.

“Because it’s night, you’re driving a black car, and your lights were off.”

“Oh… Sorry about that.  Lord a’mighty, I can be damned fool sometimes.”  Forehead slap. “Sorry about pulling you over.” Long pause, “Thank you?”

“No problem?”

Back on the road.  I blew through Eureka, I was on a mission.  Ely or bust.  Time to meet Dave.  I haven’t seen that dude in eight years!

I got to Ely about 9:30, parked at the beginning of town, and scanned road for Dave’s Jeep.  Nope, nothing.  Duh, this is Dave we’re talking about.  He has never been on time for anything, ever!  About 20 minutes of playing Triple Stack on my phone and I get a call from the man.  He’s in Ferny (halfway between Sparks and Fallon) and won’t be getting into Ely until really late.  So I walked to the Nevada Hotel and Casino, grabbed some dinner, then some desert, and now I am that jerk who nurses and piece of cake for two hours while he steals their wi-fi signal updating his blog.  What a dick.

A Mosey Through Nevada

I woke up late (as per usual), pussy-footed around (not so unlike me), and finally got my tush on the road about 2:30 in the afternoon; that’s what I meant by, “I’m leaving in the morning.” The drive South into Oregon was OK, I decided at the last minute to cut East and go down Highway 97 and gave my old coworker Kryn, who lives in Bend, a call and see if she wanted to meet up for a very late dinner.

I rolled into Bend just before 10pm and we had a nice meal. She is loving Bend, it’s a town designed for outdoorsy young adults, and she is an outdoorsy young adult. We had a great, brief time, said our goodbyes and I got back on the road around midnight.

South of Bend I turned onto Highway 31 by the town of La Pine. All the pine trees were dark and ominous. The sky was ablaze with lightning and I could feel the rumble of the thunder through the armrest of my truck’s door. I finally pulled over and got some shuteye about 1:30 and slept cramped in a ball in the cab of the truck due to the lightning storm.

By morning the skies were clearing and I drove to Fort Rock. Ft Rock is a pretty cool geologic feature. It was a cindercone volcano that formed under an ice age lake. As a result the “tuff” that formed the ring of the cone baked into a brick leaving behind a natural fort. The earliest peoples used the shores around Fort Rock as a camp on the once great lake. The caves in Fort Rock have produced sage sandals over 10,000 years old!

From Ft Rock I went further South into Summer Lake and Paisley where I finally had breakfast (I wish I had one of my hundreds of paisley shirts… Oh well).   South of Paisley are the crumbled remnants of an obsidian lava flow. I grabbed some fine specimens. Then I turned onto Highway 140 (in the Spring time this is the most beautiful place on Earth; in the Summer: meh). That took me past my opal claim. It was best not to stop and dig opals as it was 92 in the shade–and there is no shade in this part of the country.

I decided to continue on to Winnemucca to refill my tank and my belly. I ate at a casino attached to the Holiday in Express. The restaurant was a Mexican Joint called “Dos Amigos” where I was waited on by the most beautiful woman I have ever seen in my life. What the hell this vision was doing serving a schlub like me in backwater, NV I’ll never know.

I left Winnemucca about 6pm and chose to stay the night Unionville. About 30 miles South of Winnemucca is a ghost town called Star City. Star City was the site of a large silver mining operation and boasted 1,200 residents at one time complete with all the bars and brothels a town of that size required. The road up the Star City was a piece of cake… At first! I ditched the Honey Badger (my ghetto trailer that tags along with me on these adventures) and pushed on in just the truck. The road got worse, and then worse, and then impossible. I stopped the truck and got out to hike up and see if there was a place to turn around further up, because backing down thise narrow road was going to be deadly.

I found the teensiest turn around about 500 yards up the mountain, but I was going to have to drive through some decent sized bushes (trees?) To get there. Oh well, let’s do this! The truck was a champ, just mowing down nature, and then I died. Well, actually what I thought was, “Oh God, I am going to die… I should have asked out that waitress… Damnit!”

To my right is a sheer cliff that goes up to the ridge, to my left is a 6ft drop down into a pretty gnarly creek. The bank gave way under my front driver’s side tire and my truck began to roll into the creek. For some reason I steered into my doom, and rather than rolling the full weight of my F150 onto my head and drowning in the creek alone and never to be found, I drove down the embankment and ended up with my truck bisecting the creek.

Once My heartrate calmed down, I did my best Austin Powers impersination and completed an 87 point turn around in the creek and was now pointed downstream. I went from accepting my inevitable demise to, “What the hell do I do now?” What I did was class three rapids in a Ford! I drove more than half a mile down a mountain creek (including what could be considered a rather large waterfall for a truck) until there was a point I could drive out of the creek and back on to the primitive road.

I returned to the Honey Badger, gave Star City the finger, and headed back down the mountain. I arrived at the turn off for Unionville about 9pm and decided I had had enough for one day and made camp under the Unionville information sign on the side of the road.

This is where I discovered that I am easily mistaken for a cattle rustler. My arrival was the most exciting thing this dead end road has had in 150 years. By 11pm dozens of ranchers were swirly around me. Word had gotten out that some cattle rustlers had arrived in the dead of night and were by the mailboxes at the end of the road (I was camped at the mailboxes at the end of the road). Much to all these ranchers’ relief (maybe disappointment for some who may have wanted a new trophy to mount in their study), as it turns out, that I was not there to in fact take their cows. We all had a good laugh, they put away their shotguns and went back to their ranches concluding that the Honey Badger can barely carry my cooler let alone a 1500lb animal or two.

The next morning one of the ranchers was so kind as to wake me up at 6am for a chat about how well I slept the night before. “I slept very well, until some jackass woke me up at 6!”

I packed up my cot and bag and rolled up the mountain to the ghost towns of Buena Vista and Unionville. There I saw two famous people’s homes: Mark Twain’s cabin when he failed miserably as a gold miner; and Sandra Bullock’s less humble manor. I peed in Twain’s outhouse and drove South through the desert toward Fallon, NV.

I drove past Shanghai Canyon, site of my infamous fall down a cliff and subsequent hospital bill. At the base of the canyon was a herd of wild horses. I started taking a panorama of the horses and the mountain. If I had waited 5 seconds I would have had a Navy F4 in my photo. I took the last image and my heart exploded out of my chest as Mr. Comedy did a flyby of my face and scared the shit out of me. I managed to get a photo of him on his return pass.

I am now in Fallon contemplating a $10 shower at a truck stop and writing this long screed using my thumbs and my cellphone!

More to come!

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!