Tag Archives: gold

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.

 

Smoke is all I see

(Editor’s note: Many of you know already know what happened on this year’s ghost town trip.  This article was written prior to the ‘Event’ but I did not have Internet access to update the blog before my laptop was destroyed.  My hope is to maintain the feeling and emotions of the adventure at the time this was originally written and not taint it by adding to it my thoughts after my, yet another, near-death experience)

Pack your paper, your maps, and your books when you adventure to the land of no service.
A little slice of the analog data required to mount an expedition out into the wild.

August 24th, Today I began a trip just to visit ghost towns.  I have never set out to only visit ghost towns, usually these relics are left as side trips to one of my larger prospecting outings.  I wanted to dive into the history first hand and leave the geology as the side trip this time.

I got my best start on a solo adventure in years; I left the house only an hour late!… part of this was due to the fact that I couldn’t find my main gas can anywhere.  One cannot go on an 1800 mile off road adventure where one finds one’s self up to 300 miles or more between fuel stations.  Then it occurred to me, I lent my gas can to my friend Grace so she could fuel up the little motor on her sailboat.  She never gave it back.  She’s like the female version of Dagwood Bumstead’s neighbor/best friend Herb.

After a stop at Ace for a new can, I finally got out on the road.  South through the Tacoma Narrows Bridge and then I had to snake around I-5 as one of my goals on this trip is to not set tire to Interstate the entire way down to Santa Fe.  Some wiggling through Tacoma I managed to get onto highway 7, and then I got to witness full on Spanaway right up in my face.  If you have never been to Spanaway  imagine all the abandoned towns in “The Walking Dead” just with even worse lawns, and instead of Zombies looking for brains, it’s skinny people aging too quickly looking for meth.

Dead Porcupine on the side of State Highway 7
My first Porcupine, his last human.

South of Spanaway the road turns beautiful and winding.  The draw back to all this nature is about 30 miles of the most roadkill I have ever seen.  There were hundreds of raccoons, dozens of deer, bunnies, opossums, and even my first porcupine laying by the wayside.  It was as if it had rained animal carcasses from above and snowplows had to clear the road for us drivers leaving drifts of carnage like so much snow on the side of the road. It was metal.  Every so often their would be a break in the trees and I would be afforded a majestic view of the Northwest’s most dominant land feature.

Smokey Rainier
Mount Rainier through the smoke.

I drove along the Nisqually River and along Alder Lake I was pleased to find the river valley ablaze.  How quaint.  I have a feeling that forest and wild fires are going to be a running theme on this journey.

The Nisqually River valley burns and adds to the clean air
The valley is on fire and and no one seems to care. Notice the nearly empty reservoir juxtaposed with the smoke rising behind it.

A turn onto Highway 12 towards White Pass and then a jig to the right down Forest Service Road 23 and I finally found myself in my element; on a shit road.  For the next 50 miles I got to watch all of my mining equipment, fuel, water, clothing, and bedding bounce around like ping pong balls at a Lotto drawing.  Here is an interesting fact: my brand new EPA certified “leak-proof” fuel can I was forced to buy (thanks, Grace) leaks like the mother of twelve after a sneezing fit.  Well, Erik, it is my turn to have to trippy gas fume dreams as I sleep in a cocoon soaked in cancer.

How about that year round snowpack on Mt Adams this year?
How about that year round snowpack on Mt Adams this year?

Further down NF23 on the way to the Columbia I saw an arm waving about from the side of the road.  I slowed because I thought it was someone in distress, but the fact that I was in the sun and they were in the shade of a tree played tricks on me.  It was just a couple of bearded trustifarians in about $1,000 in hiking gear looking for a ride.  I told them the truth, “Sorry, guys, I don’t have the room.” Which is totally true; I am packed to the gills and I move the Box of Knowledge for no man (except Aren), and especially not for two strangers with B.O.  Then I told them a lie, “Don’t worry though, there are two more trucks coming up right behind me!”  Then they sat back down in the shade and I floored it.  Why did I do this?  Because I’m a dick… Well, it might not be a lie ultimately.  It’s a mountain road.  There will always be two trucks behind me.  Eventually.

Crossing into the Columbia Gorge the vast scenery was so hazy as to be not even real. Almost everything looked like a distant memory bathed in blue hues and amber Sun.  One thing that cannot be missed in The Gorge is the towering cliffs of basalt.  16 million years ago Eastern Washington and Oregon sat above the what is today the Yellowstone hotspot.  Back then the hotspot only had to worry about oceanic basalts that like to get all melty and flowy and not the herky-jerky continental stuff that forces it to have apocalyptic eruptions every few million years like today.  No, back then it was downright diuretic.  Every 8,000 years or so it would lay down a free flowing layer of lava that would cover thousands of square miles, just pouring over everything like a glass of water spilled onto your kitchen floor.  The Columbia Flood Basalts cover in the neighborhood of 100,000 square miles up to 2,000 feet thick.  That is enough lava to cover the surface of our entire planet in a foot of hot lava.  Be impressed by this.

Haze dominates the view of the remnants of one of the largest flood basalts ever.
The Gorge filled with the smoke of a thousand forest fires.
Hey look! Basalt!
Hey look! Basalt!

I finally made it to Washington’s Stonehenge in Maryhill over-looking the Columbia.  It has always been on my list of things to do before I die.  Though technically checked off, my bucket list check was forever ruined by a loud obnoxious family who couldn’t read any of the markers to themselves but had to share each plaque with someone 200ft away.  I hate people.

The Maryhilll Stonhenge WWI memorial. It's quite moving so long as there aren't really annoying loud people with annoying loud children screaming at each other.
The Maryhilll Stonehenge WWI memorial. It’s quite moving so long as there aren’t really annoying loud people with annoying loud children screaming at each other.

Across the river in Oregon I refilled my tank and decided not to get a sandwich since hundreds of children from some summer camp unloaded off their buses and into my way. I concluded that it would be better to starve to death than wait in a line while these whippersnappers played tinny sounding YouTube videos to each other.

Heading South on US97 I passed by two towns that are not listed as ghost towns, but they are.  They are so dead.  Both Grass Valley and Kent, Oregon have nothing left in the tank.  Between the mechanization of farms, consolidation of family spreads by larger outfits, and the fact that no one in their right mind would want to live in such a desolate, sun-baked shit hole, ensures that both towns are crumbling shells of their former glorious selves.  The general store in Grass Valley advertised they were the last stop for groceries for the next 67 miles.  It was closed.  For good.

The first ghost town on my list was Shaniko mainly because someone renovated the grand hotel there.  The town consisted of the hotel, a guy sitting on a bench in front of what looked like a knickknack store catering to a tourist who would have to be lost to end up in there, and one gas pump on a hill.  Quaint, but not what warms my heart.  I prefer more desolate.  More broken.  In the past this was the case.  Shaniko was the name the natives gave a german immigrant with whom they trusted and did business.  They couldn’t pronounce his actual name, Herr August Scherneckau, so “Shaniko” would have to do.  The town got its start as a railroad hub for the newly minted Columbia Southern Railroad as a way for large sheep ranchers to get their wool to market.

Shaniko, OR
Shaniko’s grand hotel

At its peak, Shaniko had the Grand Hotel, a large two story firehouse and 13 brothels, or “sporting houses” as the locals referred to them, catering to the needs of the thousands of sheepherders and railroad men who would make their way into town for supplies and nookie to stave off the loneliness of the Oregon high desert.

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I broke off US97 at Shiniko and headed toward Antelope on a winding highway 218.  Antelope was about as lively as the three previous burgs I passed.  It did have a green ghost school though and someone actively filling their U-Haul with their worldly possessions in a real-time GTFO. Cool, not too often you get to witness the act of the actual abandonment of a ghost town.

Antelope, OR
The abandoned school of Antelope, OR

Antelope was the main stagecoach supply point between The Dalles on the Columbia River and the important gold mining town of Canyon City.  After the mines slowed, and highway were built, the need to a weigh station like Antelope ceased to be exist.  Thus another town bites the dust!  Side note: In the early to mid 1980s a religious cult established their headquarters just outside of the town replete with corruption, paranoia, and the largest biological terrorism attack in US history.  Let’s just say jailarity eventually ensued.  I want to save this story for another blog post because it’s a doozy, so please bear with me!

A few miles east of Antelope I turned onto a dirt road and worked my way into some mountains.  A note to the National Forest Service: the BLM is better at roads than you.

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Each turn yielded more spectacular scenery.  Golden hills, steep canyons, derelict ranches… My goal for this stretch of my day’s jaunt was to make my way toward Horse Heaven, a dead mining town high in the hills.  After about an hour I found it and it was buried under tailings from, well, a mine.  It appeared as though someone open pitted most of the town and dumped the workings on the rest sometime in the last 40 years or so.  Pity, as of 1971 it still had a bunch of standing buildings.

Horse Heaven got its start when a couple of high schools kids, Ray R. Whiting Jr and Harry Hoy, were shown how to pan cinnabar out of a local stream (Cinnabar is an ore of mercury, mercury sulfide to be exact).  In the summer of 1933 the boys decided to start tunneling into rock where their cinnabar pannings vanished upstream assuming this was where it was coming from.  They managed to dig more than 60ft through solid rock into the side of the mountain using nothing but hand tools (badass for some kids) and couldn’t find anything… That is until Ray kicked a rock over that was wet on the bottom and the bright red tell of cinnabar was blazed across the stone.  They had managed to remove hundreds of tons of ore not realizing that it had to be wet to be able to see the red tones of the cinnabar!

The boys sold out to a large mining outfit for 11% of the proceeds of the mine each and instantly became rich.  Ray turned his wealth into a famous Hollywood restaurant frequented by the stars, I don’t know what became of Harry.  When Ray’s luck with money ran out he was back up at Horse Heaven in the Summer of 1971 searching for another lode of mercury near the site of the original mine.  From the looks of the remnants of the old mining town I’d say he found it.

Horse Heaven, OR
What is left of Horse Heaven, OR an old mercury mining town.

As I continued down these mountains from Horse Heaven I passed through the most glorious private ranch I may ever lay eyes on.  It was complete with signs threatening to castrate me and more if I stopped my truck.  I wanted to stop and take pictures of the amazing canyon and the painted hills, but I want my testicles more.  Sorry to fail you all.

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After some time my dirt road turned to pavement and a sign directing me to the Painted Hills fossil site made me take a right.  Bucket list item #2 of the day complete.  The Painted hills are remarkable erosion features consisting of millions of years of volcanic ash and fills the entire horizon with vivid colors.  Yellows bleed onto grays who then melt into deep crimsons.  These ashes house the remains of lots mammals and plants.  Don’t climb on the hills or dig for fossils though or else some bored park ranger is going to fuck you up.  He’s just waiting for you to be an asshole so he can disappear you in a little spot in the Oregon Outback somewhere he picked out just for you to become a fossil yourself.

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Layers of ash make the hills come alive
Painted Hills, OR is one of the most breathtaking geological features in the Pacific Northwest.

Driving further South my goal was now to make it to the summit of Lookout Mountain for the night.  I didn’t make it.  The old road that leads to the top is now a foot trail and I am not strong enough to hike my F150 up 2,000ft of vertical.  Thus, tonight I spend in the parking lot of the trailhead.

Day one is pretty pleasant, day two on the otherhand…

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.

 

 

The Legend of Ingalls’ Gold

In 1859 Captain John Ingalls became seperated from his unit in the Washington Cascades.  Being the genius he obviously was, he decided to climb one of the 8,000ft peaks around him to “see” where he was.  Note to the reader: if you are ever lost, putting in an extra 4,000 vertical feet to get your bearings is a very stupid idea… even in the mid 19th century.  Capt. Ingalls survived the climb and saw a series of three lakes connected by a mountain stream in a hanging valley below him.

Supposedly two of the lakes were dark and circular in shape but the third, the middle lake, was crescent shaped and green in color.  Anyone who has hiked above the treeline and seen alpine lakes know that they generally are not green.  Most green water is the result of algae that is found in warmer water at lower elevations.  Ingalls found this color curious and descended into the valley/canyon for a closer look.  Upon reaching the shore of this crescent lake Ingalls lost his shit.  A giant quartz intrusion entered the lake from the mountain peak above and was loaded with flecks of gold creating an entire beach of gold and quartz rocks.  Ingalls estimated upwards of “10 tonnes” of gold just at the surface!

Returning to his unit became the least important thing in Ingalls life from this point on.  He stayed on the mountain for days and mapped and surveyed the area.  He went deep into the valley below and continued mapping his path.  Now, Ingalls, as we established earlier, was not the sharpest tool in the shed.  The map he made, the only map to his lost gold load, he burried under a boulder at the mouth of either the creek that bears his name, Ingalls Creek, or at the mouth neighboring Peshastin Creek.

Q:  Why would anyone bury an important piece of paper under a boulder that itself can easily be lost forever as one would likely have to make a second map just to find the first one, especially when that same piece of paper could just as easily fit into their pocket for the rest of their life?

A:  Because that person is an idiot.

Captain Ingalls returned to his unit dreaming of his fortune in the hills.  In the early Summer of 1861 the now retired Capt. Ingalls put together a party in his hometown of Portland, OR under the guise of heading North into Canada and the newly discovered gold fields of the Frasier River.  The men included in the group were his son Ben, and his friends John Hansel and Jack Knot.  Reports vary as to whether the men knew the real reason for the trip or not.  Many accounts have Capt. Ingalls holding his secret pretty close to his chest; some say only Hansel knew of their real agenda.

For safety’s sake Ingalls attached his merry band to a much larger group travelling along the Columbia River as a large group would less likely be attacked by the local tribes.  First they traveled East from Portland and then North from what is now the Tri-Cities (The Dry-Shitties, if you will).  Upon reaching the mouth of the Wenatchee River, the city of Wenatchee had not been settled yet, Ingalls told the rest of the prospectors that he and his gang were going to go sight-seeing for a couple of days and to not wait up.  Packing a few days of rations, picks, shovels, gold pans and other gear the men and paddled up river in canoes.  They were delayed when they reached a waterfall and had to hike over it/around it .  The brush was thick and they kept getting smacked in the face by switches thanks to the man in front (Captain Ingalls).

A particular branch got caught on the pick strapped to Ingalls’ back and as he felt the tension build on the limb he yelled, “Look out, Jack!”  Behind him, Jack Knot did not have time to react.  Himself loaded down with gear, and most likely a canoe on his head, Knot got whipped by the branch.  This was bad news for Ingalls, for Knot also carried an older muzzle loader rifle in one of his hands.  The branch hit the hammer on his rifle and a shot fired through Ingalls’ spine and a .50 caliber ball lodged into his belly.  Whoops.

The men fashioned a stretcher and carried his dying body back to the larger group of prospectors camped on the Columbia.  Ingalls lasted another two or three days; on his deathbed he began to divulge his secrets to Hansel, Knot, and his son Ben.  He told them about the landmarks to look for, the boulder under which his map was buried, the placer gold in Peshastin Creek, and the lake of gold on top of the mountain.  Ingalls’ dying wish was for his son to return to Portland and inform his mother of his father’s death.  The party did just that.  They buried his body on the East bank of the Columbia River in what is probably now East Wenatchee.

A few years later Hansel returned to the Cascades and made a homestead at the mouth of Peshastin Creek.  For the rest of his days John Hansel searched for Ingalls’ lost load and the map that lead to it.  He found bupkis.

Blewett Pass, Swauk Creek, Peshastin Creek, and Ingalls Creek have all produced a lot of gold, perhaps as much as 1 million ounces since the 1870s, but the lake of gold has never been found.  Some believe that Ingalls was full of shit, others that the great earthquake of 1872 did a lot of damage on the summits of the mountains and buried/changed the lake of gold, or (as I believe) someone found the gold load, staked a load claim and mined the piss out of the thing until it played out; they just never knew they had found the fabled lost mine.

Someday I am going to scuba dive the Enchantment Lakes with a metal detector and put an end to this speculation once and for all!  Until then, hikers, maybe you’ll be the one to find 10 tonnes of gold, good luck!

Lost mines are nothing new!
Lost mines are nothing new!

Wyoming’s a blur. South Dakota Killed Aren’s Liver.

We left the Colorado Rockies and wormed our way North and East destined for the vacation portion of our trip; into the Black Hills of South Dakota for the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally!

After a shower stop and breakfast at the Western Ridge Ranch (home of the family of ladies who like to flip Aren shit because he is a “spaz”–I approve of this place, by the way), we got back onto US287 and drove North to Laramie Wyoming.  Even though breakfast had only been an our earlier we stopped in at one of the haunts from last year, the Altitude Brewery, to see if the worst server any of us have ever experienced was still working there.  If you recall (and by “recall” I mean go back to last year’s posts) we had a pleasant server by the name JT, or “Just Terrible” who was just that:  Terrible.  He meant well, he just sucked.

Instead of JT we got a lovely, competent young woman who got us everything we ordered and nothing we didn’t.  WOW!  Aren thought he saw JT walking around.  I was befuddled; Either management was incompetent or JT really worked through the bugs in his system and made himself worthwhile.  I had to know, so I asked our server, “Does a guy by the name JT still work here?”

“Yup, he’s right over there.  Do you want me to go get him?” She pointed to the gentleman Aren thought was the culprit, who was standing behind the bar yucking it up with some customers.

“Good God no.  He was our server last year, and he was the worst server any of us have ever had…”

“He’s the general manager now.”

I gave her a shocked and pitied look and just put my hand on her shoulder.  She gave all of us a knowing look of yeah, he sucks… hard.

It turns out management was incompetent.  JT, I am sure you are wonderful person, I just don’t think restaurants are your calling.

We left the Altitude Brewery and went further North on SR34 to Wheatland and Interstate 25.  All of Wyoming was in a haze.  It was hot and the air was blue with smoke from distant fires.  There were no green pastures, not like last year, and every lake and pond was dry.  Once off I-25 we went East on US18 caressing the North Platte River along the way (the only river I saw on this entire trip through the Rockies that had a normal flow of water).  US18 transitioned into US85 and there were many miles of brown, dead grass that followed.  Then Dave vanished.

“Where did Dave go?”  He had been a constant presence in my rearview mirror this entire time.

“I saw a puff of smoke.  That might have been him.” Replied Aren.

Uh oh.

I hung a u-ee, and headed back South to look for Dave.  Nothing to fear, Dave putted passed us and gave a “shocka” while two entirely different types of smoke plumed from his tail pipe.  One was white and sweet smelling, the other dark and ominous.  We did another U-turn and pulled along side Dave and asked if everything was all right.  All we got was a shrug and thumbs up.  Good enough for me.  I passed Dave but kept my speed to 55-60mph in case his Jeep felt like exploding at a higher speed.

A long line of converted 5th wheel 1-ton trucks passed opposite our gypsy caravan.  I guessed these were trucks that had just delivered a bunch of Harleys for rich people attending the Rally.  We arrived in Newcastle needing a fresh tank of gas.  I filled our tank at a business who’s only identifier was the word “GAS” in large letters atop a pole seventy feet in the air.  The four of us and Mud suddenly traveled back in time.  The gas pumps were from the sixties and my guess was that none of the pumps had actually filled an entire tank since then either.  I can’t imagine a driver patient enough to wait the four hours it would take to fill an 18 gallon tank.  There was a man with a Winnebago next to us who had been there twenty minutes and managed to only squeeze three gallons into his 100 gallon tank!  I bet that dude had a long night!

North we went, through Four Corners.  *Blink*, gone.  Then into South Dakota.  We turned off US85 onto US14A and down Spearfish Canyon.

The land that is now the Black Hills was at onetime the floor of a vast ocean.  Thousands of feet of sediment and limestone was laid down over millions of years.  A funny thing about the ocean, no one realizes this, but there is one part per billion gold resting suspended in every drop of water.  Much of this microscopic gold finds its way into the muddy depths and rests for a time on the bottom only to be covered even more gunk from above.  That is until there is an orgy of orogeny!

Millions of years ago a great ball of magma rose from the depths yearning to break free of its lithic confines and pushed this once retired seafloor upward.  In the carnage fractures appeared in the now rock-hard, former ocean bottom.  Through these cracks water, super-heated by the molten rock below to hundreds and even thousands of degrees, wiggled its way up to the surface.  Along its path the “one in a billion” gold that was once a negligible blot in the mud started melting and got fed into the highways of hot water.  Soon all these lonely particles of gold found their long lost brethren in the sources of thousands of hot springs.  As the water got closure to the surface, and further from its heat source, it began to cool.  Pressurized water that was once well above the melting points for gold, copper, silver, lead, sulfur, and quartz was now cooling to the freezing temperatures of these minerals (still in the hundreds of degrees).  Inside the fractures of the Earth from hence the hot springs flowed began a great condensation of riches.  Load gold in big quartz stringers!

A few million years of weather later: rocks break down, crumble, roll into stream beds, and worked their way downstream.  Some of the rocks that break down happen to be these frozen quartz intrusions.  Some of these quartz intrusions happen to be full of blobs of gold.  In 1874 miners in the South Black Hills found some of that gold in the rivers.  In November 1875 the real deal was found in Deadwood Gulch in the North Black Hills.  At the top of Deadwood Gulch resides the Homestake Mine; to this date, the single most lucrative gold mine in human history.  More than 50 million reported troy ounces of gold from that one claim were produced over a 125 year span (that is $80 billion in today’s dollars!).

Spearfish Canyon had its own share of prospectors.  The canyon walls show no mineralization save for the odd geode here and there, but high up the steep gulches, hidden by the black pines, white bands of quartz would shed their treasure and the nuggets and flakes of gold would roll down the creek.  About five miles from the mouth of Spearfish Creek a miner’s cabin was built in 1903.  109 years later there are six cabins, a house, and a lodge owned by my friend Jesse’s family.  Our drive down the canyon brought us to our home for the week: Rim Rock Lodge!

We all gave Jesse big hugs.  I said hello to Jesse’s sweet parents, Bruce and Cheri, and made the introductions of my ragtag crew.  A quick unpacking job in the lodge where we were staying and we piled into Jesse’s trusty white grandma car for an evening in Deadwood.

First stop:  Mustang Sally’s for burgers and “chicken balls”.  Spicy little deep fried marbles of cholesterol and chicken that we have come to love.  They drank lots of beer.  With our hunger quenched more libations were required, so on to the Saloon No. 10, the most famous site in all the Dakotas (a place that also happens to be owned by Jesse’s cousins)!  In the beginning days of the gold rush of 1876 there sat a claim along Deadwood Gulch assigned the name of Claim No. 10.  Seeing that beer, liquor, girls, and gambling was much more profitable and not as back-breaking, a saloon was built on the claim and carried the name with it.  Wild Bill Hickock was shot in the back of the head here–and still is to this day… Actually, twice a day to tell the truth.

The fever was on.  The band was playing, some foosball was had, and Jesse’s beautiful cousin Micheala brought the boys theirs rounds.  Micheala is also a local celebrity as she and her cousin Charlie are both looking good straddling motorcycles in this year’s No. 10 rally poster (they signed one for me!).  From The 10 we went to the Deadwood Tobbacco Company for the rocking blues band.  Then last called from there we returned the to The 10.  When I designatedly drove the party back home late that night the damage had been done.  Aren went to bed first.  It turns out Aren has a ten day limit on binge drinking.  His warranty ran out, and his “check liver” light came on.  Aren didn’t get out of bed until 5pm the next day and hasn’t stopping bitching since!

While Aren slept the day away Dave, Erik, Jesse, and myself went to the Spearfish Rec Center (the greatest rec center of all time) for water slides and intermittent sunshine.  Then burritos and back to the lodge where I woke Aren up and gave him a football-sized curried chicken burrito.  He whimpered, ate a few bites and returned to sleep.  This routine went like clockwork for the next few hours until at last the giant arose.  Aren said he wasn’t going to drink that night.  Aren is a liar.

More to come!

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)