Tag Archives: mud

Stay in the damned ruts!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Coal seems of central Wyoming
Coal seems of central Wyoming

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Making ruts.
Making ruts.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well, shit.
Well, shit.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Progress, Regress, and Continuation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Aren

Erik Brains a Chipmunk

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

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

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

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

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

Dave: “You bet.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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