The end of the Great diamond mining adventure of 2011 is nearly a month old, and many of the finer details of my vacation are lost in my hazy memory. Or perhaps were obliterated by the alcohol consumption which began in Deadwood South Dakota, and continued through Seattle Washington. Driven by a need to bring conclusion to my dangling ‘to be continued” I’ve decided to take a stab at wrapping up my recollection of the ‘mining’ section of my vacation.
A month ago, I left off with our merry band standing quadriceps deep, dredging a hole into a river in Wyoming. It took a little while to get rolling as only Houston had used a dredge before. But, our cohesion as a work crew grew pretty quickly. Admittedly there is really not much to moving the big rocks out of the way of the man holding the sucky end of 50 feet of dredge hose. Once we figured out the problems with clogging and how to backflush our dredge nozzle, we were sound as a pound… or is that sounds a yard (of material moved by a powerful water pump in mere minutes)? We were able to work for a couple hours, occasionally stopping to clear the clogs. On one of these stops, Erik called out, “Houston, company.”
A man had come to the bank of the river and waved us over. His opening statement was not a pleasantry, more of a gruff “Do you know where you are?” After answering the question, and explaining where we were, who we were, what we were doing, the man informed us we were on the Bacon n’ Beans claim. Now, we had been diligent and kept our eyes open for the claim markers which are required by law if one desires legal recompense against ‘claim jumpers.’ The problem comes when men, intending to intimidate you off of a claim, come along and warn you about the regularity with which gold miners in Wyoming carry guns. Since we had bear mace, but no guns, we decided to be polite and living members of society and pack up. The man who warned us away and explained where the functional legal claims on the creek were, also confirmed that he found diamonds in his sluice. ‘Plenty of them.’ But since the creek was claimed out, we decided to test pan another section of a neighboring creek. Houston knew that that diamonds were unlikely, but heck, maybe we could find a bit of gold for out troubles. The test pan did have gold! A flake or two. On the upside, we got to find gold in the wild. On the down side, for as much work as we would have done, we would have just been wasting time and money.
Now, being kicked off the river was disappointing, however it was by no means a crushing defeat to the Great Diamond Mining Adventure of ’11. Houston, shortly before the adventure began, had discovered and alternate site, which promised the possibility of success a few hours to the South in Northern Colorado. The secondary site was less than a day’s drive away, so we packed up camp and moved out.
The hills of Northern Colorado were just as impressive as those of Wyoming. To me, Colorado had the feeling of being higher altitude, as far as the visual aspects of the place. I believe our site in Colorado was actually lower in altitude. There were other hints as well. The oxygen quality and weather seemed more hospitable, while the bugs and biting flies seem painfully more active. None the less, our supplies stocked, and our hopes un-dashed, we descended into a river valley campsite, and looked for a place to throw in our hose. This is where the anecdotes and stories start to to become a coagulating mass. The moments that sneak out of my memory are those such as our success at hiding a birthday cake, and presenting it to Sam for his Birthday. Throwing tinfoil wrapped potatoes into the fire, and forgetting about them to the point that they had disappeared when we finally raked the coals. Other moments are more vivid, such as crushing my finger under the trailer hitch of the honey badger. For the most part though. by Colorado, our conversations had degraded to baser subjects, discussed in an amalgamation of oft repeated catchphrases, grunts, gestures, and bodily odors. In short, it was a blast!
Our mining activities in Colorado were more successful than Wyoming, in the sense that we managed to work more hours. We dredged a hole into the bottom of one of the nearby creeks. We found garnets, we thought we found diamonds, we found the sole of what looked like a woman’s shoe, burred a couple feet down in the riverbed. At the end of our first full day of dredging, Houston realized we were on the wrong fork of the collection of creeks. For real diamond discovery, we wanted the more southern fork, which had cut through a different set of hills. Time for relocation. We packed up the dredge, sluice, and tools, then moved them a mile down river to set up again.
Once more, we moved a sizable amount of material, and began to carve a good hole for ourselves into the river. By Colorado we had perfected the grease plate and were using a mix of Crisco and petroleum jelly to coax our little diamonds out of the water. The evening of our relocation, we also sorted through the concentrates we’d picked up on the first day of dredging the wrong creek. We found honest to goodness diamonds! The diamond tester, a little plastic device which hit the stone with a small charge, squealed like an excitable middle-schooler when pressed against a diamond. It ignored everything else as harshly as middle-schoolers often ignore those people they see no value in knowing (at least in my experience). Numerous small diamonds were sorted out, and many more small quartz stones were disposed of with the careless flick one might use to dismiss a booger or toenail clipping. Diamonds. We were heartened, and ready to dredge more the next day.
For my part, I ran to civilization the next day. We were out of Vaseline. If I learned one thing, it is that two jars of Vaseline will not stretch Nearly as far as you want them too. I headed drove along the dirt road version of a superhighway to get out of the Colorado hills. The dusty wide road was rather exciting, and while I never endangered the truck, I could imagine given a little power, and a little practice, how dirty track racing could be extraordinarily fun. I restocked our supplies, and climbed my way back up the dusty roads into the hills. What I discovered upon returning to camp was disappointing. Apparently, during the days work, some nice men wearing semi-official badges had requested that the guys halt their dredging. We had looked up Colorado laws about dredging, and had complied with them in our activities. But apparently the volunteer rangers were adamant and so the work had halted for the day while they tattled on us to higher authorities.
Unfortunately, a nice ranger rolled up the next day. His badge was official looking, as was the large handgun and numerous clips of ammunition. “So, you guys are looking for diamonds? Are you panning and such?” he asked. “Yeah,” Houston replied, “we’re doing some panning and we’ve got a three inch dredge.”
“Oh!” the ranger chuckled. “Yeah, Ok, No. You’re gonna have to shut it down.” Apparently we were messing with a river preserve for steel-head trout. And since we were in a state forest, the rules for mining were different (read also, prohibitive) He was nice enough even though he was “gonna have to run ya out of here.” He was curious about the diamonds, told us a little history of the area we were in, and was generally pleasant enough. But, it ended our Plan B, to which we had no Plan C.
Sam had already planned on leaving this day. So we took apart the dredge, and packed it back out. It felt like more than half a mile, especially because I got my boots wet and was carrying the generator on a pack. (Ok, I can’t complain that much, I did it on purpose so i could brag about lugging 150 pounds of stuff out of the wilderness) The pack out was done quickly enough and we loaded the truck. Sam departed early to get back to Missouri, while Houston, Erik and I returned to Laramie Wyoming, and stopped to have dinner. Our great diamond mining trip was over. We had success in the form of a small handful of microdiamonds, and knowledge of where one might go to find diamonds in the future.
To celebrate our microsuccess, and mourn the end of the mining section of our vacation, Erik and I got drunk with dinner. We then made the drive to South Dakota, blasting music, singing along, stopping along the way to refresh ourselves, and laughing uproariously when Houston pointed out lightning bolts by shouting “Bluh-blayum!” We followed a thunderstorm for hours (you can imagine the endless hilarity of ‘bluh-blayum’ing), and rolled into Deadwood South Dakota around midnight. Then we hit the Bars. We went dancing with Jesse, our host in Deadwood, and received the compliment that we all smelled like campfire. The adventure had come to a close, and the vacation had begun. Within a few days the campfire smell had washed off and the laundry was clean once more. The vacation lost the last little remnants of work, and became purely fun, and lounging poolside.
Thanks for reading.