I love the desert in the morning. I’m talking about the period of time from first light to whenever it is that the sun finally hits you due to surrounding terrain or other factors keeping you shaded. It’s also the time to see animals such as deer and javelina that normally don’t move much during the day. I would characterize this period of time as being when the desert calls a truce between it and whatever living creature decides to venture forth. Just remember, the truce expires around 10am!
Our hike up the black waterfalls had been shaded, with temps in the mid 70’s, but the desert is an ever changing environment, and cool overnight temps can swing 30 degrees upwards by midday. In preparation for this I had included one of my well worn, but coolest long sleeve fishing shirts, thin material but high UV protection and good venting, that I knew would come in handy as the day wore on. I also knew that the desert wasn’t the best environment for thin, wispy material, but with temps up to 100 during the day it was totally worth it’s weight in…gold! A boonie type fishing hat and a bandana kept shade on my bald head, and some Mechanix gloves (camo of course) took care of protecting my hands from sun and everything else. For pants I had some milsurp Army DCUs in the lovely puke green camo. I actually love these pants for their breathability, pockets, and freedom of movement-exactly what they were designed for. However, there is one feature that stands above the rest when it comes to lightweight cargo type pants-they have pockets at the knees that you can insert knee pads into! Trust me, you want knee pads in the desert!
Our ascent up the wash had been strewn with obstacles and overhanging snags, not to mention it being a fairly rigorous workout. Owen had managed to put some distance between us since he wasn’t distracted by taking pictures and video, and I was relieved to come around a bend in the wash to see him removing his pack. ‘This is it!’ he said with his arms spread wide. I had a flashback moment to the late 70’s Fantasy Island show and said, ‘hey Ricardo, where’s Tatu?’. He just looked at me. Ok, if you have to explain the joke, it might not have been funny to anybody else except you…I get it. But it was still funny! Owen forced out a sympathy chuckle and we got busy unloading our packs.
As we were gearing up, Owen reminded me of the hot rocks that were everywhere. I wasn’t worried too much because I’ve dealt with these before. Usually a sweep of the boot to move surface rocks out of the way and the offending rock is gone. As our day wore on however, we encountered hot rocks that were actually subsurface, but not deep. Those rocks were hiding just well enough that my hopes started going up on finding gold, only to be disappointed as an ugly brownish rock revealed itself! In case you’re wondering, a hot rock is a highly mineralized stone, sometimes heavy in iron but not always. They come in different colors, and usually you’ll find only one color of hot rock in your prospecting area…but not always! My SDC2300 is great for handling hot ground and hot rocks, but no detector is immune to the worst of these and you will inevitably be somewhat fooled into another swing or two of the detector. These particular rocks were pretty easy to identify, and were readily picked up by the magnets on our pick handles!
Over the course of the next couple hours I did my best to wear down one side of my boot sole pushing hot rocks out of the way. I wasn’t finding any gold, and not even any trash, which is actually a good thing considering how tiny a piece of iron can be and still set off a metal detector! We weren’t even finding birdshot, which is common in so many areas we’ve prospected in the past. Then again, the black waterfalls were in a remote area, and it would be hard to hunt quail if you ever wanted to find what you shot. Nobody must ever visit that area, and this was evidenced when a covey of quail walked to within 10 yards of us while we took a snack break. I joked with Owen that at least we wouldn’t starve up here if we were somehow stranded. The birds seemed to take offense and flushed, flying down the wash before disappearing into the dense brush of the mountainside.
Finally we decided that the easy gold must’ve already been found, and that digging was our best tactic, at least for now. So we set ourselves to the task, digging about 4-6 inches of soil, and widening out the wash just a bit, then detecting the soil we just moved, and the area it came from, then more digging, detecting, and so on.
Whenever we dig, it’s a cooperative approach, one will detect our newly exposed ground or bedrock, and if they find a nugget, the other person now gets a turn to detect the remaining ground. The digging can be backbreaking and honestly just sucks! However, it’s amazing how much more digging you want to do when you start pulling gold nuggets out of the ground! Sometimes working a little harder will change your luck, and that’s exactly what happened as I got my first gold nugget! Owen went next and pulled another nugget almost immediately. I detected the rest of the area with no result, and Owen went over the area one more time for good measure, but came up empty as well. Now I’m pretty decent with my machine, but gold signals can be very subtle, and I only get out a few times a year. Owen, on the other hand, lives in the Big AZ and goes out every weekend. Having such familiarity, he is a whiz with his detector, so if anybody was going to go back over ground I’ve detected, either him or our other friend Curt (who was out of town) would be the only two guys I would listen to if they proclaimed the ground ‘clean’.
We continued to widen the area of the wash that was easiest to dig, and went on to pull six small nuggets from an area roughly 10 feet wide by about 20 feet long. Working our way out of the easy ground, we decided to go back to individual detecting for awhile to see if our luck would hold and maybe we could scrounge a few more nuggets, but we both came up empty. It was 1:30 and the temps were near 100, pretty hot for the high desert. Our water was almost gone, snacks mostly eaten, and we were tired from the exertion of the day. We both agreed it was time to head back to the quads.
The hike down and out of the black waterfalls seemed twice as grueling as the hike in. The need to control your rate of descent, balance and pick out a foothold anywhere from a few inches to a few feet below you, with weight on your back, is very tiring! I reminded myself why bleacher and stair routines are much better if you focus on killing the downhill rather than the uphill! My hip flexors, a constant problem for me, were starting to let me know they were there. I knew I’d be hurting by the end of our hike so I took the time to stop, rearrange the weight in my pack, moving it lower to see if that might help my balance, and take a little strain off the already complaining muscles. Nope. Rearranging one more time, and changing my stride, taking a few minutes to stretch, and really chugging the water, I was able to get a little relief, even if only temporary. I tried not to think about how close the quads were because I knew that last half mile would just hurt worse in anticipation of being able to sit on a soft seat for awhile. Not that I wasn’t about to take a beating from rock crawling an ATV out of there, but that was still a break I couldn’t wait to take!
Resting on the ATV before the ride out, I dabbed a little sea salt on my tongue and drank most of a bottle of water. I grinned a determined grin as I realized we had two more days of fun to go! I decided right then that I could handle the weight of a few Advil in my pack on the next trip up the wash…