The peace and quiet of the desert is encompassing. Every so often you might get the feeling that something or someone is watching you, or possibly that something might be making a sound nearby. It’s when you pause to listen and look that you realize just how much noise YOU’RE making. The sound of the detector, the coil scraping the ground and bedrock, footsteps in rough terrain, the swish of clothing during movement, digging, and generally just moving around in a non careful way…all make tons of noise! When I get tired and take a break, or when I’ve been hunting for hours without finding any gold, is when I notice such things. And just where the heck WAS the gold anyway?
I had been hunting the wash as it headed downstream. It was incredibly beautiful and knowing how remote we were added a certain magic to rounding each bend, or descending small waterfalls. Not lost on me was the fact that for every waterfall I went down, I would have to climb back up to get back to camp. I was tired from the exertion of the hike in, but exhilarated about the search, and I was making every effort to be thorough in my coverage of the wash. I had an 11×17 inch elliptical coil on my detector, which is fairly large, but still small when you consider the amount of ground there was to cover. I was getting no signals. I paused again to think a bit. There should be at least some trash here from the old timers. Where would heavy stuff tend to accumulate? I refocused, took a hard look at the wash and tried to envision how water would move during flood conditions. That’s how the gold would move. In a moment of curiosity I decided to dig some of the loose overburden to see just how deep this wash really was. There were large boulders in the area I was, but was I seeing bedrock or just mostly buried boulders? In a few short minutes I had my answer. This wash was deep! I dug two plus feet down without hitting what I thought was bedrock. I dug up large cobbles and realized that the rock I had walked across a few minutes previous, might just be a gigantic boulder silted in by aeons of erosion from the banks above. Taking a look at the steepness of the sides, most of which were too steep to climb, I realized I needed to look for better ground! Moments like this are for learning. Stopping to examine conditions and assess the current approach, strategize a new approach, and make a plan, are what will add up to eventual success in any endeavor. Laughing at myself for taking so long to ‘snap to’, I headed further down the wash to look for areas that might be easier to hunt.
Moving downstream, I had to climb onto the banks frequently to get around areas that were too rough to traverse, or would just take too much energy. It was during one of my detours that I noticed heavy deer activity. Uhoh, A.D.D. moment! I quickly shucked my backpack and detector at that spot, and climbed up the steep, zigzagging trail to see what higher elevation would reveal. I was definitely rewarded in that quest, and not only found a great spot to hunt deer, but the remains of an old camp! So back down I went, retrieved my gear, and right back up again to detect and explore the old camp.
I already made the A.D.D. joke right? Well I spent about 30 minutes poking around the area, looking at old cans to try to determine the age of the camp, detecting the outskirts around any large trees in search of potentially stashed nuggets long forgotten. I had gotten smart at the beginning of my exploration and brought along an old can, the top open, so I had something to stash the ten MILLION nails I was finding with my detector. If you know PI machines, you know what I was dealing with! If not, there are two things to understand-PI’s LOVE iron, and they do not discriminate, so you can’t change a setting to eliminate signals from iron. So broken iron bits from skillets or who-knows-what, nails, wire, boot tacks, it was all there. I wished for the machine I used back home, the CTX3030. Man, if there were a coin or something good amongst all that crap, it would surely find it! Maybe next time. After taking an extra minute to get a pic with a baby horned toad lizard, I stumbled, tripped, slid, and hopped my way back down into the wash.
I hadn’t gone far when I suddenly got a signal at the base of a small boulder! I started digging, the signal getting louder, and the material coming out of the hole a little larger with each scoop. I was into some really rough gravel with small river rocks coming out of the hole, I guess that’s good, right? Excitedly, I dug out several extra scoops of material before swinging the detector back over the hole. I got a booming signal! On about the second gold-crazed swing of my pick, I heard a booming voice above me ‘Whatcha got?’. I jumped so hard I swear my entire innards almost shot out of my mouth! I looked up, expecting to be killed at any moment by a man-bear-pig or some serial killer hermit long separated from society to see….Owen? ‘Ok, first off, you scared the living NUGGETS out of me, and secondly, WHERE THE HELL DID YOU COME FROM?’. He laughed and apologized for robbing me of my senior years to come, and explained how he had found a saddle coming out of the wash and decided to see if he could cut some distance off the hike so he could find me. Oh, ok then. It’s nice to be wanted I guess! My heart rate was settling down and I decided to keep digging. I literally dug one more scoop and my prize came to light! Half a horse shoe. I heard ‘wah, wah, wah, wah’ and the sound they play on the price is right when somebody gets the price wrong. Well crap. I had a gold nugget and Owen scared me and the nugget so bad that it turned itself into a horseshoe!
As it turns out, Owen came to find me because there were storms a few miles away. Where I was, I couldn’t see out of the wash, and when I was at the miners camp, the hillside was blocking my view in that direction. Luckily for us, we knew where the head of the wash was, and also what the drainages were like feeding this wash. However, also taking into account the massive size of the boulders in this wash, the steepness of the hillsides, and the fast dropping terrain, that wash was NOT a place to be during rain! Potentially having my hunt cut short wasn’t really the worst thing, but what he said next was even more disappointing! ‘We haven’t found anything.’ I couldn’t believe that. He and Curt were experienced prospectors and had top of the line machines to boot. ‘Nothing?’ I said. ‘Yeah, the overburden in this wash is insane, and the bedrock flats haven’t even produced for us.’ Well dang. Where were all the giant nuggets hiding anyway? We put in a lot of effort to get to this place and with what we knew about it previously, gold had been found here. In my mind I considered several possibilities – ‘was it all found? Were we in the right part of the wash? Should we have focused on the small feeder washes instead of the main wash?’ I ticked the answers off in my mind as I went, ‘no, it couldn’t have all been found-not possible’, ‘any part of the wash could hold gold’, ‘smaller tributaries can be explored next’… But from the picture I was formulating in my mind, the trip was about to get harder, not easier! Oh well, we would do what we had to!
Later, back at camp, we discussed possible plans for the next day, made jokes and stuffed ourselves with all the extra food items we had brought with us. I made a mental note that extra food doesn’t count as ‘too much weight’ in the pack, and knew I would sleep well that night!