Morning came early. I remember waking up and feeling the fog of dehydration. We had all tried to drink as much water as possible, even guzzling what we thought was too much before bed. But I never got up once to pee…so I guess it wasn’t really enough! We made our coffee and dehydrated breakfast, and suddenly our camp was dry! Curt mentioned that he had already gone uphill and retrieved two of the 2.5gal containers, leaving us with 5 gallons of water for the rest of our trip! Hmm…what happened to having more than enough? I pointed out the heavy salt stains in my shirt. It had been hot the day before while prospecting, and my heavy long sleeve T shirt had been great protection from the elements, but it had also had me sweating like crazy, and drinking tons of water. We discussed how much water we must have drank each, and shaking our heads, accepted that what seemed ‘more than enough’ was actually insufficient. Oh well, we loaded up what water was left, and set out to detect whatever new ground we could get ourselves into.
The Biggest Desert Waterfall Ever
Once again, I decided to head downstream. This time though, Owen came with me. We decided to jump out of the wash and cross the saddle where I had found the camp the day before, and try going overland to pick up the wash much further down, then detect our way back. We knew the wash took a 90 degree turn to the south so we checked our compass and kept bearing west/southwesterly as we traversed the steep hillsides, thick brush, and loose gravel. We got lucky several times and found game trails that we could follow a bit, at least till they went through or under some thick brush that just wasn’t worth the energy to push through.
I was in the lead at one point and pushing through an impossibly thick patch of brush mixed with catclaw. Suddenly I heard Owen say ‘hey I found a flashlight tree!’. I kinda chuckled, not really paying attention to what he actually said, till he said, ‘hey-is this your flashlight?’ Wait, huh? I turned around to see Owen holding out the flashlight that seconds before had been riding, clipped into my hip pocket. ‘How the heck did THAT happen?’ I said. We both kinda laughed and decided that we better clean up whatever clips or extra rigging we had on our bodies and gear that might be pickpocketed by clawing vegetation on our way to finding huge gold nuggets. After all, we didn’t want to have to cash those nuggets in to buy replacement gear! Then again…replacement usually means upgrade…nah, we better be more careful with our stuff! Finally, popping out of the thick stuff, we found ourselves on a precipice overlooking the wash. We took a minute to get our bearings and discuss whether we were ready to drop in and start detecting, or continue further. I checked my GPS watch, and noted that we were one mile from camp as the crow flies. Not knowing how rough the going would be in the wash, but realizing that the bend added anywhere from a quarter to a half mile extra distance, we decided to drop in at that spot.
The wash was brushy down here, and narrow, unlike the portion near camp. Detecting was a little more difficult with my big coil, but manageable. As it was the day before, this wash was ‘quiet’, with few signals to catch the ear as we headed upstream, me in the lead, and Owen behind about 75-100 yards. This is pretty much standard procedure when we ‘team detect’ washes, because I’m the one with the least experience, and at that time, swinging the machine with the least ‘up to date’ technology. If Owen were to find gold, the plan was that he would call me back, he would search for more signals, and have me go over those with my machine to see if it would hear them, and also to help train my ear for what gold sounds like on a PI machine. I’ll give away a secret-it’s not usually going to be a booming signal! Not saying that a large nugget won’t give you that type of signal, but the ones you’re listening for will either be small, or deep, which means subtle, soft signals that are easily missed or even dismissed as random noise. Why would a person dismiss a fluctuation in threshold signal? Well, part of that lies in the power of the PI machines, and part of the equation is in the geology of the ground you’re hunting.
Pay Attention Son…
Yes, I’m still a relative ‘newbie’ to nuggetshooting. However, what follows is the best advice I can give, and follows the advice of veteran nugget hunters, with decades more experience than I! So again, why would you-or somebody-dismiss a fluctuation in the threshold signal of your machine. Well, these machines are super sensitive, and lightning from several miles away can produce a warble you’ll hear in your headphones. Aircraft flying overhead, especially military planes, will ping your machine as their radar scans ahead and down, spurious radio signals, the output of other detectors nearby, and even SUNSPOTS can sometimes affect your machine! What results is sometimes a threshold that can be a bit unsettled. Instead of a steady tone, you’ll have variations, which, when you’re listening for small target tones, can be annoying and lull you into thinking it’s just another bit of interference. THEN we add in geology. The dreaded ‘hot rocks’ can set off your machine as well. They’re usually right on top or very shallow, but still, these cause you to slow down, and sometimes dig for nothing. Since it’s the desert, and conditions are tough, which equals tiring, it’s easy to decide to ‘pass’ on a signal, not realizing this time it might actually be what you’re seeking! What to do? Slow down first of all! This isn’t a race. If you’re A.D.D. like me, I KNOW you want to look around and see what’s around the next bend or over the hill, but do yourself a favor and scratch that itch without detecting at the same time! Seriously, put the machine down and explore away, scout out cool spots that you might seriously want to hit with your machine, take the pictures, wizz off that cliff, gather the cool crystals….but scratch that itch without letting it screw up your detecting! I do this all the time now. You spent the money. You took the time. You’re finally there-give yourself the best chances to focus, and don’t skip signals. Secondly, take a few more swings over the area you thought you had a signal. Is it repeatable? Can you still get a signal if you swing from another direction? Is the signal sound consistent? If the answer to these questions is ‘yes’, then dig it! Now if you suspect hot rocks, you can give a sweep of the edge or your boot to clear those away, then swing again and see what you get. At the end of the day, there’s advil and sleep waiting. Both will work better if you have gold in your poke than if you don’t!
Didn’t you say ‘waterfall’?
OK, yes, back to the story. In fact, I’ll skip ahead at this point. I won’t discuss the idyllic spot I sat down to eat lunch, finding myself surrounded by large caterpillars in every green leafy plant around me. I will also skip past the time that I took getting pictures of said caterpillars. I’ll also spare you the details of my rock collecting in that neat little spot. So, onward!
I had mostly rounded the large bend in the wash that we had seen on our topo maps. The wash was becoming very ‘walled in’ as the low mountain towered above, giving me the impression that this wash might be inescapable if it should rain, and it was clouding up. Big time. I could see a possible exit ahead in the form of a steep feeder wash, and decided to check it out real quick, but then head back down the wash, where escape would be easiest if the skies opened up. I couldn’t help but feel that I was already taking a risk just by remaining in that wash at all-but I was banking on the main wash being fed by a very narrow and relatively small surrounding watershed, and the fact that I could run and climb like hell as long as I knew what options I had, so I was checking out that little wash since I was so close!
I literally stopped in my tracks as I finally reached a point in the bend that I could see fully ahead. There, about 200 yards ahead was a gigantic waterfall! The rock went straight up about 60 feet, maybe more. I literally said ‘wow’, out loud, and forgot for a minute that I was on a mission. There was a small grotto at the base that you could literally stand behind the slightly dripping water. It was evident that animals of all kinds visited this area to take a drink. With large juniper trees shading most of the wash, the tall waterfall on one side, and steep walls of the mountain in every other direction, this place was literally an oasis in the desert! I thought of my water filter and how low we were on water, wishing I had a container to carry water back to camp. Oh well. Checking the sky again, I decided to continue looking for exit routes.
I found a relatively easy way up and around the waterfall on one side. I cautiously made my way to the top, picking the easiest route, one that I could ascend quickly if need be, because my plan was to go back down and explore some more. I moved very slowly as I climbed, listening and watching for rattlesnakes. I knew full well that I was in the ‘snakiest’ place I had passed through so far! Reaching the top without any serpentine encounters, I stashed the majority of my gear and headed back down the side to the base of the huge waterfall. Once down, I fired up my detector and began scanning. As in other parts of the wash, the overburden was crazy deep, making for slow going. The sky was keeping a consistent level of overcast, and I couldn’t hear any thunder, so I relaxed a bit and focused on finding gold. About ten minutes later, the bottom fell out of the clouds, forcing me to take refuge under one of the huge junipers! It was a little sketchy, since I knew there had to be a snake in there somewhere, but I found a nice boulder that I could sit on to wait it out.
As I sat on the boulder looking at the huge waterfall, I couldn’t help but wonder if I would suddenly see a blast of water come flying over the top, and just how it would look when it hit the bottom, but it just wasn’t happening. As I mentioned, this large wash has a very limited watershed. It was apparent that lots of water moves through at times, enough to push very large boulders around, but with the large amount of loose overburden in the wash, it also seemed that minor flooding was the norm, and it might be years before a serious flood would come along and blow out the excess sand and gravel that had accumulated. Still wishing for a spectacular display of falling water, I suddenly became aware of the sound of movement coming from down the wash. I sat still and quiet, knowing that it was Owen, but not wanting to take away from his moment of discovery at seeing the large waterfall. I also wanted to see his candid reaction! His was about the same as mine, as he paused and I heard him say, ‘huh’. I quietly said, ‘pretty cool, huh’, scaring the crap out of him, lol! Finally we were even now for him almost killing me the day before!
To be continued…