Gold at the Black Waterfalls!

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!

Hot Rock

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…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Black Waterfalls p2

The morning air was still cool as we began our ascent up the boulder strewn wash that would eventually take us to the black waterfalls. I kept my phone in a front pocket so I could get pics as we hiked around and over huge boulders, under low overhanging trees, and the occasional areas that were sandy from accumulated soil where the water slowed down enough for that stuff to be deposited. It was hard to resist the temptation to film and narrate every part of the journey, and after falling behind several times, I decided to just ‘save it’ for the really interesting parts. But it’s all interesting! It’s just too easy for a person with ADD to get distracted and I was constantly scanning and thinking-sometimes out loud – ‘Oh, look at how that rock outcropping is a completely different color than the bedrock next to it’, or ‘that quartz seam runs parallel to the wash but then takes a ninety degree turn and goes into the hillside right here’, ‘check that out, greenstone!’, etc. etc. Till I finally settled down and remembered that I wouldn’t get ten feet if I stopped to look at every interesting feature. So, realizing I was already sweating, I trudged on.

I hate sweating in the desert. Of course, it’s inevitable when hard work is involved, but I’m paranoid about running out of water and getting dehydrated! Water is a balancing act in a way, and once you get to a point where you become slightly dehydrated, you can’t catch up. Not that I was in any danger of dehydration at that particular time, but I just wanted to stay ahead of the curve. I have two ways to gauge how well I’m hydrated-how many times have I peed, and what color was it. Did I mention I tend to overthink things a little? Right, you would never have known if I didn’t tell you… Anyway, not being used to such low humidity, plus the higher altitude with exertion, water leaves the body pretty quickly.

So having just peed, and patting myself on the back for such a great accomplishment of hydration in the desert, I scrambled and kind of jogged ahead to catch up. I rounded a bend and there was my buddy Owen standing at a very large, cascading outcrop of black bedrock-the first black waterfall! The rock was shiny smooth from having sand, rocks of every size, including boulders, and the final polishing effect of water grinding away at what would otherwise have been a rough surface. There were little pockmarks, crevices and cleft places in the rock where pockets of sandy gravel were deposited-great places to find nuggets in their own right-but we still had a long way to go! I scaled the waterfall, thinking how it looked like one wrong step could lead to a painful ride on this giant, bone-breaking slip-n-slide, then ducked under a low hanging juniper tree, and continued up the wash-but not before turning around and getting a picture of the mountains to our southwest, framed by the steep sides of the mountains rising steeply to both sides.

 

Not all the way up 2019

 

Once past the waterfall, I noticed the ascent becoming more steep, and Owen told me we had another large waterfall ahead, then a couple small ones before things leveled out a bit and we would reach our destination. I couldn’t wait to see the next waterfall, and really couldn’t wait to fire up the detector and start finding pocketfuls of gold nuggets! Somewhat quietly, we hiked onward and upwards. It was getting much brighter outside, but due to the steep mountain to our east, we had shade for our entire hike to the second waterfall.  

We took a break at the second waterfall. A snack and some water really hit the spot! We checked our time-only 7:40…we were making great time. I got the phone out and took a video while we joked about how many nuggets we were going to find that day. I like to be optimistic, but can’t help but wonder if we were somehow jinxing ourselves by even talking about what we were ‘going’ to find. Still, the jokes must be told, and hopes expressed. Our enthusiasm is the only thing that could motivate the two of us half-sane guys in their 50’s to go through such punishment before some people were even rolling out of bed! Honestly, it could have been twice as bad and we still would have been happier than pigs in…well, you know! Having recharged a bit, we began the last leg of our hike.

2nd black waterfall 2019

 

More to come…

Boots on the ground! The Black Waterfalls!

I’ve been back from the black waterfalls for a couple weeks now. It seems like it’s taken me that long to recover! The terrain was brutal, temps high, altitude high-well, higher than I’m used to, being a flatlander anyway. If I hadn’t just spent three rigorous weeks of doing absolutely nothing, things might have been easier! Or not. I always know that I’ll be sore, tired, cut, bruised and banged up after every trip to the Arizona gold fields because of our pace and the desire to cram everything into every minute! We can sleep and load up on Advil later! This trip was going to be the ‘full package’ crammed into 2.5 days instead of the normal 4!

I flew in late Friday evening, and after getting a full 4 hours sleep (ha!) it was time to load up the quads and head out! I like riding in the desert. The pre-dawn scenery, occaisional wildlife, and cool air are an experience everybody should get at least once in their lives. Now the ability to actually ENJOY any of that while riding OUR particular access road…well, lets just call that ‘spotty at best’! This particular road hasn’t had any maintenance by the BLM in a long time. That’s kind of how it is out there. The BLM wants to close roads like this but generally they quit maintaining them in hopes they will be so bad that people can’t use them, then they can just go ahead and close them. Well, not yet BLM! Because of this, I would encourage folks to hit the desert and file mining claims on any decent ground you find! This will hedge ‘our’ bets against the BLM’s closures. BUT I digress..

We sped along the bumpy road while I tried to take pictures with my phone without losing control of the ATV, but the road was winning. It was hard enough to look around without losing control, let alone anything else. The air was cool, even a little chilly, but I knew we would be suffering from the heat later in the day. Finally, we reached our cutoff to park and eventually start our hike in. My buddy hadn’t told me that we would be rock crawling with our ATV’s, but rough going is such a normal feature of desert exploration that I’m sure it didn’t cross his mind!

The peace and quiet in the desert is a submersive experience. Once we parked and stopped our engines I just sat there for a second, taking it all in. To me, every part of my adventures is important, and the tranquility and expectation of the activity to follow the sunrise is another thing I would recommend you experience at least once! I snapped back to attention as a branch, bent forward by my ATV, suddenly released, smacking me in the chest and face! I laughed and spit out juniper needles and hoping my buddy hadn’t noticed. Oh well, it was time to load up and begin the hike anyway!

The first quarter mile or so was easy (ish) flat terrain consisting of boulders, small drop-offs and ledges. Once we reached the mouth of the wash that would get us to the area of the black waterfalls, my buddy said, ‘Well. It’s all uphill from here and it gets pretty rough, so make sure your gear is secure.’ Him being a master of understatement, I double checked everything, and tightened the waistbelt on my Badlands pack just a little more. I had a gallon of water, plus some Gatorade, a couple tins of sardines, crackers, napkins, a long sleeve sun shirt, my SDC2300 and Pro Sonic, two extra sets of C cell batteries, my GoPro with mounts, batteries and small tripod, my pick, scoop and a bayonet for getting into the rock crevices…oh and my sunglasses in their case, a few protein bars for extra measure, a small first aid kit, a set of heavy duty knee pads…I think that was all. My pack weight was just over 30 pounds, it just all adds up! I did a quick self check-let’s see, I’m in ok shape, knee hurting as it always does, slightly out of breath due to higher elevation, I turn 55 next month…YEP, I’m ready! We turned and began our ascent.

To be continued…

The Black Waterfalls!

I’ve been busy for the last year or so! I ended up getting a job (gasp!), working like crazy, then leaving that job for another job recently. All the while I’ve been thinking of prospecting, detecting the beach, or searching for a hidden treasure if I EVER found the time to pursue that stuff again. Well the time is near..

A couple months ago one of my prospecting buddies in Arizona told me about a ‘new’ place that he was considering running his metal detector. He had been there many years ago and remembered it in one of those flashes that you get right before you fall asleep, and stayed up late thinking about it. The main feature of this area are black waterfalls you have to traverse to get to the spot. He called me the next morning to tell me about his plans to explore the area, and theorized that it had not been ‘hit’ with any of the newer technology detectors. In fact, he was fairly certain that the place had not been prospected in over ten years! We laughed and joked about ‘cursed waterfalls’ and half rotten skeletons of all the prospectors who had attempted to get the gold in the past-but I knew the story was epic before it was even told. After all…black waterfalls!

Now it might seem funny, waterfalls in the desert? We prospect mostly in the Bradshaw Mountains of Arizona, so elevation changes are a constant thing. With that, you have areas of exposed bedrock, upheavals, and even folds in the rock from the long volcanic past the region is known for. As monsoon rains have come and gone over the years, sandy soil (overburden) has been washed away in the low areas-commonly called ‘washes’-and where the bedrock ends or drops, viola-a waterfall. Another aspect of this bedrock is that it is very geologically diverse. Along with the various metamorphic and other types of rock, you get lots of colors, which is one reason the desert is so beautiful! Literally you can be standing in an area of red rock and walk a few feet to white, black, or gray. It’s hard not to fill your pockets with small collections of neat colored rocks on every trip! What is unusual is that this place has black waterfalls, and yet is surrounded by completely different types of bedrock for about a quarter mile in each direction. Looking on Google Earth, you can see that this entire area is a geologic anomaly within the context of its surroundings. That oddity makes this place worth checking out!

In the ensuing weekends after remembering the place, my buddy has taken several short trips, each time coming back with gold! It’s a grueling hike with obstacles and steep terrain, plus the summer temps are high. Adding another factor is that it’s monsoon season in the Big Az, so the need to evacuate or find shelter could arise at any time! For that reason, pre-dawn rides to the area and hiking back out shortly after lunch have been the norm. There is one shade tree up there. One. The last insult to injury, and the most common theme of desert prospecting, you have to carry all your own water! Yes, there are plenty of waterfalls-but they’re DRY unless it’s raining!

My gear has been loaded and ready since I first heard of the black waterfalls. Life and job changes have made it an impossibility to even consider a trip till now! Coming up, a long weekend! Yes, it’s pretty short for a prospecting trip, but still long enough for me to get out there and see those black waterfalls and hopefully come back home with a pocketful of gold nuggets!

Soon…

According to the plans I made last spring, I would have been getting back from Arizona this week. I probably would have more gold and more stories, even some pictures to share. I would have done my usual 5 day trip, maybe even stretched it to six…but instead I took a detour.

I’ve had a few years of just doing what I wanted to do, running a business, insurance adjusting, buying and selling toys to fund bigger and better toys, but it was a grind. In the end I needed something stable, something meaningful. Something more fulfilling. So, you probably guessed it, I got a J-O-B! It’s a good job though! It pays well enough, there is opportunity for advancement, and I get lots of time off! Yes, I’m working harder than I ever have, getting up earlier and staying later, but it’s work I know how to do as if I had been programmed at birth-because I was! We all have innate, God given talents and abilities, and sometimes opportunities come along to put those abilities to use. Now before I get carried away as if I did something, let me place the credit properly. I felt as if all that cool sounding work stuff had played it’s role, and it was finished, but with no opportunity ahead. I prayed for days and literally said ‘I don’t care what it is, You say it and I’ll do it’. Well God listens. I had an answer faster than I ever expected! So now I get to fix stuff. All kinds of stuff. Go ahead, break it and see if I can’t figure out how to put it back together! OK, don’t do that, but you get the idea. It’s more than just fixing stuff of course, but that’s the cool part to me!

Did I mention I get time off? Oh and lots of vacation time? Oh boy! I’ve been good, not taking any days off since starting. But. It’s because. I have. A plan.

Soon…

This Land Gives You Nothing…

I just got back from an awesome metal detecting trip in Arizona! It was brutal of course, and my knees, back, shoulders…heck, everything is either swollen or sore. It’s just the way it is out there in the mountains where loose rocks underfoot, slippery waterfalls (they’re everywhere in the mountains), dense vegetation, thorny cactus, stinging insects, and steep terrain all combine to test your will and physical stamina. We had great results for our efforts, but as my buddy’s wife mentioned on our car ride to the airport, ‘this land gives you nothing!’.

Planned from space, what could go wrong?

I’ve been looking forward to this trip since I was first told about our new area a couple months ago. Initial finds were way above average for most areas, at least going by reports of those who discuss finds anyway. The person who found this area had already recovered a respectable amount of gold, pretty compelling! So I pored over google earth images, mapping out details that might be significant, studying terrain changes and plotting out areas I wanted to visit that might be productive for detecting. I loaded topographic maps onto my GPS, readied my ‘Rite in the Rain’ notebook, studied online topo maps, and made a mental note of every detail my buddies told me about the area. I did notice that topo maps indicated low hills with steep sides, whereas Google Earth seemed to indicate things being a bit more rolling than the topo depicted. Oh well, ‘I’ll find out when I get there!’ became my thought process. I mean, why waste too much time poring over such minutia? There was gold there, we were going to find it through work and pain…pretty standard stuff. Here’s a tip for future Argonauts-Google Earth is lousy at terrain contouring! Prepare with that in mind, it really is just a view from space.

And they’re off!

My alarm went off at 3am Monday morning and I rolled out in careful ‘speed mode’ to get everything loaded, get to the shuttle parking, and to the airport on time for my 6am flight. This part always sucks but ‘maybe I can sleep on the plane’ goes through my head during these preparations. BTW-I can never sleep on the plane! So once on the ground in Arizona, one of my buddies picked me up at the airport, briefed me on our plan for the day and minus a couple stops and a change of clothes, we headed straight to the goldfields!

Once at ‘the spot’, the guys gave me a rundown of where gold had been found, how it was found, and what the plan was to capitalize on conditions to find even more gold. That meant digging. A lot of digging-no really, you don’t understand, we’re going down to bedrock! Good thing I know which end of a pick goes off when you pull the trigger. Wait, these things don’t run themselves do they? Oh, it’s a lightweight pick? Awesome, let me know when they come up with lightweight dirt and rocks to dig in!

The week went by in a blur of dust that I was almost too tired to wash off every night. Dig, spread dirt, detect said dirt, move dirt, dig deeper, over and over till we reached bedrock. Oh by the way, bedrock is not like the flat concrete foundation in your house so there are pockets to excavate as well, not to mention it may be exposed on one side of the wash but 3′ down on the other! It all holds gold though so the will to dig remains strong even if your body has mostly given up. Water, jerky, high energy snacks all mixed with dust; take a break, rest and catch your breath, then back in the wash to dig and pull more rocks and dirt. Oh yeah, along the way we need to remove these boulders that we’ve been digging up and put them up on the sides of the wash. Not for the faint of heart or those in poor condition!

But that gold!

Over our week of excavating we found …wait-maybe I shouldn’t say what we found! Why not? Well, it seems that my buddies have a ‘fan club’. Since they are known to be successful with their metal detectors, and a few have been with them to witness some really good finds, the word has gotten out. People watch and follow the folks that are successful in the desert hoping that they can either learn to succeed on their own, or possibly to prospect an adjacent area to where the successful ones are working, and sometimes people even claim jump! The lure of gold is just too strong and at ~$1200/oz you can probably see why.

Is anybody going to put in the work we did to find what we did? Who knows, maybe not. However, part of prospecting is following the trail, looking for the source of the gold you’ve been finding, which could be worth many thousands of dollars! If that source was possibly nearby would you really want to draw attention to it? Disclaimer-most gold has traveled a very long way to get to the place you find it. Gold is generally thought to have been deposited a very long time ago when what used to be flat Arizona went through a period of geologic upheaval and volcanic activity, then the exposed gold veins weathered out during periods of rain and erosion. Then the gold traveled to the lowest point (it’s heavy), and was pushed and tumbled downstream by water to it’s resting spot to wait for us with our detectors and digging tools. Easy, right?

Just finding a gold nugget is a victory in itself, but it infects you, spurs you on to find one more-then another and another. Maybe it’s because these nuggets were so dirty we had to pop them into our mouths to clean them, that we directly infected ourselves with gold fever! Either way, when you see that yellow, it’s all over! The moments of elation give way to teeth-grinding work in hopes of hearing that awesome sound that only a pulse induction detector makes.

The weigh in

We had previously agreed that we would work as a team to excavate and recover our gold. The agreement was basically such that those who found a large nugget could keep that nugget as long as the others could be compensated in weight and everything could be divided evenly. Good thing we didn’t only find a few large nuggets! Still, when you finally sort through all the debris to get the nugget out of the dirt, you really want to see a huge piece of yellow metal shining up at you! Well, how about a 2.5grammer? Yep, I found that! I found other gold too, and so did my buddies. We all had a goal in mind, and even though we didn’t reach it, we did quite well! That’s the hard part about prospecting, it always seems like you should find gold ‘here’ or ‘there’ and yet, despite knowledge and tips from others, even a little ‘what worked at the last place’, you can still come up empty. The real goal is just not to get skunked! Mission accomplished.

Till next time…
I think the big one looks like ‘the mask’ from the movie..

Cute little manzanita bush. Notice the red trunks giving away it’s true origins as the bush from hell!

The Old Trunk

Almost 10 years ago I came into possession of an old trunk full of old maps. An old time treasure hunter and dowser had gathered and collected many topographical maps and marked them with notes and locations, and after he passed away, his daughter found the trunk hidden in their barn and decided to contact other treasure hunters in hopes of splitting whatever finds could be made. I got the call after she contacted a person I know at a certain metal detecting manufacturer, who was not interested. Honestly, I viewed the accuracy of these maps as bogus, but agreed with the old man’s daughter that I would split, 50/50, anything that I found using those maps. So my buddy and I jumped in the truck and made the several hour trip to deep east Texas. After all, a road trip is fun and you don’t really need much of an excuse anyway!

While we were there, the son in law, who was at work, kept calling and telling my buddy and I to please stay till he got home because he had something important to tell us, so we killed the time by looking at the maps. Cracking open the old trunk-a treasure in its own right-we were greeted by spiders and other creepy crawlies that had made the trunk their home. Naturally we were ‘invited’ to move outside -post haste- since in our zeal to get a look inside, we had placed the trunk on the lady’s kitchen table! So we closed everything up and put the trunk outside, since there were so many maps inside, and so many bugs, that we realized we would need a large area, free of wind, and with plenty of light, to sort these out anyway. To help pass the time that seemed to drag on and on, we ate homemade ice cream and listened to stories while the husband made his way over from one of the nearby towns.

He finally arrived and immediately told us that of all the maps, hundreds of them, there was only one that he knew for a fact was real because they had gone to the location. He had already searched the trunk but couldn’t find the map, although he felt confident it was in there. So he sat down and began the story of the only treasure hunt he had ever been on with his father in law. His eyes were getting bigger with each word as he began. I sat there, courteously, ready with my mental BS meter engaged.

They drove into the bayou country of southern Louisiana, put in by boat, and followed the river, then a smaller channel further back into the bayou. This would have been the same route used back in the pirate days, and back there, deep in the swamps, was an old tree with a chain around it, and a sunken treasure at the other end! Well they found the tree, ringed by vegetation that was a different color than the surroundings. Leading from that circle was a line of the same discolored vegetation, into the water of the small channel. Digging down they found a large chain! The supposed prize at the end? A brass cannon filled with gold and silver, placed there by Jean Lafitte himself! His eyes were kinda crazy as he talked, and he even had an annoying bit of spit at the corner of his mouth from getting so wound up. His wife, the old man’s daughter, told him he needed to calm down before his blood pressure went up, get a drink, take his time… But we didn’t drive that long to wait around, we had a 4 hour drive back home! He took a giant swig of tea and continued, ‘as we pulled on the chain the wind started howling. It was like a storm was coming but the day was clear. We both dug and pulled and dug and pulled, but we were afraid to get in the water. We kept working till the chain seemed to move just a little, then we heard an alligator growl, looked out in the channel and there were a bunch of alligators there all looking right at us! We dropped the chain and ran! We always wanted to go back with another person and a winch, but Mr. XXXXXX died before we could. I ain’t goin back but I’m tellin ya it’s there!’

My buddy and I sat there for a minute taking it all in, and watching in wonder at how worked up the man had become as he recounted the failed treasure hunt. ‘It’s all true, and the map is somewhere in that trunk’ he said. ‘I’d start with that one if you ever can find that map!’

Time went by and we never found the map he was talking about. Due to age the penciled markings and notations had faded almost completely on what maps we examined. We put them all back in the trunk for ‘another day’. A few years later my buddy and I parted ways but I kept the trunk. I really never gave them a second thought till last year, talking with some friends in south Louisiana, the story came back to me. They live in bayou country. They have a guest house that could be a great base of operations if I ever decided to chase that stuff. Well maybe I’ll check those maps again one day…

Last night I found the map.

Anticipation

It’s been a tumultuous year. Slow work, hot weather and being busy have kept me from going back to the mountains and searching for gold. But it’s October now and fall is here! Usually late fall and almost all winter are the best seasons for exploring and prospecting the desert and low mountains…and I’m so ready!

Plans are set. Gear is ready. The gold is there. As I think about my next trip, I look forward to just being out in God’s creation, scrambling hillsides and washes, dodging giant centipedes, scorpions and cactus, and maybe even the bear that supposedly hangs around one of our claims. There’s something about being in the mountains-not so far from civilization, but far enough away that the sense of isolation, and immersion in nature just take over. Sights both large and small, the sense of being so tiny with such immense surroundings…it’s peaceful.

 

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Sometimes You Have To Take The Bad With The Good

Sometimes things just don’t go according to plan. Obsessing over lists, setting alarms, staging the gear by the door so as not to forget anything…all great ways to be sure you don’t end up with headaches. But what if you add one more dynamic? Such as getting a ride to the airport in the wee hours of the morning? Before I mention what happened, I would like to point out that the guy who gave me a ride to the airport was doing me a huge favor. He was under no obligation and we’re not even close friends. He also wasn’t being paid.

Sorry I’m late…

Did I mention that this guy drives with extreme caution? An admirable trait for sure but the clock still ticks and time is time. As I saw the ‘depart the house’ time pass and grow from 5 minutes to 10, then 20 minutes, I began to get really worried. Should I call a cab? Jump in my own truck and just pay the fee to park at the airport? No, he’ll be here, I just need to be patient. Finally he pulled up at my house 23 minutes late. He had forgotten that he was giving me a ride and had to turn around and come back. I told him it was ok and I thought I could still make it on time. I was wrong.

Stranded in no-man’s land

I’ve never seen so many people trying to get through security! Needless to say, none of those guys are in a hurry. Ever. I knew I had to hurry and once out of there, ran to my gate! I got there just in time to see them close the door. ‘Sorry sir, once the plane is started we can’t let anybody else on board’. Seriously?

When you miss a flight-and you’ve never missed one before-you feel helpless. That’s probably the look on my face that caused the lady at the check in desk to take pity on me and work hard to find another flight for me. ‘We have a noon non-stop that I’ve booked you on already’ she said, and my heart sunk. Noon? I asked her if there was anything earlier, already dreading spending 6 hours sitting around at the airport with nothing to do. I was trying to keep my temper at bay-it wasn’t her fault, it wasn’t really the dude’s fault that gave me a ride, it was MY fault. OK, ok, sort this out later, keep calm, work through it and remember to BE NICE even if I don’t like what I get. OK. I can do this! Finally the lady found a flight that left at 9, with a layover in Albuquerque of an hour. I felt like the kid on Christmas Story that forgot what he wanted and blankly said ‘yeah, a football’ when Santa suggested it. OK, well it’s at least closer to my destination! I went to the airport Chili’s and ordered breakfast, then called my buddies to let them know that I wouldn’t be on time. The guys take turns on picking up and dropping off when I come to town, and being an hour away, they have to get up pretty early to meet me at 7:45am. Once done with that I hit one of the kiosks for interesting magazines, bought a couple and looked for a comfortable chair.

Albuquerque is a cool place, unless you’re sitting in the airport

The layover went pretty much as expected. I got a spicy lunch, hoping it wouldn’t catch up to me later (yeah right), and sat around watching people. One thing I always notice is how different people are in other places. It’s interesting and at least people watching helps pass some time. I finally decided staring out the window at the mountains was less likely to cause any reactions. All mountains seem to call to me in some way, but I just wasn’t ‘feeling it’ as I looked out the window. Those mountains weren’t as good as the mountains I was going to. They don’t hold the kind of gold I would be looking for. My friends also don’t live in those mountains…my patience, or lack thereof, was beginning to wane. Finally the call came and we all boarded. As I sat down on the plane, I realized it was the final leg, and I suddenly felt really tired. Actually I was just relieved and thought I’d even try to sleep a bit on the flight.

Not so fast there, Skippy..

Once on the ground in Phoenix I began texting my buddy that we had landed and were taxiing to the gate. He told me to let him know when I got my luggage and he would meet me at the curb. I just wanted off that plane and away from the headaches of transit! Closer and closer, finally coming to a stop at our gate…then the clunking and banging sounds…more sitting…more clunking…then the pilot’s voice, ‘ladies and gentlemen, we’re experiencing problems with the jetway, we will have to move to another gate, thank you for your patience.’ WHAT PATIENCE? Just for a second my temper threatened to come back, but then…yeah, this was funny. In fact, the whole thing was almost comical! I realized that my quest for adventure was already being fulfilled, even if not how I expected. This is the stuff that makes for funny stories and memories. Life is good, what do I have to be upset about? I chuckled out loud and smiled real big, saying a quick prayer to God in thanks for reminding me of which end of the microscope life is meant to be observed…

Missing one day of nice weather, I looked at the forecast. Storms were coming, and promised to bring ice and snow. We would have one, maybe two days of good weather, and I knew there would be no time for being tired or moving slow. Like most trips, I put on my ‘mission focused’ face, forgot about the troubles and lack of sleep, and went straight to the fun part.

Lesson learned-pay for transport or do it yourself.

The Gold Trap

It’s been a busy spring and summer! I’ve done a few detecting adventures to local beaches but haven’t really found anything to get very excited about. Although I’ve schemed and planned and tried to juggle, I haven’t been back to Arizona either! However, I’m planning a fall trip, and on the itinerary is some exploration of what I’ve come to refer to as ‘the gold trap’!
I first encountered the gold trap in the August heat of 2015. It was my first prospecting trip to the Arizona goldfields and even though I had read a ton of material about electronic prospecting in the desert, I was as green as the greenest greenhorn! Still, I had the gear I needed and the help of the new friends my buddy back home had set me up with. Even though I only had a day and a half to prospect, I knew it would be an epic trip! My new friends had a couple gold claims to take me to, and after a sleepless night at my hotel, our appointed meeting time of 5am still didn’t come soon enough! The ‘epicness’ (it’s a word now, you’re gonna be the next to use it) began with an ATV ride through the little town of Mayer, turning off onto ever smaller and unpaved roads till we hit THE road into the desert.

To say the ATV ride was epic is an understatement. To my friends it was a normal occurrence. To a flatlander from Texas it was nothing short of a spectacular mix of breathtaking scenery, choking dust, and a constant beating from trying to ride the ATV along the incredibly rough ‘road’ without flying off and getting a thorny, rocky breakfast. I mean we were into high adventure before ever having felt the first ray of sunshine that day!

We reached the claim after about 45 brutal minutes. I had told the guys I could ride an ATV, which was true, but it had become patently clear that the word ‘ride’ can be defined in different ways! For a minute I thought I needed a break before starting to detect…’nah, I didn’t come here to take breaks’, I thought as I gathered my gear. The guys gave me all the warnings about rattlesnakes, scorpions, steep terrain, ‘carry more water than you think you need’, and a quick lesson on hot rocks. With that out of the way we all set out in different directions, with me taking the big wash that runs through the claim. I was alone in the desert and it was awesome!
Working my way down the wash, I couldn’t believe I was actually IN the desert and metal detecting for gold nuggets, after having daydreamed about it for over a decade! I moved along quickly, the detector having to compete with my desire to explore and see new things. In the center of the deep wash I was seeing streaks of black sand and rocks of all colors, and my backpack was beginning to get heavier with each rock I ‘couldn’t pass up’. The detector was doing it’s job finding every hot rock for me, and causing me to dig and dig in search of that huge nugget, only to find out it was just a dang rock! Splitting my time between exploring and detecting, I quickly made it to a huge waterfall the guys had told me about. As I stood there, 20 feet above the dried out pool at the base of the waterfall, I began to recognize the power of water. There were some really big boulders that had obviously been pushed down the wash, reinforcing another warning I had been given about the incredible amount of water that moves through the washes during the monsoon flash floods. Remembering that it was monsoon season right then, I reminded myself to be listening for any sound of thunder, and almost as quickly dismissed that notion since there had been no sign of rain to interrupt my explorations.

Turning around to head back up the wash, I noticed and decided to follow a smaller wash that fed into the main waterway. This wash seemed to have better potential for gold since the ‘overburden’ wasn’t as deep over the bedrock. Then again, if it was new to my eye, it looked good! I paused to recover a great sounding target; this one sounded different than the hot rocks, very pronounced, with a loud and sharp signal, dropping off quickly when the coil moved away…this could be IT! As I sorted through the material looking for the glint of gold, I was rewarded by something yellowish, and was just about to get really excited until I uncovered it a little more to see that it was a .22LR brass casing. Dangit!

I wandered up the wash a bit further, not sure how far I wanted to go, or should go. Climbing up a cascading bedrock waterfall I noticed a huge outcropping of bedrock with a flat area in front of it. Getting a little higher out of the wash allowed me to see a really odd sight! Close to the vertical base of the bedrock, and extending out about 5 feet, was an almost perfectly round hole! What made it remarkable was that it was a hole in the rock itself! It was full of murky green water, and surrounded by various wasps, dirt dobbers, bees and what appeared to be hornets. Every time I got close they would swarm around and buzz me till I backed off. Wondering how deep it was, I scoured the banks for a stick. It had to be a really long one so that I could maintain a distance from the swarming bugs, but still be able to go a little ways into the water. My assumption was that the pool was probably really shallow. I was wrong! After repeated attempts to touch bottom from well over 5 away from the edge, I realized that the bugs were leaving. All the activity convinced them to move on, so I moved in. Probing the depths I estimated the hole to be about 3-4 feet deep and about 5-6 feet across! ‘What the heck made this?’ I thought as just the slightest question of potential gold at the bottom swirled in my head. I realized that the hole itself and the surrounding bedrock was just too slick and treacherous to attempt much closer inspection, and I had zero desire to get that stagnant water on me, so I decided to turn around and head back. I met up with the guys and we moved to a little different area and the gold trap dropped from my memory.

I didn’t remember the gold trap till the phenomena of round holes in bedrock was discussed on a youtube video I was watching about geology. It’s a good idea to understand a little bit about geology if you want to hunt for gold, so I was studying up for the next trip, which would have been my third trip by that time. The professor was discussing how a boulder could theoretically be sitting on a flat section of bedrock, then water pressure during a flood, could potentially act on the boulder, causing it to spin, and therefore grind a depression in the bedrock. Over time and many floods, the hole would get deeper and the boulder smaller, all the while dropping further down into the hole it was creating in the bedrock. At some point, the professor theorized that the boulder might even be moving around inside the hole, causing the sides to be bowed, rather than vertical. The theory of formation of the holes is apparently not the only one, nor widely accepted, but the resulting effect is the one we’re interested in-gold falling into these holes and getting stuck there! Gold is heavy. Gold settles to the lowest point and tends to stay there till forced out by massive amounts of water, landslides or other big events. Even then gold will stop in the eddy pool of a creek bend or other places that water suddenly slows. Given the opportunity to follow gravity, gold will always do so, and that means we look for it where it had to stop-the lowest point-the bottom of the hole!

WAIT-rewind! ‘What? I know where one of those is!’ I said to the computer screen. I immediately called my buddy to talk about the hole in the bedrock. He knew where it was, had seen it too, and also thought nothing of it. In fact, nobody was really interested in the hole in the rock. Well that’s it then, I just need to take a collapsible bucket in case it’s full of water next time I go back, and I’ll find out what’s at the bottom of the gold trap! It was a plan, and I somehow completely forgot about it again on the next trip! We spent all our time working our new claim, and really didn’t have the motivation to go back to the old claims since the gold in those areas is generally small and more and more scarce each trip out. The new claim was producing lots of gold and we would’ve been crazy to go anywhere else!

As I type this, it’s been three years since I saw the gold trap. I’ve taken four trips to Arizona and have now become experienced enough that I can find gold with my (vastly upgraded) detector. Our new claim has been producing and promises so much more. We’ve only barely explored the place, just enough to discover gold on both hillsides and washes, there is a bear there as well as a mountain lion that we’ve been told to watch out for, several old mine sites from early prospectors and many other mysteries still exist on our new claim! Yet, lately, as I consider the exploration we need to do there, I’m reminded that the claim with the gold trap is also largely unexplored and full of it’s own mysteries. There’s so much to do if I could just manage to balance work, money, and the pursuit of gold! We’ve all decided that exploration of the new claim is the main agenda, but we will make an exception for one day! My collapsible bucket, courtesy of Amazon, will arrive at my buddy’s house in Mayer on Friday this week, and this fall I will discover what lies at the bottom of the gold trap.