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.