Backpacking for Gold p2

We crossed the peak and it’s relatively flat terrain pretty quickly. Not carrying 5 gallons of water definitely helped, and I was feeling like the weight of my pack alone really wasn’t that bad. Then again my legs were definitely tired from the steady climb we had just done. At least it was all about to be downhill, right? Hmm. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that downhill can be WORSE! Much worse.

During my exercising back home I climbed lots of hills. I would load up my pack with plate weights ranging from 20 to 30 pounds on whichever day, based on how I randomly felt that day. I hiked several miles a week for several weeks, hoping this would prepare me for our epic backpack prospecting trip. In spite of how I was feeling, as I reflected on my preparation, or lack thereof, I was just happy just to be there at all! I knew I had Advil in my backpack, and after all, the hard part was done, right? Heading downhill, I noticed it was pretty steep-at least as steep as it had been going up the other side, but there was a nice breeze to cool me down, and the beautiful view of the narrow, steep walled canyon several hundred feet below was somewhat mesmerizing.

I don’t know what kind of sound I must’ve made as my hiking boot slid on some loose scree, and I struggled for balance, finally tipping over due to the weight of my pack, right into a lovely catclaw bush! I’m sure it was hilarious and would have earned ten thousand dollars on America’s Funniest Videos, or at least gone viral on youtube. It just wasn’t very funny at that moment! Especially since catclaw likes to get hold of you and the harder you pull away, the deeper the spikes embed themselves. Still, after escaping and taking stock of myself, I was relieved to find that I hadn’t broken or twisted anything, and aside from looking like I had just tried to hug a bobcat, I was in good shape.

We slid, teetered and picked our way down the tight trail, occasionally pausing to take pictures or discuss some feature that had caught our eyes. We were way the heck in the back country. In our hour long drive through backroads of the mountains before beginning our hike, we had passed one ranch. That ranch was far enough back that they had an airstrip and Owen told me that they probably flew to town for groceries or especially if there was any kind of emergency. But we were at least a 30 minute drive down the trail from there! Even though driving an old desert road isn’t a fast proposition, it would be a very long walk back to that ranch if we needed help. It was awesome. There was almost nothing manmade to be seen aside from a water catch on the side of one mountain, and one faraway peak containing large antennas. I could almost envision the gigantic gold nuggets we would find. Would my glass vial gold poke be big enough to put a large nugget into? I quickly took mental inventory of what was in my pack, remembering a prescription bottle with some first aid supplies. Yep, I would need to empty that bottle and carry it with me while detecting! I couldn’t wait to get to the bottom of that mountain!

Finally after reaching bottom and finding the spot cleared many years ago for a camp, I was able to shed my backpack! I couldn’t believe how light I suddenly felt! I knew what the guys on the moon must’ve felt like, when a normal jump might propel you right off the surface into space. Getting back to business, I looked around a bit.  This place had been used by one of the legendary gold hunters back in the day, right after PI machines were made! It had been prospected by a few of our friends, but the general consensus among those that knew about the place was that it was relatively untouched. Considering what it took to get back there, I was sure they couldn’t have made a dent in the supply of gold that must be lurking at every curve of the wash. Even though I wanted to fire up my machine and take off, I had to set up my tent and unload my stuffed backpack. I guzzled some water, ate a protein bar, and set to work.

It didn’t take long to set up my bivy tent, toss in the sleeping bag, and unload my cooking supplies. I hung my pack high on a tree branch, and assembled my detector. At that time I was using a Minelab SD2200v2 with an 11×17 elliptical Nuggetfinder coil. It certainly wasn’t the most modern technology, but it was still a very capable, powerful machine. Owen had his SDC2300 and his GPX4500, and Curt had his GPX5000. We were definitely loaded for bear! Well, bear sized gold nuggets anyway.

Firing up our detectors, we split up and began our search.

 

View from the top

The view from the top

Our camp

Owen and Curt at our camp

 

Where are we going today, Mr. Peabody? Backpacking for Gold Of Course!

Do you remember the old cartoon with Sherman and his dog, Mr. Peabody? In every episode Sherman would ask his dog, a talking genius dog, where they were going that day. Generally the response was not necessarily ‘where’, but ‘when’ they were going. Enter ‘the wayback machine’! Today, I take you back a few years to a very memorable-no wait-a time ETCHED into my memory, no-more like, SCORCHED into my memory…well…anyway, you get the idea.

Did I ever tell you about the time we almost killed ourselves hiking back into a narrow canyon in the mountains to look for gold? ‘Which time?’, you say…ok fair enough, but this particular adventure has thus far been the pinnacle of ways in which my particular group of prospecting buddies and I have tried to assure that our bones would not be found for a very long time. Not that we didn’t plan to make it out alive and unharmed, but by trying to get as far into the backcountry as possible, in search of ‘virgin ground’. Maybe I should say we were looking for ground that had not been gone over by ten thousand prospectors before us! To say we were unprepared for the rigors of our adventure would not only be an understatement, but probably also a moot point if you keep up with my adventures!

Do you really need THAT much water?

It was early September, right around labor day, and the desert cool spell that we had hoped for had dissipated, leaving us with temps in the 90’s. Doesn’t sound too bad, right? Well, it’s not so bad if you’re at work or at home. However, carrying an overloaded backpack-somewhere north of 40 pounds-and also carrying 5 gallons of water each…well, that’s a bad mix! Oh we had a plan, we certainly weren’t each going to carry 80 plus pounds all the way up the steep mountainside and then all the way down the other side! No, our plan was to cache all but just a few gallons at the peak. We wanted to have one gallon, per person, per day for drinking-and about one gallon for cooking our dehydrated meals at lunch and dinner between the group. Well, I’ll just let it be known right now that it almost killed us just getting to the peak!  As we took a break, eating snacks and guzzling water, I remember telling myself that ‘yes we need this water’ and ‘yes, I triple checked my backpack to get rid of unessential gear’, all while sitting in silence just waiting for somebody else to be the one to cry ‘uncle’. But we’re made of more than that. Or we’re at least crazier than that! So having finished our snacks, we loaded back up and headed across the peak to the steep descent into the narrow canyon, stashing the majority of the water near several boulders so we could easily find it again.

Now I’d like to take a minute to discuss what we had in our packs, and why they were all 40+ pounds. Here’s roughly how it broke down:

  • shelter +/- 4lbs
  • sleeping bag and pad +/- 4lbs
  • extra clothes +/- 3lbs
  • cooking gear and food +/- 3lbs
  • detector 7lbs
  • several extra batteries +/-3lbs
  • small daypack for exploration +/- 3lbs
  • digging tools +/-8lbs
  • cords, ropes, TP, fire starting, knives, emergency gear, firearms and ammo, camp shoes, pruners, water purification, hats, bandanas, insect repellent, snake bit kit, and other assorted gear +/-7lbs

 

 

 

Loaded pack

Once on my back, the pack was nicely balanced, like I would expect a high-end Osprey pack to be. Actually getting it ON my back was somewhat comical though! I also couldn’t help but think how heavy the dang thing was…all that exercise I had done back home though…yeah…certainly not enough!

Are you kidding me

 

Headed up

Yes, this will be another multi-chapter tale…

 

The Arms Race

How many times have you heard the Ford vs. Chevy, my dog is better than your dog, or some other argument that doesn’t amount to a hill of beans, but still almost brings people to the point of physical confrontation? Most times the arguments are all ‘gack’-jibber jabber and anecdotal observations that don’t change opinions, nor truly demonstrate actual facts to prove whether or not your favorite widget is good or bad. Enter metal detectors! Before you put on your Garrett, Fisher, White’s, Minelab or other ‘colors’, be advised-I’m not going to delve into that argument! Right up front you need to know this is a discussion about Minelab machines because that’s what myself and everybody I know uses. I know there are other brands but from what little I’ve seen I do feel there is a solid reason we all use Minelabs.

The Game

Here in the states, most of us that detect for gold nuggets are ‘hobbyists’. We don’t depend on this for a living! Having extra time to go hunt gold is a nod to our dreams of finding enough gold to retire, or at least buy something nice (probably an even better metal detector). The reality is that many times we’re going over the same ground that has been detected by many others, for decades prior, using the current technology of their day. More on that later.

What all that means is that the easy gold has been found in many areas. What is left, for those willing to put in the hard work, is either small gold that was not able to be detected by those machines ‘back in the day’, or deeper, larger gold that also wasn’t seen by that level of technology. Prospectors today have to balance our efforts on what is most reasonable to find within the price range of technology that we can afford. As I mentioned previously, there are many machines that ‘can’ find a gold nugget. There are also stories of people swinging a $250 machine on the side of a desert road, and pulling up a lunker nugget that makes all the ‘dedicated’ hunters green with envy. This is literally the ‘blind squirrel’ scenario! If you want to be consistently successful, you have to apply the best geology knowledge you can muster, and the best equipment you can afford. Even at that, most people only find less than a few grams of gold on most of their outings, if any at all! Even in the ‘prime’ spots, gold is just hard to find sometimes.

So why do some detectors seem to be ok for finding gold nuggets in some peoples experience, yet cost very little? Think real estate-location, location, location! One of the biggest obstacles to finding what we seek is actually between our ears. It’s not our fault-why would I detect a graded desert road with all the attendant junk when I could walk back into a pristine desert wash or canyon that surely hasn’t been hit by other detectorists? The truth is, those roads and easy access areas are vastly under hunted because only a ‘noob’ would hunt the road, or this area doesn’t look right or whatever the case may be…right? Consider also that almost any detector will pick up a somewhat large chunk of gold, especially if it’s not very deep. So hunting areas nobody would bother with can be productive with almost anything (disclaimer-slight exaggeration). You may want to write that down because there are so many areas like this! OK,  because you asked, here’s a true story.

You found that WHERE?

In a suburb of Phoenix that shall remain nameless, a housing development was slated to begin. A local gold hunter knew that the area had been productive in the past, and decided to give it a whirl before houses took over. Well guess what? Within sight of the survey markers and early stages of dirt work, he found GOLD! Although I don’t remember the quantity, I do remember it was a good enough amount to cause me to mentally take note of just such spots! So that’s the type of area nobody would really hunt, and there are others you can hit with relatively inexpensive detectors that might surprise you. Remember, before detectors there were many nuggets found right on the surface by the old timers! Two eyes focused in the right place negate any amount of money spent on technology! It might take work and a little ‘out of the box’ thinking, but there are still some untouched areas out there to be found.

How fast do you want to go?

Back to Fords and Chevys. In my hotrodding days you could be the leader of the pack by spending enough money on ‘go fast’ stuff. I’m sure it’s still the same, although nowadays they throw you in jail for street racing so I don’t know what the kids do anymore. Anyway. This adage also loosely applies to metal detectors. To put a fine point on the subject, here’s how pricing roughly breaks down for the brand considered ‘best in the world’:

Pulse Induction Machines

Minelab GPZ7000     New around $8k, used around $6k

Minelab SDC2300     New around $3800, used around $2500

Minelab GPX5000    New around $4500, used around $3k

Older Minelab GPX machines can be had used for anywhere from around $1200 to $2500

VLF Machines

Minelab Gold Monster 1000    New around $800, used around $450

Minelab Equinox 800 (your best bet for an all around machine that is also great for prospecting) New $800, used $700

Yes, yes, I remember what I said earlier and will say again that Minelab is not the only brand machine capable of finding gold. They are the most expensive though. They also happen to have a performance edge and have impressed me so much that I’ve skipped over other decently capable gold machines of other brands because I wanted ‘the best’. These machines are basically ‘what I know’ at this point. You might have a different opinion, and even had success with other brands, but I’m partial to Minelab because I’ve seen every one of these machines in action! As if personal experience didn’t talk loudly enough, all you have to do is look at the rest of the world and what machines professional prospectors buy. There’s a reason these machines cost what they do. Having said all that, speed costs and I get that. If you pick a different gold machine that’s your choice and you may be under different budget constraints. I’ll try to address a more general ‘what kind of detector will be a decent goldfields unit without selling my car’ option in another article at some point.

Point?

Oh yes, I had a point back there when I started all this, and I’m not talking about the one on the top of my head!

Recently I returned from a great adventure to the black waterfalls, as I call the area. The friend I went with uses the same machine as I do-the SDC2300. We beat several areas of the wash pretty hard, and even excavated an area about 30×15, detecting all the way down till we hit bedrock. We did ok and thought we had cleaned that particular area out. In fact, for my last day there we didn’t even hike back in there, instead opting for an easier, less productive place to hunt. We even discussed finding a new hidden spot to detect now that this one apparently had begun to play out. Well guess what? We had only found the easy gold! A mere 3 weeks later one of our other friends went into the same area, even detecting the same places we had excavated, and found almost a 1/4oz of gold in various sized nuggets! Astounded is the best word I can use to describe my reaction to such news. The difference? He uses a GPZ7000, and quite well. He literally found gold deeper in some areas than our machines could ‘reach’. Small and large gold, almost all of it beyond the range of our machines. That’s a tough pill to swallow! Admittedly not all the gold was found in our dig spots, but a lot was!

So our own private arms race has begun. I won’t be getting a GPZ in case you were wondering. But my other buddy probably will! For me, my little SDC-‘The blue meanie’ as I call it-will remain my detector of choice for many reasons. I literally got such a good deal on it that I could easily make good money if I sold it, but it would take whatever money I got and another $3000 to $5000 green, folding dollars to get a GPZ. Just not gonna happen! That doesn’t mean I don’t have other irons in the fire that will ‘up’ my game. They just don’t start off with the letters GPZ, as much as I wish they did.

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!