If you could only have one detector – why I like the Minelab Equinox 800

First off, perish the thought of only having ONE detector! However, for most of us, one detector is all we can afford. I’m lucky in that I’ve made some really good deals in the last few years that have allowed me to have multiple detectors, but it certainly wasn’t always that way!

If you’re like me, you dream of types detecting you either can’t, or rarely get to do. Reading forum posts or blogs like this, you hear about people finding gold nuggets out west, jewelry at some beautiful beach somewhere, civil war relics, items from previous civilizations, or rare old coins in historic locations. The tantalizing aspect of many of these tales is the ‘just out of reach’ aspect. Myself, living in Texas, Arizona isn’t THAT far away, nor are the east coast beaches, lost trading posts in the Midwest, or even civil war battlefields. However, if I spent a ton on multiple specialty detectors, I wouldn’t have enough money left to take them to those places! Again, I’ll note the exception that I do have one, highly specialized detector that I got a screaming deal on and sold a big ticket item that I also got a screaming deal on, to afford that machine. Due to the near impossibility of ever being able to replace that machine, it would take drastic circumstances to force me to sell it.

A little of everything

Ok, so you find yourself wanting to do a lot of different things with the one machine you can barely afford, but are willing to stretch to get. So how do you decide which one? I’m going to answer this in the best way I can, keeping it as short as possible-ready? Can you hear the drum roll? Here goes..

THE MINELAB EQUINOX 800.

Boom. I can hear the Deus users bristling, the Garrett owners fussing, Whites and Fisher users and every other brand-loyal detectorist just decided to unfollow me – but hear me out!

The first bit of advice experienced detectorists will offer when a newbie asks ‘which machine’ is simply, ‘what or where do you intend to hunt?’ This is a very reasoned and valid question, and if your answer is only one type of hunting – underwater, salt beach, goldfields, relic hunting, or coin shooting in a park, then it would be easy to pick one machine that will ‘smash it’ in those environments. But remember what I started with? IF you want to do a little of all types of hunting, here’s why the Equinox wins, ACCORDING TO ME:

-waterproof to 10′

-multi frequency operation, selectable single frequencies, both low and high

-light weight

-moderately customizable programs

-multiple factory programs that are GOOD for every environment you want to hunt

-ground tracking or manual ground balance

So what does all that mean? Well, if I want to hunt saltwater beaches, the multi frequency operation allows me to do so without the constant chatter and unstable operation that a single frequency machine suffers from. If it’s gold nuggets I’m after, not only is there a prospecting program, but the higher frequency is a necessity in the goldfields. If I’m relic hunting, I may or may not need multiple frequencies, so I can select from one of several single frequencies to better target what I think I may find, such as coins or buttons, etc. The waterproof capability of the machine means I can hunt swim beaches without worry, out to depths past where 90% of people ‘playing in the water’ will go. There are other features to like with Equinox as well, but in a nutshell, this machine has you covered for anything you want to hunt, up to the point that specialized equipment is required. And it does all this with very little user interaction being necessary. Can you fiddle with it and tweak the performance? Yes, you can, but it’s usually not needed.

For those whose hackles are still raised I want you to understand that I’m not saying other machines are BAD. In fact, here’s a list of general purpose machines that I’ve owned and LOVED, but didn’t have ‘go everywhere’ capability-

XP Deus-#1, hands down lightest machine out there, the Aussies would call it a ‘RIPPER’, and totally wireless! Not waterproof. Extremely customizable programming.

AT Pro-great general purpose machine with good depth, fast recovery, extremely capable in most scenarios. Can’t handle mineralized salt beach well, nor extreme goldfield mineralization. Allows slight customization in programming.

Minelab CTX3030-the powerhouse. Does it all minus the specific prospecting programming/frequency. Extremely customizable programming, and the best discrimination of any machine.

Short list, I know! NOW, here are some specialized machines that I’ve owned and loved-

Minelab Excalibur-this is still my all time favorite Minelab machine, no screen, speaks it’s own language, waterproof to 200′, undisputed saltwater beach powerhouse.

Minelab SDC2300-folds up for backpack carry, ergonomics are decent, great in mineralization that even other PI machines struggle with. If you don’t find gold with it, it’s just not there!

Garrett Sea Hunter MKII-crazy deep detecting in saltwater environment, waterproof to 200′

Tesoro Tiger Shark-freshwater gold killer, waterproof to 200′

Others I have owned or tried but didn’t keep-

Garrett ATX

Garrett Infinium

Teknetics T2

Minelab Xterra 705

Garrett Scorpion

Tesoro Silver uMax

Tesoro Diablo

Tesoro Bandido

Garrett Ace 150 and 250

Minelab Go Find 60

Minelab Explorer SE Pro

 

So as mentioned, the Equinox 800 is the ONE detector, if you can have only one, that I recommend. If saltwater beaches or underwater operation, or the goldfields are not interesting to you, there are other great machines that can fill most of the other needs, including many from the above list. Again, remember, even though the machine sells for around $800, the ability to do more types of hunting saves you money-a LOT of money-in the long run! The decision is yours to make, and I recommend lots of research outside this post! Good luck!

 

 

 

Where da gold at? Backpacking for gold p3

The peace and quiet of the desert is encompassing. Every so often you might get the feeling that something or someone is watching you, or possibly that something might be making a sound nearby. It’s when you pause to listen and look that you realize just how much noise YOU’RE making. The sound of the detector, the coil scraping the ground and bedrock, footsteps in rough terrain, the swish of clothing during movement, digging, and generally just moving around in a non careful way…all make tons of noise! When I get tired and take a break, or when I’ve been hunting for hours without finding any gold, is when I notice such things. And just where the heck WAS the gold anyway?

I had been hunting the wash as it headed downstream. It was incredibly beautiful and knowing how remote we were added a certain magic to rounding each bend, or descending small waterfalls. Not lost on me was the fact that for every waterfall I went down, I would have to climb back up to get back to camp. I was tired from the exertion of the hike in, but exhilarated about the search, and I was making every effort to be thorough in my coverage of the wash. I had an 11×17 inch elliptical coil on my detector, which is fairly large, but still small when you consider the amount of ground there was to cover. I was getting no signals. I paused again to think a bit. There should be at least some trash here from the old timers. Where would heavy stuff tend to accumulate? I refocused, took a hard look at the wash and tried to envision how water would move during flood conditions. That’s how the gold would move. In a moment of curiosity I decided to dig some of the loose overburden to see just how deep this wash really was. There were large boulders in the area I was, but was I seeing bedrock or just mostly buried boulders? In a few short minutes I had my answer. This wash was deep! I dug two plus feet down without hitting what I thought was bedrock. I dug up large cobbles and realized that the rock I had walked across a few minutes previous, might just be a gigantic boulder silted in by aeons of erosion from the banks above. Taking a look at the steepness of the sides, most of which were too steep to climb, I realized I needed to look for better ground! Moments like this are for learning. Stopping to examine conditions and assess the current approach, strategize a new approach, and make a plan, are what will add up to eventual success in any endeavor. Laughing at myself for taking so long to ‘snap to’, I headed further down the wash to look for areas that might be easier to hunt.

Moving downstream, I had to climb onto the banks frequently to get around areas that were too rough to traverse, or would just take too much energy. It was during one of my detours that I noticed heavy deer activity. Uhoh, A.D.D. moment! I quickly shucked my backpack and detector at that spot, and climbed up the steep, zigzagging trail to see what higher elevation would reveal. I was definitely rewarded in that quest, and not only found a great spot to hunt deer, but the remains of an old camp! So back down I went, retrieved my gear, and right back up again to detect and explore the old camp.

I already made the A.D.D. joke right? Well I spent about 30 minutes poking around the area, looking at old cans to try to determine the age of the camp, detecting the outskirts around any large trees in search of potentially stashed nuggets long forgotten. I had gotten smart at the beginning of my exploration and brought along an old can, the top open, so I had something to stash the ten MILLION nails I was finding with my detector. If you know PI machines, you know what I was dealing with! If not, there are two things to understand-PI’s LOVE iron, and they do not discriminate, so you can’t change a setting to eliminate signals from iron. So broken iron bits from skillets or who-knows-what, nails, wire, boot tacks, it was all there. I wished for the machine I used back home, the CTX3030. Man, if there were a coin or something good amongst all that crap, it would surely find it! Maybe next time. After taking an extra minute to get a pic with a baby horned toad lizard, I stumbled, tripped, slid, and hopped my way back down into the wash.

I hadn’t gone far when I suddenly got a signal at the base of a small boulder! I started digging, the signal getting louder, and the material coming out of the hole a little larger with each scoop. I was into some really rough gravel with small river rocks coming out of the hole, I guess that’s good, right? Excitedly, I dug out several extra scoops of material before swinging the detector back over the hole. I got a booming signal! On about the second gold-crazed swing of my pick, I heard a booming voice above me ‘Whatcha got?’. I jumped so hard I swear my entire innards almost shot out of my mouth! I looked up, expecting to be killed at any moment by a man-bear-pig or some serial killer hermit long separated from society to see….Owen? ‘Ok, first off, you scared the living NUGGETS out of me, and secondly, WHERE THE HELL DID YOU COME FROM?’. He laughed and apologized for robbing me of my senior years to come, and explained how he had found a saddle coming out of the wash and decided to see if he could cut some distance off the hike so he could find me. Oh, ok then. It’s nice to be wanted I guess! My heart rate was settling down and I decided to keep digging. I literally dug one more scoop and my prize came to light! Half a horse shoe. I heard ‘wah, wah, wah, wah’ and the sound they play on the price is right when somebody gets the price wrong. Well crap. I had a gold nugget and Owen scared me and the nugget so bad that it turned itself into a horseshoe!

As it turns out, Owen came to find me because there were storms a few miles away. Where I was, I couldn’t see out of the wash, and when I was at the miners camp, the hillside was blocking my view in that direction. Luckily for us, we knew where the head of the wash was, and also what the drainages were like feeding this wash. However, also taking into account the massive size of the boulders in this wash, the steepness of the hillsides, and the fast dropping terrain, that wash was NOT a place to be during rain! Potentially having my hunt cut short wasn’t really the worst thing, but what he said next was even more disappointing! ‘We haven’t found anything.’ I couldn’t believe that. He and Curt were experienced prospectors and had top of the line machines to boot. ‘Nothing?’ I said. ‘Yeah, the overburden in this wash is insane, and the bedrock flats haven’t even produced for us.’ Well dang. Where were all the giant nuggets hiding anyway? We put in a lot of effort to get to this place and with what we knew about it previously, gold had been found here. In my mind I considered several possibilities – ‘was it all found? Were we in the right part of the wash? Should we have focused on the small feeder washes instead of the main wash?’ I ticked the answers off in my mind as I went, ‘no, it couldn’t have all been found-not possible’, ‘any part of the wash could hold gold’, ‘smaller tributaries can be explored next’… But from the picture I was formulating in my mind, the trip was about to get harder, not easier! Oh well, we would do what we had to!

Later, back at camp, we discussed possible plans for the next day, made jokes and stuffed ourselves with all the extra food items we had brought with us. I made a mental note that extra food doesn’t count as ‘too much weight’ in the pack, and knew I would sleep well that night!

 

CampfireStormcloudsThe wash

 

 

 

 

 

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!

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.