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.