Author Archives: dburd52

Join the Club.

After numerous prospecting outings in and around Lake Havasu, AZ, I became aware of the many prospecting clubs that have claims in the area.  I spoke with members of a few and explored each of their websites.  I had heard many encouraging stories and came to the conclusion that it would be worth checking it out.  Since I’m strapped for cash, I chose to join the Gold Searchers of Southern Nevada, or GSSN, whose membership fee fit into my extremely tight budget.  Granted, their claims in the Gold Basin valley are a 2+ hour drive from Lake Havasu, which ultimately could result in spending more on gas after a couple trips than a membership to a claim closer to Lake Havasu, but I was all about how much did it cost right now. 

I decided to make a solo camping trip to Gold Basin the first week of December, 2012.  I was going to tow my Samurai behind my old GMC 3/4 ton van and use it as my camper.  I had to sit down and carefully plan what I needed to bring with me, because once I setup camp in the mountains, I was there for the duration.  The nearest “town” was 20+ miles away, so this meant no convenience stores if I ran out of something essential to my survival.  I picked a weekend where no GSSN group activities were scheduled, so I would be completely alone in the middle of nowhere for 4 days and 3 nights.  I marked off way-points in my hand-held GPS unit, so I knew the boundaries of the GSSN claim and could easily determine if where I chose to dig was within them.  Since it was the first week of December, daytime temps at this elevation were pleasant and in the 60′s, but nighttime temps were in the 30′s!  This meant I needed to bring enough firewood to last 3 nights.  IMPORTANT NOTE:  When deciding how much firewood to bring, bring more!  Turns out, I had about enough for 2 -1/2 nights, but I was able to rummage around the desert for dead tree limbs and other material that would burn.  As stated many times on tv shows like “Survivorman”, when you’re in the middle of nowhere and the sun is setting, there is nothing more comforting than a fire.  I learned this firsthand and it is 100% true!

I arrived on a thursday afternoon and first found a place to setup camp.  After I unhooked the Samurai and got situated, I had about 2 hours to prospect before I had to build a firepit and start a fire for the night.  With limited time, I thought it best to prospect near areas that had likely been dug before.  I only ended up with less than a tenth of a gram and headed back to my campsite.  The sun set quickly in the desert, especially for my fisrt night’s chosen campsite, which was just off a main trail, in a wash, about 100 feet down. 

Gold Basin Campsite

Gold Basin Campsite.

Little did I know that about a 1/4 mile down this wash was going to be a great location to dig!   I brought with me a grill from a “Smokey Joe” (mini Weber Kettle) and placed in on top of the fire I had going, to make cooking anything much easier.  My first night’s meal consisted of a heated can of corn and a can of good old Hormel Chili, along with a couple bottles of Fat Tire to wash it down. I brought a generator, so after a day of prospecting, I could watch some DVD’s on my laptop, brew a pot of coffee in the morning and to power a portable heater, just in case.

Day two began with a decision to move my campsite up and out of the wash!  In the worst case scenario, I thought it best to be camped out up high, rather than down low.  This occupied a couple hours of time that I could have been prospecting, but I felt much more secure with my new campsite location.  This new location had signs of previous campers, including a well-used firepit, so I knew I would not have to move again.  I prospected around for awhile, finally settling on a location that was a low spot in a wash, about a 1/4 mile away from where a couple guys were digging.  I setup my gear and began to dig.  Not too much time had passed when one of the guys made his way over to me and started asking questions.  Turns out he and his partner were GSSN members and didn’t seem to concerned about determining if I was, but I decided to make it clear upfront, that I was.  He and his buddy lived in the nearest town, Dolan Springs and had been prospecting Gold Basin for over a year, claiming to have pretty decent results.  He quickly addressed where I was digging and expressed how he didn’t believe it was a good spot and why.  I, being somewhat stubborn, continued on with the hole I was digging, because the 3 feet of overburden had so far yielded about 3/10 of a gram and I had not yet hit bedrock.  As the day wore on, I continued to add to the quantity of gold in my vial and took note where the sun was in the sky.  I had about another hour before I had to get back to camp and start a fire.  At this point, I had hit bedrock in one spot of my now 4 foot deep by 6 foot wide hole and ran a few loads of dirt through the drywasher, before calling it quits.  I took the last load of concentrates and began to pan it out.  It was business-as-usual, meaning there was a good amount of flour gold emerging from each pan.  Then…suddenly, as the water washed the black sand away from what became a little line of gold specs, one kept getting bigger and bigger each time the water passed over it.  Eureka!  My first little nugget!  It was just a little bit less than a 1/2 gram, but my biggest to date!  Yeah, I was pretty excited.  I packed up and headed back up the hill to my camp.  After getting the fire started, my first order of business was to get my little nugget out and take a photo of it between my teeth, to kind of show off.  The instant I put it up to my teeth, I dropped it!!!  As you might imagine, I freaked out and got on my hands and knees and began to rummage around on the desert floor, which had only about 1/2 inch of loose gravel and below it hard-packed dirt.  I didn’t think it would be too difficult to recover.  How far could it have traveled?  Unfortunately it was now dark, but I was determined to find it.  My initial search turned up absolutely nothing and I was getting more bummed out, but I thought I had another trick up my sleeve.  I grabbed my blower-powered vacuum and vacuumed up all the loose gravel and dirt within a reasonable area near where I dropped it…and then some.  I then ran it all through the drywasher, then panned it all out, interestingly, finding some small specs of gold in the process, but…not my nugget!  I had to give up and eat something, because I had dug all day without eating.  I was extremely disappointed, but had some warm food in my belly.  Night two was colder than night one and was thankful I had the foresight to bring along an air mattress, that separated my sleeping bag from the cold floor of the van.

Day three begins with another hands & knees search for the lost nugget, but came up empty again!  I ran into the two guys from Dolan Springs again and told them of my stupidity.  One of them confessed that he too was guilty of such behavior and how this is definitely a tough lesson to learn!  One of them volunteered to come up to my site with his detector to see if he could find it.  After an hour or so, he too came up empty handed!  Oh well, lesson learned and it made absolutely no sense to dwell on it and decided to continue digging the hole that yielded my little nugget.  Of course, I thought there might be another on in there and the fact that I had not yet cleared the majority of overburden from the bedrock encouraged me.  As the day wore on and I continued to find decent flour gold, an old-timer pulled up next to where I was digging and struck up a conversation, even offered to assist with clearing the hopper of my drywasher as I loaded it up with shovel full after shovel full of overburden & pay dirt.  I have found that prospectors are usually a pretty generous group of people and this old-timer was no exception.  However, as we continued to chat, somewhat inhibiting my digging efforts, I expressed my desire to get back at it.  He completely understood, as he’s been prospecting over 20 years and knows what it is to be bitten by the gold bug.  We shook hands, wished each other good luck and I resumed digging in my pit.  The amount of gold from this pit became less and less, to the point where I decided to abandon it and start a new one ion close proximity to it.  It was late afternoon and dug about 3 feet down in a hole about half the diameter of the previous one, but the results paled in comparison.  the sun was setting and I knew I needed to supplement my firewood with what I could fins in the desert, so I had to call it a day.  I was able to find some dead tree limbs to add to what I had leftover, for my last night in the desert and turned out to be just enough.  This night was even colder that the previous night.  It was apparent that the winter weather pattern was about to take the place of the more mild fall weather pattern.

Day four began with me deciding to continue on where I had found about a gram of gold, including the little, lost nugget or…to move onto a spot that the Dolan Springs guys had referenced in a story about a retired military man, who was digging up an ounce a week.  A story like that and a buck will get you a cup of coffee, but they were not the first guys who had told me this story, so I decided to roll the dice and move to that area, which, coincidentally, was down the wash from my first night’s campsite.  Before driving the Samurai to this new location, I had to fill in my tow previous holes, per GSSN rules, despite how much the Dolan Springs guys wanted me to “not worry about it” so much.  I wondered about their motivation, knowing full well, by my own experience, how much easier it is to expand an already dug pit, where nice gold had been found, than to begin a brand new one.  After this, I had about 4 hours to dig in this new spot, before I had to pack up the Samurai and hook it back up to the van, in order to beat the sunset.  I preferred to drive through this new-to-me desert trails of Gold Basin, where directions consisted of stuff like:  “turn left after the second cattle guard in the trail, then follow the fence line for about 3 miles, until you come up on our little sign” in the daylight!  After digging a couple unsuccessful sample holes, I settled in a spot very close to where someone had dug in the past.  There were no signs that anyone would return, ie. a bucket left behind in a hole, so I started to dig.  the temps were much colder than day one and the wind had picked up.  I was once again thankful for my planning efforts, especially bringing my thick Cubs hoodie!  This made the wind gusts much more bearable!  This did turn out to be a great spot, because within a couple hours, I had a bit more than a gram of gold in my vial!  Best day ever!  As the afternoon progressed, I just had to pack it in, in order to be back on the trails before sunset.  I hooked up the Samurai to the van and thought once more about that little lost nugget.  I pulled forward, well past where it was parked for the last 3 nights and pulled out my Gold Bug2 detector.  What the hell, right? 

Gold Basin Gold

Gold Basin Gold

This was my lucky day…the detector began to make a high-pitched squeal, indicating that some non-ferrous metal object was close to the surface and it sure was.  I re-found my little nugget!  After re-finding the nugget, I promptly dropped it into my vial and hit the trail with a huge smile on my face!  This trip was certainly a great learning experience, one that yielded 2+ grams of gold!  This photo is the actual gold I found at Gold Basin, including the found and re-found little nugget.

Prospecting Can Be Hazardous!

Now that mobility is not an issue in the desert, I have been able to get to places I would not have access to previously.  Broadening my horizons also broadened what I might encounter as well.  Recreational shooting is big in the Lake Havasu desert and I am now witnessing this firsthand.  On a normal day in the desert, a prospector hears shooting all around him more often than not and usually it is not a big issue.  You do get used to the sound of guns going off, even the big “thud” of someone shooting an exploding target.  But…when I hear the sound of a ricochet, seemingly echoing off a nearby canyon wall, I stop what I’m doing and take notice.  This has happened more than once.  To investigate this requires a tactical approach, so I don’t walk into the line of fire!  Believe it or not, more often than not, once I get the shooter’s attention and have a chat with them, rather than move to another part of the desert, sparing me from potential disaster, they just re-focus their target’s location, so there is allegedly no chance of any more ricochet action near where I am digging!  Damn obstinate kids!  Adults are the ones who have moved out of harm’s way, it’s been the younger kids who have refused to move!

Speaking of harm’s way:  I have seen bleeched out coyote skulls, mysterious mounds of dirt with a Mexican blanket in close proximity, near old, historic prospected areas,

femur bone

femur bone

a femur bone of what I can only hope was classic prospector’s burro, various clothing remnants and burned out vehicles.  None of these posed a threat to me, but when the weather is warm, bees are out in force, seeking hydration and that can always be found very near to where I am panning.  I carry a 5 gallon bucket of water with me and a plastic bin to pour it into, which makes panning possible.  If bees are out and about, it’s only a matter of time until one finds my bin filled with water, then only a matter of minutes until the news spreads to their friends.  This has happend so many times, I’ve lost count.  They never get aggressive and I’ve never been stung and, almost as a consolation, they emit a fragrant, sweet smell!  However, rather than tempt fate, I began to carry a spray bottle of insecticide with me. 

bees in the desert

thirsty bees

A couple squirts to the rim of the plastic bin and in the direction of any incoming bees, does the trick.  I’ve seen my share of scorpions, a tarantula and even a rattlesnake coiled up an a bush next to a hole I was digging, but have never had an incident.  On the other hand, there have been a few instances where desert critters have been in harm’s way.  For example,  it’s very common to see numerous little holes (about the size of a quarter or smaller), dug by one critter or another and sometimes these holes go undetected.  There have been a couple occasions where I have just missed severing a poor little lizard in two, because I was digging in a spot where they were covertly hanging out.  This once happened to a cute little gecko and despite them being able to shed their tail to avert being eaten, I was happy to have spotted him in time! 

western banded gecko

western banded gecko

In addition to lots of back-breaking digging and usually coming home with only tenths of a gram of gold, desert prospecting has its share of inherent hazards.   ALWAYS carry a charged cellphone!

A New Season Has Arrived!

new suzuki samurai

new suzuki samurai

After another torturous summer in Lake Havasu, September 2012 offered more opportunity to wake up at sunrise and dig until around noon, when the temps still climbed into the 100′s!  This season will be different because I was able to pickup a Suzuki Samurai!  No more restrictions on where I was able to prospect, due to the limitations of driving a 3/4 ton GMC van.  Now the Bison Wash playing field was leveled! 

My first destination in the new Samurai was a new spot on a very steep incline with lots of loose gravel, crumbly, exposed bedrock, and…unbeknownst to me, camouflaged broken palo verde stumps…just jagged enough to puncture the all-terrain tire of my Samurai!  Yes…that’s exactly what happened!  My very first prospecting trip with the Samurai resulted in my having to make a mad dash to the place I bought its new tires and hope the punctured tire did not deflate enough to cause problems on the way.  Keep in mind, at this juncture, I’m miles deep into the desert and the trails are anything but level!  The dash is on!  I arrived at Discount Tire with the new tire completely deflated.  I was riding on the rim at this point and somewhat frazzled thinking that because I drove on a flat tire for several miles, the outcome could have been much different!  One might ask: “where was your spare tire?”.  It was sitting in my garage, because the newly purchased Samurai did not have a jack, so having a spare would have been useless.  To this day, I’ve been rolling the dice, because I still do not have that jack!

After a few more trips to this new location, that had produced too little gold to warrant further trips, I moved on to another new spot, one that had all the signs of bearing placer gold:  a basin-shaped little outcropping, exposed bedrock and plenty of cobblestones covering the hillsides surrounding it.  I began to dig…and dig…and dig, until the hole was about chest deep and 6 feet in diameter. 

placer gold, prospecting, lake havasu city, az

prospecting a new big hole

Every couple feet I ran a few loads of dirt through the dry washer, then panned out the concentrates, all to find absolutely no gold!  I still had not reached the bottom, where the bedrock was still hiding, but just could not go on any further.  I was discouraged and needed to put more gold into my vial.  So I decided to head back to an area that had had produced a nice amount of gold in the past, to see if I had missed some:  The Big Hill.  I was eager to start digging here again, first, because of my new Samurai, I no longer had to haul all my gear up the steep, jagged, 1/4 mile trail to the landing and secondly, because I felt confident there would be more gold.  I was right, there was more gold!  My first trip yeilded 1/2 a gram, a very good day for amateur propspectors in Lake Havasu!

placer gold prospecting, lake havasu, az

view from the big hill

The next day it rained!  This means that every time it does rain (yes, it does rain in the desert from time to time), prospectors have to wait until the ground dries out.  this is necessary because we dry wash dirt and when dirt is wet, it simply does not cascade down the riffle tray on the dry washer.  The dry time is much longer in the winter months, because the temps only average in the 60′s.  After a rain, it can take up to two weeks before one can successfully begin desert prospecting again.

Season #1 Draws to a Close. Time to Sell.

Since my dad’s visit in April, 2012, I had several more outings and found a few nice new pickers and a decent amount of fines. They came from locations previously visited, like The Big Hill, Black Rock Canyon and the Swimming Pool. Many new areas were explored and none of them turned out to be mainstays, like the one’s just referenced. That shows just how difficult it is to find good, reliable spots to dig in Lake Havasu’s Bison area washes. The snowbirds (retired winter visitors to Havasu) had already headed home and the weather pattern was changing.

Warm weather is becoming the norm, not the exception this time of year (April / May) and that means a steady dose of 100+ degree temps is just around the corner. Time to take stock of season one gold totals and decide what to keep and what to sell. I decided that I’d keep my pickers and sell my “fines”. I later discovered this to be pretty normal among amateur prospectors. Now I needed to find a place to buy my fines. I polled the online gold prospecting community at Treasurenet and the consensus was to package it up and send it to Midwest Refineries in Michigan. I first spoke with a guy there who informed me they had been in the biz for over 60 years. That made me feel more comfortable about a scenario in which I had to trust someone and not have the opportunity to take my gold and walk out the door if I did not like their assessment. I was also happy to learn they pay 95% of spot. This means 95% of current market value, based on their assessment of the gold’s purity. I had 7.5 grams of fines

7.5 grams of lake havasu gold

7.5 grams of gold to sell

to sell and asked local longtime prospector, Rick, his estimation regarding Lake Havasu’s gold purity.  He told me that I could expect somewhere around 85% to 90%. When speaking to the guy at Midwest Refineries, he explained they have a minimum quantity before they would assay gold and it was 3 ounces! He explained that in cases like mine, they melt down the gold into a button shape, then x-ray it, to reveal impurities, then, and this is the part I did not like, guesstimate what they believe the purity to be. Because of what Rick told me, I was prepared to hear something in the 80% – 90% range, so when the refinery guy’s report came back to be only 72%, I was not happy! That, combined with the current price of gold at the lowest it’s been for over a year, $1533.00 per troy ounce, I ended up with a check for just under $250.00! Not nearly what I was expecting! So…what I ended up with was only 67% of spot! All this effort and only $250.00 to show for it, well…that plus my retained pickers and a season’s worth of prospecting knowledge under my belt. That’s amateur prospecting for you! Sometimes you get lucky, most of the time you come home with a couple tenths of a gram and a sore body!

Dad Digs It!

small gold nugget

nice picker

My dad, who, like the rest of my family, lives in suburban Chicago, called and informed me he and his wife would be driving out west to visit select locations, including Lake Havasu for Easter.  I asked him if they would be interested in joining me on a prospecting trip and they said they would.  I had recently discovered a new location in the Bison area that had already produced a nice picker and some flour gold, so I was confident I would at least be able to show him some color.  At this juncture, I was still driving the 3/4 ton van and they had a PT Cruiser.  Luckily, this location was relatively easy to access with any vehicle and just as easy to setup all the gear and…was only about 12 – 14″ to the bedrock!  I showed him where I was digging and explained how to run the dirt through the dry washer.  I had previously started a new dig hole that needed vacuuming, so dad took a shovel and started to dig a new one.

dad digging for gold

dad digging for gold

  After emptying a few riffle trays of concentrate, I showed dad how to pan them.  During all this, his wife Barb didn’t seem too enthused about participating, so she wandered off to do some rock-hounding.  For those of you who haven’t visited the desert, it’s very easy to become a bit intrigued with all that lies on the desert floor!  Because of the vast expanse, unobstructed by a landscape full of trees and shrubs, like the Midwest, so much more can be seen with the naked eye.  After many years here, I have personally collected my share of cool rocks and minerals.  Among my collection are loads of little garnets, pyrite, several “desert roses” (in our location, they are comprised of once molton quartz, frozen in time), many different shades of quartz, and even meteorites!  The list goes on.  After a couple hours of digging, dry washing and panning, we had indeed found some gold,unfortunately no more than a tenth of a gram.  If I were going solo, I would have continued on until sunset, but I could see it was time to head home.  This illustrates how gold prospecting can be fun for the whole family!

Time To Upgrade

After using my rigged puffer dry washer to be a blower-powerd dry washer, I knew the tiny surface area of the hopper would eventually be limiting.  That time had come.  It is now February, 2012 and I began to explore the possibilities of upgrading my dirt processing equipment.  Because I was financially challenged (still am!), I knew buying a new Keene or Gold Buddy was way out of my budget, so I began to look at alternative ways of ending up with a blower-powered dry washer that would’nt cost me an arm and a leg.  I recalled an old acquaintance of mine had picked up an old classifier from a garage sale and never used it, so I gave old Doug a call.  He said I could come by and pick it up, for free!  Now that I had the hopper part of the dry washer figured out, I had to somehow create the important part of it, the riffle tray and box. 

home made drywasher

home made drywasher

I also had to figure out how to make a weighted fan to create the vibration necessary to make material travel freely down the riffle tray.  I purchased some sheets of 3/8″ wood and some 1/2″ x 1/2″ square dowel material to add strength to the corners.  I designed it on paper then fabricated a box with a hole in the floor, that was cut from an old real estate sign I gathered from a foreclosure trashout (a former business of mine).  This hole was to house the fitting for my 3″ RV waste hose, that will connect to the Toro leaf blower / vac, that would provide the airflow necessary to spin the weighted fan mounted on top of this hole, slightly off-center, to catch more of the airflow and account for greater rpm’s.  Next I had to fabricate a fan that would rotate on bearings I used from an old pair of rollerblades.  This setup worked fine until the frequency of the bearings becoming seized up from all the dust blowing into them from the drywashing process was too great  I had to break down and buy a Gold Buddy’s replacement fan.  This came complete with allegedly sealed bearings, but even this professionally fabricated fan required bearing servicing almost every 6 outings.  Sealed bearings, my a**!  One more fun fact…the material used to line the floor, underneath the riffle tray was old screenprinting fabric from a local screenprinting acquaintance of mine.  Ironically, I owned a screenprint company for 13 years!  This new setup allowed me to also fabricate a blower / vac powered vacuum. 

leaf blower powered gold vacuum

leaf blower powered gold vacuum

This came from an old 6 gallon shop vac combined with the leaf blower / vac mounted into it.  This is extremely useful for desert prospecting, because of all the cracks and crevices present, once you get down to bedrock.  These areas can only produce gold if you have the means to vacuum it out and now I did!

 Now that I had a more proper dry washer, I was able to process more material that I dug and / or vacuumed from the desert, which would mean more gold.  This did end up being the case, as the average amount of gold I brought home increased.  Granted, I still had to find gold-producing spots and I’m still only finding tenths of a gram per trip, but it beats what I was taking home!

Exploring Old Abandoned Hard Rock Mines

Even before I was bitten by the Gold Bug, I really enjoyed riding my quad on the numerous trails in Lake Havasu.  Anyone who has spent even a minimum amount of time doing this in Havasu’s desert has likely come across one of the many abandoned hard rock mines around here.  Local 4×4 clubs volunteered to fence off many of these mines’ dangerous open pits to prevent unfortunate accidents.  There have been reports of unsuspecting offroad riders falling into their openings…sometimes resulting in their demise!  Among these mines are the Jupiter Mines, Pittsburg Mine, Wing Mine, Sirius Mine and another (name unkown), some 20 miles into in the Mohave Wash, where a 2-story wash plant still resides. 

wash plant in the Mohave Wash

desert wash plant

This is only a couple miles past a popular offroad destination referred to as the “Desert Cabin”, an old miner’s shack that is being maintained by offroad enthusiasts, complete with old furniture & cots for those who want to spend the night.  It is similar to a local corner bar, in that, through the years, visitors have stuck dollar bills with their names or messages, to the ceilings and walls.  Through the years I have ventured into some of these old mines, following exposed quartz veins into the depth of their darkness.  WARNING!  Most all of these old mines require a flashlight to illuminate dangerous downshafts that pop up unexpectedly and can plunge many, many feet down! 

All these old mines left an impressioin and since getting into prospecting, I knew that eventually I’d have to re-explore some of these.  Keep in mind, all these old mines were setup for hardrock mining, where gold-containing ore was harvested, then crushed to release their precious gold.  Back in the day, mercury was used as an means to attract the gold from it’s host ore’s dust.  Around here, that ore is quartz.  My baddy Chad and I decided to explore the abandoned 2-story wash plant in the Mohave Wash.  I was able to see it clearly via Google Earth as well as gather GPS coordinates.  Prior to making the trip, I visited our local BLM office and had a nice chat with their geolgist, to perhaps learn a bit about this wash plant.  She was very willing to share what information she had.  the claim expired over 15 years ago and was informed that someone was recently granted a permit to demo / remove it.  We decided to go out and have a look.  We left in a Samurai and once getting on a trail that lead to the Mohave Wash, quickly realized this was going to be a long, rough ride!  Most of the 20 mile journey was all washboard (whoops, to us locals), which the Samurai is not designed to handle!  A quad would have been more appropriate, but because our quads did have the capability to haul our gear, we had no choice.  Once we arrived, after a nearly 2 hour, punishing ride from hell, we setup the drywasher and started digging around the wash plant and surrounding areas.  To me, what made this a prime spot, was a rocky hillside that wrapped around into the wash, making a perfect backsplash for any gold that might have been traveling down stream.  Upon closer inspection, this rocky hillside had many exposed layers of clear quartz crystals running horizontally through it.  I started picking through it, hoping to find some evidence of color (gold).  Even filled a few 5 gallon buckets with it and the dirt around it, then ran it through the drywasher.  I quickly panned the concentrates and found absolutely nothing.  It was as clear as this quartz that this was not why someone went through all the trouble to haul all this gear and erect it, so far into the desert!  We then hiked around this area, looking for logical places to take some sample dirt.  We did this to about half a dozen spots and none produced any gold.  At this juncture, it was a mystery why this plant was here.  It was getting dark and we needed to get back on the hell-ish washboard back home.  A week or so after returning, I spoke with a local longtime prospector who knew of this loaction.  He said the areas they were digging were closer to where the Desert Cabin was and that they must have trucked the dirt to the location of the plant to run it.  Lessons learned:  just because a big wash plant is sitting in a remote desert location, does not mean gold will be found in close proximity to it and…NEVER use a Suzuki Samurai to travel 20 miles of desert washboard trail!

feral burros in the mohave wash

feral burros

 Trips have been made to other abandoned mines, all with the same result.  I thought that via erosion, placer gold would find its way out of the quartz veins and down to the washes beneath them, but to date that just has not panned out.   Yeah, pun intended.  There was a nice consolation prize though…we ran across a group of feral burros, whose predecessors were likely used during the Gold Rush days.  Back to prospecting the Bison area.

A New Spot

After moving on from Big Hill, I had absolutely no idea where my next gold would be found.  So I hit the Bison trail and headed east.  I looked for inlets leading into coves, where I could see exposed bedrock, covered with a layer of cobblestones.  I found an entrance to such a cove and cautiously manuvered my GMC van around hazards, until I found a suitable place to park and do some recon.  Immediately I saw a 4′ wide trench that appeared to be cut by flowing flood waters.  It ran where the slope of the hillside met the plane of the trail.  This had the trappings of a good spot, so I unloaded me gear and setup shop.  There was about 2-1/2 feet of overburden, which had little-to-no gold in it, leaving a very hard layer of  caliche, that required aggressive pick swinging to break it up.  I had learned that anything that sits on top of bedrock can carry gold.  After running this material through the drywasher, at this juncture, still a convverted hand puffer. 

drywasher, puffer
Puffer drywasher

I tend to be one who likes to run as much dirt through the hopper as I can, even if it means having some spill over the top, but with this little guy, I had to step out of a now, 3-1/2 foot hole, many times, to assist emptying the hopper.  After panning the concentrates, I ended up with about 2/10 of a gram and packed up for the day.  The results warranted a few more trips to this location and even further exploration, deeper into this canyon, even sampling steep ravines that had exposed caliche, packed with cobblestones.  I happened to run into Wade during this time, who said that many years back he had worked this area and how the only method that made this location worthwile, was to have two guys.  One to breakup the cobble-packed caliche, throw it down about 40-50 ft. to the other guy, who would smash it up further, then run it through the drywasher.

Return to “Big Hill”.

After abandoning the “Swimming Pool”, rather than begin prospecting for a new spot, I decided to go back to an area that had produced a decent amount of gold, the “Big Hill”.  This is the spot that required me to carry all my gear on a hand truck, up a steep, 1/4 mile rocky trail, to a landing, that always left me gasping for air!  Why all this work?  Because I might find that elusive nugget!


During my second washout of the drywasher’s concentrates, I found a nice picker!

gold nugget

Big Hill picker

You can see there was also a few little specks of “flour gold” present in this pan.  Believe it or not, this is reward enough for all the digging I did, all in a little wash, on a 60 degree incline.  As if all this digging was not enough, I encountered this gnarly desert-dwelling spider.  Being from the Chicago area, even after 13+ years living in Arizona, I am still fascinated with indigenous critters.  So much so, that I still have to pull out the camera and snap off a few pics each time I encounter something new.  You never know what you’ll see in the desert, or…in your own backyard, for that matter.  You will notice that the spider is on a shop vac hose that was used to vacuum up cracks and crevices in the exposed bedrock along the walls of the Big Hill. 

desert spider

Cool desert spider

These results warranted another few visits to the Big Hill.  Visits that all produced gold.  There were many many more unexplored areas at Bison and it was time to roll the dice and have a look around.  Note:  on average, during the season (months where the temps are not in the 100′s, which is essentially, Sept. – May), I get to the desert a couple times per week.  In the beginning, there might be more than one trip where I found absolutely nothing.  As time moved forward, I was able to inventory numerous spots that had produced gold and as a result, became “fallback” areas.  These are valuable, because even though you had left because of lack of production, there is a real chance gold could be found just a few feet from where you were digging.  On to a new spot!

The “Swimming Pool”

After many months had passed, I thought I’d visit Rick and pick his brain a bit more.  He informed me there was a place that had produced around 1/4 ounce for him and his crew and it was fairly close.  Since the only vehicle I had to make the trips to the desert was my 1975 GMC 3/4 ton van, anything nearby was a blessing!  Upon arriving to the “Swimming “Pool” basin, I saw where Rick and his boys had dug previously, but there was a lot of ground that was not dug.  I located what I though would be the bottom of the bowl-shaped basin and began to dig.  After diggin out a couple feet of overburden, I thought it best to start drywashing some of the dirt.  Very little gold was present all the way down to a thick layer of dense, crumbly, pink clay, which unfortunately, was about 4.5 feet down!  At this point I had drywashed over a ton of dirt and had very little gold to show for it.  I expanded the hole outward, with hopes of finding something more significant, but nothing had changed.  By now, it was getting dark and I had to pack up and head home.  I reviewed in my head what I had dug this day and what was remaining…a layer of crumbly pink clay.  Very recently I learned that after digging all the way down, some areas did not go right to bedrock.  Some areas had a layer of clay or caliche sitting on top of the bedrock.  If it does exist, there is a chance gold was trapped in it, not making it down to the bedrock.  I had a feeling there might be gold trapped in this pink clay, so next trip to the desert, I jumped in my now 5 ft. deep hole and began to chip away at the pink clay.  I had recently garage-rigged my leaf blower-vac to fit onto an old 6 gallon shop vac and created a functional dirt vac!  This is extremelyuseful when chipping away at clay or crevaces in bedrock, where gold can somethimes get trapped.  After filling a few cannisters of vacuumed crumbly pink clay, I ran it all through my drywasher, then brought it to my washout station.  Eureka!  There was nice, chunky gold in the pink clay! 

placer gold in lake havasu
swimming pool sized hole

I was bringing home nearly half a gram each outing here, so I continued to expand the hole.  Eventually, it became the size of a small swimming pool, thus the name that became the norm for this location.  The photo is from the “Swimming Pool” area, but was not the original.  this hole was dug next to the swimming pool I dug and its contents were dumped into the giant hole I dug.  After all was said and done, I had found about 4 grams of gold here.  During one of the several trips here, I tried to park my van in a different location, one closer to where I was digging.  I did this to avoid making three trips back and forth, to get my gear in place.  I was able to find a new spot to park the van, but it was questionable I would be able to get it out after a day of digging.  I proceded to go about my business and after having a good day of digging, my worst fear was realized…the van was stuck in loose sand and I was alone in a remote location in the desert!  Fortunately, my buddy Chad happened to cruise by after he was done digging for the day and had a tow strap.  However, he only had his Samurai to provide the pull!  Remember, I had a 3/4 ton van, stuck deep in loose sand.  All of a sudden, Wade happend to see what was going on and came in to investigate.  They both hooked up to the tow strap and with a lot of effort, including me digging a ditch arouond the van in an effort to make a path for it, finally un-stuck my van!  This trench is still there today!  By this time it was almosrt dark and time to head home for the day.  On the drive home, I was wishing I had a Samurai, so this would not happen again!

gold nugget, havasu

heart-shaped little nugget

Once I arrived home from that ordeal, I emptied my little vial of gold from the day and let it dry.  Once it dried, I started to have a sort through it and look what I had…a tiny heart-shaped nugget!  this is the only one I have ever found…so far.  Who knows, it could end up in a piece of custom made jewelry someday?  I made a handful more trips to the Swimming Pool and even dug areas around it, finding another half gram of gold, but this was a lot of digging (isn’t it always?) for the amount of gold actually found and I decided to abandon this site and move back to the “Big Hill”.