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Back to Gold Basin

The gold gods have not been smiling on my recent Lake Havasu prospecting trips. My favorite spots have not been producing much gold and I was even skunked on one trip! Since I have a GSSN membership (Gold Searchers of Southern Neveda), I figured I might as well try my luck out there again. After all, my best prospecting trip ever came out there, this past December. I was completely aware that hooking the tow bar to my Samurai and pulling it over 100 miles one way with my 1975 GMC van would cost me about $100.00 in gas and food, but based on the last trip’s results, 2+ grams, I thought I’d give it another shot.

GMC van and Samurai caravan

GMC van and Samurai caravan

Plus, the last spot I dug in Gold Basin produced nearly half a gram in only a couple hours, so I felt confident that the same spot, amongst a 160 acre claim, would remain untouched 4 months later…right? The night before my journey, I thought I’d have a look at the weather forecast for this part of Arizona. I was leaving on a Sunday morning, where the forecast for the Dolan Springs, AZ area was sunny and in the upper 80′s, but…wind would be picking up that evening and possible strong winds would be prevalent the following day, Monday. The gold bug was really biting me, so I took the gamble and headed to the mountains for a scheduled 2 day, one night adventure.

Upon arrival to the usual campsite, I ran into one of the Dolan Springs guys I met last December, Tony. He pulled out his vial that contained gold from the last couple days of his prospecting. He had a nice little nugget and what appeared to be at least a gram of fines. This was encouraging, so I quickly excused myself, unhooked my Samurai from the tow bar, loaded up my prospecting gear and headed back toward my last prosperous spot from December.

Once I arrived, it was clear others had been digging there! What did I expect? By this time, it was already noon, so I decided that rather than waste more time looking for a new spot to dig, I’d take my chances where I was. I loaded up the dry washer many times, until I had a half bucket’s worth of concentrates to pan out. I began to pan and instantly saw many tiny bits of flour gold. This was not the best news, because these extremely small bits of gold required a much longer amount of time to collect from the abundant black sand. The more-than-average amount of black sand also contributed to a much longer time to recover the flour gold! Despite finding gold, this was not shaping up to be a great day! I could see that this was going to be challenging, to say the least! As the day continued and the sun beat down, I went through 3 bottles of Powerade and a small bottle of water. By this time, I had determined that I would not waste time panning out the gold, rather, keep on collecting concentrates from the dry washer, then pan it out in the evening. By this time, I was not pleased with how things were going at this location and was out of hydration, so I headed back up to the campsite, to replenish my stock of Powerade.

Once there, Tony was hanging around, chatting with a guy who appeared to be living in his pickup truck with a camper shell. I had previously spoken with him and he eluded to the fact that he did not have any prospecting gear. I found this curious, but had no time to ponder this anomaly, because of my desire to find some gold. I mentioned where I was digging to Tom and how I spotted the little tributary washes that emptied into the main wash near where I had been digging and he stated he had done pretty well there. So I drove back to the general part of the valley where I had been digging to setup in one of these tributary washes. By this time, it was nearing 6 pm and there was only about an hour or so of daylight left, so I put it in second gear and started processing dirt as fast as I could.

After packing up my gear and arriving back at the campsite, I noticed the winds had picked up substantially, really substantially! The sun had set, but there was plenty of light left to properly setup camp. This included getting out my generator, whose main purpose was to power a flood light, so I could see what I was panning, getting my firewood together, and making a fire pit. I was now ready to have a seat and start panning some 25 pounds of concentrates. As I panned, it was more of the same, tons of black sand with little bits of flour gold dispersed in it. After an hour or so, I was only about a 1/4 of the way through the concentrates, it was now dark and the winds were howling…so was my stomach, because amidst the focus of finding gold, I had not eaten anything all day, except for a little Nutri-Grain fruit bar! My hunger won, so I gathered up some tinder, kindling and stacked some of the firewood I brought from home. With the wind steady, with occasional strong gusts, it was nearly impossible to start the fire. But I prevailed! A can of baked beans to go with a couple turkey hot dogs, washed down with a bottle of a Starbuick’s coffee drink, really hit the spot.

By now, it was around 8 pm and back to panning out all the tiny flour gold from my concentrates. After about 3 hours time, I finally panned out the last of the concentrates with little more than 2/10′s of a gram of gold to show for my efforts! Now the wind was steadily blowing and the gusts had increased in intensity. I opened up my laptop, inserted my favorite “Jeff Beck from Ronnie Scott’s” concert DVD and closed the side door to my van. By now the van was rockin’ and rollin’ with the nasty wind gusts. The van was literally shaking back and forth, being in a direct path to the now gale-force winds. After an hour or so, I decided to call it a night and tried to get some sleep. With a steady shaking wind, accompanied by the on and off bursts that made it feel like the van was going to be pushed into the gully below me, I found it very difficult to get any sleep!

During the sleepless night, where I could hear things being blown around, some banging off my van, I could only assume that some of the gear I had left out had been blown away.
The morning arrived, and none to soon! Stepping out to have look around confirmed my suspicion. Much of my gear had indeed blown down the hillside. Fortunately, I was able to recover all of it, and nothing was damaged! After another Starbuck’s coffee drink and Nutri-Grain fruit bar, I was off to dig in a new spot, one that was very nearby a spot that Tony had claimed produced about 15 grams, over the course of several months.

dry washing flour gold

dry washing flour gold

As I arrived, off in the horizon, I noticed ominous grey clouds being blown in. Yes, the winds were still pretty stiff, but at least the gusts had subsided. After about an hour of test digging / panning, I started smelling that distinct scent of rain! Well, this sucks! My van’s windshield wipers did
not work and repairing them was not a priority, because it rarely rains in the desert. I panned out less than a tenth of a gram, packed up quickly and headed back to camp. I saw Tony’s jeep in the distance and it appeared as if he had the same notion. He had one of those “diesel-pusher” campers, that is basically a big bus and he too had to hook a tow bar to his jeep. The rain began to come down with regularity and we both decided that this was enough. I started down the 20-some miles of dirt trails that lead to the first paved road, being blown by wind gusts every now and then, on some occasions, strong enough to push my little caravan of my van towing my Samurai, off the road! Combine that with dust caking up
on the rain-pelted windshield, with no windshield wipers and you officially have an adventure!

Once on interstate 40, not only was I being blown by gusting winds, but semis windshear affect was adding to the drama. Rain ceased once I reached Kingman, leaving only about an hour’s drive to make it back to Havasu! After all was said and done, the gold bug had bitten me hard and all I had to show for it was about $15.00 of gold toward my $100.00 weekend investment. Mother nature kicked my butt! Next time, I should pay closer attention to the weather forecasts!

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.