A few years back a longtime acquaintance of mine, Mike, informed me he owned a big chunk of property on what once was the Planet Ranch, along the Bill Williams River, that ends here in Lake Havasu. In the late 1800′s, long before the source of the river, Alamo Lake, was dammed, several cities were formed that served as a supply line for miners and settlers of the era. Among them was called Planet. Around the turn of the century, copper was discovered and mined in Planet and somewhere down the line, a cattle ranch was created into what is now referred to as Planet Ranch. Since Alamo Dam was created in the 1960′s, Planet Ranch has fallen into the hands of many…mainly for water rights. Here in the desert, water is always a popular and controversial subject. Sometime in the 1980′s, the city of Scottsdale, AZ bought Planet Ranch with the plan of using the water resource to aid the continuing growth of its city via the existing Central Arizona Project’s aqueducts that run from Lake Havasu to Phoenix. Unfortunately for Scottsdale, federal agencies denied this plan which forced Scottsdale to find an alternative to cover the loss of their investment in this property. They decided to create vast alfalfa fields, using the river to irrigate the crops.
former alfalfa fields in Planet Ranch
This did not cover the loss, and a few years back, decided to sell this dead-end investment to a mining company called Freeport McMoRan. This mining company intends to pipe water from the river to its mining operartions in Bagdad, AZ. They will do so under close scrutiny by the Fed’s Bureau of Reclamation, so as not to disrupt the natural habitat of the area. This should preserve the habitat for the foreseeable future. Another fun-fact about Planet Ranch is that “low level” nuclear testing was done there!
Moving on to gold and will it be found at Planet Ranch? Mike had given me GPS coordinates of his property and I entered them into Google Earth to have a look. All the signs one looks for were present: many “cobblestone” covered ravines, dumping into a main wash, some areas of exposed bedrock and most importantly, a vivid history of copper mining in the area, with known traces of gold. Mike was nice enough to tow my Samurai for the 70 mile journey and allow me to camp in his “cabin”.
We arrived at the entrance to the old Planet Ranch, guarded by a stout gate, to which Mike had the lock’s combination. Nearby was a modern-looking house, where current caretakers of the ranch, John and Patty lived. Much of the heavy equipment used in the harvest and planting of the former alfalfa fields were still here, dying a slow death in the desert sun. They are stilll living a cowboy’s life, in that they have horses, and livestock, in addition to their caretaker’s duties. We stopped by to say hello, the it was off to Mike’s property, just a mile or so down the trail. What he described as a cabin, was no more than a cut into a hillside, using old irrigation pipes, stacked one on top of the other, to form two walls. Dirt floors, with some ceramic tiles placed on top and of course no utilities. As soon as I unhooked my Samurai from the tow bar, I was off to dig my first test hole. I decided to dig my first hole where the wash surface met the hillside. Before I knew it, I was 3 feet deep in sand and no end in sight! finally at about 4 feet, I started finding gravel, then a bit deeper, potato-sized rocks. I processed the dirt along the way, and found absolutely nothing! At this point, I’m about chest-deep, when one of Mike’s neighbors, Bruce drove up. Apparently Bruce heard I was coming out to test Mike’s property for gold and asked if I wanted to have a look around his property. Mike has about 160 acres and Bruce had much much more. Since I had just moved more than a yard of dirt with no results, I agreed to follow Bruce to some spots he thought might be good.
After what was about a 7 mile journey to Bruce’s land, I chose my first spot to dig a test hole or two. The first was very encouraging, because one hillside was literally covered with gravel-sized quartz. I setup in a little valley, where a crease formed a little tributary to the main wash and started digging.
no gold here
Despite the tons of quartz present, once again, absolutely no trace of gold to be found! Just because there is tons of quartz, does not mean it once housed gold! It was an unusually hot late March afternoon, where temperatures were in the upper 90′s, and I was almost done for the day. But…there were many other areas that had exposed deep red rock, where historically can bode well for gold. You know, “the redder, the better”, right? so I dug and dug some more, processing along the way, to find not a single flash in the pan! time to head back to Mike’s and if I could muster enough energy, maybe dig another hole there. As I passed through the Planet Ranch gate, I noticed everyone had gathered at John and Patty’s. Bruce was eager to see if had had found anything. I told him the bad news and he had told me that through the years, he had done extensive prospecting with the same results, so I didn’t feel too bad…just exhausted.
After a a few minutes had passed, one of John and Patty’s dogs began to bark uncontrollably. I got up and walked over to his caged area to discover the source of the dog’s agitation…a “coon-tailed” rattlesnake!
After informing everyone of what I had discovered, Bruce walked up and pulled a little .22 pistol from hi holster. I stated: ” you must be a great shot”. He smiled and shot the rattler. He then revealed his .22 shells were filled with birdshot. Me, not being a firearms expert, was not aware .22′s existed with birdshot in them. This seemed to do the trick, but after a minute or two of gawking, the snake started to move again. At this point, caretaker John grabbed it by the tail, moved it from harm’s way and promptly removed the serpant’s head with a shovel. Later on, I drove back to Mike’s property and despite being physically drained, scoped out a few areas for the next day.
After a sleepless night, due mainly to Mike’s snoring and talking in his sleep, me not being used to sleeping on the floor and burros braying through the night, I moved onto a couple other areas that appeared to be promising. Well, another set of chest-deep holes dug in the middle 90 degree temps, in the mainly sandy overburden, which lead to absolutely not a single speck of gold, I had had enough. I was again drenched with sweat saturated clothes, covered with a layer of caked-on dirt and physically fatigued. I drove up up to the “cabin” where he and his son, who had arrived while I was propsecting, to ride his dirtbike and gave him the bad news. At this time he offered to bring out his backhoe and dig a hole for me! every prospector dreams of a scenario in which they could dig a hole without having to sweat, but I was so tired and out of gas, I just had zero interest. Who knows, another couple of feet down beyond the 4 feet holes I dug, could have been gold? I really don’t think I’ll ever find out. Sometimes one’s physical linitations are more powerful than gold fever…