Getting richer panning for gold
4:30 AM came early for this would be prospector. But I arose, made some strong coffee, and tried to wake up while catching up on the overnight posts at TFMR. I crawled in my truck, which had been loaded with shovels and buckets and rubber boots the night before, and headed south to the Goldfields near Prescott AZ. After a 2 Hour drive, I met one of my buddies, we’ll call him “Stumpy” to protect his innocence. (that him on the right and your's truly on the left) He’d been the best man at my wedding 30 years prior, and currently lives in North Carolina, posting pics on Facebook of gold he panned in the outback just to taunt me. He flew in a couple days earlier to spend a week with his aging parents and we planned this prospecting trip to get rich.
We drove up to a well-known gold panning area called Lynx Creek. To our horror, we learned that the National Park service has banned the use of sluices or other mechanized means of extracting the shiny yellow stuff from the creek. Shovels and pans it was!
Our spot was only 5 miles away from rampant civilization-- not what you can really call the outback. After observing the area, I noticed extensive areas where the old river rock was piled 30 feet away from the creek bed on each side. Trees & bushes had grown in among the piles of rock. To the untrained eye it just looked like a nice little creek. But from my skilled perspective, gained by looking at lots and lots of pictures in books, and having my dad point out the aftermath of dredging operations in Colorado when I was a kid, and knowing what an un-dredged creek was supposed to look like, I knew this entire creek bed, from the lake to its source, had been overturned, classified, and sluiced by heavy equipment around the turn-of-the-century. No doubt the big nuggets were gone. But we had hope of finding little ones which had recently washed into the creek during the monsoon flooding.
So we got to work.
First thing we did was to find a large trapezoid-shaped bedrock fragment about 2 feet above the water level. We grabbed my 6 foot long iron pry-bar, a trenching shovel, and a couple of 2x6 boards and after 30 minutes of digging, prying, and huffing, we flopped that thing over on its side. Then we greedily dug into the mud underneath it (Stumpy said "Dude! Use the shovel, not your hands.") figuring nobody’s turned that boulder over since the old mining days and there must be ninety years of gold dust and little nuggets snuggled into the mud around and under its base.
Stumpy is an old hand at this. He took the first shovel full of mud and started panning through it. He could pan three times as fast as I could, a fact I figured out before the day was half over. After about five minutes he exclaimed, “Denied!” and slung the slurry of sand out of his pan. We dug deeper. Denied it again. And again, and again. He was quite disappointed to find nothing there.
Next we started turning over rocks in the middle of the creek. Denied again. This caused Stumpy to pause and think about where to dig next. He took a walk up the creek while I made the acquaintance of “Pauline” who had parked next our trucks and was panning downstream from us. She was about our age, independently wealthy I suspect, and spent her days traveling around, camping, and panning wherever the Spirit led her. The three of us became fast friends that day.
Upon Stumpy’s advice, we moved our panning upstream a little ways to a “low-pressure” area where the water was still, downstream just below some rapids where and creek took a slight turn. We figured any gold washing down that creek during a flood tended to settle on the outside edge of the turn below the rapids. Other people must’ve figured the same thing because there were several holes dug into the bank.
We started digging deeper in one of those holes. Stumpy finally said, I got one. I quickly stumbled over to see it, navigating the big slippery rocks in my clumsy rubber boots. By golly, he did have one there. I resisted the urge to shout “Eureka” at the top of my voice, knowing that could attract the wrong kind of people over. You know the kind—they wear nice suits, like to look through your financial records, work in fancy buildings, and have suckers for their clients.
So I shifted my fruitless digging operation over next to Stumpy. We dug and panned together underneath the row of aspen trees in the shade, with clear water babbling around stones while the monsoon storm blocked out the hot sun and thundered in the distance. We chatted about life, old times, and the future. A gentle drizzle cooled us off as we panned at one point. The blue sky was visible in places along the edge of the storm over our heads. The heart of the storm remained over the mountains all day, a few miles to the south, keeping us cool without the drenching. We stopped for a crude lunch of sourdough bread and fine cheese (Stumpy was a chef earlier in his career). Our neighbor Pauline came over for lunch and we had a nice chat. Life is good!
We both concluded that the original prospectors out West were NOT the old grizzled fellows you see in movies, wearing their hats sideways and stooped over. They were young, strong men and women who worked their arses off every day, prospecting their way up a creek towards a prospective gold source, hoping to hit paydirt, stake a claim, and work their way to wealth with a productive mine. Did you know that a woman, Pauline Weaver, found the site at “Rich Hill” in the western Arizona desert, a site that yielded a half million in gold (when it was $35 per ounce) in the first five years, a site with an area called “The Potato Patch” at the top of the hill? I don't need to tell you why they called it that.
We got back to work and continued to dig that hole in the side of the bank even deeper, getting down to old creek-bed gravel under the mud where we found more and more gold. Each pan-full was productive.
But, alas! Our biggest nuggets were merely flakes. The total value of our haul was probably equal to a Buffalo nickel. The most valuable thing we found was a nice green goldpan that some frustrated miner had probably thrown in the creek in disgust. I used that one the rest of the day since it was nicer than my other one.
At 3 PM we called it a day, picked up our mining operation, and Stumpy gave me all the gold we had found. Pauline stopped by for another chat and we discussed other spots that might be productive. We were both sore and exhausted from digging, stumbling over wet rocks in the creek all day, swishing those pans round and round. Stumpy asked me how I felt and I responded with the need for painkillers. He said “Welcome to your 60s, dude.” I pointed out that I was merely 59 he needed to restrain himself from such comments until next year.
We said our goodbyes and drove away.
I had some time to reflect on my drive home and rewarded with a stunning sunset that divinely confirmed my thoughts. Given our meager findings after very hard day’s work, I’m going to change my prospecting methods. I’m now in the market for a couple of good metal detectors. And I already have a spot picked out a half-mile down the mountain from two different gold mines where three dry washes conjoin into a single larger wash that levels out into the gently sloping plain down to the highway. Those dry washes have never been sluiced & dredged. The water only flows during floods. They just gotta be full of nuggets.
So I can see Stumpy and I, and maybe our wives also this time, or maybe with you, fellow turdite, sweeping our high-tech detectors across the sand and gravel of dry washes in the cool winter air of central Arizona, watching the clouds, talking, digging up the hotspots, and maybe, just maybe, finding nuggets, which we will make into jewelry to adorn those we love. Then, well have a nice dinner on an outdoor patio in a restaurant nearby and sip fine wine and craft beers while watching an Arizona Sunset put on its nightly show. Yes, we'll get richer, panning for fun, deepening friendships and enjoying nature together, knowing full well that the better way to obtain gold is to make money while the economy is holding together and visit the LCS regularly.
Sunset from I-17 south of Flagstaff AZ, 8-17-18