Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Fourth Edition

RNF's for the night of January 12th.

Well not a pleasant day for me, so a little escapism here. Since both Beth and I have bad backs, our days of backpacking are pretty much over. I have a special backpack which puts 80% or better of the weight onto your hips, with a flexible internal frame, and would consider doing a short jaunt with it but no way I could pack a 60 or 80 pound pack for any distance. If you keep your tent at 6 pounds, sleeping bag at 5, minimum of clothing and a gallon of water, perhaps you could get to a 40 pound pack and be able to go for three or four days (assuming you could locate water supplies) so it is not utterly hopeless. However, I plan on using horses for most of our 'backpacking' in the future. With a large Percheron horse, you should be able to pack up to 200 pounds per horse. I am well aware that most horse packing involves the huge and heavy canvas tents, along with a wood stove etc so a lot of the weight is used up in gear. However, for prospecting or hunting for lost mines in desert country, you would not require a heavy canvas tent - just a nylon type with a sewn in floor. Even a large one weighs in at perhaps 12 pounds, then throw in two sleeping bags, cooking gear, food, prospecting equipment some spare clothes, first aid kit, a cell phone (yep I am a convert now - if you had one with you and one of us got hurt or bitten by snake or scorpion, help would be a phone call away!) a good GPS (our old one will not activate all the way for some reason) a supply of our meds and doggie food for the maniac dogs, and you could literally go for weeks at a time. I don't think we could go for more than about three weeks, since you have to go to the doc every month or you cannot get enough refills of your meds. However, with three weeks to poke around, let us look at a search for the Lost Dutchman mine for an example.

If you follow either the north or south trail, it is three days hike in leading either one or two horses. The dogs must learn not to bother with snakes and bugs as well as cactus, or they will be staying at a kennel. So you can figure three in and three out, leaving you fifteen days to do a systematical search! I know that we reached Peters Canyon and Peters Mesa in three days, and that was after having several difficulties along the way such as a well being trashed and ruined so we could not get water, the road in to the ranch had been destroyed so you could not drive in to the abandoned ranch, and so on. The springs are few and far between, but as long as you can find them you are fairly safe. Of the four routes in to the region where the lost mine is supposed to be, we have explored two of them. The route in past Massacre Field appears to be the easiest, the one from the state park the longest, the old north trail the hardest and the southern route the most unused. Of these, we have used the Massacre Field and old north trail. To take this a step farther, it would be possible, using the big horses as pack animals, to pack in supplies in one or two trips ahead of time, then on a following trip you would have stockpiles of food, water etc at strategic points to re-supply yourself. Of course you can get really sick of canned food and dehydrated too, but at least you would not go hungry. With the number of tourists that pour over those mountains, any stockpile would have to be buried and well hidden, which is where the GPS comes in.

Why did I pick the Lost Dutchman mine as an example, you might ask? Well it is one of the toughest to get in to hunt for, since they made a huge region into a wilderness area. It was wilderness anyway, but now you can only go in on foot or horseback. Gosh if we had four horses, Beth and I could actually ride in and lead the pack horses, and not have to hike the whole way. There are places where I would be too scared to ride though, for example one point on the northern trail is a steep rock face with sheer dropoffs on either side of you. The "professionals" who work the area packing in tourists use mostly mules, and you can see why. They are more surefooted, can live on what they graze (horses would need a little grain to supplement since they are working) and are strong. I would not mind having a couple of mules to use this way - but they are not real good at getting along with dogs. Let me change the 'venue' of the example here and suppose we were heading into the Tumacacori mountains to hunt for some of those lost silver and gold mines in that area. It is also rough country, and loaded with "Cholla" ("jumping") cactus, and springs are even more scarce. The area where I think is the best chance of making a find is no more than 18 miles at the longest route in, so you could hike in two days without killing yourself. In either area, I believe a good metal detector might prove a useful instrument.

Then there is another area I hope to return to, to hunt for the infamous Lost Black Gold Nuggets of Pegleg Smith. In our research, we have narrowed down the areas to search into three. They are still huge areas, but if you had horse-packing ability you could spend more time searching each one systematically. That whole region between the Salton Sea and I-10 is really remote and desolate, not nearly as rugged as the Arizona areas discussed above. I do not know of any springs in the area, though Corn Springs is supposedly not far from one area, so we would have to locate that right off. You could drive in with a pickup and horse trailer, along with a barrel of water, some hay, feed, camping gear etc and figure on being able to stay a couple of weeks at a time anyway. That lost "mine" isn't really a mine at all, but a very strange deposit of gold nuggets on top of a flat-topped hill. Depending on which version you read, it is either one hill, two hills, or three hills, but a key element to look for are brown hematites (the natural iron 'hot rocks') and they do exist in those three areas I mentioned. One of the three areas is quite remote though - it is not far from the old Butterfield stagecoach trail and far from any road. You might be able to get in there with a four wheel drive, or you might end up stranded somewhere out there where no tow truck would ever come to get you out. The nearby Orocopia mountains are another tantalizing area - why were these hills named "plentiful gold" when there are no gold mines there and no reports of any gold there? They too are fairly remote, but fringe on the region where Pegleg's gold nuggets may be. Maybe I should explain here what I am talking about. The story goes that a mountain man named Smith, who got the nickname "pegleg" after he lost a leg in a fight with some Indians, was packing a load of furs to the Spanish settlements on the coast of California to sell in the early 19h century. Somewhere near the Salton Sea, he became lost and left his burros while he climbed to the top of one of three, flat-topped hills to try to get his bearings. When he got to the top, he noticed the surface was littered with numerous brown hematites and black pebbles. He picked up a few of the pebbles and finding them strangely heavy, put some in a pocket while he got his bearings. He did spot a landmark he knew, and went down to get his burros and out to civilization. When he arrived at the Spanish settlements, he happened to strike one of the strange black pebbles and the black crust came right off leaving a gleaming gold nugget!

Pegleg got excited about his find and went back to search for his bonanza, but was never able to find it again. The story would go cold there, but another treasure hunter named John Mitchell enters the picture. Mitchell worked for the railroad and got word of a meteorite spotted coming down in the basin of the Salton Sea, so he packed his mule and went to look for it. (Meteorites were worth money in his day too, the early 20th century) He met an Indian couple at Corn Springs, and continued hunting for the meteorite. He got lost (like Pegleg) and decided to climb a flat topped hill (one of three) to try to get his bearings. He did so, and spotted a landmark he knew, but again he also noticed the brown hematites and black pebbles. He filled a sack with some of the black pebbles and put some in a pocket, and continued to hunt for the meteorite. He was successful in finding the meteorite, and decided to stash the sack of black pebbles since it was so heavy. He left the desert country and sold the meteorite - however more than 20 years later he was talking with an old timer who told him the story of Pegleg Smith. Mitchell then went and got out the few black pebbles he had kept, and hit one with a hammer - sure enough they were gold! He was getting on in years and well enough off that he did not bother to go look for it again, but the story parallels Smith fairly well. There are at least two other reports too, which seem to be the same lost mine. One has to do with a man who wrote to Desert magazine and claimed he had found it - and sent in several of the black gold nuggets to prove it! His site is supposedly in the Anza-Borrego state park, where he drove his jeep up a dry wash while out rockhounding. He spotted the black pebbles on top of a flat-topped hill, but said the other two hills were not to be seen. Ths fellow packed enough gold out to retire and live well, and said he had left practically no gold at the site so it was not worth while for anyone to try to find his mine.

There are other reports that could be linked to Pegleg, but among them one stands out. Around 1900 a prospector named Crazy Ike and an Indian partner came upon the skeleton of an Indian northeast of Indio with a cache of black-crusted gold nuggets nearby. Going farther on, they came to a volcanic cone rising amid a maze of jumbled boulders the size of a small hill. The sides of the cone were covered with the black nuggets, so the pair loaded their mules with nuggets. With their water supply running low, they headed back. They did finally make it out alive, and sold the gold for over $65,000 - back when gold was $20.67 an ounce! They were 'set' so never returned to the location, and Ike retired near Redlands where he bought a citrus grove, and passed away a few years later. Is this one and the same with the other reports? I suspect this area has more than one of these volcanic "chimney" type gold deposits. This type of gold deposit is extremely rare, the only example I know of is the one at Rich Hill in Arizona. The black crust is a result of lying exposed on the desert floor for centuries, and is known as "desert varnish" a documented oddity of nature.

Well if I put this much effort into my writing projects, they would be finished by now - so I will close here and post it later.

"Many things which nature makes difficult become easy to the man who uses his brains." --Hannibal Barca

"Only by taking great risks can great achievements be accomplished." --Xerxes


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