We were on our last legs as we trudged through two feet of snow over the last quarter-mile stretch back to the car. “One more bend and we’re there” my husband called back encouragingly as I slipped and fell again, my muscles fatigued.
Why were we doing this? The mine we had just purchased.
My coat was stuffed with rocks I hoped contained some gold. As I rolled onto my stomach and tried to brace myself to get up, I felt like a villain from a movie who’s greed becomes their downfall. You know the type: the character who feverishly claws gold coins and diamonds into their hats and pockets while fleeing a collapsing temple only to be crushed by a four-hundred-pound gold nugget.
Maybe my gold nugget is waiting for me back at the mine.
We were there that day to scope out the patented mineral claim that includes The California Mine, the Bachelor Claim, the Arizona Fraction and 45 acres of rugged terrain. The claims were worked mainly between 1900 and 1902 with some ventures in between; but it’s been closed since 1935.
We won’t be setting foot into any entrances and will be going back after the snow melts to walk the place and mark anything that looks remotely dangerous. Next, we’ll sample the tailings and build some sort of access to the mine with the help of a friend with some heavy equipment.
We’ll probably camp there often over the summer and bring back loads of just tailings to process. We should have some of them assayed. Depending on how all of this goes, we’ll have a mining consultant have a look at the place. All of our next steps will depend on the ones before them.
Our ultimate goal is to enjoy our property in it’s natural state but we sure as heck didn’t buy a patented mining claim to look at the trees grow. We may or may not build a house there because of the high elevation. Someone lives just down the county road on the way and has a power box installed so it’s not totally out of the question. It would be infinitely easier to work the place as backyard prospectors if it was our backyard – but the snow…
Aside from the economic potential, this place is turning out to have one hell of a history as a producer and investment in its heyday. The back story spans over 100 years, as we’ve discovered it so far, and will appear in my next post.
We made it back to the car (obviously) and drove home, enthusiastically discussing various possibilities for the beautiful hill we now owned. We’ll be sorting through our backpacks in preparation for future trips.
In addition to piecing together the mine’s history, we’ll research the regulations that apply. The consultant will be the ultimate expert and advisor when that time comes. We do things by the book and we have no plans to plunder the environment. The main ore body is most likely cleaned out and the mine is reported to be flooded. We only want to pick through the leftovers, which, at 26oz. of gold per ton for some specimens from crosscuts that were brought up through the main shaft, shouldn’t be too shabby.
When we left the temperate Puget Sound region four years ago, we were tired of the year-round rain. We wanted contrast – seasons.
I can now tell the difference between winter and summer.
At the end of June, the thermometer topped at 116 degrees. Now it’s the end of December and it’s 6 degrees according to the digital thermometer in the car. That’s over a hundred degree difference.
Our outdoor thermometers disappeared so after a fruitless search at Walmart today for another (apparently everyone wants to know how cold it is), if we want to know the temperature, we have to get into the car, make sure all the doors are shut, turn it on and read the overhead display.
I was also shopping for a snowblower while out. The sidewalks in front of the stores were empty. I wouldn’t be surprised if the run on cold weather survival tools is why we couldn’t find an electric blanket either.
I knew I was gambling a couple of months ago when I purchased a plastic electric snow shovel at the local hardware store. I was skeptical but after the salesperson truthfully explained that the thing was only good for use on a perfectly smooth patio or risk chipping the cheap plastic blades, I bought it anyway.
Little did I know what was coming. This year’s a whopper so far and it’s just begun.
We’ve had approximately fifteen feet of snow in the past week (or so it seems), much more than the Patio-Pal is made to handle. It doesn’t help that it’s not ergonomically designed.
Imagine pushing a two-hundred pound golf club around in two feet of snow while depressing some sort of “on” switch lest it turn off. Some improvements were imperative.
First I screwed a bent baking sheet to the bottom to displace the weight and make it slide more easily. I then moved the extra grip to a location where it’s not supposed to be. The grip broke off after a few minutes but the sled effect actually helps. Slopes are a bit of a problem because it now wants to slide downhill, but overall, I consider it an improvement. I also taped the “on” switch to the “on” position and use the plug to turn it on and off.
Now I need about a thousand more feet of extension cord.
I might order a gas powered snow blower but I’ll give the little one another week. With winter being off to such a rare start, we may break down and order the Snow Hog 5000 Self-Propelled Deluxe before the month is up.
To keep warm, nothing beats a fireplace. I made a smaller one this year out of an old propane tank and it works like a charm. We call it The Boiler because it looks like something out of a steamship boiler room of yesteryear. We have to cut the wood into smaller pieces but it suites our needs and gives us more room in our dining/living room. Space is at a premium here.
The car has new tires and the undercarriage had a good once over at the mechanic a couple of months ago so it’s a real mountain goat. Our beloved Bridgette, the truck – not so much. She has four-wheel-drive but we’ve never gotten the hang of driving her in the snow. We won’t leave untreated gas in her tank while she waits for spring like we did last year, but sit she will, until then.
Getting around the property after a good dump is difficult (I’m talking about the snow). Step off the path and you’ll sink. I considered getting snow shoes while I was out but decided we could stick to the trails for now.
God forbid I try to forge my way out to the various security cameras who’s line of sight is now totally obscured by tree branches loaded with snow. I followed a game trail out to one today and knocked the snow off only to find the now bent branch still obstructing the view when I got back to the monitor. It’ll have to be cut. It can wait.
The hoses are frozes as they are every winter. We pump our water from the spring at the top of the property through them to a large water tank next to our RV. I’m personally tired of loading them into the hose-thawing shack and have been looking for an easier way to refill the tank.
A couple of days ago I dropped a water tank heater inside the tank and loaded it up with snow. I knew it wasn’t the most efficient method but anything seems more efficient than hefting the hoses onto the hooks in the shack. Probably not efficient but it felt like it was easier because the water was right there but frozen. Don’t worry, we use the water for everything but drinking.
The next day we dragged the hoses all the way up to the top of the property and wove them into one of the springs. We reasoned that because the water wasn’t frozen, the hoses wouldn’t freeze either. By golly, when we dragged them back down the next day, they were clear! We will try this again, but for today, I shoveled more snow directly into the tank.
This is tiring. I want a house. That is next on our list.
The water pump is on the fritz again. We’ve lived here long enough to have long-term routines. Winter always catches us off guard. The water pump freezes then starts acting funny. It cycles on and off at intervals. I adjust it with an allen wrench, it works for a day, it drives me nuts after a few more days of cycling on and off, and we head down to the RV store for a new one and the cycle begins again. They make rebuild kits; we just buy a new pump.
The bi-annual water leak in the RV basement happened like clockwork only for the first time in four years, we actually used the proper parts to fix it.
We’ve been setting up some small-scale ore processing equipment in frigid temps and snow to hell. We ordered it well before the first expected snow but it was delayed, and our plans to unload with a fork lift were foiled.
Some moderately heavy equipment would be nice right now but it’s expensive. We’ll wait until we can afford it and look for a good deal. For the most part, we live on the cheap to save for the stuff we really want.
We hired someone to bring the machines up and around back where five people took six hours to push, pull, maneuver, cut down trees, roll, come-along, pry and shed blood sweat and tears to get thousands of pounds of equipment into place by hand. Imagine pushing a small car without tires through the snow; and the job isn’t done yet.
We have to build a shed around one of the machines now that it’s in place. Try that in a blizzard. We’ll need this stuff up and running by spring because we bought a historic gold mine and a couple of other claims on forty-five acres over the pass. It was one of those things we really wanted and lived on the cheap to get.
Spring, some exploration (not in the mine itself without expert help), and some sampling will tell us whether we purchased just some beautiful property or a little more…
There goes the water pump again. I give it two more days.
It weighs two-hundred and twenty pounds, is green, was cheap, and sits outside our shed in pieces. It was supposed to break rocks into pieces – not itself. It’s Bill, our new rock crusher.
As an amateur gold prospector, I got tired of hand-crushing rocks. It gets old fast – believe me. Gold doesn’t always come in nuggets that you find in creeks, rivers and beaches: sometimes you have to pry it from the rock itself.
This is what we bought Bill for: to process gold ore.
I had an assay done on some ore from our property a few months back that came back at 14 grams of gold per ton of rock and 15 of silver. That’s not the mother lode but it’s not bad, either.
The problem is getting the gold out of the rock – especially if it’s disseminated throughout in tiny particles. You have to crush a lot of rock in order to smelt the precious metals out (heat the ore with flux in a furnace to extract the precious metals).
I needed a more efficient way to get the job done so I went to Amazon and ordered Bill.
He was born in China and traveled a long way to get to us. He arrived in a sturdy wooden crate that looks a lot like the box that held The Ark Of The Covenant in Raiders Of The Lost Ark. At least the box was well made.
We met the delivery guy in town to pick Bill up and it turns out that the guy’s father is a preeminent geologist. This is a good sign, we thought. We were wrong.
After hauling him home, the whole family wrestled Bill onto several pallets I’d screwed together to make a table. He was to stay in his crate for safety reasons (a spinning flywheel with no guard, for one). Then we discovered Bill didn’t have a plug.
After some research and a couple of calls to electricians, we determined Bill would work on a North American electrical system. He would run a bit fast, but run he would. We installed a plug and everything went fine until we fed some wet material through him.
The info I’d read said this was OK but believe me, it isn’t! The finely crushed material mixed together with the water to make a nice cement-like paste and gummed the machine up.
Two hours of cleaning later, we started Bill up again only to discover his adjustment knob had sheered off. This is the part that allowed us to set how finely we wanted the rock crushed. Without that function, we were once again dead in the water.
I think it was poor workmanship and materials that led to the failure. Several screws also vibrated loose which caused a metal piece in the feeder to bend and get jammed full of rocks. Another two bolts came out altogether and when I tried to tighten them, I realized they weren’t long enough to seat.
It was time to contact Amazon and the seller.
This evening, Bill sits partially dismantled and I’m in negotiations with a company across the world about how much of a refund to agree to with some parts thrown in.
We are on another prospecting expedition and I’m sitting by a campfire smelling steak burning just right as the sun nears the top of the treeline to the west. It seems as if I feel less heat already in early August. Pink Floyd’s The Wall is playing – probably for the one-billionth time since the album was created. 🙂
There is laughter and talk of entrepreneurial ventures after the virus recedes – hopefully for good until the next Something comes along. I’ve just had a bite of the best Filet Mignon of my life.
Pieces of gold are being compared. I feel content at this moment. America – the world – mankind is going to be OK. As we sit around the fire, we share stories about the prospecting culture and the local woodcutters among other things. Bits of information are passed back and forth such as that salmon berries are known by some as Smooshberries – because they are smooshie, of course.
Local lifestyles make for great tales. The woodcutters are stuff of legend around these parts. They know how to harvest a truck load of wood from the mountains in the dead of winter (I’m from “civilization” so everything is larger than life compared to what I’m used to).
We’re out prospecting with some people we’ve just met and they are very cool. They own a computer store and the husband has a YouTube channel having to do with drones. They want to open a restaurant. I’m sold after the steak.
Earlier in the evening, the husband threw a fishing line in the river and snagged a couple of trout for dinner. I’m rusty and asked for some pointers then proceeded to snag my hook in the nearest bush then break the line. I briefly considered shooting a trout with my slingshot before grabbing a hotdog.
Our other friend’s pooch has taken up residence at my side as I give him a good scratching. His owner is dabbling with constructing campers of a different type for a specific purpose. I don’t want to disclose his ideas without permission so I’ll let that lie for now.
We all have gold in common. It’s fascinating, elusive, and worth almost two grand an ounce right now.
I’ve been focusing on metal detecting for gold ore with some success and we plan to try to track down the source. It’s exciting. I’m sending in a pound of the material for a gold and silver assay which will tell me if, and how much of the minerals are in there.
The evening is mild, the mosquitoes few, the food excellent and the trading of stories and dreams the best. Tonight, the ties that bind are exquisitely charred food, a campfire, stories of people and their dreams – and gold.
Another trip is coming soon. We only have so much time before the legendary winter sets in. Then the gold of the mountains and creeks will be locked up for the season in ice and snow.
Today I changed the description of Stories From Off The Grid to include other adventures.
There’s only so much that can happen to or that a family can do on 3.74 acres.
The garden is growing (peas and cabbage only this year and we planted way late), we moved the raspberry bushes closer to the RV so I could tend to them better, I still slingshot, the appliances are constantly breaking or now getting lost or damaged in the mail, and the pool is still halfway brown, still freezing, and largely unused.
The Gorge scenic outlook from trip to King County last month.
The tent that we found out requires another part in order to set up properly. We used sticks.
Denny Creek near Snoqualmie Pass. Looking for gold!
Bridge in Redmond Washington, the bicycling capital of the world. We were there for crawdads.
The turkey’s are still turkeying along with this year’s batch of goblets, I’m still obsessively looking for gold on our property although I’ve expanded my search to beyond the perimeters, Lawnmower man now drives a small backhoe and insists on creating a park-like setting here in the semi-wild, and we are dreading winter.
All is quiet on the western front with the neighbors, thankfully, and I’m running out of off-grid subjects. We don’t have livestock and I don’t make soap: wait, I did a couple of months ago but I didn’t know what the hell I was doing and certainly couldn’t write a how-to post on the subject. I cook, but lately, dinner has more often than not, been microwaved chicken patties and store-bought cookies. No how-to-cook posts here.
The solar power system is on the fritz. Nothing new.
Things have been pretty quiet here actually. So, in the spirit of trying to keep things interesting, this blog covers about anything that happens in our lives or that we make happen (I hope we’re still behind the wheel) that might be funny, informative, or humorous.
Other than the propane fridge we’ve long needed getting damaged in transit so we’re still short an LP fridge and me dredging the well, camping for gold is the order of the day this summer. There have been lot’s of adventures at Sheep Creek where we’ve been prospecting. We’re heading out again this afternoon and I’ll take lots of pictures because we might be onto something!
Whether it be the ongoing mess inside our car from packing or stays at motels from hell, its now all free game. The motel featured photo is not the motel from hell . 🙂
If you can’t find the gold where you are, go to the gold.
In addition to willing gold into existence on our own property, I’ve decided to drive to it; about sixty miles to a place called Sheep Creek. This in response to a phone call last week from a fellow prospector who suggested we camp and pan for the weekend.
I’m not giving up on my thought experiment of materializing gold out of dirt and rock here at home but I figured it was about time to increase our odds of finding the shiny and holy substance. The caller is a guy we met about a year ago who shares this mental illness called Gold Fever.
The fever causes one to become irrational and obsessed with either conjuring up the elusive metal through the use of chemical processes to spending hour after backbreaking hour in the sun sifting through bucket after bucket of gravel in search of even one tiny morsel of goodness.
Stricken with this disease, my husband and I gladly crammed the back of our Dodge Durango with every manner of implement designed to aid in the finding of the noble metal.
Classifiers of every size, sluices, buckets, shovels, picks, hammers, and as many containers as one can fit as you can never have too many. All of this plus everything but our cookware (my husband recalled later, putting it away on a shelf in the shed) went into the hatch and off we went.
After an unsuccessful exploratory expedition to find a new spot, we turned around about five-hundred feet shy of the Canadian border and headed for the sure-fire place for gold: Sheep Creek.
The creek is in the Colville National Forest and we found a good campsite for the first night. There wasn’t much time for panning so we set up and planned on heading out in the morning.
Several Sloppy Joes, ten cigarettes, and two UFO’s later we called it a night.
Worth mentioning is that on our way to find a suitable spot, we found a mine, or hole dug into solid rock along the road. It went about twenty feet in before dead-ending. We scraped some samples into some buckets (never enough containers), before continuing on.
The next morning we found a great spot near a rapids, moved camp downstream, and set to work. This is where all of those tools come in handy. Gold is heavy and you have to dig for it under very large rocks and in low-pressure zones in the water or where the water was at the high mark.
You have to ask yourself where gold would logically travel and fall out when being tumbled downstream. It tends to move along with the big stuff and settle with the heavy stuff so you look for those kinds of things and those locations and dig.
We are all amateurs but three sets of hands and brains is better than one. I jumped all over the place digging and sampling while the men found a good spot and kept at it for most of the time. They were rewarded for their efforts.
We spent the better part of the day and half of the next moving large boulders, scooping up buckets-full of sand and gravel and either running it through our sluices or hand-panning.
Our friend had the best of the luck, finding a nice wafer-shaped “picker” about three millimeters in diameter. My husband found some good ones and I managed to eek out a couple of specs with my fishing magnet.
If you throw a powerful magnet into the river, it picks up iron which in turn sometimes picks up gold with it. You separate it later.
By the last day, the fatigue was setting in and it was time to pack up and go. Our treasures were stored in one of the many many containers we’d brought to be separated from the black sands once we got home.
That night, our friend put away all of his camping and prospecting gear and sifted through his black sands to reveal his trophies.
Our car is still mostly loaded and we at least began the process of recovering our gold today. We got home day before yesterday.
If you can’t find gold in your back yard, look again and again and again.
I’m finally coming to grips with the idea that we may not have a mother-lode on our property. I’ve spent the last two years searching and coming up with nothing so I finally sent three rocks in for an assay to settle the matter.
An assay is a test to see how many ounces per ton of any given precious metal such as gold is, in the sample. It’s a pretty exacting process that I believe requires smelting the crushed ore to separate the good stuff from the crap and calculating the results.
We have about fourteen grams of gold per ton of rock – at least in the three I sent in. If ours was a major mining operation that wouldn’t be a bad number but for the weekend prospector – not so good. I called the assayer and he said that it is the nature of prospecting to discover a gold vein seven feet under and to the side of where the specimen came from – or not.
I twisted his words into the hope that I could still find that mother-lode. I suddenly found myself power-washing one of our quartz outcroppings today to get a closer look at the parts previously concealed by vegetation.
I’ve taken my metal detector to every square inch of the property in search of anything that sounds like gold – to no avail. Maybe another few sweeps will turn up something different.
With my hopes and behavior, I’m breaking one of the first rules of prospecting: look for gold where others have found it first. And a second rule: if you don’t find gold, don’t waste your time and keep digging.
In my desperation, I’ve come to believe I can will it into existence with the power of my mind. Just wait.
Got myself a gold detector
Precious metals a collector
Up and down the hills I’ll go
If it’s summer or it’s snow
Digging here and digging there
Garbage buried everywhere
Beeps all sound the same to me
Have to shovel just to see
Is it treasure is it trash
Maybe someone’s secret stash
Fifty bullets rusty nails
Takes the wind out of my sails
Maybe someday I’ll find gold
But for now it’s something old
Our property, no matter how hard we try to make it look nice, looks trashy. Until we can upgrade, there’s not a lot we can do about it.
We try our best to keep things organized but it’s difficult to make rusty metal objects, pallets, tarps and trailers appear attractive. One of our newer neighbors is building and it makes us look bad. My prospecting collection of trashy looking buckets, dirt piles, rocks, pots and pans, and holes in the ground doesn’t help.
When we’re out and about though, my husband points out other people’s properties, many of which have old cars, heaps of beer cans and other trash strewn about in order to make me feel better. This is rural America, after all.
I have a large container full of “useful” stuff. Everything’s tangled together in a mass of wire, brackets, screens, hooks, buckets, and parts of old appliances and when I grab something, everything comes out at the same time. It’s indispensable so I keep it.
I regularly go to the farmer’s dump on the hillside to scrounge for more useful stuff. I’ve found mangled tools, parts to household appliances and old vehicles and other treasures I can’t live without. I’ve harvested screen, fencing, bones (not human), marbles, two can openers, and assorted remnants of ancient kitchenware that I might a have need for someday.
Recently I got distracted on my way to repair something. I was already carrying a load of tools when I veered toward the hillside.
My son came home from school in time to see me wandering away from the dump with the armful of tools, part of a shovel, a leftover wheel from a child’s wagon, a long sharp object, an old tractor carburetor, and a candle holder – all possibly useful.
I’ve been playing in the mud and dirt for three weeks. I’ve sifted, classified, melted, roasted, and thrown buckets of it in frustration because I found a little gold on our property and I want more.
It’s everywhere but you can’t see it. I think the rock here was infused with tiny particles of it when they were formed rather than in visible quantities in quartz veins. You have to crush the ore and process it to get to the gold.
I think much of the gold is encased in what is called sulfides: a mix of metals and sulfur. These sulfides have to be reduced to iron oxide or rust by roasting in order to release the gold. You then have to smelt it down to separate the gold from any remaining metals.
All of the above factors make recovery difficult and I’m trying to determine if it’s worth the effort. Separating the small particles from the rest of the riffraff is near impossible unless you have the knowledge and the equipment.
To make things even trickier, gold is hydrophobic and small particles tend to be repelled by water. The kind of gold dust we have here floats on water and goes right over the edge of a gold pan so you have to add dish soap or Jet Dry to make it sink so you don’t lose it.
Another option is to take advantage of it’s hydrophobia to separate it from the other materials. Commercially, a process called flotation is used to float the gold to the surface of the water to separate it but for me, my food processor and some dish soap might suffice.
Outside, I have piles of dirt, tools, kitchen utensils, a sluice, a blow torch, and all other manner of weapons strewn about. I tend not to put stuff away in my feverish quest for the precious metal so the place is a mess.
I have yet to build a furnace that will get hot enough to smelt properly so I might have to buy one. I have yet to see much of any gold other than the few flakes that got me started on this hunt. I wonder if I’m wasting my time. If there is any gold, I wonder if it will be worth the effort to recover it.
Regardless, I’ve been bitten by the gold bug so if I don’t find any more here, I’ll just go look somewhere else till I do.