RETURN to GURLY GULCH

From the diary of the Mad Prospector…….

Man time can get away from a feller and you turn around to find years have passed before you get around to “getting right back” to a potential gold bearing spot and 9 years sure can change the look of the landscape. So I was driving about 3 miles back to the fork in the road where I took the wrong turn to get headed in the right direction. The area was slowly becoming more familiar as we drove, but allot had changed. The roads were very overgrown and somehow my memory was playing some tricks on me. Now back on track Joyce and I were only a few miles from Gurly Gulch.

As I said allot has changed and now DJ my 4 legged hunting partner is gone and I am with my new hunting partner Joyce who is human and one of the best things to ever happen to me. It was her idea that we get back out here to look for more nuggets as well as the source of the “bat cloud” from the mountain side. She was also aware of the legend I am about to tell you about and having been born and raised in Yuma this was a common tale and also sought after by her father. Strange two people can meet and find such an odd thing in common along with everything else and we figured it may be something more than chance so here we were deep in the Arizona desert chasing a rainbow and swarm of bats.

The story goes like this, and is what after locating Trevor’s placer claims and seeing the bats rang a bell in my head, plus realizing this was likely the same area my interest was aroused….

The Lost Vampire Bat Mine is a long, long, way from tropical Yucatan, where vampire bat makes its home. Places like Chichen Itza and Tizimin and eastward, at the Bahia Chetumal on the coast of Quintana Roo.The Lost Vampire is in the stark Baboquivari range of Arizona’s Pima County, west of the Altar Valley and marking the eastern boundryof the Papago Indian Reservation. To Anglo ears, the place-names–Gu Oidak, Ali Ak Chin and Chukut Kuk– are more Asiatic than Mexican or Indian.

The bats in this lost mine story were Mexican brown bats, that hid by day in abandoned adobe buildings, old churches, caves and old mine shafts. These little bats would rather eat bugs than suck blood.

Edward Nelson, cheif of the U.S. Biological Survey, wrote in the National Geographic Magizine of may, 1918, that ” at Tucson, I once saw them, a short time before dark, issuing from a small window in the gable of a church numbers that in the half-light they gave the appearance of smoke pouring out of the opening. At the town of Patzcuaro, near the southern end of the Mexican tableland, I saw two rooms of an old adobe house occupied by as many of them as could possibly hang from the rough ceiling. They are plentiful in caves and may be heard frequently by day shuffling uneasily about and squeaking shrilly at one another.”

The hills and deserts of the Lost Vampire story have a long hostory of mining. There is a tradition and a folklore of Spanish mines in the Cerro Colorado. There is an abandoned mine near Three Peaks in the Baboquivaris. In the hills around Arivaca – a scant dozen miles from the Baboquivari range – are a dozen mines: the Albatros, the San Luis, the Brouse, theLas Guijas, the Amando, the Liberty, the Charles, the Black Princess, the Cerro Colorado, the Ajax, the Colorado Clark and the Edwards.Mabye there is one more, a gold mine that was hidden from the white man by an old Papago Indian.
The old Indian had gold nuggets to trade at Aravica and at the Tucson fiesta long after the placer mines in the Altar Valley and the Aravica hills had played out in the late 1800s. The source of his nuggets was a mystery for years, but in an uncharacteristic episode of talking openly with a white man told the storekeeper at Aravica about it.

Years before, the Indian confided, he had wounded a deer and had pursued it into the foothills of the east slopes of the Baboquivaris. At sunset he sat down to rest, on a long ridge running northward to a high peak. Suddenly there was a great outpouring of bats, hundreds of them, from an opening in the mountainside. He looked, and found the small mouth of a cave that had been widened, he found upon entering, into a timbered mine. There were buckskin bags of gold nuggets and coarse gold, mine tools, a small shrine to the Lady of Guadalupe and several bars of gold.

The bats and the hovering spirits of the long dead Spaniards made the old Indian very uneasy. But as he fled, he stooped to pick up one buckskin bag. This he hid in an olla in his hut.

The Arivica storekeeper was confident he could find the mine. He knew which arroyo to follow and which peak to climb. Then all he had to do was wait for the bats to fly from the mine at sunset. He found a man to mind his store and, three days later prepared to ride out to for the bat cave gold. He had loaded his gear onto a pack mule and was saddling his horse when the old Indian approached “I was afraid,” the old Indian said, “After I told a white man of the gold. So I waited until all of the bats came back to the cave. I then closed the cave with dirt and rocks. The bats will die and they will no longer signal, at sunset, where the mine is. No white man will ever see it.”

So what if those bats did not die? What if those bats found another exit from the old mine, an air shaft perhaps the old Indian did not know about?
Well we were out there to have a look for that shaft or cave to tell us if we were indeed on the track of an actual lost stash of gold. Yeah I know what you are thinking, but we both sort of had this feeling and if we didn’t do this it would always haunt us. Sometimes you just need to drop everything and go for it and Joyce and I had already done it once when we met and fell in love and it is just right to this day so the hunt for this mine seemed the right thing to do.

Once we got to my old camp spot we set up and got busy cooking dinner since we got in after dark and missed the chance to see the bats exit for the night, but there were Brown Bats fluttering around our camp as one often sees at night in the desert chasing insects. It was a beautiful night and the moon would be full in a couple days making for a bright night in the desert. Sitting by the fire that night we talked about how we would go about looking for this lost stash of gold and actually decided to put it off and metal detect for nuggets the next day instead and wait to try to spot the bats in the evening as they emerged to feed for the night.

It was up with the sun for some oatmeal and coffee then back to the area I last hunted to see what I missed with my older detector. It didn’t take long before Joyce found a nugget and a nice one at that weighing in at near a quarter ounce. By noon we had found just over an ounce total and were living the dream. We returned to camp and got ready to wait out the bats and have a bite to eat quite worn out from a full days hunt.

Just as before right at dusk there they were coming out of the side of the mountain near a huge dead Ironwood tree. Looked like right from under that old tree from where we were sitting and we made plans to make the hike to that old tree in the morning. Piece of cake finding this spot since we could clearly see the bats exit near the tree and there would surely be a cave there. Would this indeed be the old Indians lost mine with the nuggets and bars of gold inside?

Morning could not come quick enough for us and we were off hiking at first light and reached the area we saw the bats come from within an hour of hard climbing. No cave, hole, void, nothing, but a huge old Ironwood tree rotted and partially hollowed out standing partially burried up the trunk by a rock slide that must have been the reason it died. Man some wood carver would love this pile of prime steel hard ironwood. We searched the area quite well then worked out around the old tree and found nothing! Discouraged and baffled we worked our way back to camp, rested and went back to detect for the afternoon.

Sitting in camp that evening right on time those damn bats came out by that old tree again in a cloud. How was this even possible? Then going over the area we had explored in my mind I began to wonder about the fact that this Ironwood tree was buried well past the trunk and was very old and had been dead for a very long time. Ironwood will last dang near forever in the desert not rotting or eaten by insects like other wood. Could it be that the bats were coming from the hollow trunk of that tree? Could it be that tree was in the opening to that shaft allowing the bats to enter and exit? We would check this tomorrow unlikely as it seems….

Turns out that is exactly the case and once we got back up to that spot and looked closer it was obvious that there was an opening into the ground one could look into through the hollow trunk of that old tree and we could see a timber in the void indicating a mile shaft. Well let me tell you it was allot of hard work to get enough material moved to safely enter that old mine and the shaft went down about 10 feet and cut into the mountain. We decided I would wait outside with a long rope tied to Joyce as her smaller frame allowed for easier entry into the old shaft.

In she went with a flashlight despite her fear of bats and all was quiet… For a little too long…. Joyce, I yelled then out she came shaking and grinning ear to ear holding a small Spanish style gold bar. There is more she said, allot more…. There indeed was.

Shorty’s Tunnell

It was August of 1998 and I was driving the back roads of Western Arizona with my trusty mutt DJ in my 1978 Forest Service green 4WD Ford F150 truck. I finally had a week off and planned to spend it prospecting for new nugget hunting turf since pickings were beginning to get a little lean nearer to home. I had just gotten my hands on a brand new shiny Minelab SD 2100 to use for the week and I was pumped to score some gold nuggets to add to the poke.

We were in route to an area I found information on while clearing out an old rental trailer a fellow had died in at the trailer park I manage. He had been a miner all his life and retired in 1980 with bad lungs which made him unable to get around much due to shortness of breath. His medical problems were directly related to the time he spent in his drift mines near Quartzsite Arizona breathing the dust created as he slowly tunneled along bedrock deep in the cemented gravels recovering gold left there long ago.

Every now and then Shorty would come up to the store in the old KOA building that used to be at the front of the trailer court when he ran out of coffee and have a few cups, never would buy any and said my boss’s price was highway robbery and I guess it may have been true. Sometimes he would show pictures of some of the gold he found over the years, but would never even give me a hint as to where.

As time went on we started getting along pretty good and it was really sad to see his health failing so fast and soon he couldn’t even get out to do any shopping etc. without collapsing so I along with some of his neighbors helped bring him groceries and talk with him now and then.

Than one day I knocked and no answer, Shorty was dead….

So after the State and County went through everything and took anything left worth money to pay for his burial expenses since there was no family I as park management get the unpleasant job of cleaning out the old trailer so it can be rented again. That was when I found an old tobacco can, the pocket size one often used by miners to put claim papers in and it was under the couch when I moved it. It had been hand painted like an Arizona flag and had my name on the top.

Inside was a map with marks on it where Shorty had worked his drifts and found all those nuggets I saw photos of. At the bottom it simply said “Thank you Billy Goodbye” I kind of did my best to say thanks and went back about my business and never got around to making the trip for over a year. Now here I was with my trusty partner DJ at the first mark on the map and sure enough there were drywasher tailing piles around the entrance to a drift on a rotted platform with a wood hand crank winch and very scary looking ladder.

So I detected around the entrance and not finding anything but trash and not having any plans of entering that 25 foot deep hole that could easily trap me without much hope of rescue we headed to the next area marked on the map. This was even scarier and the winch, platform, etc. was gone and the tailings surrounded a shaft covered with only rotting sheets of plywood covered with a thin layer of dirt. If someone stepped on this it could be like an old style bear pit trap. Detected here as well with no gold.

The next spot was a little different and the drift followed very rough bedrock as a tunnel with extensive tailings spread around the entrance, Shorty had worked here for a long time. It was now late afternoon so I made camp before doing any detecting. I then started working the drywasher tailings since so many nuggets end up in the header pile of a drywasher simply because if they do not fit through the screen allowing dirt into the hopper they end up in the tailings. The old time miners knew this, but were getting enough gold that a few lost nuggets were just accepted as a given.

My very first detected target was a 5 gram nugget!

I found 2 more small ones and a bunch of Shorty’s bits of wire, nails, rusted decomposing cans, and an old rusted pocket knife. It was a good day and I was sure I would really score tomorrow. As I was getting the fire started just before sundown I thought I saw something move in the entry to the tunnel and while looking got to wondering how many nuggets were still in the cemented gravels on the ragged bedrock within. I quickly blew it off because I know well the dangers of entering these death trap drifts where the slightest bump or vibration can cause tons of earth and rock to fill it in a instant. Not a pleasant thought and a very slow and horrible death if you are not luckey enough to get crushed by the rock and dirt.

Well next day I found no more gold in the tailings and in this area gold is mainly on bedrock under several feet of gravels limiting productive detecting to previously disturbed gravels or working the washes and this was what I did. For 2 days I went to his old sites and worked washes without finding a single nugget and this led me back to the spot with the drift tunnel to see if I could somehow scrounge up a few more nuggets. I hunted for a couple hours and again found myself looking into the mouth of the tunnel. I walked over and stared into it…

The opening was big enough to easily crawl into so I poked my head and shoulders into the hold and swung the detector across the floor, instantly I got a signal. I had to crawl in a couple more feet to dig the target and it was a gold nugget and a nice one at that weighing a little over 11 grams. I started moving a little further in and DJ began to whine a little which brought me back to reality and I quickly backed out of the hole heart pumping like a drum because I also heard w weird groaning sound from somewhere.

I sat looking at the gold I had found here and knew I would be going back in the tunnel…

After regaining the foolish courage to go back in I did and I had well over an ounce of nuggets within the first 20 feet and I was digging them from the lower part of the tunnel’s sides right on the bedrock an just above using a flashlight to see. But digging into the sides was making a substantial amount of dirt and a few rock fall from above, one hitting my head and making me wish for a hardhat. Then I heard the groan sound again and DJ was barking into the tunnel entrance irritating the crap out of me. It was right then a big chunk of wall feel in, but not into the tunnel I was in. There was an opening and a second apparently very long forgotten drift right next to this one and there on the pile of dirt was a gold and quartz specimen as big as my fist with the gold glowing in the flashlight beam.

I was getting scared a bit now and after hearing that odd sound again it seemed to be originating from the newly exposed tunnel and louder and more stuff was falling, but the worst part was a visible crack in the cemented gravels with material sluffing off it into the other tunnel and as I watched it slightly widened and made that groan.

It was the Earth making that sound… Moving!

Crap I gotta get out of here I thought to myself and drew my detector back to me and damned if I didn’t get several signals stopping my retreat. I dug nugget after nugget most small, but one was just over an ounce and solid gold. The Earth groaned again and this time I felt it making me exit that drift like it was on fire. I was shaking from fear as well as the handful of gold I had.

The thought of going back in terrified me, but I knew I would…

It was late enough that I rested into early evening looking at the gold I had found and trying to drum up the courage to try again tomorrow as it was nearing time to return home. Next day was the same and I found 12 ounces of nuggets by noon and was plumb silly with gold fever, I would be rich! I went back in after lunch and was finding more and more gold, but DJ was having a fit barking into the tunnel and making it very hard to concentrate. So I crawled out again hearing and feeling a slight movement of the ground and decided to put the dog on a leash. I leaned my detector against the truck and weighed, cleaned, and stashed my gold.

Still had a couple hours I could work so went over to get the detector and the dog had chewed the coil cord in half! I was mad and couldn’t believe it as he never does stupid stuff like that. Lucky I had another coil in the truck. I went and grabbed the coil and sat on a rock near the tunnel to remove the ruined one and install the other when I heard a low long groan from the drift tunnel.

Then with a roar and huge cloud of dust it was gone…

The whole side of the hill slid in and covered the opening completely almost as if it was not ever there and actually created a depression in the ground above where the drifts had been. If not for DJ chewing my cord I would have surely been in there…

I got a new respect for my dog that week as well as just under 22 ounces of gold nuggets and I do not go into tunnels or shafts if I can help it, but I still think about that spot though it is now off limits since it is on the expanded Indian Reservation now.

2012 the Mad Prospector

Gurley Gulch Gold

A story I wrote in 2004 truth or fiction? “FROM THE DIARY OF THE MAD PROSPECTOR” This is a short tale that will begin a new series at my site, some will be true, some will be fiction, and some will have a few names changed to protect privacy and claims. I have spent some time while on trips sitting in camp and just writing and this story and the ones that follow are the results. So here is #1 and I hope you enjoy it!

Gurly Gulch Gold

It was finally cooling off in the deserts and I was sure getting the itch to get out there to go camping trip for a weekend, just the dog and I. Late October in Arizona is perfect for prospecting with cool nights and warm days of the kind that just make a feller happy to be alive. I had told the boss on Thursday that I would like Monday off and with his blessing I was now packing for a 3 day weekend metal detecting and enjoying some well deserved rest and relaxation. During the hot summer months I like to spend a lot of time reading and researching new areas to prospect when the cooler months come around and a little spot called Gurly Gulch was at the top of my list.

This is where I planned to spend a few days nugget shooting provided I could get into the area as planned. Many times when “going in blind” so to speak I have run into locked gates, washed out trails, no trespassing signs, and other obstructions so I try to have more than one route in planned just in case, but most times it’s one way or no way. I think about half of my leads and hard work end up meeting this fate and it’s back to the old drawing board so to speak. Gurly Gulch was a location I found mentioned in a small town newspaper article from 1901 and the story went something like this: An old fellow name of Trevor Gurly prospected the area and would come to town for supplies and was often loaned money by the local grocery to keep him in grub. Trevor would simply come in pick up what he needed and promise to pay as soon as he could and this went on for a year or so. Then one day Trevor came in with a big grin and a nice handful of nuggets to pay off his grocery bill and get supplies for his next trip and the nuggets were described as “goodly sized” by the writer of the article.

Trevor then filed a claim that he worked and lived on until his death in 1922. Now I followed up this story with some good ol’ research and could not find mention of Trevor Gurly or his claim. There were some placer claims in the area, but none in the general area of my search. All this time there was a nagging feeling that I had heard the name Gurly Gulch before, but I could not remember where. There was a general description of the area and how to get there from town, but it was pretty vague. I continued researching through my other channels looking for info to guide me to this old placer area with no luck. After exhausting all my resources I simply gave up and went on to the next location I was interested in and put Gurly Gulch and it’s nuggets on the back burner.

Then one afternoon in late August I was puttering around and came across an old treasure hunting book I had purchased at a thrift shop several years ago for about $4.00. The book is a very limited edition from 1933 and only has 69 pages, but the second story was from the same area that I had been researching looking for Trevor’s old claim and believe it or not Gurly Wash (not gulch) was mentioned in the story I was reading as a landmark of sorts for a lost treasure that was also reported to be in the same area. The best part of all this was that along with each story is a hand drawn map by the author and it showed the exact location I was looking for about a half of a mile from where the lost gold mine is possibly located. That was why I thought the name was familiar, I had read it in this book a while back and put it on the book shelf forgetting all about it.

Taking my newly found hand drawn map I went to my pile of topo maps and quickly located the trail and wash known as Gurly Gulch or Wash back in 1901. The wash is not now named on any map I looked at and that had made things difficult or even impossible without this hand drawn map. Arriving at the turn off from the highway at just about sunrise on Saturday morning I headed into the desert for an 11 mile drive into what I hoped would be Gurly Gulch with high hopes of being able to locate Trevor’s old placer workings. The drive in was somewhat rough with a few washed out spots, but a easy trip relatively speaking. I could see that the road got a fair amount of traffic, but that was to be expected with all the old mines in the area.

The drive in proved to be very interesting and I found myself stopping to look around and scan the hills with binoculars more than once. According to the topo map there were many mines in the area and this was very true with many small mining operations long closed dotting the rough mountain terrain. Man those old boys were tough judging by the location of some of those mines way up the side of a steep mountain with a trail going almost straight up. Taking a load up would be one thing, but coming down would be very dangerous. I was very close now to the wash listed as Gurly wash on the treasure map from the old book and was keeping an eye out for a trail or road exiting from the main one I was on and I found one going off to the South. I was exactly where I was supposed to be from what I could tell and matched the topo map also. So I continued on the trail until it came to a camp area near the wash and finding some level ground I parked my truck.

Now normally I would set up camp first off, but I was not sure yet if I was even where I wanted to be so I gave DJ a drink and we headed off hiking up the wash for a look see. Right away we found where someone had thrown their cans and bottles into a small dig hole and some of the broken bottles and tin cans with the lead solder were from the right time period with some newer stuff mixed in. Further up the wash I found a small tributary that had very old drywash header piles showing along the bank and that was enough to send me back to the truck to set up camp, any more exploring would be done with my detector in hand. Setting up is very quick for me and in no time DJ and I were feeling right at home and while he was content to just lie around all day I wanted to get after that wash with the old workings. Now I had no way of knowing if these were Trevor’s workings, but according to all the facts I had been able to put together I was darn close.

So with that in mind I got my gear together and went to work on that feeder wash up from camp. I began as I always do in a previously drywashed are by checking some of the header piles for missed nuggets and after about an hour without digging anything but trash from the piles I decided to work the small wash and its benches. About ten feet up the wash from where I started I got my first nugget, very small and well worn. Now with spirits high I slowed way down and began thoroughly detecting the little wash from side to side and up the banks. By late afternoon I had managed to snag several small shiny well worn bits from the wash itself and a couple from the bank, but none were over a penny weight. Nice gold to be sure, but not what I was here hoping to find as the source of Trevor’s gold was rumored to have produced bigger nuggets.

I decided to do a bit more looking around before supper this time taking my detector with me and I tried several little feeder washes and managed a couple more small nuggets for my efforts. This was sure getting to be fun and gold is gold no matter what the size! The sun was just beginning to go over the mountain when DJ. and I decided it was supper time and we walked the main wash back to camp. The main wash and the one I think is Gurly Gulch is about 15 feet across in it’s widest spots and narrows here and there with exposed patches of bedrock, just what a fellow with a detector likes to see. On the way back I was swinging some of the more obvious spots that would trap gold and kept pretty busy digging trash all the way to camp. Just before leaving the wash and calling it quits for the day I got a booming signal about 2 feet up the bank that stopped me in my tracks.

I began to get that butterfly feeling in my gut that I always feel when a target has that special sound that is somehow just a little different than that last booming trash target. Well I didn’t have to even dig because when I scraped away the topsoil, sticks, rocks, etc. with the side of my boot out pops a very nice slug of gold, smooth and shiny that would go at least a third of an ounce. What a way to end the first day in a new area and I was thinking I may have found exactly the spot I was hunting from my desk top during the hotter summer months. There is just no bigger thrill for me than to actually score after all the research and planning involved in finding such a spot. It was just starting to get dark with the sun setting somewhere behind the towering mountain to the West of camp that it had hidden behind a couple hours ago. This camp area had been well thought and placed close to the base of the mountain to supply afternoon shade in the heat of the summer, Trevor perhaps?

As I was sitting there looking at a canyon up the mountain a strange shadow emerged from the side of the mountain startling me and it took a minute for me to figure out what I was seeing in the fading light. It was bats! Thousands of them coming out of the side of the mountain from a cave or mine shaft, but I had seen no shaft on the face of that mountain with the binoculars. Perhaps I’d hike up there tomorrow and have a look around since the canyon below was part the wash I was camped next to. Well the rest of the trip was just what a nugget shooter dreams of with a good supply of new well worn smooth nuggets added to my poke and yet another spot on my list for future hunts. I didn’t find any more of the bigger nuggets, but did score several in the one to three penny weight range to go along with the smaller stuff that seemed to be fairly plentiful though a fellow had to work pretty hard to get them.

Funny thing though is that I hiked all over that rough slope where I thought I saw those bats come out and couldn’t find a cave or mine anywhere, but those bats came out each night I was there. Problem was they didn’t come out until the side of the mountain is just a dark shadow well after sunset and the bats show in the failing light filtering through the canyon making it almost impossible to see where they are coming from. Now I didn’t give the bats a whole lot of thought until on the way home I guess because treasure hunting and lost mines are not something I spend a lot of time doing, but what if those bats were exiting a mine that was hidden many years ago as the story goes.

I still have not found the time to get back to the area as it is quite a drive for me to get there from my home and well I have always had places closer to home to find nuggets, but something about those bats and that story keeps nagging at me. I think perhaps this Fall when it cools down a bit I will spend a few more days in Gurly Gulch.

Copyright 2004 William E Southern Jr