That old Ford truck was sure a good old truck, but on some roads it could sure beat me and ol’ D.J. (my loyal mutt) to death. This particular road in Southern Arizona was longer and dustier than many areas I like to hunt and a tad on the rough side as well. I’d guess it takes about an hour to travel the 30 miles into the small placer area although I have never really timed it. Interesting thing is that you travel through several different geological environments and if you are into that sort of thing (I am) it is a very interesting drive and I have stopped several times to just hike and explore some without my trusty metal detector.
This little area was discovered with the help of a fellow I met in my travels named T.J. (not to be confused with D.J. the dog) that told me that he used to go and dry pan for nuggets with his Grandfather and get several each trip. Now believe you me that got my attention, but quick!
I had found him standing beside a old Dodge two wheel drive pickup truck with a hole in a radiator hose out in the boon-docks out of water and in need of a hand. I used duct tape and Shoe-goop to patch the hole then added a hose clamp to keep the patched area from bursting while he played with D.J., my dog. I then left his radiator cap lose to lesson the pressure and followed him to his old camper trailer parked at a small RV park about 30 miles up the highway to make sure he made it home ok.
It was after getting him home safely that I was told all about his prospecting trips with his grandfather when he was young. T.J. had lost his parents to the measles when he was about 9 years old and was taken in by his Grandfather who spent his life prospecting in Arizona and Nevada. He would work long days with him dry panning and drywashing for gold to keep them in food while living in the desert. At night he would get what schooling the old man could give. This went on for 3 years and then the Grandfather and T.J. hit a pretty good pocket of gold in Arizona allowing them to get a better truck and T.J. was taken back East to an Aunt’s house for proper schooling to his total dismay.
When T.J. was 17 years old he got word that his Grandfather had died just a year before he had planned to reunite with him to again search the Southwestern deserts for gold. This was very hard on him and T.J. left school and joined the Army. He fought in a couple wars from what he said and learned enough about people that he understood why his Grandfather lived like he did hunting alone in the desert for gold. T.J. left the army with a pension and vanished into the Nevada desert to hunt for gold…Alone. He had been living off of the gold he finds in Nevada and Arizona ever since. I was just fascinated by this real life prospector and his life story and listened to him long into the evening before crawling into my truck to sleep.
Anyway when we ran into each other T.J. was searching for the area where he and his Grandfather had “hit it big” back when he was a boy and he knew he was in the right patch of desert, but his truck was not 4 wheel drive and would not make it into the area. Mine would though and after a pot of very strong coffee we drove back to where we had met and resumed the search for his placer area.
Now over the years I have been told many a story and followed many a lead some good and some bad, but this time the teller of the magical tale wanted to go with. Now this was a new twist and yes I had a detector T.J. could use and I would teach him to use it to find the nuggets he was so sure would be lying there just waiting for us. It was with him that I made the first trip into the area and was seriously wondering at times what the heck we were doing so far back in no-man’s-land looking for an area he remembered from boyhood. T.J. was by the way about 75 or so and has some pretty serious medical problems at the time which added to my concern.
T.J was having absolutely no problem remembering the way in and was pointing out cactus, rock formations and other things he remembered from trips in as a boy. He told me how he and his grandfather would give things names as they traveled as kind of a game and the landmarks I use today are the same with their names the same as I learned them on the way in that day. These names are not on any map except for perhaps one or two of them, but good names just the same. Then I too began to get more excited as the rocks around me began to change. Geologically I mean and things were looking real good for prospecting with all the tell tale metamorphic material along with exposed Shist and Granite bedrock here and there and then I saw the first mine shaft on a hillside.
We were there! “just up the road a bit you will see a piece of cable sticking out of the ground and just past it a old trail, take it” T.J. said. Yup the cable was there and with the ol’ heart beating fast I turned the truck onto a very faint trail down a small hill. I was really believing there was something to this story now as T.J. had directed me in as though he was there last week, not 60 some years ago. “ok slow down and look for a pile of rocks like a claim marker and a old fire pit.” say’s T.J. We went about 2 miles through some real nasty stuff when he said “missed it”. So we turn around and go back, but he didn’t miss it I did, it turns out it was on my side and I didn’t see it, but he was sure it was on the other side of the road. That was the only mistake he had made in his directions, not bad!
As soon as I stepped out of the truck and looked at the wash we were parked near I saw the drywash tailings, lots of them, very old with only small mounds of the larger coarse tails from the grizzly with the fines pile being long gone. T.J. pointed out a wide area in the lower end of the wash where someone had run every inch of ground through a drywasher.
This was where they found their small fortune many years ago while working down the small wash and getting good color all the way. They got into the large natural bowl shaped area and found it to be very rich with gold winking at them from every riffle of their old hand pump bellows drywasher when T.J. stopped his Grandfather from working to come look. T.J. didn’t recall how much gold they recovered from that spot, but it was “several bean cans full” he said!
Heck even the dog was excited this area looked so good. I could hardly wait to get after some gold, but first I had to help T.J. learn to use a Fisher Gold Bug. Well he took to it without any trouble and he found his first nugget within 5 minutes of walking into the wash. It was about a penny weight and very rough laying right on top of a tailing pile at the edge of the wash. After a bit of hooting and grinning I went back to the truck for my Gold Bug 2 and I’ll be darned if T.J. didn’t nail another one before I could get back. This was a very nice nugget weighing in at a quarter ounce, again in a header pile from his Grandfather’s drywasher.
After sitting and chatting again for a bit and admiring the very crystalline nugget I headed down the wash to try my luck. I began working the bank and immediately got into a spot where there were signals everywhere over a small area. I excitedly began recovering targets, but they were not nuggets they were nails, lots of them in 3 different sizes and all very old even perhaps hand made. Possibly where the old drywasher roted away after being left by T.J.’s Grandfather. I moved out of the nail pile and immediately got a signal in a header pile and yes this one was a small nugget again very coarse weighing about a gram or so. After hunting the area for a couple hours and getting 4 more small ones I headed back to see how T.J. was doing.
When I got to the truck he was sitting there with a smile and 3 more small nuggets to show me and after that long drive in it was already getting late afternoon so we spent the rest of the day setting up camp and making a good ol’ steak dinner over a desert camp fire. We got to know each other that night, but we talked like we had known each other for all our lives. T.J. told me that there were several other small washes that had gold in them, but he couldn’t remember how to get to them.
The next day was interesting in that we just couldn’t get another nugget from that first wash or it’s banks up or down and I finally decided to take a hike looking for new areas or perhaps where that very coarse gold was coming from. Walking up a small tributary to the main wash we had been working I nailed another small nugget and slowed down. The little feeder cut through a area with an unusual amount of Greenstone scattered about mixed with quartz fragments and the soil was very red. I began hunting the flat that was covered with this material and immediately got a fairly deep signal and dug a half ounce nugget from about 8 inches deep. Before I was done I had well over an ounce of shiny rough placer nuggets.
I decided to go and get T.J. and let him in on the new patch and on the way noticed another small area with the same type material showing through the desert varnish that covers everything in this area. Yup you guessed it, within a few swings I hit a nugget, then another, and yet another. What a moment it is when you realize that you are in an area that could really produce and there is no evidence of anyone having been there for perhaps 60 years or more. We stayed there for two days and found several ounces each and became really good friends. What stories I got to hear around the camp fires that weekend and what plans we made for future trips.
Two weeks later I pulled into the trailer court where T.J. was staying to pick him up to find his trailer was gone. I couldn’t believe he would just leave after we found his old hunting area. I talked to a neighbor and was told that T.J. had died in his sleep a week earlier and was buried in the local cemetery. I was in shock to say the least and went to see his grave and say goodbye, it felt like losing family and it tore me up some inside.
I still hunt this range of hills and still find gold in the area almost every trip. I sure miss that old fellow in the bib over hauls smoking camel non-filter cigarettes and telling tales around the campfire and although it was only one weekend it seems like I knew him for many years. I still camp in the spot where he and his Grandfather camped year after year and I never forget to say hello and thank you to T.J. for the gold I have found in this spot. Now as I cruise that long rough ride into my camp site with D.J. (the dog) I smile knowing I’ll get to say hello to an old friend and perhaps find some gold. You know I did find a couple more gold producing areas by walking the hills and my guess it there will be more.
Now you may find this next part a little strange, but while talking around the campfire T.J. mentioned once that “the only thing I am scared of when it comes to dyeing is that there’ll be no cigarettes in heaven”. So each trip in I get him a pack of Camels, remove them from the pack and leave them by a rock he used as a chair when he was a boy. When I return whether it is two weeks later or a few months later the cigarettes are always gone with no remains left. Critters or……?