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