Dredging the Arkansas River (continued)

Awakening at 7:00, I made some coffee and prepared a small, goldminer, breakfast. One half pound of bacon, four eggs, and four big pancakes. If you work hard you can eat big. I didn't plan on stopping for lunch so I loaded up. As I finished with dishes and cleanup my dredging partner arrived from Denver. Good timing. He brought his four inch Proline and was planning on running it. I told him "Wait until you see where we will have to carry it". Leaving the camp site we drove to the claims.

Hungry Prospectors

 At the claims parking lot we gathered up our pans, hooka and some of the other small items and headed off down the trail. When we arrived at my dredge we decided to run it as partners rather than carry another dredge down the trail. (This was a very good decision as two weeks later when we set up at another location the dredge wouldn't start. It had an ignition problem. We would have carried it in just for exercise.)

We examined the gravel bar and selected a likely looking spot and began pitching rocks. It seems like all of the good dredging spots are always under a rock pile. If there isn't a couple of yards of rocks to move, there probably isn't any gold. After about 15 minutes we had a clear spot all ready to dredge. We both put on our wet suits and started the dredge and then the fun began. Dave begun to ran the nozzle and I drug out the "serious" rock moving equipment. You can see it on the "Moving Rocks" web page. I then proceeded to drag and roll some large rocks out of the way as Dave dredged. After a couple of hours we traded off. I had expected to see a few other club members come by but they didn't take the time to carry their equipment up the river as far as I had. (They probably had more sense) After running about six hours we were both tired and ready to clean up for the day. We shut off the dredge and eagerly examined the sluice box. There were a few small flakes showing but nothing large. This was not unexpected as this area has glacial gold and it is mainly small sized. We lifted the upper riffle tray, pulled out the mats and washed the concentrates into a bucket. Then we removed the cover from the under sluice and did the same. Dave grabbed some of the concentrates and panned them out. Success. There was flour gold all over the pan. We both could see that dredging here would be different than what we were used to. We then moved the dredge up onto the bank, got out of our wetsuits and changed into dry clothes with a great feeling of satisfaction. We weren't rich money wise but were millionaires contentment wise. Hiking up the trail to the truck we discussed plans for tomorrow.

A view of the river

 At camp that night we cooked and ate supper with a small group of other prospectors. (No beans tonight. Macaroni and cheese with Chorizzo sausage chopped into it. Not fancy but then there weren't any leftovers either.) Afterward we sat around a small campfire burning wood harvested from the wilds of 7-11 and discussed the activities of the day. Life doesn't get any better than this.

The next morning after another group breakfast we hit the road to the claim. The weather man's predictions were finally coming true and it was a grey and dismal day. After the previous days work neither one of us felt like working very hard. I climbed into the cold and clammy wet suit and Dave said that he would just pan concentrates.

I drug the dredge into place from the bank, tied it off in the current and grabbed the footvalve. A quick push down into the water, a quick pull up to the surface of the water. Another push down and another pull up. Funny, that pulled up really easy. Looking down I saw the end of the suction hose minus the footvalve. It had come off. Instantly I began thinking all kinds of nice thoughts. In the current that I had the dredge anchored in, it had to be at least 1/2 mile downstream by now. Could I prime the pump with no footvalve?

Fat chance.

Could I purchase a replacement in town? Not much chance of that either. What about stealing the one off of the dredge that was sitting on the bank a hundred yards downstream? They probably wouldn't be on the river today. It would be possible to do but not something that I would do. With very little hope for success, I picked up my mask and snorkel and put them on. Sticking my head under the water I couldn't believe my eyes. The footvalve had dropped straight down into three feet of water and all I had to do is simply reach out and pick it up. The moral of this story is to screw a sheet metal screw through the hose into the foot valve assembly. This will prevent it from slipping off. You might not be as lucky as I was.

Dredger at rest

 The spot that we had dredged at the previous day was becoming rockbound so I moved over about ten feet and began a new hole. I dredged for three and 1/2 hours. The material I was working in was sandy and didn't have a lot of very big rocks in it. My past experience with this type of material wasn't very good so I wasn't very enthusiastic about working hard. Once as I surfaced and looked around I encountered a rainstorm. My partner, Dave, was sitting on a rock at the side of the stream hunched over and panning concentrates. I hadn't even been aware of the rain.

After the two previous days work I had about all of the dredging that I wanted for the day. After cleaning out the dredge and placing the concentrates into a bucket I panned a small pan to see what me results were. Success. Gold was flecked all over the pan. Feeling better about the days work I then drug the dredge back onto the bank, changed into semi-dry clothes, and gathered my wetsuit up and headed back to camp.

That night we sat around the campfire and burned the last of the firewood and talked about everyone's results. Everyone had found gold no matter which prospecting method they had used. There were a lot of smiles on faces. Results had been much better than at any other place that we had worked locally. Even with the less than desirable weather a good time had been had by all.

In the morning Dave and I decided that since he had to make an early return to Denver we would just pack out the dredge rather than try to get in a few more hours of wet work. We were both dreading the mule work of carrying the dredge back to the truck. After carrying it out though it really wasn't all that bad. Two people really made the difference. After a few trips it was securely loaded in my truck. Dave left and I wandered up the river to take a few final pictures. I then met the claim owner carrying a dredge pump to his car. The end of dredging season was a few days away and he was packing out for the year. Remembering what it was like carrying my dredge in alone I gave him a hand and after a few more trips he had all of his equipment at the road also.

Prospecting in the rain

 After talking to some of the remaining prospectors I drove down to Vista Mining Adventures store. Phil Martinez, the owner, had offered to run my concentrates through his centrifuge. Not being a great fan of hand panning concentrates, I quickly took him up on his offer. The results were very satisfying. My three hours of dredging had produced more gold than we had found on the day before. Approximately 2 grams worth. A really nice looking pan of fine gold. Most of it pepper to sand size. I only wished that the dredge season wasn't ending. I felt that I finally had found a place that I could actually come close to paying expenses for the first time in Colorado. Oh well, there's always "Next year."

Coming to Colorado? Want to find gold? Don't want to haul your equipment? You can spend a day, a week, or all summer finding gold on the Arkansas. Visit Vista Mining Adventures for all of the details at Vista Mining Adventures They have equipment rentals and can fix you up for any time frame. Claim permits can be purchased on a day-by-day basis or annually. Free camp locations are near by.

Tell them "The Golden Optimist" sent you.

Background photo courtesy of Gordon Salo - Prospector

Gold grains photographed under a binocular microscope at 15x magnification. The sample material was recovered from the Hutton Twp. Vermillion river gravel's near Sudbury Ontario.

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