California or Bust - 1998 style
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Finally, the months of planning and preparation were completed and the magic day had arrived. Since the minute I had left the Mother Lode in 1997, I had been planning a return trip with the "big equipment", my 4" dredge.
I joined the Valley Prospectors club to allow me to use power equipment on their Union Flats claim and had sent my $127.95 ransom to the State of California for my out-of-state dredge permit. What I received from them for my money was one of the pages I had sent them, only now it a magic stamp attached authorizing me to dredge in their state. Hallelujah, I had their blessing to seek my fortune in their rivers and streams. I was ready! I was more than ready! I was pumped!
I had done my research last year on the claim by sampling using hand panning and sluicing (see my web page The Mother Lode Trip), and I had been anxiously awaiting this day for months. "Chuck the Miner", (see his picture in the photo album), from the Internet Prospecting Newsgroup, had driven by the claim the week before and posted a report on the weather and the water condition on the Newsgroup. Neither of these reports were very encouraging. The weather was rainy, the water was high and almost no one was dredging. I could not change the date as I was committed to this date for my vacation. Several other people from the Gold prospectors of the Rockies also were planning on traveling with me to the magic hiway 49 and Downieville. We would just have to make the best of it. When you are dredging, rain really doesn't make that much difference anyway.
The previous evening I had set the alarm clock to go off at 4:00 AM to allow me plenty of time to travel the 70 miles to the meeting place. It didn't even get a chance to go off. In spite of being up until midnight the night before, I awoke at 3:45 AM ready to go.
The pre-arranged meeting place for the travel group was Interstate 70 mile marker 232. We were to meet at 6:00 AM and we were going to leave at 6:30 with whom ever was there at that time. I had no idea of what to expect at the meeting place as it was selected by Molly, one of the members making the trip. She had said, "I think it's at mile marker 232. There's a ski rental store there". I had told everyone that if there wasn't an exit at marker 232, stop at the 232 marker along side of the road and wait for the rest of us there.
As I approached the mile marker I saw the exit sign. It said Downieville! This had to be a good omen of things to come. After pulling off of the hiway I selected a highly visible spot to park my truck. With a 4" dredge sitting on top of the bed of my truck and all of my camping supplies loaded under it, I wasn't too worried about not being recognized. Checking my watch I found it was 5:30. At least as the group leader and the only one knowing exactly where in California we were going, I wasn't late.
As 6:30 approached, more vehicles had arrived. Only Molly and her husband Rick, the people that had selected the meeting spot, were missing. At least they couldn't blame that on not knowing where to go. At 6:28 they finally pulled up. This made us a rather distinguished looking group of 4 vehicles and 6 people.
Molly in her "non-prospecting" attire
The group was made up of a Data Lines Engineer for the phone company, a mechanic, a lady truck driver, a professional clown, a optical equipment repairman, a fireman, and two dogs. All starry eyed gold seekers anxious to find their fortune. Why else would they sign on to a 1,000 mile trip to a place they had never seen, following a old, rusted out truck, driven by an even older, no longer slim, baldheaded man. Could it possibly have been the gold that I had displayed after returning last year at one of the club meetings?
We lined up with my truck in the lead as I had made the trip before and knew the stopping places. Jim with his newer Ford 4 wheel drive truck and 18' trailer house was directly behind me, Chris and Barbara with their 2 dogs in his Ford diesel truck and camper and Rick and Molly bringing up the rear in their newer model SUV. The plan was for all of us to keep an eye on the person following them and if they dropped out of sight, slow down. With all of the arrangements made off we went.
Leaving the meeting place we headed west on I-70 and up the Eastern side of the Rocky Mountains toward Eisenhower Tunnel. For anyone that hasn't traveled this route, we were starting out at around 8,000' elevation and the tunnel was at about 11,000'. This meant a lot of steep, uphill, climbing. With my worn out 4 cylinder motor, this translates to 3rd and 4th gear at about 45-50 miles an hour speed. Jim with his trailer and the big Ford 460 cubic inch, gas guzzling motor, this was no problem. As we progressed further up the hill I noticed Chris falling further and further behind. If I slowed down on this type of grade, I'd end up in 2nd gear at a real crawl. I figured we would make it to the top and then stop and wait for the rest of the group. On one of the open spots I could see back down the hill a couple of miles. No sign of Chris! Wait! There was a big, black, cloud of diesel smoke back about a mile and a half. I hadn't passed any large trucks. That must be Chris. At least he wasn't broken down. From then on, when we came to a long hill we would work our way to the top and then pull over and wait. At the first pull up, when they had all caught up I mentioned to Rick, "You might want to pass Chris and drive in front of him on the hills". Rick replied, " That's OK. We just drop way back".
After travelling on for several hours I noticed my gas gauge indicating low. That's funny, I usually can make it to Grand Junction without filling up. Maybe I didn't get it completely filled before I left. After watching it get closer and closer to empty, and then finally going past empty, I pulled over to top it of from a gas can. When I got to Grand Junction I filled up and discovered that my gas gauge was hosed up. Later I found it would go from less than empty to over 3/4 full by adding 2 gallons of gas. Just great. At least I had 7 gallons of gas in gas cans if I ran out.
Our plan was to drive to Ely, Nevada where we all had room reservations at the Hotel Nevada. It's big attraction was that it was on main street and right on the way through town. That and the fact that they had $19.95 rooms and a $7.95 prime rib dinner with a 99 cent breakfast. In the past I had always camped out at a campground about 10 miles east of Ely. It was a nice campground but it cost $10 to camp and in Ely I could "camp out" in comfort for $20.
We pulled into Ely about 6:00 and checked in. I decided that I ought to check out the bar and casino. Once I found out that they had 99 cent margarita's, I located a cool, comfortable place to sit and rest for a while. Some of the other prospectors decided to try their luck out at the casino. I do my only gambling in the water with my dredge so I continued to relax at the bar. No one decided to spend the next day in Ely so I don't think that any of the casino players were outstandingly lucky.
Early the next morning we met for breakfast and then checked out and hit the road. About 8 miles west of Ely is the Ruth copper mine. It is one of the largest open pit copper mines in the world. They have an observation point overlooking the mine and even though we are all gold prospectors, we decided to check it out. Along with the observation point, they have a display featuring large ore samples with descriptive signs.
As we approached the mine, huge mountains of tailings appeared. Some people might say how horrible the results of the mining appeared, but what I see is the contribution to the nations economy that the money made from the copper extracted represented. I might feel different if this was carried over a large part of a county or state but not when localized to a small area as most mining operations are. Standing on the overlook, looking down at the huge open pit, the view made the minor disturbances of the earth's surface that we make as recreational prospectors seem miniscule. After spending about an hour checking out the pit mining, the huge dump trucks hauling the ore out of the pit, and the ore sample displays we continued on towards California and our golden fortunes.
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