Return to the Arkansas River

After four weeks of memories of the flour gold that I had found dredging the Arkansas River I could stand it no longer and I began to search for a partner for a return trip. We wouldn't be able to dredge as it was late October and dredging season was over for the year. With October being rather late in the year to be prospecting at 8,500 foot elevation, I would need to find someone that was as dedicated to having a good time as I was. The weather report wasn't very good for the three days that I proposed to go and that wouldn't help very much. One thing in my favor though was Buena Vista was supposed to be in the "banana belt" of Colorado. Highbanking the Arkansas. No dredges
allowed this time of the year. Finally I was able to locate another prospector who was as avid about returning as I was. Steve had dredged there during the Club outing and was as anxious as I was to return. This had been a new prospecting spot for us and it had impressed us both with the quantity of flour gold found. What made this partner selection even better was "He owned a high banker." There would be no dredging this time. This was going to be any self respecting dredgers nightmare. The dreaded #2 shovel time. No laying comfortably horizontal floating gracefully on the surface of the water. The dredging season was over for the year. Everyone else had packed up their dredge for the winter. Most who had good sense had packed up almost all of their equipment for the winter also. But "oh no", not us. We were rough, tough, gold prospectors. What's a little adverse weather. The weatherman is usually wrong anyway. This trip only proved that some people have more guts than brains. With the temperature already half way decent, a winter blizzard in the weather report, and "a song in my heart" I got up early on a Thursday morning and headed for Denver. I was to pick up my partner and load everything into my truck and off we would go to make our fortunes.

I had never been to Steve's house before and with the combination of his directions and the sun not being up yet, I had trouble finding it. When I finally arrived, it was still dark. Both the sky and the house. Not a light anywhere. Had he given up on me and left without me? Oh no! He was still in bed! I had been up for two hours getting ready and making the drive to his house and he was still in bed. After awaking him and about half of the neighborhood he appeared at the door. We began the task of loading ten pounds of stuff in a five pound bag. My Ford Ranger pickup needed to be a full size truck by the time all of our camping gear, two prospectors personal gear, two prospectors prospecting gear, and a full size high banker were crammed and smashed into the back of the truck. Finally, after taking both of us to close the tailgate, off we went. We had planned on traveling to Fairplay, Co. and stopping there for breakfast. By the time we arrived there we both ought to be fully awake and if we ate late in the morning we wouldn't have to stop for lunch. Besides, Fairplay was an old gold dredging town and the atmosphere would be perfect.

After stopping in Fairplay and eating at the Brown Burro cafe off we went again and we arrived in Buena Vista at about 10:00. We stopped by Vista Mining Adventures store and joined their club. This allowed us full access to their claims. This was to be a $40. dollar investment that I plan on getting back in gold during 1998. The gold is there. All it will take is a couple of trips next year. On the road again, (reminds me of an old song), we had another 10 miles to the claim. Upon arrival we noticed that there was no one else around. This really wasn't much of a surprise. We had the whole place to ourselves. Picking our spot scientifically, we hauled all of the equipment to the spot where I had dredged during the club outing. Soon we were all setup and moving rocks, gravel, sand, and hopefully gold. The weather was great. The weatherman must have been wrong. The sun was shining on our gold bearing spot and we both were removing layers of clothing. Soon we were down to tee shirts. All that could be heard were the rumble of the high banker motor, the gentle lapping of the water on the river, the sound of shovels scraping rock, the sound of two old guys grunting and groaning doing more hard labor then they were used to doing, and the sound of the high banker spray bar. How could it get any better than this. At least not when you couldn't be dredgeing.

Gold camp early in the morning After a pleasant afternoon of shovel work, try to imagine that, I'm still having trouble, we shut down and did a quick cleanup. Lots of flour gold.

Life was good.
Life was great.

We still had to set up camp for the night and fix supper. We were going to skip the obligatory beans the first night and have them the second night. That way life in the confined spaces of the tent would be more bearable. The effects of the beans wouldn't be felt until we got home. As it was late in the year we were able to select the same spot that we had camped at a month earlier. A really nice spot between several small trees and just a short distance from the road. We pitched the tent, got the sleeping bags laid out, and settled down for a few drinks before cooking supper.

After supper we unloaded the firewood that we had so painstakingly procured at 7-11 in Denver and built a small fire. Then was when we realized that I had forgotten the camp chairs. Oh, well. The ice chest and a five gallon bucket would serve the purpose. As the campfire flickered in the darkness, the clear evening sky full of stars overhead, drinks were poured and the conversation flowed. These are the time remembered. This is just another of the many reasons that I'm a prospector. As the campfire slowly burned down, the bottles emptied and the night hour advanced. It was all too soon time to retire for the night. Tomorrow would bring another full day of prospecting and hopefully even more flour gold.

Nothing like a big breakfast to start the day
off right. Awaking early the next morning as day broke, I could hear a funny rustling sound on the outside of the tent. Unzipping my sleeping bag and opening the flap, I could see that the weatherman had been right this time. The ground was covered with snow and more was falling. It was still to dark to get up so I crawled back into the warmth of the sleeping bag and zipped it up. Plenty of time to make decisions after the sun came up. After the sun came up I got up and got dressed. Exiting the tent I found about two inches of snow on the ground and more falling. Dragging the stove out of the truck I was hoping that our water hadn't frozen. I'm not much in the morning but I'm really even less than that until I've had my coffee. Luck was with me and it hadn't. After getting breakfast started I woke Steve. As we ate we decided that the smartest thing would be to pack up and leave. Neither one of us was anxious to high bank in the snow. Finishing breakfast we broke camp and packed all of the camping gear into the truck and headed out to the claim. The snow was still falling heavily.

Arriving at the claim we trudged the 1/4 mile through 4" of snow to our high banking site. All of our equipment was completely covered. It was a good thing that we had piled all of the small things together. They would have been nearly impossible to find under the covering of snow. Gathering equipment up we began the hike out. First the big, heavy items. The pump and motor. Then the sluice. Then the smaller items. About this time we realized that we should have done one extra thing the night before. Drain the lay flat hose on the high banker pump. Lay flat hose doesn't roll very good when it's frozen full of water. We managed to fold it into a few short sections and were able to carry it out folded up. Finally, all of the equipment was loaded into the truck. The main problem now was another 2" of snow had fallen and my truck wasn't a four wheel drive. Gently I let out the clutch and the rear of the truck immediately slid off of the road. Calling Steve back to act as a pusher, I carefully let the clutch out again. The truck slowly pulled itself back onto the road and began moving forward. Did I stop for Steve? No way! I was moving and I wasn't going to stop until I reached level ground. Steve could walk.

We eventually made it out of the claim area onto the hiway. No sweat now! Ha, ha. It took us 5 hours to drive the 100 miles to Denver. There were several times that we questioned weither we would even be able to make it. Our luck held out and eventually we did. That evening and the next day became the "Great Colorado blizzard of 1997. At least we were able to pack up and make it home before most of the roads were closed. Are we going again. Does a bear --it in the woods? Not this year though. It will have to wait until after spring runoff next year.

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