I was out of the tent at 0630 watching Leonard eat God-knows-what from his cook pot. Water for me. Starting out the day with a quart of ice water became my routine. The first day had become only a twisted memory and a hard lesson learned. The cool breezes had left for Colorado, leaving a wake of funneled wind gusts and radiating waves of heat off of the desert floor. The tarp was staked and re-staked as needed with scrap lumber added for support. As ugly as it was, the tarp, in my mind, saved the trip.
In the sun, a blistering 116 degrees, under the tarp, a bearable 96. Pouring ice water over my head provided welcome relief, but the wind would completely dry my hair in under three minutes Ė I timed it.
Another prospector happened along today. If fate is a reality, then this guy completed ours. We watched as he drove up the road past our camp. Up, up, and way from the wash that we had worked so feverishly and unsuccessfully. He parked about two hundred feet above camp, on the side of a feeder wash. Leonard being much more gregarious than I with strangers, walked up the road to talk with him. Our nearly empty gold poke fueled his ascent.
After a half-hour of mantalk, Leonard returned with uplifting news. This guy was finding good gold. He generously offered to us a spot above him, respecting a healthy boundary. That was just the break that we needed. Mike joined us later that morning and we hauled everything up the slope in his pickup. This was to be the beginning of a very memorable dig.
With the GoldKing humming along and a new enthusiasm fueling our labors, we proceeded to "take down the hill". A false bedrock layer of caliche proved to be the table upon which our feast was served. Every cleanup of the machine yielded coarse, chunky gold. Even the soft topsoil was laced with pieces of brassy brilliance. It seemed too good to be true, but in this little patch of BLM scrub, not two miles from town, we were the first shovelers to take heft of this material.
Every cleanup pan revealed more gold than black sand. It was a good lesson. Sometimes you need to throw out logic and knowledge and just revel in the moment. The gold should not have been there, perched on the side of a hill. In defiance of gravity, erosion, and common sense it stood fast. We broke through a weathered layer of caliche to discover beet-red pockets of crumbled bedrock intermingled with jet-black patches. These pockets gave up some nice nuggets. We were all laughing at our luck. At one point, Mike could see the nuggets and coarse gold on the screen as he brushed out the box. Somehow, the heat and discomfort had melted away.
The daily routine became heart-pounding mornings of toil, afternoons of shade, and evenings of merriment. As an added bonus, each weekday around 1800, we watched overhead as a USAF 757 refueled a cargo plane in mid-air. I learned later that these folks were INS agents on round-the-clock, routine air patrol. Border hoppers beware. Those planes are equipped with infra-red cameras. They see all.
Various members of Billís and Mikeís family joined our ranks on cloudless days and cool evenings. Kim and young Mickey on Mikeís side, Jackie and little Kelsey on Billís side. On some moonlit nights, we would head to our spot for a mostly entertaining bout of midnight drywashing. The desert really lights up under the full moon. We discovered that the red layer beneath the caliche did not produce. The red and black pockets, about the size of a softball, were the source of our hard-earned goodies.