Culture, Charred Steak, and Gold

We are on another prospecting expedition and I’m sitting by a campfire smelling steak burning just right as the sun nears the top of the treeline to the west. It seems as if I feel less heat already in early August. Pink Floyd’s The Wall is playing – probably for the one-billionth time since the album was created. 🙂

There is laughter and talk of entrepreneurial ventures after the virus recedes – hopefully for good until the next Something comes along. I’ve just had a bite of the best Filet Mignon of my life.

Pieces of gold are being compared.  I feel content at this moment. America – the world – mankind is going to be OK. As we sit around the fire, we share stories about the prospecting culture and the local woodcutters among other things. Bits of information are passed back and forth such as that salmon berries are known by some as Smooshberries – because they are smooshie, of course. 

Local lifestyles make for great tales. The woodcutters are stuff of legend around these parts. They know how to harvest a truck load of wood from the mountains in the dead of winter (I’m from “civilization” so everything is larger than life compared to what I’m used to).

We’re out prospecting with some people we’ve just met and they are very cool. They own a computer store and the husband has a YouTube channel having to do with drones. They want to open a restaurant. I’m sold after the steak.

Earlier in the evening, the husband threw a fishing line in the river and snagged a couple of trout for dinner. I’m rusty and asked for some pointers then proceeded to snag my hook in the nearest bush then break the line. I briefly considered shooting a trout with my slingshot before grabbing a hotdog.

Our other friend’s pooch has taken up residence at my side as I give him a good scratching. His owner is dabbling with constructing campers of a different type for a specific purpose. I don’t want to disclose his ideas without permission so I’ll let that lie for now.

We all have gold in common. It’s fascinating, elusive, and worth almost two grand an ounce right now.

I’ve been focusing on metal detecting for gold ore with some success and we plan to try to track down the source. It’s exciting. I’m sending in a pound of the material for a gold and silver assay which will tell me if, and how much of the minerals are in there.

The evening is mild, the mosquitoes few, the food excellent and the trading of stories and dreams the best. Tonight, the ties that bind are exquisitely charred food, a campfire, stories of people and their dreams – and gold.

Another trip is coming soon. We only have so much time before the legendary winter sets in. Then the gold of the mountains and creeks will be locked up for the season in ice and snow.

the grimmer roci

Other Adventures

Today I changed the description of Stories From Off The Grid to include other adventures.

There’s only so much that can happen to or that a family can do on 3.74 acres.

The garden is growing (peas and cabbage only this year and we planted way late), we moved the raspberry bushes closer to the RV so I could tend to them better, I still slingshot, the appliances are constantly breaking or now getting lost or damaged in the mail, and the pool is still halfway brown, still freezing, and largely unused.

The turkey’s are still turkeying along with this year’s batch of goblets,  I’m still obsessively looking for gold on our property although I’ve expanded my search to beyond the perimeters, Lawnmower man now drives a small backhoe and insists on creating a park-like setting here in the semi-wild, and we are dreading winter.

All is quiet on the western front with the neighbors, thankfully, and I’m running out of off-grid subjects. We don’t have livestock and I don’t make soap: wait, I did a couple of months ago but I didn’t know what the hell I was doing and certainly couldn’t write a how-to post on the subject. I cook, but lately, dinner has more often than not, been microwaved chicken patties and store-bought cookies. No how-to-cook posts here.

The solar power system is on the fritz. Nothing new.

Things have been pretty quiet here actually. So, in the spirit of trying to keep things interesting, this blog covers about anything that happens in our lives or that we make happen (I hope we’re still behind the wheel) that might be funny, informative, or humorous.

Other than the propane fridge we’ve long needed getting damaged in transit so we’re still short an LP fridge and me dredging the well, camping for gold is the order of the day this summer. There have been lot’s of adventures at Sheep Creek where we’ve been prospecting. We’re heading out again this afternoon and I’ll take lots of pictures because we might be onto something!

Whether it be the ongoing mess inside our car from packing or stays at motels from hell, its now all free game. The motel featured photo is not the motel from hell . 🙂

 

Gold Is Where You Find It

Listening to the experts.

If you can’t find the gold where you are, go to the gold.

In addition to willing gold into existence on our own property, I’ve decided to drive to it; about sixty miles to a place called Sheep Creek. This in response to a phone call last week from a fellow prospector who suggested we camp and pan for the weekend.

I’m not giving up on my thought experiment of materializing gold out of dirt and rock here at home but I figured it was about time to increase our odds of finding the shiny and holy substance. The caller is a guy we met about a year ago who shares this mental illness called Gold Fever.

The fever causes one to become irrational and obsessed with either conjuring up the elusive metal through the use of chemical processes to spending hour after backbreaking hour in the sun sifting through bucket after bucket of gravel in search of even one tiny morsel of goodness.

Stricken with this disease, my husband and I gladly crammed the back of our Dodge Durango with every manner of implement designed to aid in the finding of the noble metal.

Classifiers of every size, sluices, buckets, shovels, picks, hammers, and as many containers as one can fit as you can never have too many. All of this plus everything but our cookware (my husband recalled later, putting it away on a shelf in the shed) went into the hatch and off we went.

After an unsuccessful exploratory expedition to find a new spot, we turned around  about five-hundred feet shy of the Canadian border and headed for the sure-fire place for gold: Sheep Creek.

The creek is in the Colville National Forest and we found a good campsite for the first night. There wasn’t much time for panning so we set up and planned on heading out in the morning.

Several Sloppy Joes, ten cigarettes, and two UFO’s later we called it a night.

Worth mentioning is that on our way to find a suitable spot, we found a mine, or hole dug into solid rock along the road. It went about twenty feet in before dead-ending. We scraped some samples into some buckets (never enough containers), before continuing on.

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The mine.

The next morning we found a great spot near a rapids, moved camp downstream, and set to work. This is where all of those tools come in handy. Gold is heavy and you have to dig for it under very large rocks and in low-pressure zones in the water or where the water was at the high mark.

You have to ask yourself where gold would logically travel and fall out when being tumbled downstream. It tends to move along with the big stuff and settle with the heavy stuff so you look for those kinds of things and those locations and dig.

We are all amateurs but three sets of hands and brains is better than one. I jumped all over the place digging and sampling while the men found a good spot and kept at it for most of the time. They were rewarded for their efforts.

We spent the better part of the day and half of the next moving large boulders, scooping up buckets-full of sand and gravel and either running it through our sluices or hand-panning.

Our friend had the best of the luck, finding a nice wafer-shaped “picker” about three millimeters in diameter. My husband found some good ones and I managed to eek out a couple of specs with my fishing magnet.

If you throw a powerful magnet into the river, it picks up iron which in turn sometimes picks up gold with it. You separate it later.

By the last day, the fatigue was setting in and it was time to pack up and go. Our treasures were stored in one of the many many containers we’d brought to be separated from the black sands once we got home.

That night, our friend put away all of his camping and prospecting gear and sifted through his black sands to reveal his trophies.

Our car is still mostly loaded and we at least began the process of recovering our gold today. We got home day before yesterday.

 

Gold Is Where It Is

That means it’s on our property – right?

If you can’t find gold in your back yard, look again and again and again.

I’m finally coming to grips with the idea that we may not have a mother-lode on our property.  I’ve spent the last two years searching and coming up with nothing so I finally sent three rocks in for an assay to settle the matter.

An assay is a test to see how many ounces per ton of any given precious metal such as gold is, in the sample. It’s a pretty exacting process that I believe requires smelting the crushed ore to separate the good stuff from the crap and calculating the results.

We have about fourteen grams of gold per ton of rock – at least in the three I sent in. If ours was a major mining operation that wouldn’t be a bad number but for the weekend prospector – not so good. I called the assayer and he said that it is the nature of prospecting to discover a gold vein seven feet under and to the side of where the specimen came from – or not.

I twisted his words into the hope that I could still find that mother-lode. I suddenly found myself power-washing one of our quartz outcroppings today to get a closer look at the parts previously concealed by vegetation.

I’ve taken my metal detector to every square inch of the property in search of anything that sounds like gold – to no avail. Maybe another few sweeps will turn up something different.

With my hopes and behavior, I’m breaking one of the first rules of prospecting: look for gold where others have found it first. And a second rule: if you don’t find gold, don’t waste your time and keep digging.

In my desperation, I’ve come to believe I can will it into existence with the power of my mind.  Just wait.

Metal Detecting – A Rhyme

Got myself a gold detector
Precious metals a collector
Up and down the hills I’ll go
If it’s summer or it’s snow
Digging here and digging there
Garbage buried everywhere
Beeps all sound the same to me
Have to shovel just to see
Is it treasure is it trash
Maybe someone’s secret stash
Fifty bullets rusty nails
Takes the wind out of my sails
Maybe someday I’ll find gold
But for now it’s something old

Hiding In Plain Sight

Gold was there all along but how to collect it?

I’ve been playing in the mud and dirt for three weeks. I’ve sifted, classified, melted, roasted, and thrown buckets of it in frustration because I found a little gold on our property and I want more.

It’s everywhere but you can’t see it. I think the rock here was infused with tiny particles of it when they were formed rather than in visible quantities in quartz veins. You have to crush the ore and process it to get to the gold.

I think much of the gold is encased in what is called sulfides: a mix of metals and sulfur. These sulfides have to be reduced to iron oxide or rust by roasting in order to release the gold. You then have to smelt it down to separate the gold from any remaining metals.

All of the above factors make recovery difficult and I’m trying to determine if it’s worth the effort. Separating the small particles from the rest of the riffraff is near impossible unless you have the knowledge and the equipment.

To make things even trickier, gold is hydrophobic and small particles tend to be repelled by water. The kind of gold dust we have here floats on water and goes right over the edge of a gold pan so you have to add dish soap or Jet Dry to make it sink so you don’t lose it.

Another option is to take advantage of it’s hydrophobia to separate it from the other materials. Commercially, a process called flotation is used to float the gold to the surface of the water to separate it but for me, my food processor and some dish soap might suffice.

Outside, I have piles of dirt, tools, kitchen utensils, a sluice, a blow torch, and all other manner of weapons strewn about. I tend not to put stuff away in my feverish quest for the precious metal so the place is a mess.

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I have yet to build a furnace that will get hot enough to smelt properly so I might have to buy one. I have yet to see much of any gold other than the few flakes that got me started on this hunt. I wonder if I’m wasting my time. If there is any gold, I wonder if it will be worth the effort to recover it.

Regardless, I’ve been bitten by the gold bug so if I don’t find any more here, I’ll just go look somewhere else till I do.

No Geology – No Gold

Chances of finding gold are slim without a little knowledge.

Someone once told me that finding gold is like shooting a ghost.

Knowing some basics about geology is a way of evening out the game. If you want to find the noble metal, it’s important to be able to identify the types of rocks and other indicators that gold may be present.

Luckily for me, our property is a microcosm of the geology often associated with gold so I don’t have to go far to study.

We have a fault running through the middle of our land, springs, quartz formations, loads of iron (gold rides the iron horse), magnetite, garnet and other “heavies” associated with gold, bedrock for easy access, contact zones (where two different rock types meet), and past volcanic activity.

It’s all there – but is the gold? If you want better odds at finding it, learn as much as you can about gold-related geology but it that doesn’t “pan” out, do like I did: try divining with rods.

I’m not convinced dowsing works but since I learned that magnetite is heavily associated with gold, I wonder if there are deposits the could be influencing the metal rods?

Besides, it’s fun to wander around outside holding two metal rods out in front of me at two in the morning. I wonder what the neighbors think?  I’m known to keep very odd hours.

Once I find a promising rock, I crush it and pan it out to check for particles of gold.

I haven’t found any yet but I’ve been told that like ghosts – it exists. 🙂

Itching To Get Out

After months of snow, we can’t wait.

The advent of Spring has left us dying to get out; maybe go on a hike on solid ground. My husband and I love the outdoors and we live in the woods but we’d like to see some different trees for a change.

Morel mushroom season is approaching but not fast enough so we settled for a drive up the road to DNR (Department of Natural Resources) land near us the other day.

The area is cross-crossed with dirt roads threading through forested hillsides and mountains. There are a couple of silver mines, plentiful sources of wood that some hardy locals take advantage of to make a living (they are a special breed), and hidden huckleberry patches known only to some inhabitants.

A local promised to take us out to pick but we have been warned that bears love huckleberries also. We’ll be sure to bring our bear spray The Man, the Bear and the Truck.

While in town the other day I stopped by the Colville National Forest ranger station for some advice as my husband has been chomping at the bit to go on some overnight backpacking trips. I asked if there were really Grizzly bear in Washington state and in Stevens County and the answer was “yes”.

The ranger said they hung out closer to the Canadian border and at higher elevations so I think we’ll stick to the lower areas. If we have to use bear spray, the ranger told us to spray in a half-moon pattern horizontally in front of us to create a sort of wall. I would have just sprayed straight ahead.

I asked about Morel hunting in previously burned areas of the forest where they thrive after fires. The staff told us there are hidden holes and the danger of falling trees so I think we’ll stay away from those. There’s plenty of mushrooms out there as it is.

When I asked about road conditions the ranger recommended a phone app called Avenza. It’s a free download that shows road and recreation maps of various sections of the national forest. You can also use them off-line. We could have used that a couple of years ago when we got lost in the Snoqualmie National Forest Lost In The Woods; Twice In One Day.

There is wild asparagus coming up although I have yet to find a single sprig. Crawfish are fun to catch (and delicious to eat) although I don’t know where to find them on this side of the mountains. We knew the back roads and where to look for things where we used to live (except for the time we got lost) but here is a new story. We’re still plying the locals for their secrets.

Lastly, I have gold fever again and have been all over our property crushing and breaking rocks. I dug a hole right into what I believe is the location of the fault running across our property. Imagine having your own private fault line? Take a look at the photo that shows its location. 🙂

The back of our SUV is crammed with prospecting equipment just in case. If you look for gold in Washington state, you have to keep a copy of the Fish and Wildlife pamphlet with you. It has the rules for prospecting in it.

Let me close with an example:

“You can pan in the northwestern upper corner of the easternmost part of whatever creek as long as you use a sluice no longer than your arm but no shorter than the length between your elbow and your hand. You cannot dig more than three feet past the upper waterline of a hundred-year storm nor under the lowest point of a hundred-year drought on Saturdays and Sundays and only on tributaries to every river in Washington state except Snohomish County. You may wear only bright purple and use a shovel rather than a pick ax unless you are driving a Suburu in which case, you may wear purple with polka dots. This only applies to prospecting done during leap years.”

Tinkham Campground

The last stop on our journey to a new life.

The summer we lived in a travel trailer between homes was memorable.

We spent the first month up the Middle Fork county road outside of North Bend Washington but there’s a two-week limit on how much time you can stay in the national forest. As a result, we were under pressure to keep moving. The county Sheriff patrolled the area regularly and didn’t hesitate to tell people to move on if they exceed their limit. It was tricky to keep two paces ahead of them and we became forest outlaws for overstaying.

One day the sheriff told us to move so we had to spend a week at a hotel at the pass to burn up the prescribed amount of time before we could go back. It cost us an arm and a leg but it was nice to be able to shower and the beds were comfortable.

When we returned, we opted for a pay campground to take off the heat. Denny Creek near Snoqualmie Pass was a nice place but the caretaker was anything but.  He was an older gentleman who took his job way too seriously. He would literally look at his watch when we came to pay.

After that, we camped in an undesignated area before checking into Tinkham Campground – another pay site. We lived there for almost a month before we closed on our property and left for our new home.

Tinkham was a breath of fresh air. The hosts were super friendly and didn’t run the place an internment facility. It was located halfway between North Bend and the pass. As we were still living and working near our old home, we could commute back and forth to Snoqualmie with relative ease. It was a beautiful drive.

Our spot was on the river side of the campground with our own semi-private trail to the river. Denny Creek fed into it a mile or two up the road and was known for having gold.

I spent a lot of time at the beach. We got our water there, prospected, or just played around. The leg-breaking terrain was littered with giant rocks that were difficult to walk on but someone had begun to build a trail from the tree line to the river’s edge.

I seized upon the idea and spent many hours over the following weeks adding to the trail. It was like building a patio. I would find the flattest rocks, dig shallow holes for them, lay them in, dump sand between them and pack it down. It looked pretty cool in the end.

Working on “my” trail became one of my favorite pastimes. It was symbolic to me. The flattened walkway that threaded its way to the water might save someone a broken ankle and was an invitation to enjoy the river. I hoped people would use it for months –  maybe years ahead. I wondered if others would help to maintain it. I’d like to go back someday and see if it’s still there.

The great solar eclipse happened while we were at Tinkham. When the sun fell into darkness, the shadows on the ground deepened in a surreal fashion. The light dimmed, and we headed to the beach. I took my camera and my husband brought three pairs of sunglasses to watch. I teased him about it.

I couldn’t get a good shot with my camera but the multiple pairs of sunglasses my husband brought allowed us to see it clearly. Go figure.

We went prospecting at Denny Creek but had the usual bad luck in finding any gold. By that time, I was beginning to realize gold is heavy.  It sinks to the bottom of the gravel and sand till it hits either bedrock or clay. You have to have the right equipment and experience to know how to get to it. Lesson learned.

We were able to stay for the rest of our time in the mountains at Tinkham because the hosts were cool. Being an older couple, they suggested we clean up the fire pits in exchange for some extra time. We spent three days cleaning up fifty or so campsites.

In mid-September, we closed on our property. Winter was approaching and we now had somewhere to go – somewhere to call home. It was time to go.

On the evening of September 17th of the year 2017, we loaded up the trailer and hitched it up to the truck in the pouring rain. We pulled out of our spot and stopped on our way out to say goodbye and thank you to our hosts.

We pulled onto I-90 knowing western Washington was now a part of our pasts, most likely for the remainder of our lives – but a new adventure awaited us ahead.

 

Prospecting

Our quest for gold.

I can’t figure out how to use my expensive metal detector. Steel gives off the same signal as gold, iron signals the same as gold, bottle caps signal the same as gold, nails signal the same as gold.

From what I’ve read, metal detecting is almost an art form and I have yet to create a masterpiece let alone a decent sketch. Prospecting for gold is the same – it takes patience, knowledge and experience to become successful at it.

So far, gold has totally eluded my husband and I. You could point us to a gold rich river and we would come up with only pyrite or mica no matter where we dig, how deep we dig, how much material we dig – you  get the idea. We’re rank amateurs.

All I ask for is a few little grains or flakes in the bottom of my pan – just a few. I would be able to finally sleep at night.

I downloaded some maps from Gold Maps Online for Google Earth. It’s on overlay of gold claims and mines along with data from the BLM (Bureau of Land Management).

You can plan ahead to find closed and open claims and check to see if they’re on private or public land (although that’s not always easy to ascertain). You can check terrain and roads beforehand. Like their website says, you really can do a lot of the footwork ahead of time virtually and save yourself gas and disappointment.

Our property has a lot of geological indicators for gold: iron rich soil and ore, quartz outcroppings and springs, not to mention an actual fault. Nothing so far though.  I even tried divining – still nothing.

We panned all summer near Snoqualmie Pass and around North Bend Washington to no avail. Denny Creek near the pass is supposed to bear gold but we came home empty handed.

One thing we did find recently is garnets.

I was panning and found a bunch of reddish looking sand and rocks. They were the only thing left in the bottom of the pan with “the heavies”, as prospectors say. We took them into a local jeweler who confirmed they were garnets. The jeweler said most creeks and rivers around these parts contain them.

My husband isn’t as interested in prospecting as myself but he always takes me places to hunt. He contents himself with exploring the area while I prospect. He found a wolf skull just last week.

I’ve yet to find any gold but my day will come. I’ve heard that when you see it you know it and that you will never mistake a piece of mica or fool’s gold for the real thing again.