As the tires hit the cattle guard I was shaken from a dream. We had traveled two hundred miles through a snowstorm in the Chihuahuan desert and climbed a 9000 foot pass on an icy, winding, two lane highway. The cattle guard signified the beginning of a twenty mile crawl/slide/winch process that would eventually lead to a gold mine. It was the middle of February and it had been in the teens for the past few weeks. The wind was blowing about thirty miles per hour and things are a bit chilly outside. Through the windshield there is ice, mud, snow, and trees in some sort of strange collage.
I am thinking about how nice it was to doze off a little and how cold it was going to be when we had to get out to put those chains on. As I reach around to find my gloves I feel the tires begin to slip and the truck begins to scramble on the ice. My partner Hector downshifts and comes to a stop at the top of the first hill. It looks like it is going to be a long night.
It was ten days ago when Hector called me from just about this spot. He was raving about what he had seen in an old mine he had recently claimed. He said had found some very rich gold ore. I was a skeptic because the area he was working was not known for gold. I was a skeptic until Hector showed me the ore the next day.
I met him the next morning at coffee shop in Las Cruces. He was eating red enchiladas and hash browns and had a big grin on his face. He was swallowing a mouthful of eggs and red chile as he stood up shake my hand. As we sat back down he handed me this little rock. It was a frosty kind of close grained silica rock I would call monazite. Like a quartz sugar cube. It was creamy to off white in color and showed a few flecks of what I identified as pyrite.
I looked at him in puzzlement. Hector knew his stuff but I didn't see any big wires of gold sticking up out of his little rock anywhere. I wasn't seeing anything that I thought required a closer look. He looked at me and grinned and said, "Go outside and look at it in the light". I told him I was going to have my coffee first. So we sat and he told me about his adventure. He was inside one of several short shafts driven along a dike and was taking some samples when he got a little gold. He said he was only crushing a cup or so at a time and got "good color".
When I asked him how much color he got when he crushed a cup of it he said, "Go look at it in the light". I knew he was serious so I picked up my coffee and headed out to the smoking table. As soon as the light hit that rock I could see the gold plainly on the freshly broken surfaces. It was as fine and yellow as pollen scattered all in that rock. When I took out my 20X loupe it looked just like the old formica table top in the coffee shopâ€¦ sprinkled with gold flecks all over! The gold was tiny, but it was all through the rock evenly.
After a good inspection in the sunlight I came back inside out of the icy breeze and sat down. "How far does it go?" I asked. "Quien sabe?" he said. "I have a bucket full out in the truck. Some pieces have gold and some don't. It was hard to see down there and there is a lot of muck and some timbers at the bottom. Sure is a nice piece huh?" He grinned and there was some egg yolk stuck to his moustache.
So we made plans to go back and here we are, in the middle of the night in a blizzard in the mountains. Wrapping a bunch of chains around the tires to get us up this icy mountain to a hole in the ground where we will spend the next few days.
With much diesel smoke and cursing we were finally at the location. We were tired and it was late so we made a hasty camp and were asleep in fifteen minutes. We awoke to a crystal clear morning with a fresh 12 inches of snow on the ground. Our breath froze in the air as we struggled to get a fire going and some hot coffee inside. By the time we had water boiling we had already backed Hector's truck up to the shaft and set up his electric wench so that we could hoist ourselves and our gear in and out of the 25 foot hole. We had a blower with a 6" duct hanging in the hole to begin ventilation. As we drank coffee we looked at the pieces of ore Hector had recovered the week before and talked about what we were going to do with all the money we were going to make.
Within two hours we had removed an old collapsed wooden platform from the bottom of the hole and had most of the dirt, brush and snow hoisted out. The samples had come from low on the wall on the east side and we could actually see gold in the rock where the samples had been chipped. Our plan was to clean off the face of the workings and examine the rock to see the extent of the gold. Hector had got good samples on the east but not on the west, so we started cleaning out the waste rock on that side. By noon we had half of the muck cleared out of the hole and could see a zone in the dike at the contact of the dike and the country rock that was salted with fine gold. It extended 3-4â€ into the dike from the contact of country rock and ran 24" across the floor. It was very difficult to see in the dirty rock but where you broke a fresh piece off you could see the specks. You could very easily miss them too, as they were so fine and well distributed.
As we worked we pondered why a miner would dig 25 feet down and stop 12" after he was in gold ore. The area we were in was a famous silver mining area and had only minor gold production. I asked Hector if he had tested any of the adjacent shafts and he said that he had played around in two other shafts with no luck so far. We both agreed that further investigations in the other shafts were needed as soon as the weather broke.
As the afternoon wore on we could see that the ore was confined to a thin strip along the floor of the workings in the southeast corner. As we finished mucking out the shaft and set up some lights and a generator we were anxious to begin drilling. We had no powder to shoot rock with but we did have two Hilti rotary hammer drills with 1" bits. They drilled fast and milled the cuttings to dust for easy testing. It was getting about dark when we were finally ready to begin exploration.
After a dinner of elk, biscuits and gravy cooked in my little dutch oven we were ready to rock. We went down into our newly opened workings with the feeling that this was going to be a lot of fun. The generator was humming the lights were blazing and we had the oldies station on the radio. We drilled one foot into the floor at the edge of the visible gold and did the same in the wall. When the cuttings were panned there was plenty of gold. We blew out the holes and drilled another foot. The cuttings showed that the bits were still in ore and the floor was richer than the wall rock by about 50%.
With a small section of ore blocked out in the corner of the shaft we decided to go to bed. It had been a long day and we had done well. That night I dreamed of gold flecks in everything. The rocks, the water, the air, and even my skin was shot through with gold dust. I remember waking up thinking I needed to get the gold dust out of my eyes, but it was just crud stuck in my eyes from hoisting up a ton of crap out of the hole. Even though I knew it was only dirt I still swirled the pan around after I washed my face to check for color. There wasn't any.
The next morning we got up late and sore. It was bacon and eggs and leftover biscuits and gravy from the night before. It was overcast and cold but it was calm, and coffee lasted until the ibuprofen kicked in about 9:00. As we drank coffee and sat around the fire we discussed the strategy for the day. Hector wanted to dig down beside the ore and try to remove a large piece of the gold speckled rock to slice into specimens. Our plan was to drill down between the rich ore and the waste rock at regular intervals to a depth of two feet, then break out the waste rock as deep as we could. That would leave a thick slab of rich rock on the wall that hopefully could be taken out in large pieces.
When we started drilling we quickly found that the gold was concentrated in a strip close to the country rock. If we drilled 4" away from the wall we rarely got a fleck of gold in the cuttings. The drilling was easy so we drilled holes 24" deep at 6" intervals. Then we came back about 18" in a natural fault in the rock and drilled a few more holes to get a tool started. With a sledge hammer and a digging bar we had several big chunks out of the way within an hour. With a little chiseling we finished removing the waste rock and had only fractured the ore in one place. We decided to dig into the wall as well and that was a one man job. Hector was working like a man possessed. I let him have the shaft all to himself and busied myself with making lunch and refueling the generator. By the time I was lowering a bucket of sandwiches Hector was already trying to pry a big chunk of waste rock out with a digging bar. A short time after lunch we had succeeded in exposing quite an expanse of ore.
We wet the ore down good and brushed out all the cracks between the ore and the country rock. We then took chisels and scored the ore at the boundaries of our excavation. We began inserting hardwood wedges between the ore and the country rock and soon you could see a crack begin to develop. With a little hammering and prying we were able to get the exposed piece of ore off the wall in six pieces, all about the size of an encyclopedia and twice as thick. It was twilight when we finally hauled the little slabs out of the hole and fired up the generator.
As we ate some leftovers and another quick sandwich, we admired our treasure. Where the ore met the wall rock it was stained dark brown and you could see no gold. But an examination of the broken edges revealed a dense cloud of gold particles near the contact slowly fading for 2-3" and then abruptly disappearing. It was almost impossible to estimate the actual amount of gold in the rocks as the particles were very small. But there were thousands of particles in a hand full of cuttings and we had not yet drilled into the visibly rich ore.
After dinner we decided to drill 24" farther down and to the side. We drilled the wall first and found that the first foot had some color but the second foot had very little. When we drilled down we got steady color in both samples, but not quite what we had seen with the first drilling.
We hauled out a few buckets of waste rock and shut off the generator just as the moon was rising in the clear frozen sky. We stacked our little slabs of ore on Hector's tailgate. I woke up during the night to pee and as I was standing there in the snow in my underwear I thought about the ore. When I was finished I walked around the truck where they were stacked and there was Hector, standing there in his underwear in the cold looking at those rocks. At least I caught him standing there in his underwear in the freezing cold admiring that ore. If he would have waited to get up to pee for another five minutes it would have been me that was the goofy one. I just chuckled at him and crawled back in my tent.
The next morning we were faced with the fact that we were going to have to move a lot more rock if we were going to get more ore. We used the drills to go down as much as we could and take another lift of rock out of the floor. It was very slow going but we managed to break out another 18" or so of the floor and go into the wall another foot. We could see that this was all that we could possibly do without taking the entire floor down a lift. That was going to be big work and we would need bigger tools to break the rock up for us.
In the late afternoon we had exhausted ourselves as well as our ability to dig farther. We had been popping ibuprofen like candy mints and Hector had lost the carbide cutter on his drill bit. As the sun slipped over the mountain we were chiseling the ore around the edges and trying to split it away from the wall. We managed to get one large piece and four smaller pieces before we crawled out of the hole and fell unconscious.
The next morning was bad. We were both stiff and grumpy. Our eyes were sealed shut from the dust and the melting snow had the ground around the camp a muddy mess. Breakfast was instant oatmeal and there was no cream left for the coffee. We had slept until 9:30 and it took an hour and a half to get ready to work. I was cold for the first time since the trip started. Down inside cold. Bone cold. And smelly too, but not as smelly as Hector. He smelled like some sort of farm animal. I donâ€™t know why I ever started hanging around with that guy.
When we went down the hole our goal was to chip out all the ore we could reasonably get to and drill some tests. By mid afternoon I had made friends with Hector again and we had collected a bucket of ore with visible gold throughout. On the tailgate of the truck was 50 pounds of rock that averaged .05% gold. We had another bucket of rock for crushing that weighed 40 lbs that was very rich, although not quite a as rich as the slabs. We drilled about 20 holes and had the samples in bags. We also had 300 lbs of "waste rock" that contained some visible gold, so we took a few rocks to crush and split for an assay.
The sun was bright as it went over the Black Range. Our breath was starting to freeze as we packed the last of the gear and went over the area for an inspection. We sat against a big rock and smoked. It was silent. It had been noisy for days but now it was quiet. The sweat was dry and the gold was in a sack. Cuts and bruises, a sore back, 30 gallons of diesel and a $175 drill bit. A few days work and fifteen years prospecting in these mountains for something worth while. That moment was what this was about. Not the gold but the finding of it. And once again the words of Robert Service made that moment even sweeter.
As smoke and frosty breath encircled his face Hector broke the silence, "We need to get a jackhammer and a compressor up here in the spring, Bob." I smiled and let that one hang for a second. We both knew it was a great discovery and would easily be worth the investment. Our grubstake was rolled up inside Hector's sleeping bag and that was a hell of a good feeling too. "Spring is almost here" I said. "By the time you get that ore cut up we will be bringing out at least that much more."
When we got in the truck it seemed unfamiliar. It was plastic and leather and glass. It seemed fragile after so much steel against rock. It had form and symmetry and we had been dealing with the formless and jagged . The smell of the dust and Hector suddenly contrasted with the truck. As we got in the ruts and began sliding down the mountain the thought came to me that I already missed the mine.
While we were driving out of the mountains I thought about my dream. Everything speckled with gold flecks just like the formica tabletop at the coffee shop. The water, the sky, the trees and rocks all peppered with gold specks. In my dream I can see there is gold in everything, but you have to look really close for it. Just like the gold in that ore it can be hard to see. As the tires hit the cattle guard I understood what that dream meant.
Copyright 2010, By Bedrock Bob