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This story begins two years ago in the spring of 1998, A fellow that I met through my job told me a story about a placer gold deposit that he and a big horn sheep hunting partner found 15 years earlier. The story went something like this:

The two men were hunting on an Air Force Range in Southern Arizona and came across evidence of placer mining in the vicinity of an old rock cabin and a government built wildlife water tank. Carl, who has no real interest in gold mining watched as his friend took a few samples and then they continued with their hunt. The samples were forgotten in the truck until a couple days later when Carl's friend panned them. There was good gold in those samples and Carl's friend made several trips back to the spot to drywash. Several ounces of nuggets and fines were recovered from this small gulch before the fellow lost interest due to the fact it is such a long hard 4WD drive in to the area and the gold was getting harder to find.

Now we get to the part where I meet Carl and in casual conversation the story is told to me. Of course upon being told the story, my first question was " Do you mind giving me directions to the area? " He responded by saying, He would be glad to if he could remember how to get there after all these years. So I was given my first set of directions and landmarks on a scrap of paper as Carl left to work out of state for a while doing road construction. Using the crude map I began researching the area as well as I could with the limited information I had. To top it off there was no literature describing any type of placer gold found in the area in question.

It was about three weeks later that I was able to find the time to make the first trip to try to find the placer area. But before a person can enter this area he or she must stop at the Air Force Base and see security to get a pass. To get this pass you must state your reason for being there, have your ID, etc. checked out. So I told the head of security I wanted to enter the area to metal detect for gold nuggets and do a little camping. Well he thought that was just great and we sat and chatted for a bit, and I went on my merry way with combinations to the gates I would have to enter and a military pass to be on the training range.

The first trip served only to familiarize me with the general area and discover the route in to be a chore. I have since named the road, Roller Coaster Road as it is up and down through deep, steep ravines for miles. This is one of those areas where a 4WD vehicle is a must and back at the base it was required to get my pass. I only found one landmark this trip before I ran out of time and had a sneaking suspicion that some of the directions may have been remembered incorrectly by Carl. So after he returned from his work trip 4 weeks later we sat down with the map and I refreshed his memory about the terrain and I got an updated version of directions complete with a couple new landmarks.

By now it is the middle of July and in Arizona the daytime temperature is normally 110 degrees F or better. So I waited until mid September to try another shot at finding the placer area. This time I decided to ask my friend Lou to join me in the search. It was still in the low 100's during the day, but you get used to it. So we packed the truck and planning on staying out two days, off we went. Of course we had to stop and do the permit thing all over again for Lou, I just needed to check in and give our reasons for entering the range. Again the reason we gave, prospecting with a metal detector.

This time things were different, we found all the landmarks, including a water tank set up for wildlife that was to be the area to hunt [or so we thought]. We set up camp well away from the tank as not to disturb the wildlife coming in for water and set out to find the gulch with evidence of placer work. We were not able to locate the spot before dark so we settled in for the night using rocks from around camp to make a fire ring. After getting a good fire going we prepared to cook supper only to have the rocks around the fire begin exploding violently and sending shrapnel flying in all directions. What did we learn? Never use porous basalt for fire rocks. The gas filled bubbles in the rock expand, and BOOM.

The next morning we renewed our search and after working late into the morning decided we were again in the wrong area. So we both agreed that back by the rock house might be a good spot to look around. Now we were in an area that looked as though it may have potential, but by now it was early afternoon and we still had a several hour drive down Roller Coaster Road to get to the highway. So we looked around a bit more then headed out. I decided to talk to Carl and try one more time after it cooled off. Carl informed us that the rock house was closer than the water tank to the area he remembered. So now we were sure we would find it.

This trip it was Lou, Louis [Lou's son], and I Back down Roller Coaster Road we went for yet another try at finding the placer. We camped near the old rock house and spent the rest of the afternoon searching the area for evidence of previous work and found it. Not far from camp we found drywash tailings! It was late afternoon and near dark by this time so we fixed supper and sat around the fire listening to the jets bomb and shoot missiles just a few miles to the south. Tomorrow we would do some serious detecting near those tailings and hopefully find some gold nuggets.

Waking to the sound of bombs in the distance, we ate breakfast and headed out detecting. I no sooner got started than, bingo my very first target was a small nugget. Well we both went after it then and by afternoon we each had gotten a few nice nuggets. The gold is very rough, indicating that it hadn't traveled very far if at all. When you are finding gold it is very hard to leave but, we had no choice so off we went planning to return just as soon as possible. After a lot of hard work and searching we were into a good area. Now the story takes a weird turn.

Upon Applying for our pass to enter the range on our next trip we are informed that metal detecting, mining, or prospecting of any kind is NOT allowed on the air force range and never has been. The head of security denied giving us prior permission and couldn't remember talking to us! We were then advised that,to try to do any sneaky stuff type prospecting would be seriously frowned upon. So now after all the work and after finding the area we intended to work, suddenly it is off limits. This is a true story and we even called the B.L.M., they told us the military can make or change rules any time they feel a need to. Besides we wouldn't want to risk digging up a live bomb would we? Well there it is, sad but true. Lou and I tried to get answers from the Air force, but just ran into another dead end.

My question is simple, why was I not told this the first trip in and yes it is now very clearly written th the little rules pamphlet they hand out and the reason is they don't want folks digging up any unexploded shells etc.

Copyright © 2000, By William Southern Jr

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