Back to Colorado, back to “The Hole”…
…And then there was the trail, two-miles nearly straight down into the canyon, through trees and thickets that only a horse could navigate. We loaded the animals and got in the saddle, and over a few days rode the dredge and compressor and the rest of the equipment down into the canyon to the Claim on the Creek. The claim itself was a 100-something foot stretch of creek, and in the middle was “The Hole.” A 15-foot waterfall entered at one end of a 60-foot granite circle with sheer walls, and the water that flowed out the other end was just an ankle-deep, shallow trickle.
There HAD to be a whole mess of gold down there at bedrock – and there probably still is. We worked it for a while but most of the work involved me moving large rocks underwater in an effort to get to bottom bedrock. Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than smart because I was mainly stupid. It was incredibly dangerous down there, because in order to get down to the bottom layer of rock-stuff I had to wear a lead weight-belt and the sheer-walls meant there was nothing to hold onto in the Hole except the dredge-and-pump floating on two inner-tubes. As large rocks were moved aside to make a deeper hole and reach the bottom, the hole I was creating threatened to cave-in and trap me.
…And then it began to rain for a week straight. The days were dark and cold in in the mountains, but beautiful and majestic – and full of danger. We kept a camp-fire alighted under a fir-tree with branches that repelled the water. We needed the fire to stay warm after each excursion. Once in a fit of sheer exhaustion as I returned to the surface I stupidly spit-out the hookah-tube that was feeding me fresh air, and gulped-in a lung-full of freezing, brackish, creek-water – and I sank back under the water, taken down by the lead belt. With a great deal of frantic determination I coughed and thrashed and kicked and fought my way back to the surface. Releasing the weight-belt I grabbed onto the dredge’s inner-tube for floatation and nearly tipped the whole apparatus into the drink. I clung to the side of the machine gasping and listened to the steady thunka-thunka of the little motor and I realized that I had nearly drowned right there. And I still had to go down and retrieve the weight belt.
That ended the exploration of The Hole itself, and we turned our attention to the inlet and outflow portions of the creek to verify the status of the claim. Working the upper reaches above the fall we found and recovered a consistent volume of small flakes and colors, like what we had found in the Trinity Alps. Working the lower outflow section where the creek was only inches deep we found almost nothing. Stuff was going in, but was not coming out, but the means to get at it was more than our equipment could handle. We needed a Cat and a crane and a much bigger suction-device – just really big stuff that we couldn’t get down on horses. We needed to grow the operation and divert the creek.
So we dried-off and took a trip into town for a day-off and some recreation, and to figure out what to do next. We ducked out of the rain into The Bar where we began talking with the sassy, cute and buxom black-haired bartenderess, and drinking with the local Sheriff who happened to be a friend of Jim’s, on just what happened to be his (the Sheriff’s) Birthday, and we joined-in with the whole bar singing his birthday song, repeatedly as rounds were poured, “Up Against the Wall Redneck Mother.” It was indeed his 34th-somethign Birthday and quite a memorable event.
It was also there that we found out that in the middle of the Summer, while we were quietly working away down in the canyon, that the Colorado Law on placer mining and stuff had changed, and we were not actually supposed to be there. Seriously not. In fact there were fines and levees and punishments that could be applicable. We had talked and conversed with the Forest Service rangers a couple times, one a very cute blond who we enticed with beer and whiskey… Fortunately the claim was a distant and quiet operation, remote and hard to reach too – and with a light foot-print on the land, so we just as quietly packed-up and departed. Jim for Padcuha, Kentucky to see his mom – where he dropped me off and I continued my hitchhike journey north to the wilds of mid-Ohio and a visit with friends from Overseas-School where they annual Reunion was held. And that was the last time I spent with horses.
Up against the wall, hippy!!
UPDATE: the OTHER song that was my Summer of ’77 redneck-roots theme-song, because: Colorado!