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Nugget Shooter

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  1. Nugget Shooter
    December 27, 2013

    From the diary of the Mad Prospector

    Man time can get away from a feller and you turn around to find years have passed before you get around to “getting right back” to a potential gold bearing spot and 9 years sure can change the look of the landscape. So I was driving about 3 miles back to the fork in the road where I took the wrong turn to get headed in the right direction. The area was slowly becoming more familiar as we drove, but allot had changed. The roads were very overgrown and somehow my memory was playing some tricks on me. Now back on track Joyce and I were only a few miles from Gurly Gulch.
    As I said allot has changed and now DJ my 4 legged hunting partner is gone and I am with my new hunting partner Joyce who is human and one of the best things to ever happen to me. It was her idea that we get back out here to look for more nuggets as well as the source of the “bat cloud” from the mountain side. She was also aware of the legend I am about to tell you about and having been born and raised in Yuma this was a common tale and also sought after by her father. Strange two people can meet and find such an odd thing in common along with everything else and we figured it may be something more than chance so here we were deep in the Arizona desert chasing a rainbow and swarm of bats.
    The story goes like this, and is what after locating Trevor’s placer claims and seeing the bats rang a bell in my head, plus realizing this was likely the same area my interest was aroused….
    The Lost Vampire Bat Mine is a long, long, way from tropical Yucatan, where vampire bat makes its home. Places like Chichen Itza and Tizimin and eastward, at the Bahia Chetumal on the coast of Quintana Roo.The Lost Vampire is in the stark Baboquivari range of Arizona’s Pima County, west of the Altar Valley and marking the eastern boundryof the Papago Indian Reservation. To Anglo ears, the place-names–Gu Oidak, Ali Ak Chin and Chukut Kuk– are more Asiatic than Mexican or Indian.
    The bats in this lost mine story were Mexican brown bats, that hid by day in abandoned adobe buildings, old churches, caves and old mine shafts. These little bats would rather eat bugs than suck blood.
    Edward Nelson, cheif of the U.S. Biological Survey, wrote in the National Geographic Magizine of may, 1918, that ” at Tucson, I once saw them, a short time before dark, issuing from a small window in the gable of a church numbers that in the half-light they gave the appearance of smoke pouring out of the opening. At the town of Patzcuaro, near the southern end of the Mexican tableland, I saw two rooms of an old adobe house occupied by as many of them as could possibly hang from the rough ceiling. They are plentiful in caves and may be heard frequently by day shuffling uneasily about and squeaking shrilly at one another.”
    The hills and deserts of the Lost Vampire story have a long hostory of mining. There is a tradition and a folklore of Spanish mines in the Cerro Colorado. There is an abandoned mine near Three Peaks in the Baboquivaris. In the hills around Arivaca – a scant dozen miles from the Baboquivari range – are a dozen mines: the Albatros, the San Luis, the Brouse, theLas Guijas, the Amando, the Liberty, the Charles, the Black Princess, the Cerro Colorado, the Ajax, the Colorado Clark and the Edwards.Mabye there is one more, a gold mine that was hidden from the white man by an old Papago Indian.
    The old Indian had gold nuggets to trade at Aravica and at the Tucson fiesta long after the placer mines in the Altar Valley and the Aravica hills had played out in the late 1800s. The source of his nuggets was a mystery for years, but in an uncharacteristic episode of talking openly with a white man told the storekeeper at Aravica about it.
    Years before, the Indian confided, he had wounded a deer and had pursued it into the foothills of the east slopes of the Baboquivaris. At sunset he sat down to rest, on a long ridge running northward to a high peak. Suddenly there was a great outpouring of bats, hundreds of them, from an opening in the mountainside. He looked, and found the small mouth of a cave that had been widened, he found upon entering, into a timbered mine. There were buckskin bags of gold nuggets and coarse gold, mine tools, a small shrine to the Lady of Guadalupe and several bars of gold.
    The bats and the hovering spirits of the long dead Spaniards made the old Indian very uneasy. But as he fled, he stooped to pick up one buckskin bag. This he hid in an olla in his hut.
    The Arivica storekeeper was confident he could find the mine. He knew which arroyo to follow and which peak to climb. Then all he had to do was wait for the bats to fly from the mine at sunset. He found a man to mind his store and, three days later prepared to ride out to for the bat cave gold. He had loaded his gear onto a pack mule and was saddling his horse when the old Indian approached “I was afraid,” the old Indian said, “After I told a white man of the gold. So I waited until all of the bats came back to the cave. I then closed the cave with dirt and rocks. The bats will die and they will no longer signal, at sunset, where the mine is. No white man will ever see it.”
    So what if those bats did not die? What if those bats found another exit from the old mine, an air shaft perhaps the old Indian did not know about?
    Well we were out there to have a look for that shaft or cave to tell us if we were indeed on the track of an actual lost stash of gold. Yeah I know what you are thinking, but we both sort of had this feeling and if we didn’t do this it would always haunt us. Sometimes you just need to drop everything and go for it and Joyce and I had already done it once when we met and fell in love and it is just right to this day so the hunt for this mine seemed the right thing to do.
    Once we got to my old camp spot we set up and got busy cooking dinner since we got in after dark and missed the chance to see the bats exit for the night, but there were Brown Bats fluttering around our camp as one often sees at night in the desert chasing insects. It was a beautiful night and the moon would be full in a couple days making for a bright night in the desert. Sitting by the fire that night we talked about how we would go about looking for this lost stash of gold and actually decided to put it off and metal detect for nuggets the next day instead and wait to try to spot the bats in the evening as they emerged to feed for the night.
    It was up with the sun for some oatmeal and coffee then back to the area I last hunted to see what I missed with my older detector. It didn’t take long before Joyce found a nugget and a nice one at that weighing in at near a quarter ounce. By noon we had found just over an ounce total and were living the dream. We returned to camp and got ready to wait out the bats and have a bite to eat quite worn out from a full days hunt.
    Just as before right at dusk there they were coming out of the side of the mountain near a huge dead Ironwood tree. Looked like right from under that old tree from where we were sitting and we made plans to make the hike to that old tree in the morning. Piece of cake finding this spot since we could clearly see the bats exit near the tree and there would surely be a cave there. Would this indeed be the old Indians lost mine with the nuggets and bars of gold inside?
    Morning could not come quick enough for us and we were off hiking at first light and reached the area we saw the bats come from within an hour of hard climbing. No cave, hole, void, nothing, but a huge old Ironwood tree rotted and partially hollowed out standing partially burried up the trunk by a rock slide that must have been the reason it died. Man some wood carver would love this pile of prime steel hard ironwood. We searched the area quite well then worked out around the old tree and found nothing! Discouraged and baffled we worked our way back to camp, rested and went back to detect for the afternoon.
    Sitting in camp that evening right on time those damn bats came out by that old tree again in a cloud. How was this even possible? Then going over the area we had explored in my mind I began to wonder about the fact that this Ironwood tree was buried well past the trunk and was very old and had been dead for a very long time. Ironwood will last dang near forever in the desert not rotting or eaten by insects like other wood. Could it be that the bats were coming from the hollow trunk of that tree? Could it be that tree was in the opening to that shaft allowing the bats to enter and exit? We would check this tomorrow unlikely as it seems….
    Turns out that is exactly the case and once we got back up to that spot and looked closer it was obvious that there was an opening into the ground one could look into through the hollow trunk of that old tree and we could see a timber in the void indicating a mile shaft. Well let me tell you it was allot of hard work to get enough material moved to safely enter that old mine and the shaft went down about 10 feet and cut into the mountain. We decided I would wait outside with a long rope tied to Joyce as her smaller frame allowed for easier entry into the old shaft.
    In she went with a flashlight despite her fear of bats and all was quiet… For a little too long…. Joyce, I yelled then out she came shaking and grinning ear to ear holding a small Spanish style gold bar. There is more she said, allot more…. There indeed was.
  2. Nugget Shooter
    Many years ago when I was still quite green at the nugget shooting game I made my first real find. I already had found some nuggets near my home, but they were only coming in mostly ones and twos. Every now and then I'd find several in one area, but not often. So I decided to hit the books and find a better spot and after some reading decided on the Quartzsite area Due to it's history for gold nuggets.
    So packing up the truck and loading up Ben my loyal companion of the 4 legged variety we hit the road, Ben has since fallen to old age and I sure miss the old boy. Quartzsite is located in west central Arizona along Interstate 10 near the border of California and was about 150 miles from where I lived at the time so I planned on camping out for a couple of days in the area I had targeted for my hunt.
    I stopped in Quartzsite for a few supplies then drove the 11 or so miles to my turnoff at Tom Wells Road. Driving through a truck stop and heading into the desert I came to the old Hwy 60 and turned right following it to the first left into the placer area. Following the map through the maze of roads and trails was no easy task as there are usually more roads than are shown and this was before GPS technology was available to us civilians. Any way after an hour or more I managed to locate Goodman Wash and from there I was able to locate the area I planned to start my hunt.
    Well plans change as we all know and mine were changed for me by claim markers. So old Ben and I climbed back into the truck and drove a couple more miles and turned onto a old trail following it back a mile or so to it's end. This would be camp and although not the exact spot I had in mind there was evidence of placer work in the main drainage as well as some of the smaller ones.
    Now I had seen no one up to this point, but as soon as I finished setting up camp an old blue chevy pickup truck came bouncing down the trail to my camp. I knew he had to be coming here because I was at the end of the trail. So I put Ben in the truck and waited, turns out this is the fellow that has the claims at the first spot I stopped and he was just seeing what I was up to.
    Well we talked for quite a while over a cold drink and boy did I get an ear full! The old boy even pointed a finger for me and mentioned a small drainage I should try. After he left I realized we never even exchanged names, but I guess that isn't always important. I waved as he bounced over the hill and went back to getting set up to hunt nuggets.
    So I got my Fisher Gold Bug all set up and headed over the ridge to find that spot. As I crested the ridge down below I could see the placer work that had been done in all of the small gulches and this is were I started my hunt. I began by working in the first gulch I came to and my very first target was a nugget of about a penny weight. I thought at that point I was really into it and got right back after it, I got another signal right away and dug a bullet. The rest of the day went like that bullet, wire, rusty metal and every other kind of metal trash you can imagine.
    So on my way back to camp I decided to swing a few tailing piles before calling it a day. Again lot's of trash! Then on the third or fourth pile I got a really good signal after raking down the top 4 inches with my pick. I dug down another 6 inches or so and got the target into my plastic scoop. What a beauty, gold with purple quartz through it and it had to be near 4 penny weight. I hunted until dark finding a very small piece in another pile then called it quits for the day with a new plan for tomorrow. Tailing piles!!!
    The next morning I was up with the sun and feverishly raking tailing piles. By noon I was back at camp wondering why I had not found a nugget yet. So after lunch I packed up the truck and walked back over the hill to hunt for a few hours before heading home. I walked a ways to a new area and began raking a few piles and only found trash. Stopping to look around I noticed that the old timers stopped working this little gulch about 100 feet from where it began.
    It was getting into mid afternoon so I decided to work this gulch to the top and head home. I began just below where they had stopped working and found several small bits of wire then I got a nugget, a nice one. After 6 hours or so of trash I now felt much better, but I was not ready for what came next. Every few steps I would get a target and every target was GOLD! My old dog must have thought me nuts the way I was dancing around. By the time I got 3/4 of the way to the top it was starting to get late and I had a good handful of nuggets.
    Now gold is funny stuff, I didn't know what to do. I had to go home to the family and had to go to work the next day, but leaving the patch, my first real patch was unthinkable. Common since won out in the long run and I drove home planning on returning the following weekend. Let me tell you it was a good feeling to show the family that long sought after first handful of nuggets all found on one outing. I returned to the area on and off over the years always finding more gold and to this day if you work hard enough in the area you can still squeak one out.
  3. Nugget Shooter
    It was August of 1998 and I was driving the back roads of Western Arizona with my trusty mutt DJ in my 1978 Forest Service green 4WD Ford F150 truck. I finally had a week off and planned to spend it prospecting for new nugget hunting turf since pickings were beginning to get a little lean nearer to home. I had just gotten my hands on a brand new shiny Minelab SD 2100 to use for the week and I was pumped to score some gold nuggets to add to the poke.
    We were in route to an area I found information on while clearing out an old rental trailer a fellow had died in at the trailer park I manage. He had been a miner all his life and retired in 1980 with bad lungs which made him unable to get around much due to shortness of breath. His medical problems were directly related to the time he spent in his drift mines near Quartzsite Arizona breathing the dust created as he slowly tunneled along bedrock deep in the cemented gravels recovering gold left there long ago.
    Every now and then Shorty would come up to the store in the old KOA building that used to be at the front of the trailer court when he ran out of coffee and have a few cups, never would buy any and said my boss's price was highway robbery and I guess it may have been true. Sometimes he would show pictures of some of the gold he found over the years, but would never even give me a hint as to where.
    As time went on we started getting along pretty good and it was really sad to see his health failing so fast and soon he couldn't even get out to do any shopping etc. without collapsing so I along with some of his neighbors helped bring him groceries and talk with him now and then.
    Than one day I knocked and no answer, Shorty was dead....
    So after the State and County went through everything and took anything left worth money to pay for his burial expenses since there was no family I as park management get the unpleasant job of cleaning out the old trailer so it can be rented again. That was when I found an old tobacco can, the pocket size one often used by miners to put claim papers in and it was under the couch when I moved it. It had been hand painted like an Arizona flag and had my name on the top.
    Inside was a map with marks on it where Shorty had worked his drifts and found all those nuggets I saw photos of. At the bottom it simply said "Thank you Billy Goodbye" I kind of did my best to say thanks and went back about my business and never got around to making the trip for over a year. Now here I was with my trusty partner DJ at the first mark on the map and sure enough there were drywasher tailing piles around the entrance to a drift on a rotted platform with a wood hand crank winch and very scary looking ladder.
    So I detected around the entrance and not finding anything but trash and not having any plans of entering that 25 foot deep hole that could easily trap me without much hope of rescue we headed to the next area marked on the map. This was even scarier and the winch, platform, etc. was gone and the tailings surrounded a shaft covered with only rotting sheets of plywood covered with a thin layer of dirt. If someone stepped on this it could be like an old style bear pit trap. Detected here as well with no gold.
    The next spot was a little different and the drift followed very rough bedrock as a tunnel with extensive tailings spread around the entrance, Shorty had worked here for a long time. It was now late afternoon so I made camp before doing any detecting. I then started working the drywasher tailings since so many nuggets end up in the header pile of a drywasher simply because if they do not fit through the screen allowing dirt into the hopper they end up in the tailings. The old time miners knew this, but were getting enough gold that a few lost nuggets were just accepted as a given.
    My very first detected target was a 5 gram nugget!
    I found 2 more small ones and a bunch of Shorty's bits of wire, nails, rusted decomposing cans, and an old rusted pocket knife. It was a good day and I was sure I would really score tomorrow. As I was getting the fire started just before sundown I thought I saw something move in the entry to the tunnel and while looking got to wondering how many nuggets were still in the cemented gravels on the ragged bedrock within. I quickly blew it off because I know well the dangers of entering these death trap drifts where the slightest bump or vibration can cause tons of earth and rock to fill it in a instant. Not a pleasant thought and a very slow and horrible death if you are not luckey enough to get crushed by the rock and dirt.
    Well next day I found no more gold in the tailings and in this area gold is mainly on bedrock under several feet of gravels limiting productive detecting to previously disturbed gravels or working the washes and this was what I did. For 2 days I went to his old sites and worked washes without finding a single nugget and this led me back to the spot with the drift tunnel to see if I could somehow scrounge up a few more nuggets. I hunted for a couple hours and again found myself looking into the mouth of the tunnel. I walked over and stared into it...
    The opening was big enough to easily crawl into so I poked my head and shoulders into the hold and swung the detector across the floor, instantly I got a signal. I had to crawl in a couple more feet to dig the target and it was a gold nugget and a nice one at that weighing a little over 11 grams. I started moving a little further in and DJ began to whine a little which brought me back to reality and I quickly backed out of the hole heart pumping like a drum because I also heard w weird groaning sound from somewhere.
    I sat looking at the gold I had found here and knew I would be going back in the tunnel...
    After regaining the foolish courage to go back in I did and I had well over an ounce of nuggets within the first 20 feet and I was digging them from the lower part of the tunnel's sides right on the bedrock an just above using a flashlight to see. But digging into the sides was making a substantial amount of dirt and a few rock fall from above, one hitting my head and making me wish for a hardhat. Then I heard the groan sound again and DJ was barking into the tunnel entrance irritating the crap out of me. It was right then a big chunk of wall feel in, but not into the tunnel I was in. There was an opening and a second apparently very long forgotten drift right next to this one and there on the pile of dirt was a gold and quartz specimen as big as my fist with the gold glowing in the flashlight beam.
    I was getting scared a bit now and after hearing that odd sound again it seemed to be originating from the newly exposed tunnel and louder and more stuff was falling, but the worst part was a visible crack in the cemented gravels with material sluffing off it into the other tunnel and as I watched it slightly widened and made that groan.
    It was the Earth making that sound... Moving!
    Crap I gotta get out of here I thought to myself and drew my detector back to me and damned if I didn't get several signals stopping my retreat. I dug nugget after nugget most small, but one was just over an ounce and solid gold. The Earth groaned again and this time I felt it making me exit that drift like it was on fire. I was shaking from fear as well as the handful of gold I had.
    The thought of going back in terrified me, but I knew I would...
    It was late enough that I rested into early evening looking at the gold I had found and trying to drum up the courage to try again tomorrow as it was nearing time to return home. Next day was the same and I found 12 ounces of nuggets by noon and was plumb silly with gold fever, I would be rich! I went back in after lunch and was finding more and more gold, but DJ was having a fit barking into the tunnel and making it very hard to concentrate. So I crawled out again hearing and feeling a slight movement of the ground and decided to put the dog on a leash. I leaned my detector against the truck and weighed, cleaned, and stashed my gold.
    Still had a couple hours I could work so went over to get the detector and the dog had chewed the coil cord in half! I was mad and couldn't believe it as he never does stupid stuff like that. Lucky I had another coil in the truck. I went and grabbed the coil and sat on a rock near the tunnel to remove the ruined one and install the other when I heard a low long groan from the drift tunnel.
    Then with a roar and huge cloud of dust it was gone...
    The whole side of the hill slid in and covered the opening completely almost as if it was not ever there and actually created a depression in the ground above where the drifts had been. If not for DJ chewing my cord I would have surely been in there...
    I got a new respect for my dog that week as well as just under 22 ounces of gold nuggets and I do not go into tunnels or shafts if I can help it, but I still think about that spot though it is now off limits since it is on the expanded Indian Reservation now.
    2012 the Mad Prospector
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