So what does a modern homesteader or any homesteader do when they finally get caught up with repairs, and other homestead demands? Actually I don’t know what others do but in my case I toss the gold pan, shovel, bucket, some drinking water and snacks into the Jeep and head over to my friends house to go do some prospecting. We headed for a ghost town way up in the mountains with weather that was cooperative, good company and the hopes of finding some gold.. We headed to an old ghost town that has long since been abandoned by miners and subsequently a large commercial mine has cut away a large portion of the top of a mountain until it was shut down by the EPA for toxic violations. They allowed heavy metals to leach into the creek and arsenic to infiltrate the nearby creeks and water system. As we looked around at all the beauty at 11,800’ of elevation we could imagine how the original miners who established the ghost town must have loved it there. Unfortunately as we walked through the vacant and decaying buildings that over look the present strip mine operation we can only imagine that they would be horrified at how it looks today.
The Super Fund EPA clean up has been going on since 1992 and if appearance is any indicator the process is going to take many more years. What do you do with so much contaminated soil and water anyway? As we went from decaying house to house through the ghost town we wondered how the miner’s lived back then and if they were standing where we were at that moment what they would think now if they could see the ravage of the land. They used old rudimentary methods but did not scar and destroy an entire mountain top like so called modern mine’s have done without concern for restoration. How do you replace a mountain top anyway?
When we were at the creek laboring hard like the old miners must have done in times past, digging rocks out one at a time to get to a depth where there could be some gold, we noticed that there was not a living thing in the creek. It was totally devoid of all life - most likely from the heavy metals and arsenic that had been released there by the mining operation. There was not one single living thing observed except us and the many flies along that creek. Now before anyone can accuse me of being against mining - let me say that I fully realize how important mining is. I’m fully in favor of mining but I am strongly against irresponsible mining that destroys the land to the point where the U.S. Government has to spend 18 years trying to clean up their mess and has many more years to go with the future of the mountain being uncertain. Those millions of dollars being spent are our tax dollars and the mine owners simply walk away and leave the mess for someone else to clean up and the taxpayer to pay the bill. That is what I am against. I did not take photos of the destruction as I believe it was just to disheartening to show others.
Our day however was a fun day, lots of laughs in between the hard work of prospecting. We shoveled, sweat, and pried rocks up only to find bigger rocks under the ones we just moved. At the end of the day we found very little gold. Before those who don’t live where there are streams holding gold and ghost towns to explore it would be inappropriate to believe that you just head down to the nearest stream and shovel up the gold. Regretfully, it is not like that. I worked for over an hour to dig a hole a foot deep only to have to dig deeper to find a little flour gold. If gold was easy to come by every man, woman and child in the country would be rich by now or it would be so common that it would have little value. Some times you will go for days and not find a hint of gold. Other days you may find a little. I still look forward to that day I find a lot. While gold’s value is high now it is not about the wealth of gold, it is about the time together enjoying friends, good conversation, the fresh air, the beautiful scenery (except that old mine) and being outdoors. The gold, if you find it, comes as an added bonus but what really has value is two or more people just getting together, working hard, having fun, enjoying life and making memories. So if you want good clean enjoyment and MAYBE finding a little gold, consider taking a pan and shovel and heading to an area where prospecting is allowed and give it a try. Don’t forget to fill any hole you dig in so no one - including animals - will get injured. It is likely that you won’t find enough to pay for the gas to get there but it remains however that the fun and fellowship you will gain is priceless.
The wild flowers are just now blooming at this elevation and they are absolutely beautiful. So when we homesteaders - or at least this homesteader - gets a free moment it is off to prospect and hoping to find that 25 pound nugget. It was a memorable and fun filled day and will be burned into my memory for many years to come.
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