I've been gold prospecting for 11 years, mainly in the Bradshaw Mountains in Yavapai County, Arizona, where I found over 8 grams of placer.
Fun Hunting for Gold
A photo of an abandoned mine motivated me to explore the foothills and mountains near my home for an abandoned gold mine. I drove to an area that looked promising when I found a gate with a broken cable and two large pipe end posts. One was marked with an XXX, so that was also promising. The sides of the path leading up were strewn with tailings, white tailings. That was also promising. Frequently gold is found along with white quartz or another white powdery substance that can be easily chipped. With my juices on max, I hoped for a great day on the trail, seeing the wildflowers, smelling the fresh air, and enjoying the sun on my back.
As I walked up the trail, I could see evidence of two-wheeled vehicle travel. Perhaps it was ATVs, or perhaps it was evidence of old trucks or carts. Sometimes the trails in Arizona have vehicular evidence caused by traffic from many years before. The wheels from that yesteryear compacted the earth very hard. Even though some older vegetation was on the trail, it wasn't much. That was another good sign. The other tell-tale thing was to the right near a wash that was getting farther and farther away from view, beer cans, about 20, were gathered near a dip in the sand, and they were very rusted. Recall that aluminum cans for beer were brought out in 1959. Can corrosion was evidence of old beer! This was another good omen.
The Trail Snakes Along
It was a rolling path. I suggest prospectors and hikers walk slowly and warily. This kind of walk is helpful in case of unforeseen circumstances. As I popped over the rise, my heart jumped about two inches inside my chest. A snake, about eight feet long, was standing on two coils in the middle of the road. Turning and darting down the rise, I stopped because that was no way to get a photo. Inching my way up the rise again I peeped over. The snake was meandering to the left into the brush, having markings on its back similar to a diamondback rattlesnake. I couldn't make out a rattle, but Mojave rattlesnakes (the most poisonous) have a dark red or brown rattle that sometimes resembles just a tail. The photo below is of the snake as it lay to the side. If you look in the grass, you can see it extends from the right bottom to the left side past the rock in the upper left-hand corner. It was a gutsy snake, as it appeared I did not scare it very much. He stayed there even as I walked past. Later, I found a photo on the Internet and identified it as a bull snake. Bull snakes are the longest variety in Arizona. They can reach up to 9 feet in length.
I Took the Road Less Traveled
In the original Robert Frost poem, the trails he encountered were evenly worn, and later in life, he followed a different way ("The Road Not Taken"). But this day, the one to the left was, for whatever reason, used less. The trail rose quickly. To my right was the gorge, and it was looking deeper and deeper. The maroon rock walls ahead were too sheer, so I scaled down carefully on outcroppings that were quite fractured.
The opposite canyon wall seemed to have a long shadow cast on it at the bottom. I continued ever so slowly and methodically down. Just about to the bottom, I could see the sandy wash clearly. I leaped the last four feet. Turning around in the soft, warm sand gave me another heart-raising start. Once again, I paused to take a photo. Directly in front of me was a mountain lion lair with fresh scat at the entrance. Two boulders too large to scale were on my left in the wash. It was time to skinny up the rocks back to the trail. Sometimes there is a reason the trail is less wandered!
Validation with a Claim Marker
Back at the fork I proceeded to hike north along the other edge of the ravine.
So far, I had encountered a lion den and a bull snake. I had had a different kind of excitement as compared to the discovery of gold. But the experience had been a treasure nevertheless. Wildflowers were everywhere. All of the desert flower colors were extremely bright. It was a bit like a sand and pebble box strewn with clumps of M&M's.
As nice as that was, my attention turned to a five-foot wooden stake on my left. It had a thin aluminum plate attached to it. Because it was down off the road on loose dirt and rock, I could not get close enough for a good photo. The sun's reflection and no telephoto kept me from getting a sharp picture. It was a rectangular plate with an X in the top left corner with the number 80 and the letters MRR. This was an 80-acre mineral and oil claim.
This kind of claim is usually for hard rock mining. Placer mining is limited to 20 acres per locator. Locators are spots within a larger claim that are designated for placer mining. If you want to hunt for placer outside that location, you must file another placer claim. Here was more evidence that I might find a mine if I continued further up the trail.
Continuing to move up the trail, I was seeing relics of heavy equipment. Everything was so corroded I couldn't fathom the brand or type. But there had been signs of a past full of action A cable extended from a three-legged iron mooring across to my side of the gorge. I have seen this arrangement before in Arizona. Supplies could be brought across, while ore moved over such devices. All indications were that gold mining had taken place in the vicinity.
And then, peering at the other side I saw what I had hoped for. A huge section of the rock face changed from granite to red porphyry speckled with white quartz. At the bottom was evidence of human workings. There were several large mine openings dug out of the rock. The arched openings were more than 100 feet below. Black objects, perhaps old tires, were near the entrances. I wasn't equipped to check it out further, although I sat and marveled at how people got down there and accomplished so much.
I have a theory that if explosives were used to open up those mines, there might be gold powder on the mine floors and outside each mine. My hikes invariably give me a location to sample. Even better, there might be an ore pile down there that I could pick through. Other sites with ore piles have yielded a tiny bit of gold. I'll bring it home and crush it in my backyard. The old-timers sorted ore well, so you won't find much, but it's a heck of a rush when you do.
Too Bad the Evening Approaches
The older I get, the more I look forward to adventures in the outdoors. Perhaps the reaper increases one's motivation. I will remember the place and return someday soon. Until then, I'll ponder another way in.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Questions & Answers
Question: How many hours did your adventure take?
Answer: I guess it took about 4 hours. If you explore the area make sure you have good boots and water. Be careful around tall grass and shady areas - rattlesnakes are out now. There is less of that in the winter. But do not let that deter you. Have a good adventure.
Question: Where in AZ is this?
Answer: About 60 miles east of Phoenix near Apache Leap. There is a road fronting Apache Leap (Apache Leap Road) with many trails leading off of it. Many are former mine roads. The area is beautiful, especially in a wet spring when wildflowers are out in full. I hope you get to see it someday.
© 2017 John R Wilsdon
John R Wilsdon (author) from Superior, Arizona on May 05, 2017:
Thank you for your response to the article. Wyoming is a beautiful state. That is where I would move if I ever had to leave Arizona. Glad I could take you back to some good times. Writing this article brought back memories of wandering the desert outside Tucson when I was a boy. It was so quiet back then that bird chirps seemed loud!
S Maree on May 05, 2017:
You made me homesick for my childhood when I explored the outdoors in Wyoming. Mom was afraid of nothing & would grab us girls & meander off into the scrubs. Keep up the interesting stories!
John R Wilsdon (author) from Superior, Arizona on May 05, 2017:
Thank you for going down the trail. It is a joy to be able to share an experience with others. Bye for now.
Sanjay Sharma from Mandi (HP) India on May 04, 2017:
You are a marvelous story teller. I enjoyed the trail. Looking forward for more such adventures.