Saturday, February 12, 2011

A Rock-Hound . . . I Will Never Be

Jacob's Tails . . . (Back-to-the-Land)"
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Here we sit out in the desert in the middle of no-where – on BLM trail #705, just off of Olgiby Road (S34), in California, north of Interstate highway 8 only about 10 miles west of Yuma, Arizona.

You wouldn’t even have to take your shoes off to count the number of RVs around us . . . so we have a lot of space and there are absolutely no obstacles.

Creosote bushes dot the landscape and mounds of whatever sit up against the eastern and western skylines.

Way off to the west are hills of sand call the Sand Dunes. They are constantly infested with dune buggies and other off road vehicles that stir up the sand and dust and make unmuffled noises.

Those mounds of whatever (I don’t know what to call them) are really drifts of dirt, rocks, sand and minerals that the wind and erosion have piled up on the western side of the Colorado River.

As the sun moves across the sky, shadows shift from one mound layer to another. Peaks come and go. Shadowed gullies appear and vanish. The many large dark coloured splotches that drape the nearest mounds look like Desert Varnish but are more likely lava beds left by the million years of volcanic action.

[Desert Varnish a thin, dark red to black mineral coating (generally iron and manganese oxides and silica). When dissolved minerals are deposited on surfaces and the dew and soil moisture evaporate, wind removes the softer salts and polishes the surface to a glossy finish on pebbles and rocks. What looks like Varnish is sometimes found around the lava beds left by the many ancient volcanoes but that is usually fungal growth sandstone and contains no manganese whatsoever.]

Sallee and John (friends from Yuma) supplied us with pages of maps and directions to hunt for rocks. So my point is . . . this whole world is covered with rocks – how would you know what you are looking for and what in blazes would you do with them if you ever found something you could actually identify!! Needless to say, rock-hounding is not my kettle of fish!

But I can’t say we didn’t try.

Our exploring didn’t lead us to any fabulous gold or mineral finds but we did discover a neat old deserted ranch and, of course, the ghost towns.

My next question would be . . . what would cattle ever eat around here?

Mining and Ghost Towns

Over the past few hundred years, miners and prospectors have scoured the hills in search of gold and minerals. Historically, mining companies have come and gone: some have treated the land well but most have stripped the treasures and left only scars and ghosts in their wake.

Tumco Historic Townsite

Tumco was a typical mining town of its day. Originally called Hedges, it is now abandoned but was one of the earliest gold mining areas in California. Little remains of this once bustling community, except for crumbling foundations, a reservoir, and a cemetery.

[Tumco Historic Townsite

Gold was first discovered by Spanish colonists as they moved northward from Sonora, Mexico. According to legend, two young boys came into their camp one evening with their shirts filled with gold ore. These muchachos cargados (loaded boys) were the namesake for the Cargo Muchacho Mountains, where the Tumco deposits occur.

The mining history of the Cargo Muchacho Mountains is long on lore and short on documented history. Tales of lost treasure are rampant. It is said that a railroad worker by the name of Pete Walters discovered "mica schist heavily laced with gold" and prospectors began to pour into the area in the early 1880’s.

In the late 1800’s, mining companies took out over 200,000 ounces of gold. A 12 mile wooden pipeline pumped over 100,000 gallons of water from the Colorado River per day, and the railroad carried mine timbers from northern Arizona for use in the expansive underground workings.

The site development reached a peak between 1893 and 1899, when 3,200 people lived in the town. Hedges/Tumco had all the makings of a boom town except a hotel. Everyone lived in cabins of wood or stone. Mining essentially ceased operations in 1909, and as people fled a true ghost town was created. The most sorrowful scene is that of the cemetery. Every grave is unmarked, which only adds to the feeling of complete desolation.

The latest episode in the history of Tumco began in early 1995, when American Girl Mining Joint Venture began operations near the site of some of the early mines in the area.]