Similar to many hunters and fishermen, gold seekers are a secretive bunch. Ask a hunter if there are any big bucks in the area or a fisherman if they are getting any fish and you will get a pretty vague answer that will not help you at all. A typical response will be: “Seen a couple small ones” or “Getting a few here and there”. I first learned this the hard way when we ran into Crazy Al, a backwoods gold miner outside of Haines Junction. He pulled up and talked to us when we boondocked next to his claim, talking our ear off for the better part of an hour. But when I asked him how this claim was doing I got a weird look from him and all I heard was crickets in the background.
Well in our latest adventure we were going to see firsthand how these gold miners operate. We were on our way to our son-in-law’s claim outside of Idaho City!
The drive from Craters of the Moon to Idaho City through the Sawtooth Wilderness area was gorgeous, along 75 highway and through the city of Ketchum where the infamous Sun Valley ski resort is located. We boondocked on some national forest land just outside of Galena. It rained on and off through the night, the next morning we woke up to frost on the ground around the camper and snow in the mountains we were about to cross over. Fall was definitely in the air!
Following highway 75 we ascended the mountain to Galena Summit down the other side and turning right onto highway 21 headed towards the town of Lowman. We thought there was something wrong with our GPS when it said it was going to take us over an hour to travel the 30 miles between Lowman and Idaho City but the steep inclines and switchbacks quickly reduced our speed to 35 mph and it did indeed take us over an hour to travel the 30 miles.
Shane had given us the GPS coordinates to their claim and we soon found ourselves at their site the day before they were to arrive. We set up, did a little exploring and waiting for Jessica, Shane, Dylan and Kendall to arrive. We had not seen our grandkids since last April and were looking forward to seeing how much they had grown. They arrived the next day and after the greetings and hugs were out of the way we started setting up the mining equipment. Their claim is a 20 acre section that follows along a creek where Shane concentrates most of his efforts.
|A fire came through last October
He has a portable dredge (~4’x6’) that comes complete with a built in pump and air supply. He set up the dredge in the creek put on his wet suit, hooked up his air supply and went to work. The dredge itself acts as a huge vacuum cleaner sucking up everything in its path up to the size of a tennis ball….rocks, pebbles, sand and anything else that may be in the creek.
|Getting everything ready
At first glance you have to wonder why the wet suit and air supply is even necessary as the creek only appeared a foot deep in some of the deepest spots. We soon learned both of these were needed. Since gold weighs more than all the other material it works its way down to the deepest areas it can go so Shane started by moving a boulder and sucking up everything around it, then he moved another boulder and another sucking up all the smaller material around them. Deeper and deeper he went moving everything bigger than a tennis ball by hand.
|See how shallow it is?
|The big vacuum hose
|Several hours later......
|Drone shot of the creek and camping area
All the material that is sucked up goes into the dredge where it runs over a series of mats designed to let everything but the heaviest material pass right through while the heavy material settles into the mats. There really wasn’t too much that we could do at that point except watch Shane dig deeper and suck up the material. At about 4-5 feet deep he hit bedrock which is solid rock and is the best place to find the gold as it cannot go any deeper than the top of the bedrock. 6 hours later he had a hole about 4-5 feet deep and 5 feet wide. Then it was time to clean out the mats and see what we had! After cleaning out the mats he had about a coffee can of “heavies”. We could see lead from .22 bullets, we could see lead BB’s from shotgun shells and we could see gold!
This is where Barb and I could start helping out. We would scoop a couple spoonfuls and start panning it by hand. It took a little practice but soon we were panning out all of the lighter material and all we had left was gold. Some pans had a dozen or so flakes while others had much more and bigger pieces (pickers).
|We got color!
This process repeated itself for 3 days, Shane in the water all day followed by a couple hours of panning. By the end of the 3 days he had a hole dug 4-5 deep down to the bedrock and about 10 feet square. A lot of work, and a very interesting process.
But alas, it was time to go. As much fun as that was we had even more fun awaiting us back in Salt Lake. Just days before meeting us, Jessica accepted a job in Pennsylvania and we had 5 days to get things ready and 5 days to pack up everything they owned into a semitrailer and get their house ready to go on the market, pick up and move back into our 5th wheel and sell that camper. Should not be a problem right?
In the end it wasn’t…. we got everything packed, moved back into the 5th wheel and got the camper sold! Not a lot of pictures, just a lot of hard work. We even managed to take in two of Dylan’s baseball games.
|Dylan up to bat
|Baby K sporting some new upside-down sunglasses
So, I am sure many of you are wondering how did we really do gold mining? Well Shane would not let me take any pictures of the gold we found and told me to write "We found a little color".