"Bedrock Bob" is a name well-earned by Bob Lovewell in 1977 on this continent's northern-most mountain chain, the Brooks Mountain Range, which is inside the Arctic Circle about 200 miles North of Fairbanks, Alaska. Bob was the first person in our group to grab a 12-foot-long pry bar and begin moving bedrock in the form of one-ton slabs of mica schist. In between the layers of schist was gold!
Bob was the first to find gold using that technique, and the one to recover the most gold using that technique. I believe Jim Davis gave Bob the name "Bedrock Bob." Well, to make a long story shorter, Bedrock Bob and I decided to team up this year, split expenses, and head out with Leonard Leeper in search of gold along famous Highway 49 in the Yuba River valley of Sierra County in the high Sierra Nevada Mountains of the golden state of California.
Friday evening, Bob and I loaded up his truck with our gear, so we could wake up and go early on Saturday. Bob picked me up at 5:00 a.m., and we met Leonard Leeper and the rest of the gang in Downieville, Colorado, just west of Idaho Springs. Half of the caravan was pulling trailers and it was clear to us that it would be a slower drive if we stayed with the caravan. Bob put the peddle to the metal, I waived bye, and we were gone. We were planning to eat breakfast and take a slight detour to do a little prospecting on one of the Utah Prospectors Club claims, which wasn't on Leonard's itinerary. We ate a hardy breakfast and found the claim in a canyon, about 200 feet directly below Interstate 70 in Utah, about 40 miles off the planned route. It was a small creek, about half the size of North Clear Creek.
We got out our basic prospecting tools: two pans, a classifier, shovel, bucket, U-Dig-It tool, and a whisk broom. We looked for low pressure areas in the creek to take samples from. Where the creek is narrow and steep, and the current is fast, that is a high pressure area and you're not likely to find any gold there. Where the terrain flattens out, the creek widens, and the current slows, the gravel and gold drop to the bottom and the gold concentrates in that spot. That's a low pressure area where gold is likely to be found. We found a low pressure area around the inside corner of a bend (or turn) in the creek and another behind a boulder in the middle of the creek, but we found no gold in either place. So we checked the bank and panned some material that was some distance from the creek, but still found no gold.
We continued to follow the creek downstream and came upon some bedrock that looked as if it was sliding into the river. Bedrock Bob said, "The fastest way to determine whether there is gold in a river is to find bedrock and check the cracks, crevices, and mosses for gold." He said, "If there isn't any gold there, then there isn't any gold in the river!" Bedrock Bob got on the bedrock near the water's edge and used the U-Dig-It tool to remove material from the cracks and crevices in the bedrock. He put the material directly into his goldpan. He then took some moss, which is just like the carpet in your sluice box that will capture gold, and he thoroughly cleaned it out in the pan. He then panned out all the material and found two pieces of gold! We had thus determined there was gold in the creek but too deep or not enough to bother with. We were thrilled that we had found the claim with relative ease and had found gold on the claim. We deemed our first chance at prospecting in the state of Utah a success, then grabbed our gear and headed out to meet up with the gang in Ely, Nevada. We pulled in about a half hour after the rest of the gang had arrived and shared our experiences with them.
Sunday came early. I slept through the 6:00 a.m. wake up call. Leonard called at 8:00 a.m. and said they were leaving. Bob said we would follow shortly. We left about 40 minutes later and must have passed them while they were on a detour to the Ruth Copper open-pit mine. We pulled into Union Flats campground in California about two hours ahead of the gang. Ken Zeller had arrived a couple of days earlier in his RV. He had picked a great campsite, and we tripled up and spilt the expenses for the campsite. We set up camp and were unloading our mining gear when Leonard and the rest of the gang pulled in. Our group topped off the campground. The place was full. There are rock piles 10 to 15 feet tall that the Chinese piled up, with trees and brush growing out of them. They divide up the camp ground every two or three campsites. The trees are 100 feet tall and provided shade on my tent all day except between 8:00 and 10:00 a.m. Its a beautiful place that makes you feel very small, because everything around you is so very big.
Many of the people on this trip had been there before and they pretty much knew where they wanted to go. They were familiar with the claim and knew more or less where the gold was and wasn't. The gold was basically on the down-river side of the claim in a giant gravel deposit about the size of a football field. It was deposited in 1997 during a 100-year flood. The problem was, it had been thoroughly worked the last two years, and there only remained about a 10-by-20-foot spot that hadn't been worked before. Ollie Milner and Jerry Stone set up on one side and Corky Frandsen set up on the other side and began working toward each other with their highbankers. The other place to go was an area to dredge in the river with air, going deeper than anyone had gone before you in the hope you could hit some clay with gold nuggets in it. Half of our group hit the deposit alongside the river using highbankers, sluices, and pans, and the other half put their dredges in the water and worked next to the deposit.
Bob and I hadn't been in this part of the country before, and we wanted to see some more of it besides just this claim, so we decided we would go prospecting off the claim and look for some less-worked areas on our first day. We were looking for a deposit that would allow us to move a small amount of material and recover a large amount of gold--not too much to ask, is it?
Monday morning Bob was working on his truck, so Leonard and I walked up river along the claim. Just past the claim on public ground we could see a gravel bar on the inside corner that was laid down two years ago during the 100-year flood. From the road it looked like an ideal place for gold to be concentrated. I promised to check it out later in the week and let the gang know what we were finding, and they would let us know how they were doing. Leonard had gone to dredge and Bob was busy, so I grabbed my prospecting equipment and went back upstream. On the Valley Prospectors claim I found an area where the county brought in bulldozers after the flood and pushed the riverbed and debris onto the bank for about 100 yards along the river. I panned several samples and found one piece of gold. I went farther upstream to where a lager boulder was near the river's edge. Behind it was a low pressure area and a gravel deposit. I took a sample pan and found one piece of gold. I took another sample pan but found no more gold. I walked farther upstream and cleaned out a crack on a piece of bedrock that was angled into the river and found one piece of gold. I like to find a least four pieces per pan before bringing in recovery equipment, so I went farther upstream to the edge of the claim and found a newly deposited gravel bar behind some bedrock out in the river about a foot under water. I took three sample pans and again found no gold. It was beginning to look as if the gold was in the gravel bars that were deposited during the 100-year flood, and little or no gold before or after the flood. I didn't quite make it to the gravel bar that Leonard and I had seen.
It had been a couple of hours and I was sure Bob was done by now, so I headed back to camp. Bob and I decided to go about 15 miles down river to the Moriah claim owned by the Valley Prospectors Club. That claim was up a ways from a campground and it had been worked only a little because of its more remote location. There also were some public areas there that we wanted to check out. The map and directions were not very good, and it took a little while to locate the claim because we were not sure which was the public side and which was the Valley Prospectors' side. None of the public areas are posted or marked and few people know or will tell you which they are. Even though it is Federal land open to the public, the local officials control the river access as much as they can get away with.
California also rules and regulates everything to death. The list is long and everything begins with the word "Don't" or "NO." There are layers of people in authority to see that everything is obeyed to the letter. Offenders are ticketed and sent to therapy. I suppose it's a glimpse into Colorado's future with all the people moving in. Anyway, as a result we visually prospected the Moriah claim and physically prospected the public area next to it, not knowing which we where on until conferring with Leonard later that evening. We wanted to prospect both but time was a factor. So we checked gravel bars not far from the Yuba river but panned no gold. Chris loaned me a Minelab 17000 and I found a fish hook and some lead weights. The detector worked great but there was no gold to find. About that time, Bedrock Bob noticed some bedrock directly across the river. The Yuba river is about twice the size of Clear Creek. The gut of the river was about 15 to 20 feet deep in this spot, flowing in a channel up against the bedrock which varies at an angle from 50 to 70 degrees. This is steep bedrock that would be easy to slip off of and fall into the water. The water is fast and a set of rapids starts up about 75 feet down river. If you fell in, you would need to swim across the river quickly. Otherwise, you would run the rapids, at which time you would want to be on your back, feet first, legs together, head up, using your arms to steer yourself, and hoping God were smiling on you. This is one of the few places where there is a foot bridge over the river and, since we hadn't found any gold yet, we trekked over to the other side of the river. We then crossed about 200 feet of sand, 50 feet of huge boulders, and then came to the bedrock. The river was about 10 feet below us. We crossed about 50 feet of steep bedrock and came to a vertical seam that started about 12 feet above the river and went straight down into the water. Bedrock Bob started digging out the material between the two types of bedrock and began panning it. I used the whisk broom and cleaned material out of depressions and small cracks in the bedrock. Bob found clay with six pieces of gold in a half pan sample and I found four pieces. We took another sample from the seam and found another six pieces of gold. There was a seam of clay between old rotting granite on the left and younger solid granite on the right. It was an inch wide near the top and only five or six inches wide at the bottom, and continued to run down into the river. There is a great amount of friction along the river's edge, sides, and bottom. Even though the river is fast and can easily sweep you away, if one of us did the diving and stayed no farther than two feet away from the edge, one of us could inspect and dredge the seam under water. The other of us could pick and chisel at the clay deposit above water and feed it down to the one in the water. The one above can also tend the equipment and be safety officer. It was going to be a balancing act on this steep bedrock. I believe we found a tertiary deposit that was uplifted and exposed. This seam was small and would not yield a lot of material, but seemed to contain a lot of gold, which is what we were looking for. We knew it would take a lot of work to get the three-inch dredge in to the location. Bedrock Bob had not done any diving before and here was his chance to get into some deep water and learn about fast-water safety. We put the gold in a sample bottle and headed back to camp.
Tuesday, we loaded up the truck with the ATV and three-inch dredge and headed for the Moriah claim. The ATV got the equipment within 100 feet of our spot. Bob and I broke bedrock until we had a small spot for the engine and another spot to put the three-inch dredge on a stand. Bob put on his wet suit, air, and weights and went under. He said the seam widened and went on down to the bottom but that it was too dangerous to work deep and that the entire river bed was moving. He worked the clay seam near the surface and I picked and chiseled out the clay, moved it into a tiny pond to dissolve, and Bob sucked it up. We worked it till it played out. Working this steep bedrock seemed to simply kick the stuffing out of us. After we got the equipment out of there and loaded up, we realized our egos had written checks that our bodies couldn't cash and we were going to have to take tomorrow off to recuperate. We found about a pennyweight worth of gold, mostly pickers, in only a couple of cubic feet of material.
Wednesday, I kicked back and enjoyed the country and watched others work. Bob did much the same but was on the lookout for his brother, Jim Lovewell, who lives in Oakland, California, and was coming up to visit for a couple of days.
Thursday, my body felt good, and I was thinking about prospecting upriver at the gravel bar that Leonard and I had looked at on Monday. Bedrock Bob was taking the ATV to explore some creeks that flow in to the Yuba River on the other side of the road. I got down on a gravel bar that is about 40 by 100 feet. Rocks the size of your fist were everywhere and sand was mixed with black sand between the rocks. You could stand there and see the black sands, twice as much as you would see at 70th and Washington in Denver, and folks, there just isn't much black sand in the Yuba compared to Clear Creek. I could just smell the gold.
I took 30 samples over two hours and only found a couple pieces of gold. I couldn't believe it, but the gold just wasn't there. It doesn't matter how hard, how long, or how deep you go, if the gold isn't there, it just isn't there. The pan will tell you whether the gold is there or not. By now Bob had made his way down to me and he hadn't had any luck either. We went back to camp to regroup.
We had talked to Dick, an old timer who lived here and in Colorado, and he told us about some big gold nuggets found in Hog Canyon and Pig Creek. I borrowed a forest map from Leonard, located the spot, and we were off. The mountains here are very steep. They practically go straight up. The only 4x4 roads are logging roads with only a few that lead to mines. (Watch out for the logging trucks; they own the road!) We were on an old logging road following switchbacks up the side of the mountain and out of the canyon. We were on top of the world and could see from the top of this mountain range to the top of next mountain range, and on to the next. The trees are just plain huge! Most are 70- to 120-feet tall or more, two to three feet in diameter, with some four feet in diameter. They are everywhere, down below in the canyon and all the way up to the top. A light green moss grows thick on the north side of all these evergreen trees that sport cones twelve inches long. Between them are small trees, bushes, and plants. Its almost a jungle and difficult to see through. Firewood everywhere, and snow to fill our coolers with.
We came to a fork in the road and wanted to go left but it was closed, so the sign said. We figured if we could drive around the sign we could drive around whatever was on the road. Well guess what, it was trees and snow blocking the road. All the snow we drove around. The trees we man-handled out of the way, winched out of the way, drove over or around, and nothing was stopping us. We began driving parallel to Hog Canyon, which was steep and a long ways down.
We stayed on the main road and began driving parallel to Pig Creek. It was not as deep as Hog Canyon was. I could actually see the bottom from time to time and was catching glimpses of mining operations, such as ponds and rock piles. According to the map we needed to drive down and cross Pig Creek, so we did.
It was a small creek, a couple of feet across and about six inches deep. The undergrowth was thick and I could see no mining operations. This should have been the place so I got out the pan and filled it with gravel from a low pressure area in the creek. I panned it out and found one piece of mercury-covered gold. This must be it! The map said the road ended in a mile and a half, so we drove a mile and a half and, sure enough, the road ended. We were right where we wanted to be. We turned around, crossed over Pig Creek, and I got on top of the truck and looked down into the creek as Bob drove out. I saw the rock pile down by the creek that I had seen earlier and banged on his roof. He stopped and we could barely see rock piles through the trees. We grabbed our prospecting gear, and a Fisher Gold Bug II metal detector that Jerry Stone had loaned me earlier in the day and we headed down to the creek. As we got closer, we could see that the entire creek had been worked. We came to a bedrock cliff made up of green schist and it looked 20 feet down onto the creek. Our mouths almost fell off our faces. The creek was flowing across the green schist. The schist was standing on end with the layers running perpendicular to the waters flow. It was a rare find. The cracks in the layers of schist act like a riffle system and trap gold. Well you know where Bedrock Bob went. I went to look for a trail to bring in the ATV with the recovery equipment, if needed. I looked for signs and claim markers, and found none. I panned some of the stream gravels and bank material but found no gold, which didn't seem right. I used the metal detector and only found some positive and negative hot rocks. I made my way back to Bob and he said, "Bring down your pans." I broke apart the schist just above the water line and put the material into my gold pan. It was about 1/4 full and I found seven mercury-covered pieces of flour gold. Bob was finding the same. There was gold here, a fair amount, but it was too small for us to bother with. We could find that kind of gold at 70th and Washington without the mercury. It was getting late and we pulled out and headed back to camp.
Friday was our last day there. Leonard and the other dredgers were on the opposite side of the river now and Leonard offered to take our equipment across on his inflatable boat. That was one option. Then I ran into Corky who he said he was leaving and his hole was open at the end of the claim near Ollie and Jerry. He showed me the pickers he had pulled out of his hole which was comparable to what Leonard was finding. I thought it was certainly worth checking out and I filled my pan from the bottom of his hole and found one piece of gold. I took another pan full and found three pieces of gold and one was a picker. I left my shovel in the hole and showed Bob, Leonard, and Corky the pan. I thanked Leonard for his offer but Bob and I decided we would highbank Corky's hole. I set up the highbanker and Bob put up an awning over the hole which put us in the shade. Corky had left us two half-ton boulders, which were lying on the bottom of the hole. Bob pulled out six feet of four-foot tall chain-link fence. He ran 3/8-inch steel cable through the outer edges of it and hooked it to the winch cable of the ATV. Bob and I used pry bars to roll the one boulder onto the rock net. Jim, Bob's brother, reeled in the winch cable and put the ATV in reverse, and that boulder was out of there in five seconds. We did the same to the second boulder. We then threw any rocks that wouldn't fit through the highbanker onto the net. When we filled the net with a half ton or so of rock, Jim used the ATV to pull it out. After the fence was out of the hole, it would get caught on a rock and would flip over and dump out all the rocks. We cleaned up the highbanker after about three hours of work, and found around a pennyweight of gold, which we gave to Jim.
I didn't find as much gold as I had wanted to, but that's nothing new. I know one day I'll find that pay streak loaded with gold. I had a great time, had a lot of fun, and learned a lot. My thanks to Leonard Leeper, "The Golden Optimist," who did a fantastic job arranging and organizing this trip.