Prospecting Kauffman Creek
As appearing in The Gold Nugget, May 2000
by Leonard Leeper, "The Golden Optimist"

      One day while looking for a new prospecting place to check out, I remembered a post on the Internet alt.mining.recreational newsgroup from another Colorado prospector. He had mentioned working an area that I had never been to. In fact, no one that I knew had. It had been a few weeks since I had gone camping and I was beginning to get the camping urge. The memories of the gourmet food, the leisurely friendly exchanges, and the drinks around the campfire at night all seem to get better and more intense with time. My next problem would be finding someone else who felt the same as I did. A phone call to Dave was all it took. Dave and I prospect together frequently. We both dredge and work at about the same pace, which makes for good partnerships. Soon plans were being made for the next weekend.

      I had a description of how to find the place from Tom, the prospector. He had said that he was planning on being there also. His description of how to get there was kind of vague but the two of us being the the great pathfinders that we were, I didn't anticipate any problem finding the place. We both planned on driving our own vehicles and taking our own dredges. If we only took one vehicle, we probably wouldn't be able to haul all of the gold home we were going to find. I hate it when I have to leave some of my hard found gold sitting next to the fire ring because I have too much weight in my truck.

      Finally, the big day arrived and I met Dave in Denver and off into the mountains on I-70 we went. We soon left I-70 and headed up even higher on I-40, crossing over Berthoud Pass at 11,315 feet. We went uphill somewhat slowly, as my truck was heavily loaded and it, like me, is getting older all the time. Then it was down the other side of the Continental Divide. We drove through Granby and began to watch for state highway 125. We were then to drive toward Willow Creek Pass. As we left highway 40 on highway 125, we were to count the creeks we crossed and the fourth one would be Kauffman Creek. Great directions. For famous pathfinders like ourselves, no problem to follow. As we turned onto highway 125, I began watching for the creeks but also for moose that I had been told liked to hang out in this area. No, not a Moose Hall, but the wild four legged, big nosed kind. As we crossed each small culvert I wondered, was this supposed to be a creek. After driving about 15 miles we started heading up to Willow Creek Pass. This had to be too far. We turned and headed back down.

      I had seen a camp set up a little ways off of the road, so we pulled over to ask directions (see women, we men can do that when you aren't along--we don't have to appear macho to each other!. As luck would have it, it turned out to be another camp of prospectors. After exchanging the usual "How are you doing?," and getting the also usual "Not Much!," we obtained directions on how to find Kauffman Creek. It was just a small distance down the road. As we turned the trucks around. he asked "You planning on using that?," as he looked at my 4" dredge. "Yes," I replied. "Good luck. There's not much water in the creek." With those encouraging words we were off once more to find our fortune.

      Driving a short distance, we were soon on the dirt road heading up Kauffman Creek (turns out, it's about 12 or 13 miles from I-40) and looking for Tom's campsite. After locating it, the next problem was to find Tom. He had promised to show us the magic spot where we could find a couple of ounces by lunch time.

      I walked over through the waist high brush looking for the creek. It had to be out there somewhere. Finally I found it. All two feet wide and about 6" deep. There certainly wasn't any chance of drowning in it. You had to look hard to find a spot that was over your ankles in depth. Well, maybe we could find a wide spot that we could get the dredge into. As I wandered around I noticed the brush in the distance moving. It was Tom and some of his grandkids. They were digging along the creek, prospecting and sampling the likely looking spots. After an introduction and an exchange of pleasantries, Tom pointed out a few good looking spots. The main problem with that was they definitely weren't big enough for my dredge. We wanted to dredge so we would have to turn down the couple of ounces sure thing for potluck where the dredge would fit. We would have to locate our own spot.

      We drove a short distance up the road and selected a great looking camping spot near the side of the road. After setting up camp we once again headed for the creek, this time looking for a spot where the dredge could at least get wet. I've dredged before with the floats sitting on dry land but we at least had to find a wide spot to get it close to the water. After a little hiking around we found a spot that looked wide enough for the dredge. We went back to camp to haul the equipment the 1/8th mile to the stream. We had the Dredgebarrow to move the floats, motor, and hoses as a single assembly.

      Normally this takes three or four trips when it is broken down into carrying size pieces. I designed the Dredgebarrow for the haul-in on the Arkansas River and this was to be its maiden voyage. After piling most of the equipment on top of the floats and through liberal use of bungee cords, we headed out into the wilds.

      We hauled all of the equipment down a steep hill and up the other side and then through some tall brush. Finally we arrived at the stream. The Dredgebarrow worked great. The tall brush tended to drag on the axle but it certainly was easier than carrying everything on our backs. We selected a likely looking spot and set the dredge in and started the motor. Water quickly flowed through the sluice box. When the dredge was running, most of the water in the creek flowed through the sluice box. This was definitely the smallest creek that I had dredged in.

      After pulling my wetsuit on, I headed into the water. All 6 inches in depth. This was going to be a challenge to keep the nozzle underwater in such a shallow spot. Gradually the hole got deeper and it got easier. I was only wearing my wetsuit bottoms to start as there was no way the water was deep enough to need the tops. Not deep enough but soon, I noticed, certainly cold enough to need the arm protection provided by the tops. The water was in the low 40s. Definitely not summer water.

      After a short time dredging, I headed out of the water for my mask and snorkel. I hate to dredge when I can't see. The rocks plug up the hose about ten times worse. When you can see what is near the nozzle you can pick the big ones out before they get stuck in it. Soon we had forgotten all about the cold water and were lying in the 6" deep water happily dredging away.

      After playing in the water for a while, I reluctantly turned the nozzle over to Dave. He had been patiently waiting his turn. We took turns, each dredging for a while then taking a rest while the other worked. It was warm enough that the wetsuit top came off when we weren't in the water. What a great day!

      We dredged into the afternoon and all too soon it was time to quit. Oh well, there's always tomorrow. We removed our wetsuits and walked back to camp. This is always a time of day I enjoy. Feeling great after spending all day in the water searching for gold, enjoying a cool one or two as we sit around relaxing. Then cooking a leisurely meal after which there would be a campfire and more cool drinks. It just couldn't get any better than this.

      Did we find a ton of gold? No, but we did find some and it was an enjoyable enough trip that we immediately planned another.

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