Finally the big day arrived and I eagerly pointed my truck south heavily laden with my camping supplies, clothing, and all of my dredging supplies. I was leaving a day early as I wanted to "stake out" a great spot before all of the other prospectors arrived. Actually I wanted to spend four days on the river and not the three that the club had planned.
Arriving in Buena Vista I headed for the local grocery store. When camping I don't like to plan meals too much in advance. After selecting my 4 days of meals I was off again. Of course I had purchased my one required meal of beans. All good prospectors eat beans so who am I to break the tradition. Next stop the liquor store. I had to have a couple of sixers just in case someone came to camp. I really didn't want any myself but you know how unsocial it would look if I couldn't offer my visitors a brew or two. Of course if they are drinking it wouldn't be right if I didn't have a couple also.
From the liquor store I drove up the road a short distance to register with the claim owner and the sponsors of the outting, Vista Mining Adventures. Vista is a prospecting store and the headquarters of the Chaffe County Gold Prospectors Club. They were going to register the visitors, go over the claim rules, and generally assist the newcomers in any way required. I filled out the forms and paid my fee and asked about a camping spot. They pointed me toward several likely spots one which was free. Guess which one I picked. Not that I'm cheap, it's just that I knew that many of my club friends were and they would all be there. After arriving at the camping spot I selected the best spot under the small trees as I was the first and quickly set up my tent and unloaded all of my camping supplies.
Now for the fun. I headed out to the claims which were about three miles away. Arriving at the parking spot I looked for the river. It wasn't too close but that just meant that all of the "wuss" prospectors would go somewhere else. With a song in my heart and a smile on my face I headed off down the trail. After about a little less than a quarter of a mile I headed down the river bank and arrived at the waters edge. Big boulders and river rock was everywhere. I could see the claim owners 4" Keene dredge sitting on the bank near a large dredged out hole. I walked about 100' above his hole and located some large rocks and decided that that spot looked as good as any. No matter what all of the experts say, with only 4 days on the river I wasn't going to spend 2 or 3 of them sampling. Besides, the claim owner must have been getting good results or his hole wouldn't be so big. As I said before, I select my spots very scientifically.
With the golden hot spot selected now came the hard part. Magically transporting a 4" dredge and all of the assorted support equipment from the back of my truck almost 1/4 of a mile away to the river. What makes that ever harder is the strange fact that most rivers are located in a dip in the landscape. In this case a fairly formidable one. Looking around for a helpful, ablebodied, prospector, (translate to sucker), to assist me and finding none I began to disassemble the dredge into it's component parts so I could carry them myself. Figuring that I would take the heaviest parts first, I grabbed the 5 horse motor, pump, air compressor, and frame assembly and trudged off down the trail. All of about 100 yards. At this point I decided that I could drag the whole combination a whole lot easier than I could carry it. Well, maybe not a whole lot but at least somewhat easier. After about 30 minutes and many stops I finally carried it down the big dip in the landscape and I arrived at the rivers edge. One trip down, a few more to go.
Next trip I carried the sluice box and foot valve. Another 30 minute round trip. Then the float assembly and float frame. 30 minutes more. Suction hose, nozzle, air line and hooka. Here I began to wish I had a 5 foot suction hose, not the 20 footer that I had. Even bungeed together it still is an awkward load. Pullng the weight belt out of the truck, all 75 pounds of it, I made a decision that 50 pounds should be more than enough to sink me and I took out two 12 1/2 pound packs and left them in the truck. In reality I never even put it on. I just carried it back and forth. From now on I'm not taking it to the water. If I need it, I'll walk back and get it. Then came all of the gold pans and buckets. I began to wonder how the old time prospectors poor burro carried all of this stuff. Finally after 6 trips and 4 hours all of the stuff was sitting on the rivers edge. The only problem now was it was late afternoon and I was about half dead so I decided that tomorrow would be a great day to start. I hiked back to the truck and headed down the road the three miles to camp.
Supper was planned to be the requisite beans and bread. It may seem dumb but a tradition is a tradition and so must be observed. I could hear cars in the distance so I popped the top on a brew so that I would be ready "just in case" someone stopped by. As I cooked my super, a veritable feast of bread and beans, I drank my brew to prevent it from getting warm and when it was done I opened another just to be prepared for any visitors. After supper was finished I washed the dishes and retired to bed.
Continue Dredging the Arkansas River