el dorado

An industrious people.
It’s 11:50pm and I’m just writing the first words of this entry. This evening was a busy one for me. Dinner with the boss, and then a few post-5pm work-related tasks I had to get done before bedtime. On top of all that, ended up on the phone with a coworker until midnightish, talking more shop. Fortunately, or perhaps unfortunately, I feel like writing… don’t really feel like going to bed – although I know I’ll regret the lack of sleep come morning.

A few weeks ago, I think we were at lunch, Wes mentioned something about some “old Chinese mines” around the area. Intrigued, I asked what he was talking about. Seems that he’d been out Geocaching on his lunchbreak one day, and had stumbled across some tailings and trenches left over from the long-gone Northern California gold-mining days. I don’t know if he’d heard about them before, or if he did some research later – but he went on to explain that the area was a series of old Chinese diggings. Back in the gold-rush days of the 1850s, Chinese immigrants came in droves to Northern California to mine gold. They often lived and worked in commune-like camps. And, since I live minutes away from gold-central, California, there are remains of these Chinese camps all around the place I now call home. Turns out that the tailings and trenches that are minutes from my house are actually the 150 year old remains of a Chinese mining effort, and have remained pretty much untouched all this time.

I told Wes we had to go. I love stuff like this. Do you guys remember the movie “The Gold Bug?” I dunno about you, but we saw it in school. It’s an Edgar Allen Poe story that’s since been made into a TV-movie thing, and I can remember seeing it at least twice during my middle school literary education. From what I remember, it’s a story about a boy and a treasure hunt – and has something to do with a golden scarab. From a young age, I’ve been fascinated with treasure hunting and secret, concealed, magic, or otherwise “awesome rad” stuff of that ilk (I blame the Hardy Boys). This is why things like our middle-school Astro adventure were the apex of cool to me, and is still so memorable to me. But, I digress. The image of rotten wooden doors with rusted hinges and primitive locks sprang into my mind. I envisioned a dark crisscross of abandoned shafts, bottomless pools of endless black water, and all other Scooby Doo-esque mine-cliches. Alas, I had to leave for Taiwan and we were out of free days to go exploring. Then, this Monday rolled around and Wes, Ben and I decided to forsake our lunch hour for an adventure.

Wes led the way. There was a chest-level iron fence around the area, but a gate hung open on one side so we didn’t have to climb. You can actually see the piles of round rocks heaped in the grass from the highway, the whole thing is so close to civilization. Inside the fenced in area there are series of man-wide trenches that cut deep into the rocky earth, some as deep as thirty feet. We walked around on the piled-rocks up top, peering into the trenches for a while – then we found a way to get down in them. Just about wide enough to a man to walk through, the floor of the trenches pitched up and down in little hills, and at their deepest point you could look up and see a ribbon of sun and sky above. There were no rotted doors or dank shafts, but it was still a really fun place to explore. While there, we found evidence that the “ancient Chinese mines” may be being unofficially used for some not-so-ancient activities. We saw beer cans, hobo-hovels, spent condoms, and evidence of campfires. Hey, if less people knew about it, you could totally live at the bottom of one of those trenches and effectively disappear from the world of the surface-dwellers. Anyway, here are some pictures of the outing (Wes’ flash card ran out of space near the end of the expedition, so I had to switch to my cellphone for the last of these).

Looking down the longest and deepest of the trenches.

Ben and Wes, in the trenches.

Looking up.

Someone left us a rope to assist in this steep ascent.

With all the gold-related stuff going on in this entry, I got some more. Today I had lunch over at Pat’s place, where we discussed a new enzyme-filter (or some kinda filter at least) implementation for his large saltwater fish tank. All the talk of siphons and filtering and pumping reminded me that I have my grandfather‘s old (but working) gold sluicing equipment. It’s a little gas-powered dredge/pump attached to a fire hose, that sucks water and sediment from the river and spits it back out down a long sluice box. The constant flow of water and sand/gravel over the sluice box riffles pushes the heavy sediment to the bottom, where it collects on the textured black rubber mats. In gold-miner talk, these contraptions are often called “High Bankers” or motorized/powered sluices. Talking to Pat about the equipment, I think we both got a little bit of the gold fever. When I mentioned that I also had three of my grandpa’s old gold pans, we started talking about actually going out and using the stuff. The little gas pump worked like a charm as recently as last year, and I think I only need to make some minor repairs to the sluice box and motor mount to have a fully functioning highbanker. On top of all this, the very-close-to-me Auburn State Recreation Area allows panning and highbanking year-round without permit and several people in online gold forums mention pulling decent nuggets from the American River there.

Armed with this information, I really want to try and get a recreational highbanking/panning trip together with some friends. This would involve beer and a picnic lunch of course. Sadly, a lot of the places my grandfather used to go for public prospecting are now closed. Convict Flat, Ramshorm, Indian River, China Flat… all closed to the public as of 1996. I think it would have been cool to use his stuff in some of the very same places he used it. Owell.

2am on the nose. Goodnight.

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