Monday, July 7, 2014

Dawns Early Light Two

Dawns Early Light Two


   When I was prospecting out in the desert I used to be bad about doing something that everyone always tells you not to do. I just couldn't keep my nose (and the rest of me) out of any old mine that I found (must have been a left over from when Stanley and I prowled all the old coal mines down home). One of the main things I hunted for was the old mines anyway, not so much to go in them, I was looking for the tailings (the rock they had dug out). Them old timey guys were good, but they weren't great at finding all the gold. A lot of the old timers were out in the desert on foot with only a mule or donkey to haul stuff around. Even if they found a good gold vein they still had to get the gold somewhere so they could sell it which in Nevada meant either all the way to San Francisco or at least to Carson City, all on foot. Needless to say, they didn't waste there time except for the highest grade ore which meant they left the lower grade behind. Gold in them days was only worth $16.00 an ounce but by the time I came around prowling behind them it was closer to $800.00 an ounce so finding they left over's was well worth it!

   I was a few miles outside Tonopah checking out some old mines on one trip. I enjoyed being in that country because I had found both gold and turquoise around some of the mines. However, it is the desert and I was out there around the first of August and it was HOT! It was still in the 90's at midnight which made sleeping a real pain. Even just throwing a blanket on the ground was still miserable. I had been out there for close to a week and was getting close to the point of calling it quits just because I was give out from lack of sleep when I found another old mine. The mines for all the other tailing piles I had been checking were caved in so this one was the first open mine I had seen on the trip. One thing about a mine, it's cool inside! When I got less than a hundred feet into that mine it felt like walking into an air-conditioned room and I decided right then that I was going to spend the night inside and get a good nights sleep. I felt pretty safe sleeping in this one because most of the first few hundred feet of it was solid rock and there was very little fallen stone. I only went back around 50 feet or so, just enough to find the cool spot, flopped down on my blanket and was asleep pretty well before my head hit the ground.

   I woke the next morning feeling hot again and to took a few minutes to figure out what had happened to my cool spot. I looked toward the entrance of the mine and saw that I hadn't gone quite far enough back to keep the sun from reaching me. I had been so tickled to find a cool spot to sleep I hadn't even paid attention to the fact that this mine was facing due east and the morning sun was shining right down the entry. I hated to get up since I felt like I'd finally got some good sleep but I knew that sun was going to keep rising and pretty soon I was going to be cooking. I rolled over and took a big stretch and heard the one thing you really don't want to hear when your laying on the ground, a loud buzzing, rattling sound!

   I've heard that noise often enough over the years to know exactly what it was but after looking into the sun through the opening I was blinded and couldn't see anything looking back into the shadows so knowing what it was didn't help any if you don't know where it is! I knew it had to be close because I was sure that my stretching was what had disturbed it. The question was, is it close enough to strike? It sounded like it might be a pretty good size snake but the way the sound is amplified in a mine it could have been anything from a big western diamondback to a little side winder all I knew was that I didn't want to get bit by either. I'll tell you, one of the hardest things I've ever done was to just still. The first impulse is to jump up and run which is the worse thing you could do. Mostly when they start to rattle they are already coiled and ready to strike and I figured if me just moving my feet got him excited he must be close enough to strike.

   I kept looking down toward my feet hoping I would be able to see it once the sun blindness left my eyes. I must have stared back into the mine for a good five minutes before I was able to even see the walls and that long again before I could kind of see the bottom of the walls where all the shadows were. I didn't try looking along the bottom of the wall I just kept my eyes fixed on one spot a watched for any kind of movement along the edge of my vision. Finally I was pretty sure I had spotted him. He was back in the shadows about a foot or so from my left foot. I wasn't one-hundred percent sure. I couldn't see anymore than a darker shadow that seemed to be moving just a little.

   As long as I could kind of see it I was content to just lay there as still as I could and see what he was going to do. He wasn't as close to my leg as I first thought he was but I was sure that he was still within striking distance if I scared him. The most worried I got was when I realized that I couldn't see him anymore! I tried to not even breath then because I had no idea where he had gone. I didn't know if he was moving closer to me or had decided to head back farther into the mine. As the sun rose there was more light coming in the mine but I could tell that it wasn't going to reach far enough bad to light the area I had seen him in so I was still stuck just laying there.

   It seemed like hours but really must have been only a few minutes when I realized that I was hearing the sound of something scraping along the floor. Once I noticed the sound I realized that I'd been hearing it for a few minutes. It was coming from the bottom of the wall down around my waist somewhere instead of around my feet so I wasn't sure what it was but it sounded like it might be a snake crawling through the sand at the bottom of the wall. I slowly raised my head up so I could see the wall next to me just in time to see the diamond shaped head of huge snake come into view.

   I hadn't even noticed that when I had went to bed I was laying at an angle with my head closer to the mine wall than my feet were so I got to watch him come crawling along the wall getting closed to my head with every inch! I've been catching snakes since I was a kid including rattlesnakes, copperheads and cottonmouths. I have studied them up close and personnel, but laying there and watching that thing crawl by within a foot of my head is one of the hardest things I had ever done. I don't think I drew a breath from the time I saw his head until I watched his rattle slide by. Even then I didn't move anything but my eyes until I saw him leave the mine.

   Did I learn my lesson about prowling old mines from this? No. Did I stop camping out in mines? No. Was this the last snake I found in old mines? No, again. But I did learn to search a lot farther back and check out the nooks an crannies before I went to sleep!

PS - Since this guy scared me half to death I should finish the rest of the story:
   As soon as I was able to quit shaking and made sure I didn't need to change pants I followed him out of the mine. In case you can't figure out what happened I'll give you a hint. Snake roasted over a campfire is one of my favorite meals and there is a friend of mine that is really impressed by having a snake skin belt....