Sunday, July 13, 2014

Once There Was This Rock

Once There Was This Rock


   I'm sure that anyone who has read any of these stories will realize that I kind of like prospecting. Prospecting and rock hounding are one of the reasons I have spent so much time over the years roaming around in the desert and mountains. The two main reasons I go camping in either of those places are prospecting and hunting add in the fact that I just like being out in "the wild" with other people but even more by myself and there's the reason I've spent at least five plus years of my life camping out.

   I wish that back in my school days, someone would have mentioned geology as a possible life choice. Maybe it would have made a difference, maybe not. Even though Stanley and I had no idea of what we were doing we were Rock Hounds even back then. We were always checking out the rock ledges and creek beds every time we were out in the woods. We always wondered how certain rock formations came about and why there were layers of sandstone down by the river and layers of black rock in other places. I can remember so many times checking out the creek beds trying to find shiny rocks. Even when we found them we didn't know what we had found and no one else did either. I surprised me to find out that as much as the older folks around our area knew about other things and how many of them were miners how little they knew about the ground they were walking on.

   I lucked out a little because my Grandpa in Ariz. was a bit of a rock hound and his neighbor was a serious prospector. Grandpa was kind of like me, he just liked to roam through the desert and see what he could find, He did know enough about geology to pick the best spots to find things and I learned a lot of what I know from him. His neighbor taught me lots more! Not only was he a gold prospector, he had a working mine up by Cave Creek and another in Alaska. Once he found out how interested I was he started to take both Grandpa and me along with him when he went prospecting. My first trip into the Superstition Mountains looking for the Lost Dutchman mine was with him. Needless to say, we didn't find it.

   Over the next 40 plus years I've tried to learn everything I could about prospecting and rock hounding. I am not a geologist by any stretch of the imagination and even after all these years there are still so many things I don't know. Hell, the first time I found a deposit of cinnabar I had no idea exactly what it was other than pretty, blood red crystals. For those of you who don't spend a lot of time looking for rocks, Cinnabar is mercury in crystal form. I can recognize rock layers or minerals well enough now to know if I'm in an area that might produce gold or silver. I know at least ten different semi-precious gem stones when I see them and even better, I know where to look for them. None of that means I'm going to find stuff but it's nice knowing that at least you're looking in the right spot.

   I was wandering around in the mountains about fifty miles south west of Tucson, Az. just enjoying being out in the desert and seeing what I could find. There's gold, silver and several kinds of gem stones in those mountains plus some really neat rocks and if you're super lucky, meteorites! As strange as it may seem though, the main thing I was looking for in those desert mountains where it gets to 120 degrees during the day, was seashells. Once upon a time  all that area had been the bottom of an inland sea and you could find fossils of the sea life, if you can find the right layer of rock.

   I had planned on this being a pretty simple over night scouting trip so I packed enough stuff for three days just to give myself a little extra "in case" supplies. I left the car as close to the east side of the mountains as I could in an area where  an old mining trail started, my plan was to hike over the mountains to the west side searching for fossils as I went, spend the night and come back across the next day. I had made pretty well the same trip before and since I knew there was no water on either side at that time of year I was prepared. I had four gallon jugs of water plus a one gallon canteen. It was going to make the first part of the trip a little rough but I planned on dropping the water off along the way as a reserve in case I needed it. I got to the spot where I was going to leave the car well before daylight started up the mountains.

    It was about a six mile hike across the mountains which doesn't sound like much but when your spending part of the time pulling yourself up the tail from rock to rock it can get pretty tiresome. I was dropping a water jug off about every two miles which helped a lot but it still took me almost nine hours to make it over and down to the spot I wanted to camp. I still had a few hours of daylight to look around and I knew I'd have more time the next day because the hike back would be quicker. After setting up camp (setting my pack on the ground and gathering firewood) I spent the rest of the day checking out the bottoms of any gullies that came down the mountain. Found a few agates and one nice stone with some small quartz crystals. My plan was to check out the upper part of a couple of the biggest gullies the next morning. The sun was setting as I headed back to camp and low enough in the sky to spotlight the lower slope of the mountain when I noticed something shining in the sunlight about a quarter of the way up a cliff. I couldn't tell what it was but it was really bright. I could be a piece of quartz, a piece of mica or just a piece of glass that someone had dropped. I knew I wouldn't be able to get up to it and back down before it got dark so but I decided that it looked interesting enough to check it out the next morning.

   I was up at dawn the next morning waiting for it to get light enough to go check out the sparkly. You never know what you're going to run across crawling through the desert rocks and I wanted enough day light to see what I might be getting myself into. I headed out as soon as I thought it was light enough to see. I wasn't able to see the sparkly with the sun on the other side of the mountains but I knew pretty well where it was located now I just had to figure out a way to get to it. The cliff it was in was only about thirty feet high but it was straight up and smooth for the first fifteen of that. I could see a ledge that ran across the cliff face and it looked like I could go up a gully for away and get close enough to reach the ledge, move along it and be able to reach the sparkly from there. Getting up the gully was the first obstacle, it was more like a deep scratch instead of a gully and was full of rocks that tended to roll with each step but I finally made it high enough to reach the ledge. I might have over stated by calling it a ledge but at least it was wade enough that I thought that if I could figure out a way to get on it I would be able to shuffle sideways over to where the sparkly was. I only cost me one finger nail to get myself up and standing on the ledge. I wasn't happy over that but at least i was there and feeling pretty proud of myself, not counting all the cussing I did over the finger nail. I faced the cliff with both hands spread and most of my feet on the ledge and started working my way across. I wasn't to worried. I was only about fifteen feet up and the bottom of the cliff was mostly gravel with only a few bigger rocks for the first twenty feet or so, I figured that even if I fell or had to jump down I would be alright and I really wanted to see what had been shining so brightly in the sun.

   Made it about half way across the ledge only to realize all my work, and fingernail was just for a large piece of mica. i consoled myself with the fact that if I hadn't of gone to all the trouble and found out what it was it would have driven me crazy always wondering what it might have been. I figured that since I had gone to so much trouble I might as well dig it our and take it with me. I was still balancing mostly on my toes from the ledge so I had to be really careful reaching down to my belt to get my rock hammer. I knew I was only going to be able to peck at it with one hand but I figured that I'd be able to break it loose and let it fall then pick it up once I was back down. After a couple of whacks at it i realized that it was imbedded in the cliff deeper than I thought, unfortunately the third whack was my undoing! I'm not sure what I did wrong but as soon as I drew back to hit it I felt my foot slip and the next thing I knew I was falling backward.

   As soon as I felt myself falling I pushed off with my feet so I was more jumping backward than falling. I thought I'd have a better chance of landing on my feet instead of my back that way. In the few seconds it took to hit the ground I wasn't worried because i knew it wasn't far and as long as I landed on my feet it would just be a quick way down. Every thing should have worked out fine. I've jumped from greater heights than that before, on purpose, and hadn't had any problems and this one should have been the same thing if it hadn't of been for that rock! In 30 or 40 feet of cliff base there were probably only 5 rocks mixed in with the gravel and of all the luck my right foot landed on top of one of them! I knew I was in bad trouble as soon as I hit and fell on my face. I've had enough twisted ankles in my life to know exactly what they feel like and this one was a doozy! Damn it hurt! It took a bit of rolling around on the ground, cussing and trying hard not to start bawling before I got calmed down enough to even take a look at it. I had my boots laced up pretty tight because I had found that tight boots make for better climbing, most of the time, this time though my ankle was already swelled enough that the skin was bulging over the top of the boot. It looked kind of like some one was trying to stuff 5 lbs of sausage in a 1 lb case. I tried to stand but as soon as I out weight on the foot back down I went! I ended up crawling back to my camp dragging the leg behind me.

   Thanks to my stupid stunt there I was with six miles of mountains between me and my car with an ankle that I could put no weight on, running short on water and an average temp of 115 degrees! I had done some really dumb stuff in my life but this one just might kill me. I knew there were people that hiked into the mountains but I had only see signs left by them, never another actual person. I also knew that I might be OK as far as food went but there was no way I had enough water to last more than another day. While I was trying to decide what to do I started looking around to see if there was anything that make things a little easier. I knew I was going to need something for a crutch but the tallest thing around was a couple of mesquite bushes. I crawled over to one and chopped the biggest branch out of it. The problem was that it was only about three feet tall and a couple of inches thick. Might work as a cane but I sure wasn't looking forward to trying to lean on it and hop up and over the mountain. I tried doing just that and fell at least half a dozen times just trying to get back over to the camp. I only landed on the ankle once, but even without hitting or falling on it every time I hopped it sent a wave of pain through it. By the time I got back to the camp it was hurting so bad all I could do was lay flat with my leg propped up on my pack and wait for it to ease off.

   Now comes the hard choice. I can sit here in what little shade there is and pray for someone to find me or I can make the attempt to get back over the mountain. Never been much on praying or asking for help so I needed to think of a way to get my butt up that mountain. I consoled myself by thinking that all I had to do was get to the top. Once I was on top I had a signal mirror that I could use to get some ones attention down on the highway. I still had a good five hours of daylight left so I gathered up my stuff and got ready to head out. My ankle was really hurting by that time. Just standing up made it throb with every heart beat. I needed to take the boot off to give it a little relief but I knew that once it came off it wasn't going back on and I wanted to wait as long as I could before I ended up with a bare foot dragging along behind me. Got my pack on and leaning on my stick I started hopping toward the mountain.

   Talk about slow going! Lean out and place the stick then hop as far forward as I could, take a breather and repeat! I was for sure going nowhere fast but at least I was going. I finally made it to the bottom of the mountain after almost three hours and I don't know how many falls. I took me the first hour just to kind of get the hang of how I needed to move without falling every other hop. the ankle was hurting even more and I had made it less that half a mile with the hardest part of the trip still ahead of me. I can't tell you how tempting it was to just sit down and give up but I kept telling myself just one more hop. After that first hour I started setting goals for myself, just make it to that next rock and when I got there it was just make it to that bush but now I was looking at a hard up hill climb for the next two miles. I was down to about three swallows of water in my canteen and the next water was almost three quarters of the way up the trail. My first hop on the trail and my foot slipped out from under me and down I went catching the toe of my bad foot. A bolt of pain went from my ankle to the top of my head and back down. I lay there on the trail trying hard not to cry for twenty minutes before I was even able to sit up! between trying to hop up hill across the rocks and the sand that scattered across the trail I really didn't think this was going to work. I finally built up enough nerve to stand up and try it again. My second hop I slid on the sand again but that time I was able to keep my balance and keep from falling but the next one was going to have to up onto a rock. It is surprising how a tiny ledge that you would step up on without even thinking about turns into a giant step when you're hurt. It just wasn't worth it. I knew if I missed on that hop and fell again I was going to have a really hard time getting going again so I ease back down on my hands and knees and crawled up over the ledge.

   It would be impossible to tell you that next mile was like crawling up the trail. It was after dark by the time I made it to the water stash. My hands were scraped and the knees of my jeans were tore. Both my hands and knees were bleeding form crawling over the rocks and sand. I was so light headed from the sun and lack of water that I almost crawled right by the spot I'd left the water. I realized where I was just in time. I found the water jug but for a couple of minutes I couldn't figure out how to open it. I took a couple of small sips first so I could see how my stomach would handle it. Sometimes when you're in the sun that long with no water you can get some really bad cramps if you drink to fast. I seemed to be OK and proceeded to drink about half of the gallon jug! I had never in my life wanted so bad to just lay down and sleep but I knew my best shot was to keep going. Since I was crawling I didn't worry to much about losing the trail or tripping in the dark, the only thing I had to worry about other than the pain was meeting up with a snake in the dark. I only had a little over a mile before I would be at the top of the trail and I was determined to be there by daylight so I would have a chance to use my signal mirror and at least have a chance of attracting the attention of some one on the road.

   It was just a little before dawn when I made it to the top of the trail and another water stash. I had drank all the first one before I gone another quarter mile from where it was. Some time during the night I had taken my boot off. I couldn't untie the laces because my fingers were so bloody by then the lace just kept slipping through my fingers so I had to cut them. I think it hurt worse getting that book off than it did when I first sprained the ankle. I know it hurt bad enough that I had to lay there for at least a hour before I was able to start crawling again.  By the time I found the second water jug and took a drink I don't believe I had ever tasted anything so good! I even splurged a little and rinsed my hand off, it burned like fire in the cuts and scrapes and felt so good at the same time. I was going to fill my canteen with the water so I wouldn't have to drag the jug along with me but I was having a hard time getting my hands to close and hold on to things and I didn't want to take a chance spilling any. I still had my rock hammer in a sheath on my belt and was able to get it out, slip the handle through the handle of the jug and get it back in the sheath. Wasn't sure how that was going to work but it was all I could think of and I still needed to go at least another quarter of a mile before I would be in a position to reflect the morning sun toward the road.

   The sun was well up by the time I found a spot that I thought would work. I was able to drag myself over to a rock with a little bit of an overhang that would give me a little shade and I could still hold my hand out to catch the sun and use the mirror. I was so tired by then that even with the sun coming up and as bad as the ankle was hurting I ended up dozing off. When I woke up I couldn't believe that I had slept till passed noon! Screwed up again! The sun was high enough that it was really hard to get a decent reflection from my mirror! I had to move out of the little shade I had into the full sunlight in order to have any chance of being able to signal anyone. Turned out that it was a waste of time anyway. I sat there in the sun for most of the afternoon and only saw one car on the road and by the time I saw it I was to late to try and signal it.

    I gave up before sundown and crawled back to the little overhang and tried to rest for a bit. I wasn't sure about crawling downhill but I figured my best chance was to try it after dark I had a little less than four miles to get to the car and a little over two of it was going to be downhill. I had one more water jug hid out close to the half way point. My goal was to get to that water then see how things went from there. The sun going down wasn't really helping that much as far as the temp went. The night before It must have been well into the high 80's at midnight, the only good thing about making the trip at night was that I didn't have the sun beating down on me. As soon as the sun dropped below the top of the mountain I started out. I noticed as I was gathering my stuff for the trip that I had lost my boot somewhere, I looked around but couldn't see it anywhere and to be truthful, even if I had seen it and it was over a hundred feet away I didn't figure I was going to need it enough to go back and get it. My right knee was hurting the most since when I crawled I tried to keep all my weight on that knee and was really careful not to let my foot or ankle touch the ground. Didn't always work, but I kept trying.

   It turned out to be a lot harder crawling down hill than up. After I found the first small ledge by having my hand drop off it and falling on my face I was afraid to pick my hands totally off the ground, I would slide them along to make sure there was no drop off in front of me before I moved my knees. it kept me from falling but I had to stop a bunch of times and get cactus thorns out of my hands and I cut my left palm when I slid it over s piece of glass someone had dropped on the trail. Yes I did have a flashlight but there was no way I could hold it while I was crawling and I gave up trying to carry it in my belt the first night because I kept dropping it. I could describe the entire trip, all the cuts and scrapes, the rock I caught my jeans on and ripped off most of the left leg but I'll just say it was a long and miserable trip! A good portion of it was in a daze bad enough that I crawled right by my last water jug and by the time I realized it, it was too far back to get it. I had started down the mountain around eight o'clock in the evening and it was a little after two in the afternoon when I made it to the car. I was so out of it by then that I spent fifteen minutes trying to open the car door and was at the point of busting the window before I remembered that the door was locked and the keys were in my pocket. I managed to get the door open, crawl up onto the seat and collapse. After awhile I was able to sit up enough to reach into the backset and get a jug of water that I had left there. I had made the mistake of leaving it sitting on the seat and after as long as it had been there sitting in the sun it felt hot enough to almost boil eggs in, I had never tasted hot water that was that good!

   It took almost three hours before I could think about driving. I really shouldn't have been driving but I had to get some help. I didn't want to go through the ordeal I had only to end up dying while sitting in my car. I made it all the way to the hospital in Tucson without killing myself or anyone else and never passed even one cop the whole trip! They ended up keeping me there for the next three days. Some for the ankle (I was right, it was just sprained real bad, not broke). When I explained what had happened I got to listen to a dozen different people tell me what all I had done wrong, including one nurse that went hiking in the same area! Believe me, they weren't telling me anything I didn't already know. I did a really stupid thing for a person out on his own, I know they agreed with that but were just to nice to say it.

   Did I learn my lesson yes and no. Yes because I tried to be more careful and think of the possible outcome before I did things. No because less than six weeks later I was out hiking across the Nevada desert, by myself. Oh, and the being more careful and thinking... I lied.