Friday, October 24, 2008

Arbuckle Mountain, Oregon

Last weekend the North America Research Group (NARG) sponsored a fossil dig at Arbuckle Mountain, about 20 miles southeast of Heppner, Oregon. The big attraction here is a giant palm frond, Sabalites eocenica, from the Eocene Clarno Formation. In addition to palm fronds that can reach four feet in size, the area is noted for avocado, magnolia, willow, and other leaves. There is a weak lignite zone through the area, with some short-lived coal beds worked at nearby Coal Mine Hill.

Some of the NARG team camped at Arbuckle Corral on Friday night; others stayed in town or made other arrangements. Digging began in earnest before noon on Saturday. Soon the team had zeroed in on a productive strata. Tim Fisher, who lists about ten separate GPS coordinates for this area on his invaluable OreRockOn DVD and website ( soon got into a nice zone and pulled out an unidentified flower, along with palms about a foot in length. The team also recovered nice specimens of cypress and metasequoia.

Tim's zone extended across the top of the road cut, and at least five different excavations produced good material. The team continued digging until dinner, retired to an excellent meal around a roaring campfire, and settled down to a cool evening in the pine forests of eastern Oregon.

The next morning, the team went back at it. We cleared some more material, gathered up the best stuff, emptied out the ditch along the road to keep the Forest Service happy, and generally cleaned up. A nice lady came down the road in an ATV with a big harvest of Shaggy Mane mushrooms, but she reported that there was a new gate at the top of the road.

For an October fossil search and rescue, the weather was ideal. Maybe that was why the camaraderie was so great, but I don't think it's the only reason. I'm always struck by how easy it is to get along with other fossil hunters, rockhounds, and gold prospectors. We shared a ton of information over the campfire, pressing each other for insight into new areas. I like that part the best; there are so many spots to hit out here.

I know I should put the GPS coordinates in this article, but I'm going to resist the temptation. Join NARG at and you can visit the area with us next year!


The Ore Bin, June 1961

The Oreg Bin, May 1969

Friday, October 10, 2008

Idaho's Yankee Fork dredge

Mining the Internet: Yankee Fork Dredge

By Garret Romaine
(this article will appear in the next issue of Gold Prospectors magazine; sorry about the length)

Driving west last summer from Challis, Idaho, toward the interesting town of Stanley, I took ID 75 as it followed the Salmon River for mile after scenic mile. The Sawtooths loomed on the horizon, while alpine forests dipped down to transition into sagebrush hills. Some tantalizing gravel bars were just emerging from the low water of late August, offering opportunities to search for agate, jasper, and petrified wood, or wash some gravel for black sands and fine gold. Mentally plotting the mileage from here to Portland, Oregon, I reached the tiny crossing at Sunbeam and saw a sign for the Yankee Fork dredge. Somewhere in the dim recesses of my gold-fevered brain, a light went off. I seemed to remember this area was once a major producer. Besides, there was that word ‘dredge.’ On the spot, I detoured north onto Yankee Fork Road. And I’m really glad I did.

In this article, I’ll describe the Yankee Fork district in detail. I’ll provide you with the history of the Yankee Fork gold rush, culled from some dependable research materials. I found two excellent descriptions of the actual “eureka!” moments when prospectors located fabulous quartz veins. In addition, I’ll share some web links that briefly describe the recreational activities available to current visitors during those brief summer months when the area is most hospitable. With ghost towns, museums, abandoned mines, and that magnificent dredge as a base, the Yankee Fork of Idaho’s Salmon River has a lot to offer


First off, let’s answer the basic question: how rich was it? According to the U.S. Geological Survey:

“Anderson (1949, p. 14) credited the district with a total production of gold and silver valued at $13 million to about 1948. Of this, $12 million was mined before 1910. Umpleby (1913a, p. 78) estimated that about 40 percent of this was in gold (about 252,000 ounces). From 1948 through 1959 the district produced 14,253 ounces; most of it was from dredging operations. Total gold production through 1959 was about 266,600 ounces.” (USGS Bulletin 610, p. 128)

That’s a good haul, by any yardstick. Interestingly, the district started slowly, as access was difficult, there were no railroads anywhere near the area, and the Boise Basin discoveries were much easier to reach. The original discovery in this district was at Loon Creek, about 30 miles north of Sunbeam, as Sparling describes in Ghost Towns of Southern Idaho:

“When Nathan Smith discovered placer gold on Loon Creek in 1869, he set off another rush into the back country…Near the mouth of Canyon Creek, the tent and log town of Oro Grande began to take shape... In 1879 five Chinese miners were killed by Sheepeater Indians. There is some doubt as to whether Indians committed this crime or white men intent on robbing the Chinese of their gold, but the incident helped touch off the Sheepeater Indian War... The town site was burned over years ago and nothing remains today. The next settler at the mouth of Canyon Creek was Billy Casto, and on most maps, the site of Oro Grande is shown as Casto.” (Sparling, pgs. 95-100)

Loon Creek proved to be a flash in the pan save for the Lost Packer mine. In his classic book, Gold Camps and Silver Cities, Merle Wells picks up the story:

“Yankee Fork got off to a surprisingly slow start. Joel Richardson and a party of Yankee prospectors examined Yankee Fork while traveling through that part of the country in 1866 or 1867. Aside from bestowing a name on the stream, they left little imprint before retiring to Montana. By 1868, a few men were washing out gold at nearby Robinson Bar [on the Salmon River]. After the rush to Loon Creek in 1869, mining was under way on both sides of Yankee Fork.

“Prospectors radiated out in all directions from Loon Creek. D.B. Varney and Sylvester Jordan brought a group of miners over to Yankee Fork in 1870, where most of their claims proved a disappointment. Only one of the new Jordan Creek claims yielded enough (in this case, $10 per man a day) to justify working. The next spring the decline of Loon Creek inspired two more gold hunters to cross over to Yankee Fork. They had a hard time of it. According to Clitus Barbour, ‘Arnold and Estis (Estes) the discoverers of Yankee Fork camp, toiled in the snow and storm twenty-five days transporting their supplies in there on sleds from Loon Creek, a distance of only twenty-five miles, over a divide thousands of feet high.’ On the strength of opening discovery claims good for $8 a day, about twenty miners organized a district and went to work. By the end of July, five companies were preparing their claims for mining. Fifty or sixty men, mostly from Loon Creek, were on hand. Some of them ‘were busy opening their claims, while others were running up and down the river, uncertain what to do, and waiting for the turn of events.’ Not until the new claims turned out profitable did the doubters go to work. Even then Yankee Fork attracted little outside interest. Only fifteen men spent the winter, and no grounds for a stampede materialized in 1872. Lode discoveries, in fact, did not come on any important scale for three more years.” (Wells, pg. 118)

So early placer mining was barely productive. Because these were experienced prospectors, they knew the source for the gold must be nearby, and the search would heat up again each spring once the snow melted. Here’s the description of the big discovery, again from Wells:

“Searching on a Sunday afternoon in June 1875 for the lodes from which Jordan Creek’s extensive, but otherwise unimpressive, placers originated, W.A. Norton came across the vein that every prospector dreams of finding one day. Very few ever had his kind of luck. In a high-grade vein he found a seam of exceptionally rich ore only two or three inches thick. With the help of a partner or two, he was able to pound out $11,500 worth of gold in a hand mortar in thirty days. That was enough to pay some oppressive debts and to start developing the mine. No rush to Yankee Fork attended Norton’s discovery of the fabulous Charles Dickens, as it was called. His find went by almost unnoticed. Then, when winter struck early, Yankee Fork was depopulated almost entirely. Packers had no opportunity to supply the high mountain camps. Yankee Fork was reduced to a population of only three, while neighboring Loon Creek declined to four.” (Wells, p. 118)

Winters in this area can be deadly, as elevations start at about 6000 feet where the Yankee Fork meets the main stem of the Salmon. Snow often piles up over ten feet deep, temperatures drop below zero and stay there, and opportunities to hunt for game are scarce. That must have been one dismal camp. But surely one of the reasons the men stayed put was the opportunity to find another ledge like the Charles Dickens.

Wells picks up the story the next year:

“When prospectors resumed in 1876, other extremely rich lodes followed the Charles Dickens. Most notable of all was the General Custer which James Baxter, E.M. Dodge, and Morgan McKeim discovered on August 17. In a manner somewhat different from the Charles Dickens, with its wealth of ore suitable for hand mortaring, the Custer also rated as a prospector’s dream. In this discovery, most of the vein happened to lie exposed on the surface. (The way miners describe it, most of the hanging wall simply had slid off the vein.) Thus the miners could avoid much of the expensive development work (that is, driving tunnels and raises or shafts deep into the mountain along a mineralized vein in order to verify the presence of enough ore to justify bringing in a mill) ordinarily required before a prospector could sell out his discovery. Erosion had done most of the development work. Moreover, the relatively low cost of getting out high-grade ore from the Custer enhanced its value greatly. One man could pull down twelve tons of ore a day. E.W. Jones reported in 1877: “The owners merely break the ore loose…tumble it down in large masses to the dump, break it up, sort it and sack it.” At that point, the ore was ready for packing to a mill in Salt Lake City, where $60,000 was realized from the small open cut. Somehow even this marvelous discovery did not generate an old-fashioned gold rush to Yankee Fork.” (Wells, pgs. 119-120)

Now stampeders flocked into the area. Soon the nearby towns of Bonanza City and Custer sprang to life, as described by Sparling:

“The rich placers along the Yankee Fork and up Jordan Creek encouraged the miners to build Bonanza City in 1876. By 1880 the town had fifteen hundred people, a post office, stores, hotel, many houses, and a newspaper, The Yankee Herald. Prior to 1880, Bonanza and Custer were supplied by freighters using pack strings of horses or mules, and the demands of these towns was largely responsible for the growth of Challis as a supply center. Since nearby Custer didn’t have a cemetery, the one back in the hills behind Bonanza served both communities. Some log building remain along the road in Bonanza, but many have tumbled down and been destroyed…

“Situated about two miles upstream from Bonanza, Custer grew with the development of the rich quartz mines. The Charles Dickens was the first big mine, and others nearby were the General Custer, the Lucky Boy, the Black Mine, and the Montana Mine. With the defeat of General Custer in 1876 still fresh in their minds, the miners named the town in his honor. A toll road over Mill Creek to Challis was opened in 1880 and allowed freighters to bring in the heavy machinery that a mill required. The Custer Mill started operating in 1881 and closed down in 1903, and at one time it had thirty stamps going. A tramway was built up the mountainside behind the mill to carry down the ore. Unfortunately the mill has been burned down and only the foundations remain.” (Sparling, p. 97)

As happened in many remote districts, land ownership issues cropped up early in the development of the better properties. However, the legal problems were nothing that a little outside capital from California couldn’t solve, as Wells describes.

“By the spring of 1879, Joseph Pfeiffer of Rocky Bar had brought in San Francisco engineers and capital, and had arranged purchases enough to enable work and production at the Custer to resume. ‘People generally thought him crazy’ to be investing so heavily in an undeveloped prospect located hundred of miles from a railroad and on a practically unimproved pack trail ‘in a wild, sparsely-settled country, surrounded by hordes of hostile Indians.’ Yet Pfeiffer had recovered his initial $60,000 investment by shipping ore to Salt Lake City, and his California associates, who included George Hearst and the president of Wells Fargo, supplied the balance (over twice that amount) to straighten out title. The next step was to stop hauling ore by pack mule to distant mills in Atlanta or Salt Lake; freight costs to Blackfoot, where rail service was available by 1879, ran $100 a ton. Then George Hearst induced Alexander Toponce to build a toll road to Challis, over which stage service to Bonanza commenced on October 3, 1879. Toponce’s road made it possible for Pfeiffer’s San Francisco capitalists to bring in a thirty-stamp mill for the Custer. In spite of all the excitement, production at Yankee Fork mines amounted to only $420,000 in 1879. Then, ‘after many unavoidable and tedious delays,’ the Custer mill was completed at the very end of 1880. Production in 1881 rose immediately to over $1 million. The Yankee Fork mines at last were showing their great potential.” (Wells, p. 123)

Government geologists soberly relate the rest of the story:

“However, these high-grade deposits proved to be shallow, and the district began to decline in the 1890’s, and its mill closed in 1905. There were sporadic attempts to revive some properties, but no significant activity occurred until the reopening of the Lucky Boy mine in 1939. Placer mining along the Yankee Fork was also renewed about that time. World War II curtailed activities, but a few properties were reopened in 1946 and 1947. Production in the late 1940’s was almost entirely by a dredge that operated along the Yankee Fork, although small-scale production from lode deposits continued through 1957 (T. H. Kiilsgaard, written commun., 1962). The most productive placers in the district were along the Yankee Fork of the Salmon River, from the mouth of Jordan Creek almost to the mouth of the Yankee Fork.” (USGS, p. 128)

No detailed description of a mining district is complete without at least summarizing the geology reports. If you get a chance to explore some of the abandoned mines and their tailings piles, you need to know what to look for. In addition, the gravels that have been turned upside down along the Yankee Fork are worth exploring with a heavy hammer, in hopes of busting up a quartz chunk and revealing some interesting minerals. So even though this next paragraph can be heavy slogging, I feel duty-bound to include it in this writeup. All the usual players for Idaho are present: old rocks from the Paleozoic and Mesozoic Ages, and a healthy dose of that great lump of granite, the Idaho Batholith:

“Bedrock in the Yankee Fork district, according to Anderson (1949, p.8-11) consists of contorted Paleozoic and Mesozoic sedimentary and volcanic rocks that are intruded by quartz monzonite and granodiorite of Mesozoic age. The Paleozoic rocks are the Wood River Formation of Pennsylvanian age and the Casto Volcanics of Permian (?) age. These are cut in the northwest part of the district by quartz monzonite of the Idaho batholith. The Paleozoic rocks were subjected to two periods of deformation - one at the close of the Jurassic and one at the close of the Cretaceous. During Oligocene time the Challis volcanic flows covered most of the older rocks, and these were intruded in Miocene time by relatively small masses of dacite and rhyolite porphyry (Anderson, 1949, p. 8-10). The Challis Volcanics were gently warped and fractured, and these fractures were filled by epithermal silver-gold deposits. Most of the lodes are simple fissure fillings, but where the rock was complexly fractured, the ore minerals are disseminated and the deposits resemble stockworks (Anderson, 1949, p. 15). Typical vein filling is quartz, which may be fine grained, coarse comb, or drusy. Veins characteristically contain pyrite, chalcopyrite, sphalerite, tetrahedrite, arsenopyrite, enargite, galena, stephenite, miargyrite, pyargyrite, argentite, aguilarite, gold, and electrum; some calcite may be present. In the weathered zones, native silver, argentite, cerargyrite, azurite, malachite, chalcocite, and covellite are present in various amounts.” (Anderson, 1949, p. 16-17).

Dredge Links
By far the most interesting aspect of a drive up the Yankee Fork is the big dredge near Custer. There are several links on the Internet that can direct you to historical facts about the massive dredge, plus information about the fascinating museum at Custer that attracts thousands of visitors each year. Entry fees are quite reasonable for both the dredge tour and the museum visit, and they’re both family-friendly. I’ve weeded down and snipped a bit of representative text for each link below.

US Forest Service
“In 1979, the Yankee Fork Gold Dredge Association was chartered by former employees and their families. This dedicated, hardworking group of volunteers has restored the dredge and it is open for guided tours. This fascinating tour is open from Memorial Day through Labor Day weekend from 10:00 A.M. to 4:30 P.M. They will even show you how to pan for gold!”

Sun Valley Guide
“Ghostly remnants of another Idaho mining boom-and-bust linger along the nine miles of dirt road just north of the Sunbeam Dam and Yankee Fork turnoff on state Highway 75. Wooden shards, remnants of homes that once occupied the exuberantly named settlement of Bonanza, lay between the trees. Cabins, better-preserved icons of what passed for civilization in the 19th century wilderness, stand farther along the road in Custer. Between these relics of the Old West looms a brooding artifact, a younger cousin to those mining yesteryears that seems, at first glance, to be just a mirage in the backwoods of lush forests and richly stocked fishing streams.

“The word behemoth is insufficient to describe the giant Yankee Fork gold dredge. It is a grayish monster languishing in its final resting place, a mechanical dinosaur idling in a perpetual pond, now serving only as a fascinating curiosity for tourists. Turn the clock back 60 years and the dredge resembled a well-lighted, four-story hotel; and it had a purpose. It spent its days swinging a giant arm to gouge and sift earth by the tons per minute in search of gold.”

Oregon State University pictures collection|r
I know that’s a lot to type; you can Google for ‘Yankee Fork Dredge pictures’ and get there just as fast. Great old black and white photos here.

Suite 101 motorcycle adventures
“Designed by the Bucyrus-Erie Company for the Snake River Mining Company to suit the specific geology along the Yankee Fork, work crews constructed this 988-ton, 112-foot long, 54-foot wide and 64-foot high dredge next to the river where it floated in a pond of its own making.

“From 1940 to 1953, the dredge traveled relentlessly upriver for a total of five and one-half miles. It operated 24-hours a day except from late fall until early spring when ice and cold caused its shutdown. During its 13 productive years, the dredge turned six million cubic yards of stream gravel into more than 1 million dollars worth of gold and silver. In 1966, its last owner donated the dredge to the Forest Service.”

Yankee Fork Dredge State Park
“At Sunbeam, interpretive signs describe the beautiful Salmon River and the remnants of the Sunbeam Dam, the only dam ever constructed on the Salmon. The dam was built in 1910 to generate electricity for nearby mines. The operation went bankrupt in 1911 and the dam was breached in 1934.”

Off Road Explorers
“Despite being abandoned for a half century and having the occasional band of hippies residing in it during the 1970’s, the dredge is amazingly intact. It has been somewhat restored by a group of volunteers who work with the forest service and give tours of the dredge for a small fee.”

Historic Photo Archive
“In the early 1930's several placer miners joined together to form a company to see if they could get someone interested in dredging their claims on the Yankee Fork. Twenty-nine claims were involved. During 1938 and 1939, the Silas Mason Co. of Shreveport, Louisiana became interested. When tests indicated approximately $16,000,000 worth of gold was recoverable, they formed a subsidiary, the Snake River Mining Co., to manage the dredging. The Bueyrus-Erie Company was awarded a contract to build the dredge in 1939 and completed it in the fall of 1940. The Olson Manufacturing Company manufactured most of the steel work in Boise, Idaho. The parts were shipped by train to Mackay, then hauled by trucks to Yankee Fork and assembled in 1940.”

Vital Guide Books
Short QuickTime movie about the dredge.

Go Northwest
Information about the town of Stanley:
“In summer, the small town swells with visitors who use Stanley as a base for exploring the Salmon River, the Sawtooth National Recreation Area, and other public lands. Popular in summer are rafting, float trips, hiking, fishing and hunting, and in winter, snowmobiling and cross-country skiing… The town takes its name from the surrounding basin, itself named for Captain John Stanley, a Civil War veteran. He was leading a party of prospectors who passed through the basin on their way to Idaho City. The party found a small amount of placer gold, and Stanley didn't return but one of the party, A.P. Challis, did and mined around Stanley for many summers.”

There are developed campgrounds between Sunbeam and Bonanza City, plus more campgrounds near Casto. I see more camping areas on the road from Custer to Challis, and there must be eight developed sites along the Salmon on either side of Sunbeam. Contact the Chalis-Yankee Fork Ranger District office at Challis: (208) 879-4100 or on the web at Many campgrounds in this area can be reserved over the web.

There are some current claims being worked in and around the massive dredge tailings below Bonanza City, where apparently some unworked ground escaped the big dredge. I witnessed one person with a metal detector walking through the tailings, but there were probably a dozen fishermen out that day. Many small streams that empty into the drainage are worth exploring, particularly above Custer and further up the rough road to Loon Creek/Casto. Topo maps for this area show many mines and prospects worth checking out if you have time. There is a huge open pit operation west of Custer, along Jordan Creek, so watch for heavy truck traffic during normal business hours.


Anderson, A. L., Silver-Gold Deposits of the Yankee Fork District, Custer County, Idaho. Idaho Burau of Mines and geology Pamphlet 83. 1949. 37 pgs.

Koschmann, A.H., and Bergendahl, M.H., Principal Gold-Producing Districts of the United States, U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 610. 1968. 283 pgs.

Sparling, Wayne C., Southern Idaho Ghost Towns, Caxton Printers Ltd., Caldwell Idaho. 1996. 135 pgs.

Wells, Merle W., Gold Camps and Silver Cities: Nineteenth-Century Mining in Central and Southern Idaho, University of Idaho Press, Moscow, Idaho. 2002. 233 pgs.

Umpleby, J. B., Some Ore Deposits in Northwestern Custer County, Idaho, U.S. Geological Survey Bulletin 539, 1913. 104 pgs.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Too Much Rockhounding?

Maybe I've been traveling too much, putting on too many miles. Maybe I almost caught my brother-in-law's cold when we went to Lincoln City, Oregon, for the Fourth. But upon coming home, I was exhausted, and I soon fell into a fitful nap with some amazing images.

No, I didn't dream I was surrounded by fossilized T-Rex skulls. Instead, I imagined I was putting together a short expedition for a few folks and found myself as the lead organizer. Wanting to get some kind of vehicle that would have a strong low gear, I found myself borrowing an air-conditioned wheat harvester from Arnold Schwarzenegger. And seated next to me in the navigator's chair was Queen Elizabeth. I know it was her because she was wearing a nice little hat.

Thank god I woke up soon after shifting into second gear. I have no idea where that dream was headed.

Thursday, July 3, 2008


Got a nice note from Jason, the operator of a good Idaho rockhounding site:

Check him out.

Travels in Idaho

Just got back from a whirlwind tour of the Idaho Panhandle area. Four of us started up at the Roosevelt Cedars grove, near the Canadian border out of Nordman/Priest Lake, and pretty much criss-crossed Idaho until we got as far south as Fabulous Florence. Amazing trip: 2600 miles, 60 GPS readings, as many as 31 sites to write up for my Rockhounding Idaho book.

As far as wildlife, we saw moose, bear, coyote, elk, deer, rabbits, squirrels...about what you'd expect. Maybe one eagle, lots of hawks, and a group of four turkey hens that looked very tasty. Oh, and my first wild turtle. It was a big red eared pond turtle, booking across the dirt road in front of me as I was angling toward a feldspar crystal area near Sagle.

Some things I learned:

1. Priest Lake is beautiful
2. Copper Falls is very nice
3. Moyie Falls is hard to photograph
4. Wallace is a neat little town
5. Pierce is also worth visiting, but Headquarters is a little empty
6. The Clearwater River is a ragin' torrent
7. Elk City is still charming
8. Red River Hot Springs is worth the drive
9. Dixie is dying; the saloon is closed

The last time we visited Dixie, there was a dartboard near the door with the smiling face of a young Bill Clinton, peppered with darts. I was looking forward to buying a round in there again, but no dice. We didn't have time to drive the loop or head for the Salmon from there.

Many of the rivers and creeks were near flood stage. Out on the St. Joe River, we tried to hit the Mammoth Springs Campsite, but ran into a bank of snow a mile from camp and had to turn around. That also meant Bathtub Mountain and Freezeout Ridge have to wait for another day.

The Emerald Creek garnet area has been tamed down to a place where you dig from a pile of garnet-bearing dirt the operators brought in, screen it, and wash it in a common trough. I remember when you could dig around in the creek yourself. I guess those days are gone.

I tried to make the trip on four-ply tires and ended up driving into camp, late at night, on two occasions with hissing tires. One of those was a Saturday night, so when it turned out to be unrepairable we had to buy a tire at Wal-Mart instead of Les Schwab.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Rock Walks Around Portland

I was recently asked to "capsulize" some of the rockhounding locales around the Portland area for an article in "Metroscape," published at Portland State University. It was a fun task, as it basically meant taking my book text and cleaning it up a little. It was also a nice little nostalgia tour to think about some of those areas that I haven't been to in a year or so.

In all, I wrote up six sites:

1. Clackamette Park, where the Clackamas river joins the Willamette. Good supply of rounded river rock with agates and jaspers throughout.
2. Memaloose Bridge, far up the Clackamas almost to Ripplebrook Ranger Station, with mostly agate and jasper but also some zeolites and other oddities.
3. Independence Island, my favorite canoe trip from last summer when the water was low. More agate and jasper, plus excellent petrified wood.
4. Cedar Butte, a noted locale for black crystals of augite. The material is lying in the dirt and in the cliffs, and kids love it.
5. Nehalem River, another river walk that has the usual suspects plus fossil concretions and Indian artifacts.
6. Washougal River in Washington, with good agate and jasper from the Columbia River.

I'm anxious to see what the editor does with all my hand-drawn maps. I'll let you know.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Electoral Curse

Well, I lost my election. I didn't just lose - I was obliterated, finishing in last place by a handful of votes. All in all, I would have needed about 150 more votes to win a position on the board, but it was not to be.

I'm not all that broken up. Sure, the public humiliation hurts, and it's tough to be rejected by your peers. But so few members vote -- about 1100 out of 14,000 members -- that I don't have to accept that it was an outright repudiation.

Anyway, I wasn't really sure where the time was going to come from anyway. I still have the field research for Idaho to complete, and then I have to write the locales up and finish that manuscript. There is going to be an editing phase on the Oregon book, as well. Plus I have a lot of magazine articles to write over the next year. could be a blessing to lose the election.

Meanwhile, I have to finish my presentation for the Philadelphia conference in June. It isn't like some of my STC duties will go away. But at least they won't be increasing exponentially.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Turkey trouble

I've made five trips so far to Idaho, and so far I've had to stick mainly to low-altitude areas. The snowpack is at least 150% of normal this year, ending a long drought. The farmers and ranchers are thrilled, but I'm caught in a bind. Most old ghost towns and mining camps are way up in the hills, and snow blocks most of those old roads. Plus the waters are roaring off the hills and it isn't as easy to find material in the limited gravel bars exposed so far.

The final challenge has been wildlife. Three weeks ago we saw a herd of elk, a herd of deer, and a herd of antelope within six hours of each other. There have been birds swerving in front of the car, rabbits dashing across the bumper, and eagles soaring through the skies. But the worst has been a crotchety old gobbler at Mineral, Idaho.

To reach Mineral, drive west from Weiser about six miles and head north on Rock Creek Road. Eventually you cross through a pass at about 4200 feet and wind back down into the Snake River canyon, sort of the southern end of Hells Canyon. The road dumps out on a small windy track that parallels the river, and just before a private lodge, a set of tracks comes in from the east along Dennett Creek. This leads to the old mining camp at Mineral. There are three buildings still standing, plus lots of tailings piles and mining artifacts. Best are the adits driven into solid rock, which are much safer to climb into than anything shored up with rotting timber.

My Dad and I drove hard all day, hitting several new sites, and arrived at Mineral fairly tired. There was a lot of firewood on the ground, and nobody around, so we camped at a very prominent point along the road and got a roaring blaze going. But I heard rocks crashing down on the slope across from us, and my flashlight didn't really reveal anything. We started swapping old stories and laughing and releasing a little stress.

Dad started in on some improbable tale that made him laugh so much he forgot the punchline, and he finished with cackle that echoed across the old camp. Suddenly, from about 300 yards away, we heard a turkey gobble that was decidedly unfriendly. "Gobble-gobble-gobble-gobble" in no uncertain terms.

It's funny how you know immediately what made that noise. We laughed, quietly, and decided to toss on another log, open another beer, and ignore him. I heard more rock moving on the hillside, but it wasn't any mystery so no worries there. Then Dad laughed way too loud again, and there came that admonition: "Gobble-gobble-gobble-gobble." And he was even madder this time, as if to say, "Now listen. This was a nice quiet town before you hooligans showed up. Let's keep it down over there."

And this time the turkey was a lot closer - maybe 75 yards. My idea was to toss a rock at him, or maybe chase him with a stick for a turkey dinner. But there was downed barbed wire all over out there, and it would have been dangerous to go rampaging after him that late at night. So we quieted down a little, and soon, Dad went to bed. Then so did I. Under the watchful eye of a wild turkey posing as a small-town sheriff.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

First trip of the season

Here we go! In about 24 hours I'm off to Marsing, Idaho, on my first collecting trip of the season. It's an absolutely crazy thing to be contemplating -- the snow is still falling at the higher elevations, the snowpack is thicker than its been in a generation, and by all forecasts the weather will be freezing on Friday and Saturday nights. But it's time.

I haven't been on an overnighter since November, 2007, and I've got a serious case of cabin fever. All through the winter I've been trying to plot out a regimen of seven-day, three-day, and two-day trips that will cover Idaho. My contract with Falcon Guides requires a manuscript by December 31, 2008. While I have extensive experience up and down the state of Idaho, I have a lot of work to do. I need to visit at least 200 spots and collect photographs, samples, and GPS readings. From that superset of readings, I'll whittle down the grand total to 100 sites. But I may be able to collect geographically proximate locales and really pack them in.

Tomorrow I'm headed for southwest Idaho. From Portland I'll head out I-84 to Ontario, then take Exit 3 south on US 95 to Homedale, then Marsing. US 95 curls back into Oregon, and I'll probably drive all the way down, then double back. I have about 17 places plotted out, in conjunction with a field trip sponsored by the Idaho Gem Club, which I just joined last month.

If you know a little about Idaho, there are some amazing locales out along the Oregon border. Graveyard Point Road actually starts from US 95 and ends up in Oregon, so I won't have to go all the way out to those spots along the rim -- wrong state! There is an old mercury mine out along Poison Creek Road, and an agate locale as well, but those aren't my main targets. I will be collecting petrified wood at Coal Mine Basin (if not covered in snow) and opal and agate along McBride Creek. The last spot I visited last year was on the Idaho side of the road along McBride Creek, so there is a nice symmetry there. Then I'll head out Sommer Camp Road for a jaunt to Opalene Gulch and connect up a couple spots documented by the Great Lanny Ream in his 2004 guide.

I was hoping to camp at Jump Creek Falls trailhead, but it turns out that is a "day use only" spot. Too bad - there is an outhouse, some picnic tables, and a fire pit there. We'll be roughing it out along Sommer Camp Road, I expect. At least we don't have to worry about fire season restrictions in March. If I have room in the car, I'll bring a little wood.

My son Nelson, his friend Jake, and my uncle Doug will be in my car, while my friend Marty "Dusty Fingers" Schippers, a noted soapstone carver, will come down from Seattle. Marty and I have hooked up so many times in the dead of night that we're not too worried. Usually one of us gets to a pre-organized spot early, and when they spy a set of headlights bumping up the road, the connection is made.

Over-packing is a big concern. I try to keep it down, and there is not going to be any lashing of gear to the top of the rig, as it will probably rain. But tent camping out of a car isn't too demanding; as long as you have room for a couple coolers, you're fine.

Anyway, it's good to be headed out.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Candidate Statement

[One more document for the STC election in March...]

Candidate Profile: Garret Romaine, STC Director-at-Large

Looking to the Future

My credentials, experience, and passion for our profession make me an excellent choice as an at-large director on the STC board. This short article reviews my background, explains some of the challenges as I see them, and explains my goals for our future.

I hope your career as a technical communicator is rewarding, whatever your expertise. Most of us make a good living, and salaries are holding up. Having thrived during the boom in the technical writing field of the late 1990s, we have expanded our expert skills and abilities. Our toolset is incredibly robust, and those of us in the technology world have core capabilities that rival software engineers. We have come a long way as a profession, and part of that is thanks to the efforts of STC members.

Significant Issues Ahead

At the same time, though, our professional organization faces serious issues. There is a continuing challenge to deliver value to individuals. We need creative solutions if we are to expand the organization. The economy is slowing, and our members will need the most current skills and abilities in order to compete.

We face this opportunity from the vantage of a Society with many moving parts. We are more than just cutting-edge XML experts in high demand; we are also the academics who keep classes relevant and send forth graduates of interest to hiring managers. We are writers in the public sector, facing tight deadlines with dwindling resources. We are the editors who mark up text and make others look good in any media. We are the illustrators and designers who marry visuals to words and shimmer across platforms. We are the managers who send employees to annual conferences as wise investments. And—finally—we are the members who show up at local meetings or log on to virtual communities and participate. Our needs are different, but our goals are the same: we want the time we spend as volunteers to directly benefit our careers.

We all rely on STC for expanded networking opportunities, cutting-edge classes, lectures, and workshops, and enhanced professional advocacy. Through STC, we have the opportunity to share ideas, learn new tools, and make ourselves more productive and efficient. New and prospective members ask me all the time, and sometimes in just these words: “What’s in it for me?” It takes longer and longer to answer that question, because there are so many different STC communities to join.

Relevant Experience

My experience as an educator, active STC volunteer, and experienced technical communicator is relevant to this election. I have taught technical writing and editing at the university level for the past 12 years. My goal has been to deliver information that bolsters the careers of neophyte undergraduates as well as seasoned communicators in graduate studies. I have taken advantage of STC volunteer opportunities as chapter president, mentor, employment manager, competition manager, and workshop organizer. I have presented at conferences, written for Tieline, Intercom, and Technical Communication, and served as a judge for local and international competitions. In 2005, my colleagues both honored and humbled me as an Associate Fellow, and since then I have attended board meetings, worked on the Fresh Eyes team, and served on a committee. I am ready to step up to the job of director.

While teaching and volunteering, I have worked steadily as a senior writer, lone writer, author, contractor, consultant, and manager. My STC experience has been a key talking point for me, and I am sure it has on occasion led directly from the interview to the job offer.

Helping Your Career

I hope you can say that STC has made a positive difference in your career. Knowing STC members, I would expect to hear from you if that has not been the case. High expectations are good; none of us should be complacent.

I thus ask for your vote—and I also ask that each of you help move our profession forward. We are all in this pursuit together.

Gold Panning in California's Mother Lode

[Latest Gold Prospector magazine column]

Mining the Internet: California’s Motherlode Country

By Garret Romaine

The Motherlode country of California, situated along state Highway 49, is thoroughly represented on the Web. In fact, there is probably no other gold prospecting area on earth that has so many Internet resources devoted to it.

This issue, we’ll take a look at some popular starting points for virtually exploring California’s golden heart. It doesn’t matter what your background is: if you are a seasoned, professional dredger, a long-time hobbyist, or you are planning your first trip to the area, there are plenty of places to research the Motherlode on the Web.

Getting Started

Probably the first thing you should do is make sure there is a folder for your newest gold links. If you are in Internet Explorer, place your cursor on your Links folder and right-click the mouse. You should get a large menu of options, with one that lets you create a new folder. Call it something catchy like “2008 California Gold” or similar. Now you have a spot for all your new links.

Note that you can drag old links in here, or you can make another folder specifically for those older links.

Before going any further, I’d like to make sure you have links to my favorite spots that I use no matter what area I’m researching:

  1. for topopgraphic maps
  2. for satellite images
  3. for expired and current mining claims

[Here’s the full link for the Land and Mineral Use Records Viewer at geocommunicator:]

Now, on to some specific California links.

Lately I’ve been haunting’s geology pages quite a bit. There is a pretty good set of links for “California geology destinations,” as they call them. You can download an excellent 3 MB geologic map for the state, or jump over to details about the Sierra Nevada batholith. At there is a good group of field trip stops, including Stop 27 at the “auriferous gravels” that are so famous.

Mining Gold

This is Bill Westcott’s old site, and I have mentioned it in the past. Web keepers with more time and money may have more up-to-date formats, but one of my favorite spots for information about places to pan is the user-entered information on gold locations. The following is one example, but is not attributed to a specific reader:

“The American River was mined very early in the gold rush since it is where gold was first discovered in Northern California. A few years ago, the state bought up most of the claims and private property on the lower stretches of the river (below about 1100 feet elevation) in anticipation of the construction of the giant Auburn Dam. The dam was never built and hopefully never will be so most of the area is now the Auburn State Recreation Area. Here you can pan, sluice, highbank and dredge all year. You can get a little color almost anywhere you look. There is exposed bedrock everywhere with a wealth of cracks and crevices to clean out. Many of the gravel bars always contain fine flood gold even in the top layer. And don't overlook the bedrock and benches high above the river. I have found small nuggets forty feet above the water level.”

Geological Survey

Although the banner says Department of Conservation, this is the California Geological Survey gold page. There are great links for the California State Library’s gold rush exhibit, the Oakland Museum’s gold rush exhibit, the San Francisco Museum’s gold rush exhibit, and much more. There is also a link to the California Minerals and Mines CD-ROM, full of historic gold mine photographs and related images.

You can wander around on this site for hours, downloading free publications, reports, and maps. You may have to pay for older or more obscure publications, but there was a “special” going on the last time I was there.

Gold Map

Here’s a map of California’s historic gold mines – about 13,500 of them. The document was created in 1998 for the Gold Discovery to Statehood Sesquicentennial. It is available for free download as a PDF, and shows 4,112 placer mines, 9.359 lode mines, and 18 active mines. Naturally, the biggest concentration of mines is in the Motherlode area. There isn’t pinpoint accuracy or great detail, but if you have a little color ink in your printer it might be worth printing out and pinning to the wall.

Gold Fever Prospecting

The Gold Fever site keeps getting better. It has good links, interesting pictures, used equipment for sale, and more. Here’s a nice snip from the front page, about a trip to the Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park:

“I picked up a free hiking map and headed into the hills for a view of Coloma Valley before taking a stroll along the riverbank in search of stray gold nuggets…Failing to strike it rich, I followed the highway into Placerville. Hundred-year-old buildings line Main Street, making the town, like Auburn, a good place for a leisurely walk and some prospecting for antiques. At the Wine Smith, which sells local vintages and microbrews, I found the treasure I was after: a glass of El Dorado County Zinfandel that was worth its weight in gold.”

Sixteen-to-One Mine

This is another excellent site to bookmark and come back to again and again. Eventually, you’ll probably want to either buy stock in their mine or purchase a sample of their famed gold in quartz.

Something to really like: a link to one of Dr. Waldemar Lindgren’s papers for the U.S. Geological Survey about the purity of Sierra gold. If you’re not familiar with the name, Dr. Lindgren circulated throughout the western gold fields toward the end of the 1800s, and produced an excellent series of professional papers for the USGS. Here are some of his observations about the quality of the gold found in the Sierras:

“Observations in all parts of the world have shown that placer gold is always finer than the gold in the quartz veins from which the placers were derived. The explanation is that the silver alloyed with the gold is dissolved by the action of surface waters. The purity of the gold becomes greater as the size of the grains diminishes, the explanation being, of course, that the proportionate amount of surface exposed to the action of solutions is greater in the finer gold. The average fineness of the gold of Nevada County is given as 855; of Placer County, 792; of Plumas County, 851; of Sierra County, 858; of Calaveras County, 835; of Tuolumne County, 804. In Sierra County gold from quartz mines varies from 622 to 883.”

Another link from the 16-to-1 Mine concerns Dr. Lindgren’s discussion about pay streaks:

“It has become almost an axiom among miners that the gold is concentrated on the bedrock and all efforts in placer mining are generally directed toward finding the bedrock in order to pursue mining operations there. It is well known to all drift miners, however, that the gold is not equally distributed on the bedrock in the channels. The richest part forms a streak of irregular width referred to in the English colonies as the “ run of gold” and in the United States as the “pay streak” or “pay lead.” This does not always occupy the deepest depression in the channel and sometimes winds irregularly from one side to the other. An exact explanation of the eccentricities of the pay lead may be very difficult to furnish. Its course depends evidently on the prevailing conditions as to velocity of current and quantity of material at the time of concentration.”

Historic Highway 49

This site is rich with information, and is continually updated. Here’s a nice snip about big nuggets:

“In 1854 the largest gold nugget ever found in California was at Carson Hill above the Stanislaus River. It weighed 195 pounds and was valued at $43,534 in the currency of the day.”

Since this is the main highway that connects the Motherlode region, you can plan a trip that takes you along the entire route, or just concentrate on a portion of the area. This website will have you wanting to drive the entire highway.


TreasureFish has an excellent list of spots you can still prospect, although you’d want to check in with the U.S. Forest Service or BLM, depending on the area. The site also mentions collecting areas for gems and minerals. After reading about that big nugget above, let’s look at what the site says for the Stanislaus:

“From Columbia (North of Sonora on Hwy 50), take Italian Bar Road north to the South Fork of the Stanislaus River (canyon). Prospecting area is 700 feet beyond the bridge over 5 Mile Creek for about a mile. Metal detecting, panning, and a few other methods. Dredging only with a permit during a varying range of dates from the spring to fall.”


Once you have zeroed in on a few areas to investigate, you can start to collect geology reports, topographic maps, aerial photographs, and road maps to guide you in. I like to look at the newspapers during the winter to see if there has been any major flooding on the rivers and streams I plan to visit, as that heavy runoff sometimes churns up the gold and reconcentrates it to places where it might be easier to get to. Be sure to use the GPAA Claims Guide to locate open spots where your membership allows you to camp and prospect. The final suggestion is to contact the relevant Claims Committee and the nearby US Forest Service or BLM office for late-breaking information. You don’t want to drive for hours (or days) and find out a road washout or forest fire is in your way.

Garret Romaine writes from Portland, Oregon. His new book, Gem Trails of Washington, lists over 75 places in Washington state to search for gold, gems, and fossils. He can be reached at

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

On to Idaho!

With a last-minute push that took most of the day, I finally finished the manuscript for Gem Trails of Oregon, a guidebook covering rock and gem collecting in the state of Oregon. I thought I'd give you a peek into the frenzy of only missing my deadline by a week.

On December 31, I emailed the publisher with a plea for one more week, and they were fine with that. On January 4, I thought I was done, after putting in a solid weekend that also included taking pictures of various rocks and crystals. But after I made a print, I immediately started making more changes, so it took one more day to really nail it down. Even at that, I imagine I'll keep tweaking until they demand that I stop. Such is the nature of writing docs.

To keep the publisher happy, I created a DVD with the data files for the maps, plus all the pictures, and some Google and Topozone images for the map-maker. (My maps are just a starter; the book publisher's map-maker does an infinitely better job. ) Then I took a look at the Word file and discovered I hadn't run spell-checker in a long time, so I finished that, made some more tweaks even to front and back matter, and then burned a CD with the truly latest and greatest files. I put it all into a UPS envelope and sent it off, then emailed a copy of the PDF file, set at the lowest of the low resolutions.

Actually, I could probably tweak that Acrobat file some more. The Word file is 180 MB in size, which makes me smile, because it used to be that you couldn't trust Word to handle something that large. After all, that's why we have FrameMaker...Anyway, the Acrobat file was about 100 MB after the first time I ran it, so I had to reset the options for "smallest file size." That got it down to 7 MB, but at the risk of no cross-references or links. But I think the pictures are still 300 dots per inch, so there is more room to work. I could probably get my links back and run the pictures down to 72 dpi, but I haven't played with it yet. I'm kind of sick of it right now, actually.

Over the last month, I probably worked on the book every single day or night, and yes, that includes not only Christmas but New Year's Eve. I took my laptop with me to Bend for the family trip, and I used it. Sometimes I'd only get in an hour or two, but I slept better as a result. I think that in total, I probably put in about 200 hours in December to get everything up to where it is. And I can still think of a lot of things I could be doing on it. But now it's time to sit back and wonder what questions I'll get from the publisher, and how fast they can turn it around and get it to the street.

So, I'm pretty happy to be done. I'm ready for another state; we did Washington in 2006, and Oregon is now wrapped up. This summer, the team will be covering Idaho. I expect to use about a dozen helpers, log 15,000 miles, put in about 250 man-days in the field, and take over 100 GPS readings to get to about 75 truly excellent sites. I have a list of about 200 places that serves as a master; we'll see how I do.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Quest for Closure

By working every day over the break, including the holidays, I managed to get to a reasonable first draft for my upcoming book, Gem Trails of Oregon. The book is a list of 101 top rockhounding spots in Oregon, complete with photographs, maps, and write-ups. Getting to a good place in the end game feels good.

It wasn't pretty -- I was up until four in the morning some nights, and the pressure I put on my family was a bit extreme. But I managed to do it without causing my wife to file for divorce, so I can nearly claim "Mission Accomplished." If this was my full-time job, I wouldn't have to worry so much about squeezing in time for writing alongside walking the dogs, attending family functions, and keeping a household going.

On the other hand, it helped that my day job went on winter break at just the right time. Plus teaching is on holiday, so there weren't any distractions there, either.

Now that I have a printed copy of the entire book, I see a lot of things to fix. Several maps need more work, the print quality is low, and some of the headings are off. But the text is in good shape, and there is a lot of research material for each locale to assist the corporate map-maker. He was slowed down a lot on the Washington book just trying to make sense of everything. I created subdirectories this time with Google maps, topographic maps, and any brochures I could find.

The last days were pretty fun, actually. I had a photographic "studio" set up to take detailed pictures of some of the crystals I found over the summer. Plus I had all my samples out, to make sure the write-ups were accurate. I had maps all over my home office, and piles of books. The whole thing seemed to reach a crescendo right as the University of Oregon was creaming Southern Florida in the Sun Bowl. As the score mounted, I started cleaning up, putting samples away, and taking down the lights for the studio. I folded up a few maps, archived everything off onto a trusty USB drive, and went out for a New Year's Eve party. The next day, I went in to work and used the powerful two-monitor system there to finish off the last map and make a print.

Over the last 24 hours, I've amassed an entire page of corrections to make, but I already begged for forgiveness from the publisher and got an extension to hand everything in over the weekend. more final push and I should be able to relax. A little.