Nestled within the deepest valley in North America, the Amargosa River ebbs and flows through the history of southern California. It is the site of one of the earliest gold discoveries in the Death Valley area and indeed all of California. Placer gold was discovered near Salt Springs by Mexican traders during the late 1820's. Located near the junction of Salt Creek and the Amargosa River, Salt Springs was a stopping point for Argonauts on their way to the Mother Lode country. Some of the 49'ers found gold in the area, but of course they moved on to the goldfields further north in the Sierra Nevadas. During the 1860's, the Salt Spring Hills and surrounding country were scoured by prospectors who discovered many fabulously rich surface deposits. The famous Amargosa Mine was also in operation during the 1860's. The Amargosa produced extremely rich free-milling gold in quartz. Of course, highgrading was a problem in any mine containing ore this rich. It's a sure thing that highgrade Amargosa ore made its way out of the mine during the 1860's. Indeed, someknowledgeable mining men claim that the legendary Breyfogle ore was actually highgrade from the Amargosa Mine.
During the 1870's, prospectors were still wandering the Salt Springs area in search of gold. In addition, the occasional trader or emigrant family still passed by Salt Springs and the Amargosa River on their way to and from California. It was sometime during the mid-1870's that such an emigrant stumbled upon a fabulous placer deposit somewhere near the Amargosa River. His name was John McCloskey and he was returning to California with his bride when he made the discovery. He found the placer near an embankment of dark-colored boulders. McCloskey collected some nuggets and the pair continued their journey westward. Of course, McCloskey returned to the Amargosa to search for the gold placer. He knew the gold was near a train of black boulders - he just couldn't find them in that vast country. He never did.
The Amargosa River country of Death Valley encompasses an immense area in southern Inyo and northern San Bernardino counties. The most important (and virtually the only) mining district in the southern end of Death Valley is the Salt Spring District. Also known as the Amargosa District, the Salt Spring mines were located near the junction of Salt Creek and the Amargosa River. The placer deposits near Salt Spring were discovered during the late 1820's. They were rediscovered by American prospectors during the 1849 gold rush, but most of these men moved on to the Sierra Nevada goldfields. Serious work in the Salt Spring
Hills began in the 1860's. Many rich pockets of gold were discovered right on the surface! The famous Amargosa Mine churned out a stream of yellow metal during the 1860's. Ore from the Amargosa was incredibly rich, consisting of chunks of native gold in quartz. The district foundered during the 1870's, but sporadic mining activity has occurred in the area ever since.
The Ibex Hills are located about 12 miles northwest of the Amargosa Mine. The ancient metamorphic rocks of the Ibex Hills are host to a number of talc mines.
The area of interest encompasses much of the southern portion of Death Valley. This extensive region of deserts and mountains consists mostly of uplifted Precambrian basement rock intruded by younger Mesozoic granites and still younger Tertiary volcanics. The Salt Spring Hills, site of the old Amargosa Mine, consist of highly eroded Precambrian metamorphic and sedimentary rocks, Cambrian marine sediments, some Permian marine sediments, and a small exposure of Mesozoic-age granite. Likewise, the Saddle Peak Hills, Ibex Hills, and Black Mountains are all mostly composed of Precambrian metamorphic and sedimentary rocks.
The Owlshead Mountains are a curious, nearly circular range of eroded hills located west-southwest of the Black Mountains. The Owlshead Mountains are mostly composed of older Mesozoic-age granites and younger Tertiary and Quaternary-Tertiary volcanics.
The Calico Peaks area and Sheephead Mountain lie just north of the Ibex Hills. This range of hills is composed of Miocene and Pliocene volcanics. The Avawatz Mountains, located just south of the Salt Spring Hills and the Amargosa Mine, are another uplifted block of Precambrian metamorphic basement rock. The range is host to several small Mesozoic-age granitic stocks.
Death Valley, which trends northwest-southeast in this area, coincides with a major fault, the Death Valley Fault Zone. The Amargosa River flows through this valley. Further south, in the Silver Lake area (located 20 miles south-southeast of the Amargosa Mine), the surrounding hills are underlain by ancient Precambrian basement rock intruded by younger Mesozoic-age granites.
The intervening basins, playas, and canyons are filled with Quaternary alluvium first and foremost, but some Quaternary sand dunes and lake deposits are present. A small field of aeolian sands (less that 1 square mile) lies between the Salt Spring Hills and the Amargosa River. Just northeast of the Salt Spring Hills lie the famous Dumont Sand Dunes. The abandoned site of Dumont is located near the eastern edge of the dunes.
In general, the area of interest displays classic Basin and Range Province geology. The mountain ranges are uplifted fault-blocks consisting mostly of Precambrian metamorphic and sedimentary basement rock intruded by younger Mesozoic granitic plutons and stocks and younger still Tertiary and Quaternary-Tertiary volcanics. Occasionally, upthrown wedges of early Paleozoic (Cambrian) and late Paleozoic (Permian) marine sedimentary rocks occur in the hills and mountains of the region.
The vast amount of country encompassed by the Amargosa watershed presents a daunting prospect for the hardy gold-seeker. Certainly the most promising areas are in the vicinity of the Amargosa Mine and the dry washes and arroyos that drain the slopes of the Salt Spring Hills. But gold is where you find it and so the persistent prospector may want to investigate those sections of the river that coincide with the old Death Valley Trail used by the early emigrants. McCloskey and his bride were camped near the Amargosa when he made his discovery. As with most placer deposits, a metal-detector may be useful in the search. Prospectors should realize that much of the area of interest lies within Death Valley National Monument.
The Lost Arch Mine
The Lost Arch Mine
The Lost Arch Mine is one of California's great hidden bonanzas. Its popularity rivals that of the Lost Breyfogle or the Lost Pegleg. It is rumored to exist somewhere in the rugged Turtle Mountains of extreme southeastern California and is said to be the richest placer deposit of gold ever discovered in the mountains of the Mohave Desert.
The Turtle Mountains rise up from the desert floor some 25 miles west of Lake Havasu. The range is highly weathered and dissected. It is surrounded by a thick apron of alluvium which grades downward into the adjacent valley floors. The Turtle Mountains extend from the area just north of Mohawk Spring southwards for nearly 25 miles to Rice. The range is bounded on the west by Ward Valley and the salt beds of Danby Lake (dry). The Chemehuevi Valley bounds the Turtles on the northeast while Vidal Valley forms the southeastern boundary. To the south, the mountains descend into Rice Valley.
A number of accounts exist of the Lost Arch Mine, some of them quite divergent. An early account concerns a small party of Mexican prospectors passing through the Turtle Mountains on their way to the goldfields at La Paz. Somewhere in the mountains they stumbled onto an incredibly rich placer deposit of gold. The Mexicans worked the placer long enough to construct an arch-shaped structure to live in and take out $30,000 worth of gold from the gravels!
Years later, a prospector named Amsden came across the same placer deposit while roaming the Turtle Mountains. Amsden barely made it out of that rugged country, but when he did his pockets were filled with gold. Till his dying day, he swore that the gold placer was located near a natural arch in the rocks. Other prospectors have scoured the Turtle Mountains in search of the legendary placer but none have found it. It remains one of California's most famous lost mines.
The Turtle Mountains contain no major mining districts or camps, although the southern end of the range is home to the Virginia May Mine. The nearest mining district is that of the Whipple Mountains, located 15 miles east of the Turtles. Gold was discovered on the western edge of the range by Argonauts heading for the Mother Lode country. A number of mines were developed in the area including the Dollar Bill, Independence, Baily, and Gold Standard. All are hosted in Precambrian igneous and metamorphic rock. The same Precambrian basement rock crops out in the Turtle Mountains and indeed comprises roughly half the range. The Old Woman Mountains lie 15 miles northwest of the Turtles, on the other side of Ward Valley. Gold-bearing veins were discovered on the northern edge of the range but most of them turned out to be extremely shallow. Many petered out at less than 50 feet.
The Turtle Mountains are geologically diverse. The southern half of the Turtle Mountains consists of an uplifted core of older Precambrian igneous and metamorphic rocks. The northern portion is overlain by Tertiary volcanic rocks (mostly basalt) intruded by small plugs of hypabyssal Tertiary rhyolite. Some small exposures of Precambrian granite occur in the northern half of the Turtle Mountains. These granites are found in the rugged, broken country just north and east of Mohawk Spring and are host to several mines and prospect pits. Although the southern half of the Turtle Mountains is comprised mostly of Precambrian igneous and metamorphic basement rock, a small exposure of Mesozoic granite occurs just to the north of Horn Peak.
The range is cut by several fault zones that trend northwest-southeast. The great majority of mines in the Turtle Mountains are hosted in Precambrian igneous and metamorphic rock. This is also true in the Whipple Mountains, located just east of the Turtles. Indeed, the two ranges are geologically identical. Both consist of older Precambrian basement rock and younger Tertiary volcanics cut by northwest-southeast trending fault zones. The western portion of the Whipple Mountains is highly mineralized and contains many mines and prospect pits. Again, the great majority of mines in both ranges occur within the older Precambrian country rock. The fault zones are the result of the classic block-faulting that is so characteristic of the Basin and Range Province of North America. The contact between Precambrian basement rock and the younger Tertiary volcanics is sometimes fault-bounded.
The southern half of the Turtle Mountains is underlain by the same Precambrian basement rock as that of the Whipple Mountains, which lie only 15 miles to the east. The southern edge of the Turtle Mountains does show mineralization but not to the extent of the Whipple Mountains. Nevertheless, the area below Horn Spring probably deserves a detailed search with a metal-detector. Prospectors may also want to concentrate on the rugged canyons near the Tertiary rhyolite plugs in the northern portion of the range. A natural arch is rumored to exist somewhere northeast of Martin's Well, near the center of the range. A search of the arroyos, canyon floors, and gravels in this area may also be productive.
Lost Pegleg Smith Mine
The famous mountain man Thomas L. "Pegleg" Smith holds a special place in the annals of the early West. Indeed, in some ways he has attained a nearly legendary status. In his forty years on the western frontier Smith wandered the length and breadth of that vast wilderness. From the Missouri River settlements to the western shores of California, Smith fought, trapped, and traded his way across the continent.
In 1824, Tom Smith began his western odyssey by signing on with a wagon caravan owned by William Becknell, M. M. Marmaduke, and Augustus Storrs. Recruited by Ceran St. Vrain, the young Tom Smith traveled west with the caravan to the sleepy towns and pueblos of New Mexico. Smith quickly took up with the American trappers based in Taos and Santa Fe and began his first career in the mountains. By the following year, Tom Smith and a fellow trapper named Maurice LeDuc had completed a grand circuit of the Colorado Plateau while hunting for beaver. In 1826, Smith was back in Santa Fe, outfitting for a trapping venture along with a distinguished group of mountain men that included Old Bill Williams, Alexander Branch, Sylvestre Pratte, Michel Robidoux, and the "Thunderbolt of the Rockies", Milton Sublette. Later that year, Michel Robidoux's trapping party was ambushed and nearly wiped out by Papago Indians near present-day Phoenix, Arizona. A retaliatory raid by over thirty trappers caught the Papagos and worked a considerable slaughter on the Indians. This party included Ewing Young, Tom Smith, and Milton Sublette.
1827 was a momentous year for Tom Smith. In the fall of that year, Smith joined a trapping expedition led by Sylvestre S. Pratte bound for the beaver streams of the Central Rockies. While in Colorado's North Park, disaster struck the party. First of all, Pratte was bitten by a rabid dog and died a horrible death. Secondly, Tom Smith was shot in the leg by an Indian while checking his traps. The leg eventually developed gangrene and had to be amputated. Incredibly, Smith cut the leg off himself! The legend of "Pegleg" Smith was born with that amazing feat.
By 1840, the fur trade was dead. It was the end of an era. That year, the last rendezvous was held on the Green River, near the junction of Horse Creek. The declining fur trade forced the mountain men into other occupations. Some chose to act as guides for emigrant trains traveling west, a natural livelihood for that "reckless breed" of wanderers. Others chose a more nefarious profession, that of stealing horses in California and driving them eastward over the Old Spanish Trail to the settlements in New Mexico. Mountain men like Philip Thompson, Bill New, Richard Owens, Doc Newell, and Thomas l. "Pegleg" Smith chose this particular means of employment. Smith probably stole more horses and mules from California than any of his fellow mountain men. During the early 1840's, he became notorious for his raids on the haciendas and presidios of California.
After a few years, Smith left the deserts of the American Southwest and made his way north to Idaho where he worked as a trader. But the restless mountain man soon had enough of that sedentary life and returned to California in 1850. There was a reason for his return to southern California.
Way back in 1829, Smith and his trapping partner Maurice LeDuc had decided to sell the beaver pelts taken that season in California. From the Yuma villages on the Colorado River, they journeyed west for 3 days until they sighted three small buttes in the distance. On top of one of these buttes, Smith found a fabulous deposit of curious, black-coated gold nuggets! He collected some of the nuggets and continued on westward, eventually arriving in Los Angeles. "Pegleg" Smith never forgot about those three buttes back in the desert. He organized several prospecting trips from California to search for the gold but all were fruitless. As the years passed, an aura of romance and mystery began to surround Smith. The "Pegleg" Mine grew to become California's most famous and popular lost mine. As for Tom Smith, he ended his days in the golden west, dying in San Francisco in 1866.
Treasure Hunting with Metal Detectors
Beach and Water Treasure Hunting with Metal Detectors A complete how to guide to discovering lost jewelry and coins from the sand and water. Includes sections on dry beach detecting, shallow surf, wading, scuba detecting and shipwreck diving.
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Beach and Water Treasure Hunting with Metal Detectors is a 70 page downloadable, printable PDF booklet. The text is packed with information and hundreds of color images. Ever go to the beach and watch a guy strolling down the waters edge metal detector in hand. That guy is not just searching for pocket change. He is looking for and most likely finding treasure. For the purpose of this text we will focus on Beach and Water Hunting. Learn why Metal detecting can be enjoyed as a hobby by those of all ages. Its one of the only activities that can quickly pay for itself while providing the hobbyist with outdoor fun, adventure and exercise. This text defines water and beach detecting into five distinct forms of treasure hunting. Please be aware that many of these types of detecting overlap. For example a beach hunter with a water proof detector will often venture into the shallow surf in search of gold rings and a scuba diver could certainly use his same detector on the dry beach. This text teaches the basics as well as tricks of the trade learned form years of detecting. These techniques make it easy and will greatly increase your productivity. Anyone can discover lost gold and this book will show you how.
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