HIGH WATER RESEARCH
By Don Alexander
Santa Fe, New Mexico
For the past two or three days the news has been filled with reports of unseasonably heavy rains falling in the southwestern part of the United States. Arizona has had so much rain that the rising waters washed out a bridge under construction west of Phoenix.
When the time comes where it seems the only thing that happens in gold country is days of ground and people soaking rain, rain which turns the off-highway "get there roads and trails" into mud slick 4 X 4 adventures, and the streams and creeks run fast with high monsoon waters, prospecting and mining usually stops in Arizona. Instead of holding up in camp sitting around doing nothing but getting wet and grumpy, while hoping the grub will last out the monsoon, there is important prospecting work that can be done.
Monsoon Rains The first time I experienced the monsoon rains in the Arizona mountains I was camped alongside the upper Hassayampa River on my Rhino-D mining claim. When the rain began to fall I did like most folks would do and headed for camp. I didn't know it might rain for several days or even a week or so! All I could think of was gett'n to camp to get out of the rain and be reasonably dry, warm and comfortable in the old tent. After three days of continued rain and sitt'n in camp I was not in the best frame of mind...I was board, somewhat wet and highly interested in gett'n on with the mining of the yellow metal called gold. I became so disgusted with the continued wet weather I seriously considered climbing into the jeep and driving back to my warm and comfortable little home in Prescott. Instead I hung in there!
An Idea As I recall it was Saturday after I'd finished a ham sandwich and a bowl of chicken soup for lunch. I was perched on a wood stool inside the tent drinking my cup of hot coffee (which steamed all the more in the dampness of the monsoon rain) reflecting on the events at hand when out of nowhere an idea popped into my mind. Why not make the best of the rain by taking advantage of it to find out just what the raging old river was doing? Why not put on a rain coat, rubber boots and grab the 35mm camera and work up and down the banks of the fast moving river to see first hand those spots where the fast and slow moving water were...where the roaring water was running so fast no gold would settle out and the slow running places where gold could settle to the bottom to try and hide itself from gold miners, like myself and my four inch dredge, in the heavier sands, gravels and crevices.
Walking Research Hat and hip waders donned, I found the old raincoat I usually managed to forget in the back of the jeep and while I carefully carried the 35mm camera I headed upstream to the Eastern boundary of the Rhino-D claim. From there I painstakingly and slowly made my way down stream looking at any and everything because this was all new to me. I'd never seen the Hassayampa River like this before and I was not really certain what I should or should not be looking for. After a while I began to be able to visualize the action of the roaring river and could see the places where the rushing high water was cascading up, over, down and around the large boulders in the river bed... boulders which in normal times did little to impede the downstream flow of the usually shallow stream of water. I could see and photograph the spots where the water was running furiously fast moving just about everything in its path. Best of all though, I could see with my own eyes and photograph where the water was running slow and likely to let the gold fall to the bottom of the river.
Reading The River Before I knew it I'd walked the entire length of the claim and taken lots of pictures of some very interesting places... spots that in all likelihood I would not have thought would be worth the effort to dredge. What surprised me the most as I walked the river bank was that I found out I was not as good at reading the Hassayampa River as I thought I was. By reading the river I mean being able to select the better, more likely to be productive, places to dredge for gold. That walk along the banks of the rain swollen roaring Hassayampa River proved to my satisfaction that I certainly would have missed some good places to dredge for gold. And, as it turned out, after the monsoon rain stopped and the high waters receded, I was able to move the dredge in and successfully work several places I had noted during my high water research.
Yes, my walk along the river bank that day did permit me to better understand the Hassayampa and capture real time visions and photographs of the river's actions at the height of the fast moving monsoon fed river. Had I not been board after several days of confinement to my camp and had I not tried to think of something positive and productive to do with my time, I doubt I would have made the valuable discovery that high water research during rainy days can be very rewarding.
Be Careful If yours is a placer mining operation alongside a stream you just might decide for yourself to do some high water research the next time you are caught by some unexpected heavy rains. Be careful and stay out of the water! The same roaring river water that sweeps away the stumps,logs and boulders in its path can easily claim the life of a careless prospector/miner.