Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Good Looking Material

Good looking material! That is what one prospector says to another prospector when they peer into the cavernous hole being dug in a valiant effort to find the yellow metal- gold. Especially, and most particularly, that is what one says when the digg-er is not finding as much gold as he/she expects.... Really? Boy! That is some good looking material! Good looking material not withstanding, gold is where you find it and not necessarily where you think it should be based on the good looking or not so good looking material you are digging in. You know me. And Marilyn. Digging our fool hearts out up on Gundy Mountain. That "bench" has produced a lot of gold for a lot of miners, us included. But so far this year- not so much! Even though at the close of last season, it produced a 1.4 oz nugget- the largest nugget we know of that has come out of the Myers Fork Claim of the Chicken Gold Camp. What's that worth? Oh 2500 dollars, give or take a cool grand. Once you have seen it- you want it. You want it bad. You want it bad enough to dig through many feet of overburden (top soil and worthless dirt that does not carry any gold.) Through the coarse gravel and river sediment. Where are you digging to? Why the good looking material, of course! In Alaska, good looking material may be a layer of clay that holds (we call it "carries") the gold on the top of the clay. But we like to look for bedrock which also and more assuredly carries gold atop the bedrock. This is not the bedrock of the lower 48. No large, smooth, flat, sheets of limestone or granite here. Alaskan bedrock is often referred to as basalt.

Basalt (pronounced /bəˈsɔːlt, ˈbeisɔːlt, ˈbæsɔːlt/)[1][2] is a common extrusive volcanic rock. It is usually grey to black and fine-grained due to rapid cooling of lava at the surface of a planet. It may be porphyritic containing larger crystals in a fine matrix, or vesicular, or frothy scoria. Unweathered basalt is black or grey.

In Alaska, any basalt layer that has taken the position of bedrock in the geological order of things, has already been subjected to eons of freezing (remember this is an area of perma frost) and thawing - complicating things a bit as this repeated process fractures the bedrock, thus creating a fractured basalt or fractured layer of bedrock. Now lets be clear about this. Basalt is beautiful to behold. It is black, grey, blue, purple, rather opalescent from time to time- shiny, glimmering in the light, reflective on occasion and radiant in almost any light as you chip its broken little pieces out of its berth and expose it to the light of day. But in addition to its own specific bit of beauty- it carries heavy(er) pieces of gold deep in the cracks and fractures of its surface layer- making it a prize when you dig deep enough to find it, with the potential to hold the grand prize, that nugget we are all out there searching for. But with our without the gold hidden amongst its many cracks and crevices, it is a lovely mineral in its own right in which to dig, pick, shovel, and mine. It is, as we say- good looking material!

The last three days, we have been locating and working the basalt layer on the new diggings on Gundy Mountain. No big time payoffs to date- at least not in the form of the elusive nuggets. But we have some good gold, some coarse gold, some colorful variations of range that gold comes in- and until we find the right spot, the special spot, the paydirt spot- well, at least everyone knows we are digging in some mighty good looking material. Nothing wrong with that!

Now a word about gnats! I ride the "wheeler", the ATV, the bike, the quad, back and forth to the claim quite few times a day. Sometimes to guide clients into the claim, some times to make deliveries of materials for the claims caretaker or the supply trailer on site, sometimes to go mining for myself, and sometimes just to take a nice ride after hours to check out who us doing what and where. (gotta know where the good looking material is, right?) There is always one particular spot along the two mile path to the claim that holds swarms of insects. Travel fast enough and they pelt you in the face like heavy rain hits a motorcycle rider who's not wearing a helmet. A few days ago, I caught one of those litter buggers in the right eye and it went up under my eye lid before I could dig it out of there. I suppose to show his great displeasure with the event, he decided it would be appropriate to bite the underside of my eye lid in protest. Can you say swollen? Can you say "ugly"? This is apparently a normal occurrence here in Alaska. No one thought to tell me as much and learning trough experience has always been the best method, but from now on the wrap around glasses go over the regular glasses for the ride back and forth to the claim. Hey, I'm a writer of sorts, so good looking material can be dirt in the hole- that's OK with me- but an ugly, swollen, purple eye- not so good looking material, even if it provides material for the story!

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