Mad dogs and gold miners. . .
I've heard it said that only mad dogs and Englishmen go about in the mid-day sun but no self-respecting Englishman would dream of wandering about the hills of Nevada in the heat of the summer. Gold miners, however...
Bill Henderson called me a couple of weeks ago with a really great idea. I should jump on a jet and fly out to Nevada and help him with a project at Nevada Sunrise's Caliente gold mine. Since I despise Miami in the heat of summer (unlike the winter when I simply despise Miami) I leapt on the chance to get out of town for a well-deserved rest.
Oh well, mad dogs and gold miners... As I fastened my seat belt on the approach into Los Wages, the Captain came on and reported the temperature on the ground was 110 degrees. In the shade.
Naturally since I was going to Nevada, my bags went to Singapore so I set off for the tiny town of Caliente around 10 at night with no equipment and little more than a change of clothes. Bill Henderson didn't mind, he needed me only for my brawn, not my fashion sense.
Caliente is an interesting property. It has a history of being mined as far back as the 18th century for silver and copper. In 1943 the Bureau of Mines sunk two declines into the mountain to mine copper, needed as a critical war material. The copper shows as both azurite and malachite and is associated with high levels of silver.
The gold ore is a boring high quartz rock which looks almost worthless but contains about 6 grams of gold per ton on average. Caliente was last mined in 1983. There is still a heap leach pad in place containing 80,000 tons of crushed quartz. For some reason, the leaching didn't work and when the pad didn't provide sufficient return, the mine was closed.
But tests Bill has already done on the pad show values of about 3 grams per ton and the pad could contain another 8,000 ounces of gold. When the site was abandoned, the pregnant pond may have developed a leak so the BLM was anxious to measure levels of cyanide on the pad.
That's what we were going to Caliente to do, measure for cyanide (and mineral values at the same time).
I rented a van and headed up the road from LV late at night. For those who haven't traveled in the west, it requires a different mind set. Both towns and gas stations are few and far between. Because I pulled out of Vegas full of gas, I had no problem leaving but the 91 mile dry spell would cause problems upon my return from Caliente.
I drove the 150 miles between Vegas and Caliente at 90 miles an hour. Speed limits don't mean much in the desert until you hit one of the sparsely-placed towns. There, 55 means 55 and not 57 and Smoky the Bear will nail you at every chance.
I arrived about midnight. Bill had already booked me a room at the Shady Motel. Barb was very concerned as to whether the 'Shady' meant 'under the trees.' Where she comes from shady means seedy. To an English person, shady, as in shaded from the sun, is a rarely-used word, there being not much sun in the UK, and all that. Early the next morning, too early, he and I got together over breakfast to plan the work. Bill's erstwhile geologist companion, the faithful Jay Santos, arrived the day before with the portable auger rig. He waited at the mine site for us to show up. We ate a good breakfast and headed down the road to Elgin.
Caliente is a tiny Mormon, former railroad town, on the main line between Salt Lake City and Los Angeles. Settled by two runaway slaves in the 1860s, it first provided hay to silver mining towns 25 miles north and eventually became a division point for the railroad until diesel engines were introduced in the 1940s. To say it's a sleepy little town understates sleepy. Everyone knows everyone. A smile and a hello are as common as a hot day in July.
As we cruised down the highway to Elgin, Bill filled me in on the area. Elgin, set in a tiny valley with a meandering stream, once provided fuel and water to steam engines on the railroad. Deisel engines ended the need for both fuel and water and Elgin settled back into faintly remembered history. But for the purpose of Nevada Sunrise, Elgin provides a convenient railroad siding only 8 miles down the hill from the Caliente gold mine of Nevada Sunrise.
We turned off the main highway past a one-room red schoolhouse which now provides the only tourist attraction for Elgin. ( I told you it was slow there). Once on the dirt track up the mountain it was time to recheck our seatbelts. Jay had called down and assigned us a task. On his trip up the track, his spare tire and comealong had bounced off his trailer and he wanted us to keep an eye out for them.
I could understand how it happened. The trip to the mine was an hour of gruiling agony as we bounced from one rock to another. Bill may have missed a pot hole or two but you couldn't prove it by me. My kidneys screamed in pain by the time we got to the mine.
It may have been 110 in the shade in Vegas but at the work site there was no shade. We were about 6,000 feet in elevation so it wasn't quite as hot as in the flatlands but it was hot. I've been a placer miner in Alaska and there is a world of difference between lode mining and placer mining and between Alaska and Nevada.
One thing every placer miner thinks the world of is 5 gallon paint buckets. They have a million uses and are one of those things you always wish you had more of. Believe it or not. When Bill Henderson and I got up to the Caliente mine, we chatted with Jay Santos for a few minutes and then headed over to the leach pad to do our drilling.
While all three of us were carrying spare tires about the middle, I had an age advantage over both Bill and Jay. Bills claims to be 61 but is one of those clean, young-looking guys the rest of us hate. Jay doesn't make any admission as to age but every now and again he says something about having been a geologist working with Mark Twain back in the 70s. The 1870s, that is. For certain Jay is a character of the old west.
Jay laid out six holes in three rows. We needed to dig down as little as 10' on the near holes and as deep as 20' at the other end of the pad where the material was stacked higher. Each hole was 50' from it's neighbor, we needed a composite sample at the middle of the pad and at each corner. (Composite is a sample from 5', 10', 15' and 20' as opposed to a simple sample taken at each 5' interval). We began work. The auger used 4' sections and when the engine bottomed, we would add another section until we got to the depth we needed. The auger would bring up the 1/4" size material and we would scoop it into a bucket. As luck would have it, our 1 gallon bucket wasn't going to be anywhere near big enough. As Bill and Jay scratched their heads, I headed for Bill's truck to find my contribution to the cause. It didn't occur to either of them that I might consider buying a couple of buckets but I did and they came in handy at once.
But moving gravel in the Nevada sun soon gets old. My slight age advantage didn't make up for the experience of both Jay and Bill. At least Bill had the grace to show some signs of wear and tear. Jay Santos just kept digging more and more holes. Naturally he was the guy with no hat, no sun screen, just worn overalls. If we hadn't dragged him off the hill at the end of the work, he'd probably still be there augering away.
It took three day. Three hard days. Three hard and hot days but finally we finished on the 4th of July. In town, a town of 1,000 residents, the people of Caliente were holding a 4th of July parade. Nevada is that sort of place. On one day, Bill and I were eating breakfast in the only place in town serving. He went to pay the bill and I wandered outside to wait. A fellow pulled up in this beautiful red 1960s pickup truck wonderfully restored. I admired it as he said hello and passed me on his way inside to eat.
I said to him, "I just love your truck. If you finish your breakfast and come outside to find it's gone, I don't know anything about it."
I was just kidding of course. He laughed and said in return, "No problem, I left the keys in it, go ahead and take it."
I think he was kidding. The keys were there, sure enough. I hope he was kidding, it was a beautiful truck. Nice people there, too.
If the Caliente mine is representive of all 20 properties belonging to Nevada Sunrise, Bill Henderson and his small group of investors are going to do very well. The property has two open pits and mining could begin almost at once. When the results are back from the asseys of the pad samples, Bill will be better-equipped to make some sort of decision as to what to do with the 80,000 tons of material.
The choices are to ship the material off as a flux, (it's about 90% silica and highly desirable as flux for processing copper) or to rework the leach pad in an effort to get a better recovery or to simply ignore the pad and begin mining the higher grade material. Based on work already done by prior mining operations Bill thinks there is about 200,000 ounces of gold already identified. At some higher price of gold, he expects to do more intensive testing and drilling.
I enjoyed the trip. On the Friday after the 4th, Bill and I drove over to Silver Reef in Utah but that's a story for another day. Friday night we said 'goodbye' in Caliente, with Bill headed for home just east of Sacremento and me headed down the road to Los Wages.
There is a sign by the side of the road about 91 miles and ten feet north of LV. It advertises the Last Chance Gas Station. For the next 91 miles, all the way into North Los Vegas, there are no gas stations. Since I arrived in Caliente a few days before with over a half tank and still showed half a tank when I left, I didn't much worry about filling up. I still had 1/4 tank and I should be just fine.
Those are the famous last words of a lot of fools. Some 50 miles north of Vegas, my low fuel light came on. I went, "Oh, oh." Since the only thing I could do is to try to stretch out my fuel, I slowed down to 40 MPH and drove like a little old lady into Vegas. The gauge went down and down until it showed empty some 12 miles north of my destination. I did a lot of cursing to help the van along. Finally the lights of town showed and the first exit came along.
I limped into the first station in 91 miles and filled the vehicle. The tank topped at 16.97 gallons and I'd bet money the tank only holds 17 gallons.
I may have had a half cup of gas left. Next time I read, "Last Chance" I'll take heed.