Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Searchers at Chuckwalla Springs Day 2

The next day, the trucks assembled and headed out to the first location, which was an old abandoned gold mining area that contained a number of decaying structures (photos 1 and 2). Some of the parts of the structures had been cannibalized by metal recyclers and other parts lay strewn on the ground. Around the area were also many small agate nodules resting on the surface of the ground, most containing gentle white and clear banding. The Searchers spread across the hills inspecting the agates. In photo 3, Searchers field trip leader, Robert Burson, helps direct newbies to the good stuff. My goal was to find some agate with green wormlike inclusions inside, something that other rockhounders had found on previous fieldtrips and which I wanted, but was not able to find on this trip.

Instead I found a dead snake lieing near a bush. It was a light tan color with about 5 segments of rattle (ie about 5 years old) and appeared to have been recently run over by a vehicle. I alerted others and another camper came over and picked it up to inspect it, but then I noticed it was starting to slowly writhe its coils.

Many people don't realize that even a recently dead rattlesnake can still bite. Many of it's muscle movements are automatic motions that can be triggered just by handling, as long as some power remains in the muscles, similar to how a chicken can run around even after its head has been cut off. Picking up a snake that is not fully depleted of life force is dangerous, but luckily, this time nothing unfortunate happened and our driver, Jay Valle, quickly came over and put his foot over the snake's head, cut it off, and buried it, so that no other human or animal would be at risk. I was also relieved to see my dog hanging back and showing reluctance to approach. Clearly, the snake training she had received the previous year was still remembered. We only stayed at that site for about 30 minutes because the second site of the day was reported to be better. And it was!

The road was rough and three of our vehicles had only 2 wheel drive, which resulted in some trouble on some of the rough gravel covered up hill roads which caused the 2wd drivers to spin out instead of moving forward. When this happened, people jumped out with shovels to make road improvements and all of us eventually made it to the final destination of the day.

Slippery hills covered with white and clear plume agate in some places (photos 4 and 5), and green moss agate in others, rose up on both sides of the road. Other material could be found by simply walking along the dry wash in the center, which also served as the road. More than 30 people fanned out in all directions with picks and shovels and started collecting. Material was plentiful so we had the luxury of being selective. I only wanted the best and thickest white plumes.

First, I scaled steep slippery slopes to the right, immediately finding some green moss agate and then later finding mostly white plume agate. Later, I slithered back down to the main wash and observed what types of rock were rolling down the hill. At one point, I found some agate that looked like many white dots with green fuzzy growth between each dot (photos 6 and 7).

I immediately scaled the hill looking for more and found the vein, but excavating it showed the most of the vein was very cruddy and crumbly and probably only a few pieces might polish. Sesame Pooch, of course, was eager to assist by laying in the crevice I had created and 'protecting' it for me with her fuzzy white stomach. In photo 8, you can see Sesame lounging on top of my green agate vein with other hounders on the opposite side of the ravine in the background. You can also see someone hiking up along the same vein running up the other side of the ravine, which from what I saw was even more crumbly than on my side. However, if those pieces that I did find do hold together, they have great promise for beautiful cabochons. I spent a considerable amount of time working my side of the vein before returning to the truck to unload. I also found several interesting pieces of twisted agate desert roses on the way back.

Later, I went up the hills on the left, but found on reaching the top that the agate did not seem to extend far in that direction so after following the top of the ridge for a while, I found myself looking for an easy way back down to the wash. In this case, 'easy' meant it was still very slippery, but at least I was able to maintain my footing for the entire route down.

Since that side had not panned out, I went back to the other side, scaled up again, and then pushed out directly away from the road, still finding mostly white plumes but many very nice ones. At one point, one of the hills was so slippery, that while attempting to crawl up, with a diet coke in one hand as if it wasn't hard enough already, I suddenly slid backwards for about 10 feet before coming to a stop when my back leg finally found purchase on a larger boulder. Luckily, there were no sharp rocks and the decent was slow enough that no pain came of it, and I did not even spill my soda! Of course one must always keep one's priorities straight! ;-)

However, I did finally make my way up safely, collected more white plume and a bit more moss agate, and then headed back to the truck. Some of us wanted to go back to the first site and look more for the green worms, so we were eager to leave, but getting back would prove tricky for some of the other vehicles that would follow us.

One particular road coming out of a big wash was steep and gravelly and had a deep ravine on the right. A small dip at the base of the road prevented any kind of decent running start. The 4wd trucks had no problem but the first 2wd could not get out of the first small dip. So of course, many people jumped out with picks and shovels to improve the road and a tow strap was set up to drag the first 2wd up the hill. As it turned out, both were needed as the road was at first too steep and loose for the 4wd to get enough purchase to pull another vehicle. However, eventually we got the first stuck truck up the hill.

With considerable improvements now made to the road, ie cutting down the top of the dip and filling in the bottom, the next 2wd wanted to try making a run for it. I was standing on the side of the road near the top, purportedly to take a picture of the event, but the truck ended up taking a faster than was good for him running start and started losing control as he charged up the gravely hill. The truck was bouncing and fishtailing wildly, its back wheels dancing on the edge of the 3 foot ravine on the right. Twice, the back right wheel actually went part way into the ravine only to bounce back out in a feat that I swear defied all rules of gravity.

For myself, I was thinking at the time about if I was going to have to jump down the hill to safety if this truck continued to gyrate around as it approached me, but the driver managed to regain control and complete the upper most part of the hill safely, so instead I just stood there with my mouth hanging open. Those of us who were watching still cannot believe he somehow made it. By all rights, he should have ended up high centered with his right side in that ravine and since he himself could not see his wheels as he drove, he had no idea how close he came until we told him!

Unfortunately, I had been too surprised and awed by the show to even remember to get a picture, but I did get one of the first truck being towed up (photo 9). The third truck, perhaps seeing the danger the second one courted, took the road at a slower charge, with enough momentum to make it up but not so much as to lose control, and thus made it comparatively without incident. Later in the return trip, another smaller hill yielded a bit of trouble as well (photo 10), but also was conquered via road improvements. Once we made it back to the abandoned gold mine area, the roads were smooth sailing and so we were not worried and took more time scouring the area for more nodules. However, I never did find any green worm nodules so I will have to leave that hunt for another trip.

That night, we had a potluck dinner, with a variety of delicious items and a roaring fire. We chatted with both local rockhounders and some from many states away.
The wind died to almost nothing and it was another night of perfect weather and temperature.

A glowing full moon made flashlights unnecessary and I walked around comfortably in my flip flops. But the day had tired out Sesame Pooch (last photo) and all too soon it was time to rest.

Day 1 story here: Rockchaser: The Searchers at Chuckwalla Springs Day 1
Day 3 story here: Rockchaser: The Searchers at Chuckwalla Springs Day 3


  1. Eva - your blog is a huge hit on the Rock Club page on Facebook!

    Everyone on the East Coast is jealous ;-)

    Robyn Hawk

  2. Hi Eva

    I didn't know this was your blog until I just read Robyn's comment. way to go-sounds like you folks are having a great time and lots of good finds. I'm going to Zzyzx Sunday for a week of rocks! I'm going to be doing some lapidary, silversmithing and field trips. Nancy Bird

  3. I didn't know there was a rock club page! I guess I haven't done much on Facebook but will have to check it out. As for Zzyzx, I am SOOOO jealous! I've wanted to go but haven't been able to plan that far in advance.