My Grandfathers Gold Pan

When you travel the back country roads, you can not help but the search your own history for the thread of fact to help bind you to the location.  Since I can remember, my dad would take me out into the sierra, desert, mountains, etc… looking for history, looking for mines, ghost towns, or just a place of nature.  Being a son of western settler’s who reached California in the 1880s, I was well aware that my family was part of a vast wave of people who settled the country.  However, this does have its draw backs.  Many of the places I visit were simply not there when my family started to arrive, unless you count Ontario, CA which is now part of the urban sprawl which is Southern California.

My grandfathers gold pan

My grandfathers gold pan

During my earlier explorations of the Lucy Grey goldmine, my great grandfather was an investor in the mine, and like many other people did not fare well on his investment.  However, on the other side of my family there was another interested in gold mines.

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The evolution of the art – tents

MyCivil war tent life with family, USA 1861 wife and I just got back from a camping trip in Death Valley National Park a few weeks ago.  During this trip, for the first time we used a new “Family Sized” doom tent.  The tent sleeps 6 people, is tall enough for me to stand up, came with a rain fly and outside vestibule.  The new tent certainly had it all, which also caused me to think back to all the tents I have used and known.

Pup Tents – The earliest and oldest tent I have used was a 1950’s era pup tent my father used in the Boy Scouts during the late 1950’s.  The tent was nothing more than a piece of green canvas, two polls, wooden stakes and some string.  The tent had no floors and no doors at either end.  I used this tent once when I was about 9 years old, in my back yard.  My dad helped me set it up in our backyard.  From what I remember, it took about  10 hours to set.  Most of this was watching my confused dad trying to remember how it was supposed to work.  As I recall several of the wooden stakes split in the touch enriched soil of our backyard lawn.   Once erected, and musty and the smell of mildew filled the air, but after a few hours it was aired out enough to crawl underneath.  There was only enough room for my sleeping bag, and the tent was just tall enough that I could crawl underneath looking much like a WW2 G.I. going underneath the barbed wire.

That night, I slept under the “stars” in Los Angeles, CA.  It was a mild fall evening as I recall, yet somehow my dads old pup tent managed to make it colder.  Now having any doors meant that our cat could wander in during the night and scare me, which he did.  I woke up early in the morning, went inside the house and finally got some sleep. I do not know whatever happened to this tent.  It was better than nothing, but just barely.

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The Green Gopher

Growing up in the 70’s I learned and spent a lot of time camping, hiking, being outdoors and active.  Every spring summer and fall, my parents and I would load up the truck, and later the trailer and head out.  Typically preparations would start the week before departure, and the loading process would start on Thursday afternoon with my brother and I hauling all the gear into the yard, while my mom packed the vehicles.  Friday could not come soon enough and when it did, my dad would come home from work, change is clothes, wrangle up two kids, maybe a dog, adjust the mirrors, and exclaim “We’re off” as we drove out of the driveway.  For the most part, for my family nothing much has changed much from my dad.  It is however the details that matter.

In 1972, I was one year old and to celebrate my dad bought a new truck.  Details of the vehicle back then are scare.  From my point of view, my dad previously owned a 1964 International Scout.  He drive this car for years all over the desert south west in the late 1960s.  When my dad married my mom, my mom made him sell the Scout because the breaks were horrible, and at least three times they failed completely.  It was a wise decision considering the stakes for the family at the time, but the loss of his beloved Scout was difficult and for decades despite its faults the Scout cast a long shadow in our family.

Returning to 1972, my dad decided to purchase his truck.  He chose a Sea Foam Green 1972 Ford F-100 pickup sporting a 302 inch V-8 sporting with a 3.2:1 gear ratio, two fuel tanks, and a four speed manual transmission which included a “Granny Gear”.  The extra costs of a four wheel drive were not an option for my dad at that time.  So, the truck became the “ultimate compromise”.  He opted for 2 wheel drive, but to offer improved traction he chose a four speed with granny gear.  The differential was geared up to offer improve gas mileage, but the little 200 HP V-8 could not pull a grade at any sort of highway speeds.  A camper shell, home built bed, pass-through rear window and the “green gopher” was complete for the initial incarnation

The interior of the truck bed was built by my father and contained storage, and folding queen bed.  The low profile camper shell offered no room crouch, let alone stand up, the windows and top vent offered perfect locations to pull out tufts of hair from the person who was not wise to the danger.  During a trip, I can remember distinctly laying down in the cab between my mom and dad as he drove.  Later my brother and I would argue about who got to sit in front between my parents, but clearly the place to travel was in the bed of the truck.

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Maps and Communications

11wtiTechHistoryrotator-1383753362260In the days of tablet computers and smart phones, it is trendy to rely on the latest technology.  There is nothing wrong with that, however, it is still important to maintain a backup plan.  For example, any device that relies on cell phone tower will be virtually useless in the back country.  There are methods with image caching, that you can utilize these types of devices when the cell signal is unavailable, which is great.  But if you plan for the eventuality that at some point that device will fail, or the batteries die, you will be significantly better off.


The best backup plan is a quality map of the area you are going to be in. Part of any good trip into a new area involvces planning, what better way to plan a trip, is to lookup the area and learn more about it. There are a variety of websites which offer topomaps, such as not to mention that you can order high quality Topograph maps online. Maps such as these offer a valuable look into the area, and provide a level of detail not found on most tablets or GPS units.


It is always a good idea to carry a compass. A compass makes it easier to use the maps you have, or with general familiarity of the area area valuable tool to get unlost. Should you be willing to drop $400 on an iPhone or the latest tablet, spend another $4 and have a backup, which is probably more useful.

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First Aid

It is absolutley crutial that you maintain a well stocked first aid kit for your group when in the back country. You never know that you will run into, accidents happen and if you are away from medical services, mistakes can be deadly. A well stocked first aid kit should include:

  • Adhesive bandages
  • Butterfly bandages
  • Gauze pads
  • Medical adhesive tape
  • Antiseptic wipes
  • Antibacterial ointments
  • tweezers
  • ibuprofen or some other pain reliever
  • saftey pins
  • a first aid manual
  • anti-diarrehal medicines
  • Any other presecribe medication, such as insulin
  • Emergency blanket
  • Salt tablets
  • Water


So, always be sure that have a first aid kit when you travel, and most importantly, keep it up to date. Medical supplies can and do go out of experation. Additionally, this process will help you replenish supplies that get used throughout your adventures.

You can’t take it with you! or stated slightly differently, be sure that you can take your first aid kit with you. It is a good idea to have several. One, larger first aid kit for use around the car and basecamp and a smaller kit for hikes, day trips etc. Should you go out and buy a small “urgent care with pharmacy”, be sure that you can quickly grab it and go. Not very often will you be able to unpack it from under the seat in a time of emergency.

First Aid, is the First Aid someone receives during an emergency, and you are little use if you can’t take your kit and run to the emergency.