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. Later, I discovered that my dad kept my grandfathers gold pan, he, like many others spent his time searching for opportunity in the ground.
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.
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.
Like many who are fortunate enough to known their grandparents, I didn’t know my grandfather until late in his life, by then his course in life was settled. He had graduated from Berkeley, retired as a chemical engineer, raced sail boats, raised a family and retired and even had time to teach me to fish. I knew that he did some gold prospecting but I assumed his attempts were similar to my dads attempt.
In the 1980’s my family was driving in the back country of Arizona, neat Prescott. At some time during the trip, we were hiking up a stream bed and discovered some black sand. My father related the fact that gold is supposed to be found. We then loaded up about fifty pounds of the precious black sand and took our prize home. I hasten to add that we panned all the material and didn’t get a single flake of gold and were the proud owners of two bad backs.
In contrast, my grandfathers attempt was considerably more successful. During the depression, while studying chemistry, he decided that during the summer months he would mine for gold. So, while on break he headed off to the American River in California and spent the summer gold mining. In his descriptions of this time, his success was limited but “It kept me in beans”.
I look at his gold pan now, and like the ghost towns and mine sites all across the desert, it reminds me of tough men, struggling to full fill their version of the American Dream. One of those men was my grandfather, and I wish I knew this man.