By SARAH REIJONEN
For the GPAA
Her office is primarily blue with a few puffs or wisps of white from time to time.
“I have four walls, and they’re called the sky,” said Gold Prospectors Association of America Foothills Prospectors Chapter President Tina Fleming.
And, she also has a view of the Lebanon Mine, which is just one of the historic landmarks along the Georgetown Loop Railroad west of Denver, Colo. Fleming is the supervisor of the historic mine that garnered Georgetown the title of “Silver Queen of Colorado” for a stint in the 1800s, according to the Georgetown Loop Railroad website.
With its historical significance — and the fact that Fleming is currently working towards opening the mine to the public — it’s no wonder Gold Fever host Tom Massie would want to pay it a visit. After winning a trip to Massie’s Cripple River Mining Camp near Nome, Alaska at a GPAA Gold & Treasure Show in Denver a couple of years ago, Fleming met some members of the Massie family and invited Tom and his daughter, Kia, to visit the Colorado mine.
“When I say something, I try to keep my word,” Fleming said. “I told everybody when we came back from Alaska that I met Tom and Kia, and they said they were going to come out. And, hey, they actually did come out.”
In fact, they ended up filming an episode of Gold Fever at the mine and surrounding area, Fleming said. While in the Centennial State, Fleming took Massie to Level 4 of the Lebanon Mine, a level that has not been explored much since the original miners worked it. Massie found a few nails, but on the way out he had his detector on still and swung it over an old coin, Fleming said.
“He dug down three or four inches, and it was dark, so we didn’t know what it was, but we got back and found out it was an old token from 1860,” she said.
It was city-specific currency paid to the miners, which could only be used in town — of course, the town was
also owned by the mine so it was just a never-ending circle of give and take.
Hosting fellow miners like Tom and Kia is just one of the many perks of
being a prospector, Fleming said.
“I love being able to make new friends and being adventurous with them, making new discoveries,” said Fleming, who has been a GPAA member since 2012.
Fleming comes from a long line of miners, dating back to her American Indian ancestors who worked in the coal mines near Trinidad, Colo. While her relatives didn’t have a choice of working in the mines or not, Fleming was still drawn to the world of geology.
“I just kept being interested in rocks and mining, and next thing you know I was just finding out on my own, going to the rivers and asking ‘What’s this?’ and ‘What’s that?’ ” Fleming said. “A curious mind wants to know. Well, that’s what I have.”
Fleming’s unbridled curiosity sent her exploring at an early age.
“We’d go back to the area where my parents were from and investigated abandoned mines, which we shouldn’t have, being young and dumb,” Fleming said.
Finally, after watching YouTube videos and learning more about prospecting, Fleming decided to give it a try.
“I went to the Habitat for Humanity Store to get some supplies, and I ran into this guy who was a prospector. We started talking, and he said, ‘Hey, why don’t you join this club?’ ” Fleming said. “I went to one of the meetings — it wasn’t a GPAA club, it was a private club — and didn’t even realize it, but one of my uncles who I hadn’t seen for a long time was the vice president. It was a shocker! I hadn’t seen my uncle for years, so we started talking and I joined that club.”
One of the other members of the club happened to be Joe Johnston, who was the president of GPAA’s Golden, Colo. chapter at the time, so he invited Fleming to one of their meetings as well.
“I went to the meeting and there were maybe 10, 15 people and I was like, ‘Whoa!’ Every month there were less and less people, and a lot less activity and I’m like, ‘We don’t want this club to disappear.’ He said I should do something about it,” Fleming said.
So, she asked her uncle to help out. Fleming’s uncle, Michael Hurtado, joined the Golden, Colo. chapter and was elected president, while Fleming became the secretary.
“We got the group back on its feet and got it going,” Fleming said. “My uncle was there for a year and then he got sick and stepped down, so everybody elected me, and I’m going on a year and a half now. We’re really thriving now.”
The group now averages 40 to 50 members a meeting, tripling the attendance of a couple years ago. Aside from their monthly meeting, club members get together once a month in the summer to prospect on a local mining claim owned by one of Fleming’s friends. The group also frequents a piece of public land open to prospectors right in Denver, Fleming said.
Fleming and other chapter members also spend time teaching the younger generation about prospecting and being good stewards of the land.
“We show people how to gold pan and try to put the positivity out. We go to the schools here around town and try to show the kids how fun it is and show them they have to be nice to the earth so we can keep doing this,” Fleming said. “They think gold mining’s not good. Yeah, it is, if you do it the correct way, so we try to show that positivity.”
As prospectors, part of our responsibility is to be role models for those new to mining, Fleming said.
“I call it being one with the land,
because if you don’t respect it, it’s not gonna respect you back,” Fleming said. “So, I love to pass the positive word around to others, especially the younger folks. I like for them to understand why we do what we do in a positive way. You know, about the water; about how things change, geographically; how it worked back 100 years ago versus a million years ago; how things change and how quickly it can change.”
Fleming said most of her beliefs come from her culture, but it’s also a lot of common sense and analysis.
“Most of it is probably from my
Native American heritage, and it’s also from learning about things around me and things that have happened. I learn from my mistakes, but I also learn from other people’s mistakes, too. It makes my life a little easier, and I try to make life easier for others, too,” Fleming said. “I don’t just jump into stuff. I try to stand back and look at the whole picture, and then I move forward. If I still don’t have an answer, I try to get everyone else’s opinion and talk about it; that’s what we do at our board meetings. I’m very open to suggestions.”
And, it’s not just in dealing with the land, but dealing with one’s situation and attitude that Fleming tries to drive home to everyone with whom she comes in contact.
“I understand there’s bad out there, but you need to learn how to turn that into a positive. If it’s wrong this way, go the other way and see if it works the other way. I try to teach that to the members,” Fleming said.
Prospecting is as much mental as it is physical, she said.
“Being out there, you have no worries,” Fleming said. “It’s cheaper than going to see a therapist. It is hard work to do it, but it is relaxing.”
Her most successful therapy session is still, hands down, her trip to Alaska.
“I call it the vacation of a lifetime, because it was so much fun,” Fleming said. “I got to know a lot of people, because I’m a big people person. I could look at a stranger, and they’ll be my best friend by the time they walk away in five minutes. I’m just that type of person.”
Fleming said she found about an ounce of gold, but more importantly, she picked up some new skills.
“I learned how to beach prospect, which is great. It’s kind of different from here to there. Each state is different, like if you go to Arizona, it’s totally different. You’re looking for different things, different mineral lines where gold is at than here in Colorado. Here it’s in bedrock; out there it’s in the desert and it’s like, ‘Wow, how do you do this?’ ” Fleming said. “I learned a lot talking to other people, and for everything I learned I try to share it with the club and other people.”
She also passes her knowledge onto her own family members, like one of the youngest members, Lailah Platt, her five-year-old granddaughter.
“She has a little gold pan. She knows how to gold pan and she knows what it is. She knows the difference between pyrite and gold,” Fleming said. “My granddaughter has been prospecting since she was three years old and they’re the easiest to teach because they listen. I have so many problems with older folks ’cause they’re like, ‘Oh, I know how to do this.’ The kids pay more attention than the adults. It’s funny.”
Whether she’s in Alaska or back home in Colorado, Fleming said the best part of prospecting is watching that “Eureka! moment” when someone finds gold for the first time.
“I just love prospecting, being in the outdoors, sharing the positivity and seeing smiles on members’ faces or people who aren’t even members when they find gold,” Fleming said. “When you show people how to gold pan, they’re like ‘Yeah right, there’s nothing in there!’ And, they start panning and are like ‘Oh my gosh, this is awesome!’ I just love seeing their faces light up when they see gold.”
Sarah Reijonen is a freelance writer based in California. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.