By A.E. Kirkpatrick
Any and all of us who have been chasing the gold over the years have accumulated their own relatable stories of “Murphy’s Law” showing up in some of the most unexpected and humorous ways. Other incidents you could only scratch your head and wonder! What follows are a few of my more memorable experiences, which I relish retelling around a campfire at night with my fellow prospectors, at the end of a long day of movin’ dirt. Enjoy!
Dude, Where’s My Keys?
One of my favorite prospecting buddies and I were spending a few days up on the East Fork of the San Gabriel River northeast of the Los Angeles Basin, sampling around for someplace we could find that would return enough gold to warrant spending more time working that spot. No such luck! Jack (my digging buddy) and I packed up and started back down the long, winding road coming out of the San Gabriel Mountains. Jack had parked his vehicle at a commuter lot where our paths home diverged, which is where I would be dropping him off as we got close to San Diego.
Well, we needed some lunch before continuing any further, so once we exited the mountains we stopped at a fast-food joint for some burgers and fries. As we were walking back to my truck, Jack starts checking his pockets like he’s missing something and I ask him what he’s looking for. “My keys! I can’t find my keys (car and house keys),” he replied with an air of panic in his voice.
Well, we opened up the back of the shell on my truck and he went through all his stuff and still couldn’t find them. After making a couple less than helpful remarks, I asked him what he wanted to do. He asked if we could go back up to our campsite as he must have dropped them somewhere around there when we were packing to leave. I saw no alternative to doing that as I would have asked the same thing if our roles were reversed. So, back up into the mountains we go!
Getting back to the campsite, we scoured the place and even looked further afield than would be expected. No keys! Driving back down out of the hills, things were pretty quiet. I knew he was going through his actions that morning and trying to figure out what he’d done with the darn keys. Well, on our way back to San Diego and about an hour later, I saw him reach down by his feet and pull up his keys! What the ……..???
Sheepishly, he told me that the night before he had placed them under the floor mat in my truck, for safe keeping! He was relieved when I busted up laughing! And, he was a good sport about it as I also teased and tormented him for most of the remainder of the trip home! For years after that, whenever I had the opportunity, I would ask him, “Hey, Jack! Where’s your keys!” I knew I’d used it too many times when he started doing it back to me, “Hey Al, have you seen my keys?”
Burro’s for Breakfast
We were at one of our favorite claims north-northwest of Yuma, called Potholes, camped up on a mesa and working down in the wash below. Our first morning at the campsite I had dragged myself out of the sleeping bag when I was awakened by the rattle of pots and pans as the wife had started cooking breakfast. Once I’d pulled myself together, I stepped out of the tent and made directly for the coffee, which was already perked and ready to drink. Still rubbing the sleep out of my eyes and quickly downing about half my first cup of joe, I looked across the mesa and saw a line of burros following a well-worn trail and crossing from right to left. My buddy Bill popped out of his tent and I turned to greet him as he mumbled something, which I assumed was “Good morning.” We stood there chatting for a bit and he kept looking behind me, so I turned to see what he was looking at and that’s when I saw the burros making a beeline for our camp. We figured they must have smelled something on the stove that appealed to them or maybe the older ones recalled when we humans used to feed them (which is now against the law).
Well, shortly they were all gathered round us expecting a handout and I was wondering how the heck we were going to get rid of them. After considering the problem for a bit, Bill said not to worry and headed off away from camp, waving his arms and calling out, “Hey burro, Hey burro” (rolling his R’s). To my amazement, they all turned and followed him away from camp. I immediately dubbed him the “Pied Piper of Potholes”!
Road to Ruin
A large group of us was camped on the west side of the Cargo Muchacho Mountains, about 10 miles west-northwest of Yuma, and we spent the first day sampling the various claims in the area. But, after getting skunked that first day, I and a couple others were wanting to work someplace where we knew that we wouldn’t get skunked again. So, the next morning we headed out to one of our favorite spots where we were sure to find some gold.
Once there, we split up and my wife and I headed further into the hills to a spot we had previously found color. We had invited one of our diggin’ buddies to follow us if he wanted, which he did. When we arrived, I pointed out to Jon where he should dig and pointed to where my wife and I would be setting up, slightly below him.
Now, I’ve got to tell you a little about Jon to give you some idea of who he is. Jon was in his mid-70s when he was out with us on this occasion. A retired dentist, a gentle soul, soft spoken and mild mannered. We had watched him gently using a rock hammer and we had to keep reminding him that he was not digging decay out of a tooth! He wasn’t much for sticking to a spot and moving a great deal of dirt, but he liked playing with all the new toys that prospecting introduced him to; a detector (which was soon followed by a second one), a Gold Cube and his vibro-static drywasher (with vac-pac blower). He drove a small econo-sized pickup with a camper shell (which he built) that he crammed full with all his equipment, camp gear and sundries. Each time I looked in it I could fathom no rhyme or reason as to how it was packed, but it didn’t take him any time at all to pull out what he was looking for!
The wife and I set up and had been digging for about an hour when we took a break to pan out and check our cons to make sure we were getting color. Shortly, Jon joined us and we ran his dirt through our drywasher and he started panning, too. Our cons showed some good color so we knew we would be staying right there. But we were really surprised when Jon finished panning his cons and they were probably about twice as good as ours were! Lots of color! As soon as he’d completed putting his gold in a vial, we noticed he was packing his digging tools and buckets back into his truck, so we asked him what’s up. He said he had promised some of the others that had driven over with us that he would be back to work with them after sampling near our spot.
We couldn’t believe he was abandoning what probably turned out to be one of his best pan-outs ever, period! I told him if he wasn’t going to dig there that we would and he didn’t seem to care as he was more concerned about keeping his promise (typical Jon). We told him we understood and said we would see him later, back at camp. The wife and I headed back down to our dig spot and started moving our equipment to where Jon had been working. We heard him start driving out and up the road and looked up to see him go. That’s when we noticed that his camper shell door had flown open on the first series of bumps and all his stuff started falling out the back and was strewn along the road as he drove up the hill.
Well, we both started hollering at him, but it didn’t seem to be getting his attention. All of the sudden, my wife jumped up to the road and started running after him, while picking up his stuff, waving and yelling. Jon crested the top of the hill and she was right behind him! About an hour later, she came walking back down the road. I went up to listen to her story. Well, she wasn’t able to get his attention until he was close to a half mile on and by that time, he’d also noticed his camper door was open. They spent the next half hour going back along the road, picking up the remainder of what had fallen out of his truck: clothes, camp gear, prospecting tools, a couple 2-liter soda bottles, etc. The wife and I had a good laugh and got back to work.
That evening, we drove into camp back at the Cargo site and there was Jon. Well, I had to go chat him up and tell him he’d better lock that camper door instead of just trying to close it. Which he showed me he’d already done. Then he leaned in close and in a conspiratorial whisper he said, “Don’t tell Joan” (his wife). He also used that same line whenever he bought a new, spendy piece of prospecting gear! But Joan was no dummy, so there was no fun to be had in us ratting him out.
A couple months later we were back in that area, driving down that same stretch of road, when we noticed a halffull 2-liter bottle of soda off to the side of the road. We stopped and threw it in the back and both wondered if it was from Jon’s truck, laughing as we drove off!
A.E. Kirkpatrick is an avid outdoor enthusiast and GPAA Lifetime Member who has written and published his memoirs, which document his enlisted career as an Operations Specialist in the U.S. Navy and covers the period he served during the Vietnam War and Cold War, and can be found at Amazon by searching for “Allen E. Kirkpatrick.”