When I chose to make such an adventurous decision it was solely based on my belief that God was directing the events of my life, fully. All that was required of me was to be faithful to the leading of The Holy Spirit. I had saved about $500 prior to my life changing decision to move into the National Forest and start looking for mineral deposits. I did not do any research other than that which I described previously which was to gather and study some topographical maps. I had no experience to speak of. I had never even learned to pan for gold. I basically didn’t even know what I was looking for. All that I knew is that it had something to do with “silver and gold”. I found out that there was an assay office in Tucson so every vein structure that I found, I took fairly large samples of them all and started making trips to the assay office and wasted all of the money that I had saved on worthless rock samples! Well I suppose it wasn’t a total waste, It was a relatively inexpensive lesson in mineralogy and prospecting 101 as compared to what other people spend at the universities. So very quickly, my money was GONE. What do I do now? I did not know anyone in the nearest town which was about an hour and a half drive on a very bad mountain road. I had never lived in a small town and I had never been very aggressive when it came to approaching people and selling myself. In fact I had been for the most part a loner. Getting acquainted was no small chore for me. I finally met a very nice older man who did not have much money but was willing to help me if he could. He had a residence next door that was used for storage which he allowed me to open up a small area where I could roll out a sleeping bag and look for an odd job from time to time. In the early years I lived on as little as $200 per year! Thanks to an occasional food box and commodities that were available at that time which included flour, corn meal, powered milk and some Velveeta type cheese once in a while, life was sustainable although living on bread and water was often the main meal. Let’s face it that when you are hungry bread and water is ok especially after periods of weeks with little or no food!
Because of chronic pain it was necessary to force myself to hike the sides of the canyon searching for mineralization almost daily carrying a heavy pack, pick and shovel , hammer and chisel and other implements of destruction. I soon learned that a couple hundred people over the last couple hundred years had already gone over these areas and found the easy to find deposits. Therefore I knew that I would need to work harder than most everyone else if I was to have even a slight chance of finding anything of considerable value. I had no medical care insurance and did not want to go on the government dole so I suffered as long as possible until I couldn’t take the suffering any longer so I then went to the county and applied for AHCCCS which is Arizona’s version of Medicaid.
One of the first miracles happened during the second month which was February 1987. I had a flimsy dome tent set up on my claim which I would stay in for as much as 5 to 7 days at a time to save fuel and one night it snowed about an inch. The next day I was working in the icy cold stream trying to learn to pan and se if there was any gold. It was cold,cloudy,windy and just plain miserable. I was in my sleeping bag trying to get warm at about 4:30pm and had decided to stay one more night before going back to my travel trailer. Then the “Wind” slapped my tent twice and an angry sounding voice said “Is That Plain Enough For You?” Well, That most certainly got my attention! Then “He” said: “It Is Going To Get a Lot Worse Tonight!” I immediately grabbed my back pack, jumped into my 1966 Chevelle and drove straight to my trailer for safety. That night , it snowed 2.5 feet of wet heavy snow which flattened my camp including my tent and broke limbs off of most of the oak trees in the forest. It provided fire wood for me for a couple of years thereafter. I know that I would have been trapped in my tent and died of hypothermia had I not been forewarned. I had previously wondered about “Guardian Angels” and now I am pretty sure that I have one! The following year, a similar storm hit in February leaving 2 feet of snow. I was more prepared for that storm.
Among the normal hardships was the problem of Illegal Immigration and Human and Drug Smuggling. My general area was a favorite route for one or more of the Drug Cartels. I even witnessed a twin engine plane make a drug drop up canyon from my Claim. I did not have a cell phone to alert anyone and limited gasoline so all I could do was watch this drama unfold. It was a Monday morning when it happened and after the drop, the plane came around a second time and dove again into the canyon to spot where it landed and mark it on a map. Right after the second time that it flew into the canyon a military green twin engine plane flew over and turned following the first plane. this was obviously an aircraft designed to chase after smugglers that fly into our airspace and are tracked by the Aerostat Balloon located at Fort Huachuca in Sierra Vista, Arizona. This plane had twin tails and something under the plane that looked like a torpedo. It was a radar unit or some kind of jamming device that the military uses. Later a large Hertz/Penske diesel moving van drove by on its way up this canyon. I was totally amazed due to the size of the truck and that some crazy person had driven it so far into the wilderness on bad mountain roads. No more than an hour later two young Mexican males came to my camp claiming that the truck was stuck and in danger of falling off the road into the canyon. They asked me for a ride into town to get help so I told them that I would but I would need money for gas since I neither had money nor enough gas in my vehicle to return to my claim. They said that they didn’t have any money for gas so I was not able to help them. You need a credit card to rent something like that so it was evident that they had driven up there for someone else for the purpose of collecting the dope. While I was speaking with them one mentioned that they had a map and I said ; OH, you have a map? They immediately clamed-up. The map was apparently given to them by the smugglers. That evening a full sized Kenworth Conventional tow truck from a large towing co. in Tucson arrived at my camp. The driver stopped, left the engine running and walked up canyon a short distance then came back, turned around and left. He was smart enough not to make the same mistake as the 2 Mexicans. This drama continued until Thursday when they finally got that big truck turned around. As they drove by I could see that the truck was all scratched up from the tree branches. The next day was Friday and shortly before dark two older Mexicans drove up canyon and less than an hour later they drove out of the canyon with a large bail of dope in the back of their 1975 Chevy pick-up wrapped in dark plastic. The irony of this is that at no time did any law enforcement get involved except for that second airplane. The first plane probably got away, back into Mexico. The second plane did not have time to intercept the first plane. The smugglers not only steel vehicles and take them into Mexico for use in drug and human smuggling, they also are so bold as to walk onto small airports and steel airplanes. This very thing happened at a small airport near Marana, Arizona. These smugglers also semi – regularly outfitted themselves at my expense by raiding my camp and trailer to steal whatever that they needed and would leave their old trash which revealed who had done it. Some lowlife locals also did such things but would take everything in sight. This would usually happen while I was away looking for work and supplies. I often lost much more than I could possibly gain! Times like this made giving up a consideration but I had a calling that kept me on the job.
During the first year I was both cursed and blessed and if not for the blessings, I would have vacated the area shortly after I arrived. In the early spring another “Sign or Wonder” This one fell into the category of ‘”Mind Boggling”and is still not easy to understand. The general area is a Birders playground. One very special species had a two part song, a very pretty song indeed. I found that when I heard the first part of the song, that was my signal to listen closely. The second part of the song went like this: “This is David……” This bird was introducing me to all of Gods Creation. I swear that this is absolutely true! I had a man and wife who were friends who would visit in Tucson to shower and rest etc. They told me that I had been in the forest Too Long. Later they came up for the weekend and the husband and I were in the camp area when I heard the first portion of this birds song so I immediately said: Listen! and He Heard IT. He immediately named the bird after me. I heard the same bird in later years but the song had changed.
To help me get around the canyon, I found an oak sapling that with some work made a heavy duty walking stick. It had a bit of a club end that I felt could be used for protection if needed since I did not have a gun. It was necessary since I had not only two legged predators to deal with but also four legged predators including Black Bear and Mountain Lion. The local ranch that had the grazing rights for that part of the Forest had a cowboy that would ride his horse into the high country looking for wild cows that had not been branded. He kept a running count (estimate) of the Bear and Lion and told me that there were two 500 pound red cross breed Black Bears that would stand about 8 feet tall. They had a hump between their shoulders similar to a Brown Bear (Grizzly). I found an occasional Huge pile of “scat” that had to come from one of these huge bear. I have been growled at by both Bear and Lion while hiking around my general area. I saw a couple Lion on my claim but never saw a bear face to face. The time that the Bear growled at me, I was hiking away from my camp along an old mining road when I heard a long low growl behind me. It was a fairly heavily forested area and the Bear was in hiding when I walked by it. It was during the summer rainy season and after I heard the growl I said to the Lord: Is this my fate that I am to be eaten by a bear? I immediately heard thunder in the distance! It was a very eerie experience. I continued on my hike and took a different route back to my camp, just in case it was still in the area. I did not see any sense in pressing my luck! One morning I heard a female lion in heat screaming for a mate. It lasted for 3 hours! The lion was only about 100 yards away or less. I desperately wanted to go up and see that lion but I restrained myself. The lion wasn’t in a very good mood and would not have appreciated my presence. I awoke one morning in my travel trailer at about 4am which I was finally able to have towed up to my claim and lit an old fashioned Gas Light. After I did this I turned to the window and looked into the blackness of the night and heard a large animal run away. This was not a hoofed animal, I could tell by the sound so it had to be a bear that was standing and looking in my window. I didn’t think that I was that frightening but apparently to the Bear I was. There was at least one other occasion when a bear came snooping around my trailer around 10:00 pm and knocked over some metal items that were stacked next to the rear and the noise spooked it and I heard it run away through the dry leaves behind the trailer.
Digging with a pick and shovel was the normal routine and one day I noticed that there was a female Arizona Grey Tree Squirrel 15 feet away in the shade of a nearby mesquite tree. It struck me as unusual because swinging a pick and throwing shovels of dirt out would normally scare off animals. Over a period of about a year and a half, this particular squirrel had taken a liking toward me. I had never befriended a wild animal before so since I was all alone up there this interested me greatly. I began to put out a jar lid with corn meal in it next to my trailer. Not long after the squirrel became accustomed to feeding out of the jar lid I reached down and tried to pet or scratch the animal while it was eating and it not only let me scratch it, it would lean toward my hand to get me to scratch even harder. But then the next time when I leaned down the squirrel would run about 6 or 8 feet away and wait for me to move back to my original position then it would return to the food. I could not understand why it would let me scratch it one day and then not let me the next time. Then one day while I leaning down to scratch it, I saw something with my peripheral vision under my trailer and I had the answer. There was standing another identical female squirrel that was waiting for it’s turn to eat. One day I was sitting in a folding chair and put the food lid on my leg and the squirrel jumped up on my leg but I must have flinched because it then jumped back down and with its’ front paws outstretched stood and waited for me to give it back the food and it grabbed the lid as I was returning it to the ground. Another day I had a piece of carrot which it simply loved and obviously never forgot because weeks later, I was squatting about twenty feet away from the trailer and its’ food dish when the squirrel came running toward me and away from its’ Full food dish and bit my middle finger hard and then ran back to its food and just stood there looking at me. I yelled out a loud “OW” when it happened which did not seem to affect it, it had a message to send and did it quite well. A moment later I realized what had happened. That was the only way that this animal had to tell me that it wanted more carrot. A carrot is sweeter than anything that this squirrel had ever eaten!
The first years were somewhat eventful, they included experiences that ranged from abnormal sightings to the supernatural. I spotted a family of 3 Golden Eagles in the area. the first sighting was the adult pair with a yearling. The yearling had white feathers under its’ wings at the elbows. I saw what I believe to be the same trio the next year and those white feathers were gone. Sometime later that year this trio was up to mischief. I heard some commotion on the west side of the canyon and when I looked up I saw these Eagles trying to take a relatively small fawn. The mother was running back and forth trying to intervene and save its offspring from these local predators. they finally ran under an oak tree which was enough to discourage their attempts. On another occasion, I was hiking up a side canyon on the east side of the main canyon. This side canyon had steep sides and was more heavily forested than the west side of the main canyon. As i was coming up to an area that leveled of and opened up a little wider, there in front of me was a Golden Eagle which had just killed a large bird and had started to pull off the breast feathers after removing its’ head. When it saw me it immediately took off directly toward me. I was for a moment staring face to face with one of the meanest looking birds and I did the only thing that I could do which was to immediately drop to my knees and duck down to avoid having my face full of an irritated Golden Eagle. It was only capable of taking off downhill which meant it had no choice but to fly directly toward me. Living full time in the forest gave me the opportunity to see and experience things that the normal human being would Never see!
The next Installment is coming soon