On October 17, I loaded up my truck and headed out at 5:00am for the Sleepy Bear Mine in the Mojave Desert near Randsburg, California. This was the site of a fundraiser for Public Lands for the People, organized by Jim and Sue Jeffrey, owners of American Prospector Treasure Seeker in Temecula, California. Joe Martori hosted the event at his active mine site and was a gracious host and cook.
The goal of the event was to raise funds for the ongoing court battles PLP is waging on our behalf, including the suction gold dredging litigation currently progressing through Mandatory Settlement hearings in San Bernardino, California.
I wound my way through the Tehachapi Mountains and turned off onto a paved road and then onto a well-maintained dirt road following the directions of my GPS. I arrived at the site before noon after brief stops for lunch and gas. Tents and RVs were spread far and wide. After my nearly seven-hour drive, I was warmly greeted by Jim Jeffrey and Joe Martori. I got my legs moving again, checked in with the volunteers and then headed to town for a few hours to get some supplies and to find a decent Internet connection so I could finish up a few articles for last month’s issue.
Upon return, even more prospectors had arrived to show their support. I found what looked to be a nice spot to park my truck and got my camp in order. Unfortunately, it was going to be a short trip for me because we still had a magazine to finish and send off to the press.
There were thousands of dollars in donated prizes available that were scheduled to be raffled off on Saturday evening, and I added a ten-year subscription to ICMJ’s Prospecting and Mining Journal and a one-ounce gold bar from the Swiss Mint to the cache, though PLP chose to auction the gold bar off on their eBay site at a later date. Additional prizes were donated by Keene Engineering, Tesoro, White’s Electronics, Gold Cube, Mad Mining, GPAA, Golden Dreams, Fast Fanny’s Place, Back N Barn Screenprints, and “Dominican” Mike Harmon.
I helped man the raffle ticket table for a bit, spoke to a few attendees and volunteers and had a bite to eat, then I conked out for the night in my truck, resting up for the long day ahead. It was a restless night—a spotlight from the maintenance yard at the mining site came on, but I didn’t want to wake everyone else by moving my truck!
A few more folks rolled in on Saturday morning and many were eager to venture out onto the Sleepy Bear property—all 415 acres—and try their luck at finding some gold. Joe was kind enough to point out some of the areas where gold had been found with detectors and other areas where drywashers had been successful recovering gold. Everyone who found gold was allowed to keep it.
Joe explained that there had been some extensive sampling done in a few areas of the property during war times, but the miners at that time were looking for tungsten to support war efforts. The material was left stockpiled and it made for easy shoveling for today’s gold miners utilizing drywashers.
Miners were scattered throughout the property, and some had even headed a few miles away to another location where a PLP supporter opened his claim, too.
I drove out to check some of the prospecting sites and found that Joe’s staff and Jim’s volunteers had marked all of the off-road trails for vehicles to follow so they could get to their desired locations without trampling the native vegetation.
Pat Keene and his crew had set up quite a few drywashers for prospectors to use at their leisure.
The gold being recovered consisted of fines and small, rough pieces. The dirt was thoroughly dry, which made a drywasher the ideal piece of recovery equipment for the conditions.
Pat Keene also brought out a couple of prototype machines for testing. Both machines were trailer-mounted and used motorized winches to assist with loading the potential paydirt into the drywasher. One was designed for using a five-gallon bucket, while the other was designed for group digs. The larger machine could be loaded with a wheelbarrow and was equipped with dual motors and dual blowers. Pat stated that both models will be subjected to further testing and refining before a final product is brought to market.
Saturday evening culminated with the largest potluck I have every attended, including awards for the best dishes, a few speeches, live music and the raffle. Joe manned the barbeque and cooked up over 200 pounds of assorted meats, including pulled pork, tri-tip, chicken, sausage and brisket.
Following dinner, several speakers gave presentations about the importance of getting involved and staying involved in the political and regulatory process. One of the primary concerns discussed was regarding the creation of the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP), which covers nearly 22.6 million acres in Southern California.
The California Energy Commission, BLM, US Fish & Wildlife Service, environmental activists and non-governmental organizations teamed up to create a draft DRECP. As part of this plan, the federal government sets aside wide swaths of public land to be used for solar, wind and/or geothermal energy. In order to offset the land lost to these renewable energy projects, additional acreage is set aside as “protected” and placed off-limits to mining, recreation and development.
The draft DRECP is over 13,000 pages. The preferred alternative is “a biological conservation strategy including avoidance, minimization and compensatory mitigation requirements on both public and private lands” and a “conservation designation on over 4.9 million acres of BLM-managed lands.”
Joe Martori has been attending monthly meetings in Ridgecrest along with an attorney who is combing through the draft to glean any information and/or restrictions that might impact mining in this area. Approximately 100 pages containing items of concern have been identified so far, and we will update our readers with a list of suggested comments in our January 2015 issue—public comments are due by February 23, 2015. The entire document, including maps, is available for viewing online at www.drecp.org/draftdrecp/
Areas of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC) are another tool these groups utilize to place public lands off-limits. ACECs are popping up all over the desert and elsewhere as federal agencies label lands as critical habitat for threatened or endangered species.
Republican Congressman Paul Cook and his wife Jeanne spent several hours at this event. Cook was first elected to Congress in 2006 and has won each reelection since that time. He represents the 8th Congressional District, which encompasses Inyo and Mono counties and most of San Bernardino County.
Cook stated that mining and access to public lands are at the top of his list and he will continue to do whatever he can in Washington, DC, to keep public lands open and regulations in check.
Over $9,500 was raised and donated to Public Lands for the People from the raffle. Prospecting continued on Sunday, but I had to make the seven-hour trip back to the office after the raffle. A huge “thank you” is in order for Joe Martori and his crew, Jim and Sue Jeffrey of American Prospector Treasure Seeker and their volunteers, the companies and individuals who donated prizes, and for the hundreds of prospectors who ventured out to the desert to show their support while enjoying a bit of prospecting.