Thursday, March 31, 2011

Rats, Mice, & Snakes: The Will to Live

The dozer working in the Christine Marie mine.
           It was a particularly bad day. First, the Scout would not start. Then, I was working on the road with the loader about 5 switchbacks down from the cabins above when I lost control of the right track. I had to climb to the top to get some tools only to find when I got back to the loader I did not have all the tools I needed. After several trips up and down with more tools I figured out the break slave cylinder was stuck causing the track to freeze. By this time it was too late to do any work. No jasper today!
            The mice were not particularly bad this year but it was time to set up a bucket trap anyway (see my blog post about a better mouse trap). I looked around at my supply of buckets and discovered I did not have a bucket without a hole or crack in the bottom. I had begun drilling holes in the bottom of the buckets to make them easier to pull apart after stacking them together. Also, continually filling them with rocks tends to crack the bottoms. Anyway, I did not have a bucket that would hold water to drown the mice when they fell in. I made the trap and resolved that I would have to take care of the mice every morning.
            Sitting in my cabin after dark, feeling exhausted and depressed with the day’s events, I watched an energetic mouse let its desire for the peanut butter on the string overcome its sense of danger and fall into the bucket. The mouse scurried around the bottom of the bucket and tried to climb the bucket walls every way it could. It would stand at the bottom of the bucket wall and jump up the side as far as it could scratching at the smooth plastic wall before falling in a heap at the bottom. I had placed the bucket in the corner on the ground but it was not quite level. Because the bucket sides are tapered one side of the bucket was slightly less steep than the other. The mouse discovered this after numerous attempts to climb the walls, but by this time it was exhausted and laid quietly in the bottom of the bucket for 10 or 15 minutes. It started again. The mouse approached the side of the bucket that was less steep, jumped, and clawed at the plastic wall to no avail. It rested again. It ran across the bottom of the bucket, jumped up to the wall, and pushed off the wall propelling itself a little higher and a little closer to the paper hanging down at the top. The mouse did this 5 or 6 times before falling silent. I thought it gave up. Much to my surprise it tried this again sometime later. This time I saw the paper flicker as one of its front feet touched the paper stretched across the top of the bucket. A little later it tried again -- the paper bent slightly more towards the bottom of the bucket. Then silence.  The mouse was nearing the end of its endurance.  It hooked a claw on the paper pulling it down where its other front foot found a hold on the edge of the paper, and it scrambled out never to be seen again.
            I decided it had been a pretty good day after all. The sun had played tag with big white fluffy clouds all day, and it was not too hot for my many climbs up the hill. Maybe there would be some jasper tomorrow.

Here are some polished pieces of Christine Marie Morrisonite.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Roads: Getting There

This view shows the mountainous destination.

The fork leaves the highway.

            There is not mention or location listed for Morrisonite in the Western Gem Hunters Atlas. The Book of Agates published in 1963 simply states that, “Morrisonite can be found near the southern end of the Owyhee Reservoir.” Even though Morrisonite has been collected since the 1940’s, relatively few people have been there or know exactly where the deposits are. The remoteness of the area is legendary among old collectors and a good four-wheel-drive vehicle is necessary to get there today. If you were to go to the southern end of the Owyhee Reservoir and start looking for it, it might take you a few days to find it.
The sign at the right fork.
            This is how to get there if you want the adventure, but please be warned it can be a dangerous trip. It would be best to go with two vehicles and plenty of water. Leave yourself plenty of time also.
The lava beds lie in the distance.
            The road to get there starts out as Jordan Crater road and goes west to Highway 95 at M.P. 12 ½. This is 12 ½ miles south of where Hwy 95 crosses from Idaho into Oregon and about 6 miles north of Jordan Valley. This road was an improved gravel road for about 10 miles to the split in 1986. Today the road has been improved all the way to Jordan Crater and to the Owyhee River. At about 10 miles there is a fork in the road with the right fork continuing toward Jordan Craters and the left fork going to a ranch. In 1986 the road was unimproved from this point on and contained numerous mud holes, rocks, and other hazards. In 1986 the 29 mile trip from Hwy 95 to the canyon rim took about 3 hours. Today, it is considerably faster.
Clouds hover above Blowout Reservoir.
            There are several other roads that cut off the main road, mainly to the north. Continue generally west with Jordan Craters and Tea Pot Dome in your sights ahead and slightly to your left. After you pass Blowout Reservoir on your right – the dam parallels the road – you will come to a cattle guard. The road splits on the other side. The right split goes north down Birch Creek to the Owyhee River and the left fork goes to Jordan Craters. Before you cross the cattle guard you will see a road going to the north along the fence. At this point you are about 4 ½ miles from the canyon rim. This is not much of a road.
The infamous gate awaits.
            Follow this road to the corral where you come to a gate. Go through the gate, leaving it as you found it, and continue for another four miles generally going north. This is very rough unimproved road and you can actually walk the four miles faster thank you can drive it. There is one other fork in the road about 1 mile from the rim. Take the left fork staying on the left side of the lone tree on the horizon. This will get you to the canyon rim, 29 miles from Hwy95, overlooking Sheepshead Ridge and the two cabins below.
Notice the tree to the right in the distance.
            Do not attempt to drive down to the cabins without inspecting the road first and being sure of your four-wheel-drive vehicle and your ability to drive it. The road may need some miner repairs before proceeding. I have seen many people get to the rim and refuse to go any further.
            If you want to walk down from the top to the Jake’s Place Mine, just follow the road over the hill and down about four switchbacks. The Christine Marie is down another four switchbacks and back to the north about ½ mile. This is a minimum two hour hike. The mine on the Christine Marie is about 1000 ft. below the canyon rim. 
Prepare for the end of flatness.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Rats, Mice, & Snakes: The Snake That Came To Dinner

The road snakes down the middle from the cabins way at the top.
I was working on the road to Christine Marie claim. This was a tedious and slow process because of the steepness of the road.  When I finished for the day, I would leave the dozer as close to my work area as possible and walk up to the cabins for the night.  Tonight would be my first and only experience with teleportation.
Gene and Jake enjoy a meal in the hot sun.
I was sitting in my chair next to my propane cooking stove looking out my cabin door, exhausted.  I remember that I was slumped down in the chair with my feet out in front of me trying to find the energy to get up and add something to the potatoes and onions already cooking on the stove. The weather was changing outside and a weird wind was blowing. It would be colder tomorrow. Much to my astonishment a rattle snake slithered in front of the door headed to the west. It moved about half way across the flat area outside the cabin door opening and stopped. It lifted its head about 6 inches and looked inside the cabin. I watched the snake and thought, "Just go on to where ever you are going and leave me alone." The snake, frozen, looked directly at me. I was slumped down so far that my right hand could touch the ground. I picked up a small stone from the gravel floor and tossed it at the snake to encourage it to continue on its way. The snake came right at me – straight into the cabin. The next thing I knew, I was standing outside the cabin looking in through the door. The only sound was my potatoes and onions cooking on the stove.

Gene poses with a wire trap.
Now, I have been interested in the ideas postulated by science fiction writers for some time. The idea of teleportation – disassembling your body molecule by molecule and reassembling it at another place or time – is interesting if not plausible. To this day I have no memory of any thing between those two moments. One moment I was slouched in a chair tossing a pebble at the snake, and the next moment I am standing outside my cabin, my heart pounding furiously, looking in with no snake in sight. Perhaps I teleported to a safer place.
            Slowly my problem came into focus. My supper is cooking on stove in the cabin with the rattle snake. I am outside the cabin and don't know where the snake is. I went to find my gun. Luckily it was in the truck and not in the cabin. Then, another problem came into focus: my explosives were all packed in various containers under my bunk -- a nice place for a snake to hide and a nasty place for bullets to fly.

Jake's tent, the Scout, and Gene's cabin at the Christine Marie mine.
This was a different time -- before the Oklahoma City bombing. Buying and using explosives was no big deal if you knew what you were doing. The major concern for the miner was where to storage them and how to keep them dry. Keeping them under your bunk may sound a little foolish, but a miner always sleeps in the driest place possible, and storing explosives under the bunk was practiced quite often by individual miners.
The road, rebuilt every year, near the Jake's Place Claim.

           Bullets and explosives don't mix, but having a rattle snake in my cabin was unacceptable. I poked my head inside the door and tried to see the snake. The potatoes and onions smelled good but there was no snake visible. When I was certain I could step into the cabin safely, I did. This provided a better view but still no snake. I took one more step into the middle of the cabin and saw him curled up under my cooler in the back corner opposite from my explosive, but. I was still concerned about the possibility of bullets ricocheting into them. I climbed up on my bunk to shoot down at the snake and hopefully leave the bullet in the dirt. The bullet went through him twice. I picked up the snake, took him outside, and nailed his carcass to the outside of the cabin. I was hungry and had not invited any guests.