A week later, recognizing his own restlessness, Todd headed north to Leavenworth, stopping to pick me up. As we drove, I argued with everything — especially when he parked along the creek to explore what turned out to be a series of abandoned gold mines. Beside the roaring water, he put a hand in the muck and came up with sparkles.

“That’s not gold!” I scoffed.

“Oh, yeah? Look at the side of that cliff. Would anybody drive a mine in there for any other reason?” We’d already passed an 1880s’ town that still earned its livelihood mining gold. Placer claims still abounded, and tailings, too.

As I climbed about on that slope, shale broke off in my hands. Footholds slid away. I photographed three more abandoned mines just upstream, their mouths opening about ten feet above the frothing water. What first attracted my attention, however, turned out to be nothing more than a blackened stump. I’d driven this route three dozen times, but this was the first time I’d stopped. Gold Rush details. As we returned to the car, I spied a weekender in the water itself, a man operating a portable placer separator. Finally, I settled down to the idea that there really are gold flecks in this gorge. …

On the drive back, I paid attention to the Forest Service names: DEER GULCH — COUGAR GULCH — HORSE CANYON — OCHER CANYON. Just like home.

“Here, let me look,” he insisted. “Yes, it really is ochre.” Or, “You need a horse in that canyon.” Or a cougar. Or a buck deer. And he entered. And I moaned, predictably, before sleeping in the next morning.

For more of the story, click here.


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