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By Jim Davis

There is mist over the creek this morning, floating in gently curling wisps that add to my joy of being a geologist and in the field. Red sunrays bathe the rocks above the far off timberline. The stillness is complete, save for the murmuring stream and the waking musical exchanges of birds, none which seem intrusive. I douse the breakfast fire, tidy up the camp and set out on my commute to the job - a two mile walk. My mind is a map of today's work schedule - outcrop sampling, mapping, and stream sediment sampling which includes some panning for the heavies. I am buoyed by fresh ideas, optimistically anticipating field proof - though more often dispute. My legs don't yet ache. Morning is the best time of the day. I stop on top of a bare ridge and let my thoughts flow in a way they never do in the office (motel). Sometimes when the weather is wet I might stay in camp for a while and bring my notes up to date and cogitate, but that reaches a point of diminishing returns with the lack of new observations. After-all, that's why I'm here and not at home in my office.

Grass-roots exploration is almost a wingless bird in a world of precise planning, statistics and the computer. Thoughtful and time-consuming geology is oft pressured by quick return economics where grams/gold price is king. A "Grub-steak" [sic] is something on the menu for dinner! Even my "angel" says he would like to start with gold dripping off the outcrop. An area rancher told me of a nearby hill that was mostly "agate" where Indians had dug pits for arrowhead material, probably for trading. I found the hill and panning of a nearby artesian spring yielded a small fleck of gold. What more could one ask for - a likely fossil sinter and detectable gold! But maybe not yet dripping!

My "map" still had a few miles yet to traverse so I continued on. Lots of bear sign on the trail - large rocks rolled over, ripped up stumps and occasional scat. I don't worry as much about bear as mountain lions, the latter tempted by rapidly moving prey. Geologists mosey along, stopping frequently to noisily beat on rocks, so I figure lions aren't too interested in me. Grizzly bears are another matter and I'm working in Montana - grizzly country. Grizzlies are unpredictable, sneaky, usually cranky and always hungry. I keep a cooking pan dangling from my backpack to make noise which might keep griz' at bay - if he's not too starved.

The sun is well into the western sky as I head back to camp. My back pack is heavy-full and I'm tired of the incessant clanging of the dangling pan so I unhook it and stuff it into the pack. Maybe not a good idea but I think it's likely the bear will be napping in some thick brush far off the trail at this time of the day. I set my direction for the shortest way to camp, which starts with climbing out of a canyon where once on top I only have a couple of miles to go. Sifting out one last pan of stream gravels I jam the gold pan into the straps on my pack and follow a well-used elk trail out of the gorge. When I reached the top I wearily swing off the pack to rest a bit before I started through the deep forest that rimmed the canyon. After a few minutes rest I struggled back into my pack and the gold pan fell off with a resounding jangle as loud as a church bell. From the thicket of trees just in front of me came a responding clatter of something crashing through the brush and then total silence.

I've always been in wonder of how clever elk are at disappearing, so I wasn't surprised. I cautiously proceeded ahead in hopes of spotting a picturesque bull. Suddenly I was stopped short by a powerful odor so rank and fearsome that I knew it was the departing message of a grizzly bear. A few more steps, with the smell even stronger, I came upon a large, really large, pile of bear crap. The grass nearby was springing up where the bear had been sleeping. I looked at the pile of excrement again and wondered if that would be what I would be like a few hours after the grizzly lunch! Surely I would smell better, I thought, laughing nervously. I hoped the bear's route was different than mine and hurried back to camp as fast as I dared, thinking only a little about cougars. At camp I started a big fire and uncorked a bottle of wine.

Over the years I identified several prospects in Montana; some were drilled but the later ones were negated by a state law prohibiting the use of cyanide, in addition to the objection of three months per year residents who built their summer homes on the tops of hills and mountains. In the bear country there was even some core with "dripping" gold but alas, it is still there, probably protected beneath a pile of bear poop!

DREGS Announces the 2017-2018
Distinguished Lecturer
Dr. William A. "Bill" Rehrig

"New Discoveries, New Questions - 60 Years in Exploration Geology"

May 14, 2018 - DREGS monthly meeting
7:00 p.m., with refreshments at 6:00 p.m.

Open to DREGS members, guests and interested friends
Berthoud Hall - BH241
Colorado School of Mines

Refreshments graciously are being sponsored by:
Brooks and Nelson, Executive Recruiters


The DREGS collection of memoirs from this page can be found at www.dregs.org/memoirs.html