Up the rocky inclined dirt road past Tumco Mine, we find a spot off to ourselves tucked against quartz striated rock mountains. Their barrenness is otherworldly as they passively protect our presence for our most recent three day camping trip. We’re in the silence of the desert wildness where just about the only thing we’ll hear for two days and nights is the wind and each other.
This area is public BLM land so open to camping for fourteen day stretches free of charge but this blustery windy day, a Friday afternoon after we’ve finished in Algodones, we find ourselves the only ones here. Quite a change from the groups gathered over Thanksgiving when we were last in the area.
We sleep in on Saturday, a guilty pleasure I never get to indulge in, but finally the cats, so long overdue on feeding time, get so insistent they won’t wait a moment longer for their breakfasts. We’re doing a trial run without using the generator and our standby coffeepot is a range-top percolator which takes quite awhile to come to a boil. Once we finish with our own breakfasts we set off to explore some of this early mining country on foot. The dirt roads fork out in all directions so we head deeper into the cut into the mountains, the left fork, riddled with excavations and shafts from gold mining.
The hiking is pleasant, gradually gaining elevation but petering out on a left fork we take at a cliff-hugging trail which ascends to an obvious mine. Marc is not in hiking shoes and the rocky climb gets a little too serious for his footwear so we turn back. Far off on the valley floor with the telephoto on my camera I can see the Imperial Sand Dunes light and shimmering.
After a hearty BLT on chibata sandwich for lunch, we decide to tackle more hiking; the back route into the Tumco Mine area, which we feel is the right road fork. On my previous visit I only scratched the surface of the contained area which is fenced off, and doesn’t allow vehicle passage. The rest of these roads are numbered for off-road use, although in our entire weekend we were only passed by two ATVers.
By now, the clouds have passed and the wind has died somewhat so we enjoy warm enough hiking in sunshine until late in the afternoon when clouds once again bag up the sky. I am overjoyed to come across a much more substantial ruin than in my first visit but disappointed to see every lime plaster inch left intact on the brick walls covered in graffiti. Why do people feel the need to deface an antiquity in such a manner? Are the vast majority of us so brain dead that it escapes us that this is something that can never be brought back once defaced?
Following Marc along the northern edge skirting the mountains, we pass through a large section of tall tailings now eroded into mini-canyons, as we follow a snaking wash farther east. We come across some huge timbers—probably washed-out foundation struts for more settlement ponds up ahead. The power of storms and rushing water to send them here must be very substantial. No wonder they say to stay out of desert washes during rainstorms.
We finally make it to a very deep wash which halts our progress and before us also lies the deeply gouged hole which used to be just another mountain. It’s obvious this mining was done with equipment, not the pick and shovel of the early times. Our feet say we’ve come far enough for today although there is one last mini-hill I wish to climb and photograph ruins before heading back. It sits behind us though so is convenient for our route back. Here the ruins appear as something out of Beirut during war time, as we marvel just what this area must have been. The tabletop hill contains lots of foundations, pillars and obvious cement abutments which speak of some sort of major processing plant.
Evening finds us gathered around a fire pit conveniently built by some other camper but the ensuing cold and wind soon drives us inside for dinner. Marc has movies we watch on his computer so we settle in and watch one in our new King size bed with the cats, and drift off into a night filled with complete silence.
Sunday has a lazy start which gives Marc the chance to attempt using his metal detector in the wash. Visions of gold nuggets glisten in his thoughts but his equipment list is woefully lacking in sifting apparatus for the sand. Oh well, we intend to come back to this blissful spot and I’m sure he’ll be better prepared next time.