The DE gets down and dirty in Trona
October 11 - 13, 2013
By Debbie Miller Marschke
More than 3,000 people turned out for the 72nd annual Trona GemORama, including our group of 13 Desert Explorers: Myself and husband Steve, Bob & Sue Jaussaud, Ron Lipari, Mike Vollmert, Vicki Hill, Daniel Dick & Bobbie Sanchez, and Bruce Barnett with daughter Elizabeth. The Searles Valley Minerals Company opens up their Searles Lake property one weekend a year for rockhounds in October, and it was quite a spectacle. There is actually only one other place that one can collect these minerals in this form – in the Ukraine. People attend from all over the world, and we all heard many languages spoken during the course of our weekend. But the big secret is, it’s really not the minerals that attracts such a big crowd; it’s the larger-than-life, down-and-dirty fun of the hunt that brings the people back for more.
Steve and I arrived around 12:30 p.m. on Friday, October 11, at the Valley Wells facility 5 miles north of Trona. We staked out an awesome camp site underneath a grove of Athol trees, and within steps of the restroom, potable water, and outdoor public showerhead for rinsing. Friday afternoon was spent relaxing in the perfect desert weather, enjoying camaraderie and of course, happy hour. The Jaussauds were one of the last to arrive, and we had arranged a prank upon Bob when he tried to check into the campground. The amenable camp caretaker Karen worked for the Fire Department, so she had an air of Official Business as she searched Bob’s vehicle and asked him if his vehicle had been on fire. Meanwhile, back in camp, the DE watched, ogled, and giggled hysterically. The prank continued all weekend as Bob became Karen’s favorite camper to hassle! I managed to bake a German Chocolate cake in a Dutch oven in camp which was received with much appreciation.
Saturday morning we all left camp, ready to rumble, at 7:30 a.m. We arrived in the boomtown of Trona, which was already bustling with people. The DE lined up and parked our vehicles in succession; the event “stack parks” all the attendees in a massive parking lot; first come, first served. Everyone hustled over to get registered for all the events, and then we all walked over to the local Church which was serving a pancake & sausage breakfast for $5.00. I don’t know exactly how many people this church served, but they ran a tight ship and we were impressed. We had time to enjoy our meal and were able to return to our vehicles in ample time. At 9:00 a.m. sharp, the first field trip rolled out: the Mud event. The vehicles were escorted single file onto Searles Lake over a maze of dirt access roads. We arrived at a parking area where the Company had prepared a public collection site for all. Black gloppy piles of mud were heaped up. Everyone parked and made haste to the Mud piles. And then, the crowd of hundreds descended upon the mud and began wallowing in it. Well, uh, that’s how it looked. Hidden within this mud are clusters of large hanksite crystals. To win these prizes, you have to find them in the mud. As Vicki said, “Look at the sea of humanity!” It was literally a sea of butts and elbows in the mud. The scene was mind blowing. It did not take long for all the DEers to join in the madness. This proved to be delightfully fun and messy, which was part of the hilarity. I think the one thing that stood out, though, was that there were as many children here with families as there were serious adult rock hounds. What a refreshing sight to see all those children, collecting minerals! The mud was the great equalizer; everyone had a chance to score a beautiful mineral cluster. It was just as much fun to sit back and be a spectator as it was to actually hunt for the rocks. Absolutely a blast! Daniel’s favorite scene included observing several boys that were so heavy caked with mud, their pants were falling off their rears (they did not care)! Everyone was getting plastered with mud, and everyone was smiling. Once the clusters had been grabbed, a large trough was provided for cleaning. You can not clean any of these minerals with water – they dissolve. Salt/brine solution was provided, which cleaned the rocks and maintained their integrity. Another wonderful fact about attending GemORama; nobody goes home empty-handed. The DE caravanned back to town around 11:30 a.m., everyone with their extracted treasures. We immediately placed our vehicles in the line-up for event #2, The Blow Hole, which began at 2:30 p.m. Everyone left the parked cars, disbursed to have lunch and to enjoy the festivities.
The Searles Valley Minerals plant had free tours, there was a rock & mineral show going on, and lots of exhibits to see. We ran into Ruth & Emmett Harder, and Barbara & Bill Gossett. There really was not enough time to see & do everything during the break. But you have to hand it to the town of Trona, they handle the massive influx of people like champs! Very, very impressive indeed. The afternoon Blow Hole event has a different approach. Essentially, the lake bed is fracked ahead of time using explosives, and the minerals are pumped to the surface suspended in water through a large pipe and sprayed upon the lakebed. The Company did demonstrate how the minerals are brought up in a geyser of water. The Hanksite crystals are sprayed all over the hard-pan lake bed for the attendees to pounce upon – akin to breaking a piñata. Another frenzy of activity! We hunted for hexagonal hanksite crystals with dual terminated ends. Also the more rare and elusive dual pyramidical sulfohalite. These minerals are smaller than the ones we hunted in the Mud Event. Included in the other minerals brought to the surface were other evaporates like halite, which have interesting forms and composition. Actually, you really did not need to recognize the hanksite crystals during this event to have a good time --- just pick up what appeals to you. The Company only charged a nominal fee per car per event, so there was no limit as to how much you collected the entire weekend. Daniel and I were extremely lucky, we both were able to score marvelous huge specimens by and through our assertive nature (we were friendly with the right people). And, again, this event was more fun than I can accurately describe. By the end of the day, we were all tired out. But we had one more bonus coming: The Gossetts arrived in camp, pie in hand, and joined us for a pleasant evening with friends.
The only event on Sunday was the hunt for Pink Halite. This is the most challenging mineral hunt of the three. The pink halite forms along the perimeter of brine pools, under the crust. You have to walk out on the Searles Lake bed, which is rough , jagged and crunchy. To find the best crystals, one must wade out into the brine, reach underneath the submerged ledges, and feel around for formations. Once a potential specimen is located, it must be harvested by hacking it off the submerged ledge. These crystals are most beautiful, in various shades of pink or white, and have a geometric “picture frame” structure. However, this year the hunt was going to be more problematic, as we were informed ahead of time. Monsoonal rains in late August had corrupted and melted all the crystals. The best information we had was that some crystals may have grown back, but the pickins would be poor this year. Undaunted, (or maybe just looking for any excuse to nose around the Searles property for which we normally don’t have access) our group rolled out at 9:00 a.m. with the armada of hunters. We did not get a choice as to where we hunted – it was the luck of the draw in accordance to where our cars stopped. We did not get a very productive pool of brine. We attacked it anyway, hacking away at our prospects. We had to weave our way around the edges - some of us had on substantial boots, but the brine was deep. Daniel found out that some places were like thin ice - he broke through and found himself almost stuck up to his thighs! No problem, it is all part of this weird adventure at Trona. We did not get any quality pieces of Pink Halite. But I can speak for our group that nobody was disappointed with the entire experience.
Whenever I drive through Searles Valley, I will see the lake bed with a new perspective. Outwardly, it is barren and unfriendly. But hidden beneath, I will see the buried treasure of beautifully formed salt crystals in my mind’s eye. And I will smile. It is a memory that will last a lifetime.
July 21-22, 2012
By: Jay Lawrence
On Saturday morning, our first surprise was Ted Kalil appearing at our campsite in Big Pine and announcing that everybody but Allan Wicker was already here, having coffee and ready to head for the hills! Sylvia and I had pulled in late the evening before and (ever observant) I hadn't recognized any of their vehicles. Joining Ted was Homer Meek, Mignon Slentz and Nelson Miller. Our daughter Ariel, her husband Nick and eight month old granddaughter Alice had rolled in and set up camp next to us in the wee hours of Friday night. So everybody said hello, Allan showed up and we all signed in, anxious to move out.
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Mapping Old Roads Again
by Neal Johns
This time it was an impromptu three day mapping of the Cooke Mormon Battalion Route (1846-47) near Lordsburg, NM. I kept looking at the weather forecast to see if it was raining so I could cancel out, but blue skies were forecast and seen. The hook was the temperature – colddddd. We were in the area of two famous mountains; Soldier's Farewell and Bessie Rhodes. Bessie was named from an inscription placed on it by one of the troops manning a Heliograph Station on the summit. The Heliograph (a mirror to reflect the sun) was introduced into the area in 1886 to help communications during the Geronimo Campaign. Soldier's Farewell was named after the Butterfield Station of the same name where soldier's turned south on the Janos, Mexico road.
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by Jerry Dupree
It is important to carry essential winch accessories when going off road, the most important of which are a good pair of gloves for handling cables, hooks, and connections. Never hook a winch cable to itself. Always use a “choker” to attach to the vehicle needing help. A choker is a short nylon tow strap with hooks at either end. A choker is also vital when connecting a winch to a tree to prevent damaging the tree. I have used my winch at least five times to help other people and a couple of times getting myself unstuck. On two occasions I used my winch to put vehicles back on their wheels because of a roll over. In those cases I used the car’s seat belts as they are in the middle of the car and they didn’t pivot the front or rear. The choker prevented further damage by not scratching or denting the other vehicle. One was a pickup and the other was an SUV. The roll overs caused extensive damage which probably totaled both vehicles. Fortunately no one was injured.
It is very important that everyone stay completely clear of the cables, hooks, and the remote control. I know of a tragedy when a motor home got stuck in the sand and a man with a truck with a winch hooked up the motor home with a 9,000 lb. winch while the wife was standing too close video taping the event when the cable snapped, which caught her neck and killed her. A hook could also come loose if the rescued vehicle twists or pivots. Stay out of the “bite.”
A snatch block is a pulley used to double the force of the winch. The cable is passed through the pulley from the winch to the rescued vehicle. The winch will operate at half the speed while doubling the force. Given the choice I would prefer winching downhill rather than pulling against gravity. A man who was stuck for a couple of days was trying to tell me how to extricate his vehicle by pulling it uphill. I told him I was the one in charge and my decision was to pull his vehicle downhill, which proved to be the easiest way.
Shackles are used to attach the winch hook to the other vehicle. One is shown that will insert into a trailer hitch receiver which is a very strong connection and will pull in a straight line to the winch.
A friend of mine pulled a truck out of a small canyon up a hill. One time while hunting in Utah a motorhome slid off of an icy road up against a tree. Two vehicles with winches at either end “see sawed” the RV back up and on the road. Since the RV was on an angle to the tree, there wasn’t more serious damage to the coach.
Off roading is a fun hobby, but it can get us into serious trouble. Getting stuck is inevitable and having the right equipment helps a lot.
Trout Cakes! Yum!
Recipe by Claudia Heller
Trout Cakes – No Fish Story
Trout is a tasty dish whether fried, baked or barbequed! Camping on a recent fishing trip, I created a recipe and surprised our friends with an appetizer I served during happy hour around the campfire: trout cakes! After perusing on line various recipes for crab cakes, I combined, substituted and dabbled in creativity.
Possessing the luxury of a trailer, I placed each individual trout (about 10 inches each) in an open plastic bag and microwaved for about three minutes each. After cooling, it was easy to lift the fish by the tail and separate the meat from the skeleton, using gravity to my advantage. With no microwave on hand, the trout may be wrapped in buttered tin foil and
cooked over the campfire or fried in a buttered skillet on a camp stove.
My granddaughter, 11 year old Hailey, helped me sift through the meat carefully, removing any errant bones, gills or scales. The fish was ready!
• Cooked meat from 5 fresh trout (about 10” each)
• . cup diced onion
• . cup wasabi or plain mayonnaise
• 2 eggs, beaten lightly
• 2 tbsp Old Bay garlic and herb seasoning
• Dash parsley flakes
• Dash Tabasco sauce
• Juice from a lemon
• 2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
• 1 cup bread crumbs
• 2 cups seasoned Italian bread crumbs
Combine all ingredients except Italian bread crumbs. Break up into patties, adding more mayonnaise or breadcrumbs to reach a good consistency for cakes. Roll each cake in the Italian bread crumbs, fry in butter in a skillet until crispy. Serve with tartar sauce on each patty. Lemon wedges and parsley will top off the presentation!
~ Claudia Heller