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.
(click Read More, below, to continue reading)
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.
(click Read More, below, to continue reading)
Game Camera Photography
by Jerry Dupree
Photography really became fun when it went digital. Images could be cropped, color adjusted, things added and deleted, poor lighting could be adjusted, and there was no film to process. Photography went wild with video, miniature, under water, drones, Go Pro cameras on helmets, worn on chests, attached to rockets and parachutes.
Digital cameras got better, cheaper, and smarter by the year, Upscale digital cameras used to cost $25,000. Now anyone can be taking excellent photographs for a small fraction of that and achieve better results.
Now fast forward to game cameras that can be set for still or video with sound, and are motion sensor operated. Now we can find out what our cat does at night, or what goes on in the back yard with rodents, owls, raccoons, opossums, and other things that go bump in the night.
I have always loved the outdoors and take a lot of photos of various birds and animals. One day I decided to buy a game camera and leave it in place to see what happens when there are no people around. I discovered there is a definite learning curve when using any specialized camera. Game cameras are not very expensive when considering what their capabilities are. They take stills, videos, and night photos of anything that walks in front of them. Early on I wanted to photograph in nature preserves, but found out they don’t like to give permission to walking off of approved trails and of course there are people who will steal them if they find them. I decided to go places where no one or at least very few people go. There are parts of national parks which are wilderness with no roads. I look for wheel and foot prints so I can place cameras where they are not likely to be found. I have learned to point the cameras north so the lens is not directly pointed toward the sun at any time. I began experimenting with bait to attract certain animals. I began with dry dog food and learned how to disguise it behind rocks or branches to make the scenes appear as natural as possible. I thought that if I used dry dog food and mixed in rabbit food and bird seed, that rabbits, birds, and rodents would attract owls, hawks, and other predators. I tried canned cat food for the strong scent plus inviting bobcats and hopefully a mountain lion or two. So far the cat food has been effective. I keep the cameras in the shade and clear the area in front of them between the camera and the bait and in the background. I have had problems with ravens stealing the bait. For some reason the raven population is much smaller than in past years. At least they are not eating all of my bait.
Foxes are pesky and knock over my cameras and chew on the straps. One time a fox drug one of my cameras a good distance away and it was a good thing I found it. Game cameras come with straps to fasten to trees. There are not many straight, tall trees in the desert, so I place them on the ground and level them. I leave the straps off after a few fox attacks.
At this time of the year I am hoping to attract animals with their newborn litters. Coyotes usually have their pups in May, so they should be up and around with their eyes open and learning to find food for themselves. My wife and I followed a trail one time which led to a den with baby coyotes. I got some photos of a quail family with nine babies. carry a hiking stick and poke around bushes, logs, and grass, before I step in or over them in case I find a rattlesnake. I have found several of them over the years.
Game camera photography has become an interesting hobby and is a little like fishing. Sometimes I get a good catch and am always trying new bait, areas to set up cameras.
I always carry a GPS and record the coordinates or I might not find my cameras. It is easy to become disoriented when hiking around the desert canyons or mountains. I am careful to bring emergency equipment including a satellite phone and a PLB (Personal Locator Beacon). ~ Jerry
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