As with lots of other folks, Dan and I often combine our travel plans with our hobbies and interests. For many people, a trip could revolve around a specific activity – like hunting, fishing, hiking, skiing, scuba diving, and the like. In our case, it seems that treasure hunting often plays a role in our adventures.
Years ago, when we were still living in the Windy City, we made two such trips that I can remember – one to Crater of Diamonds State Park in southwestern Arkansas and one to the Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park in northern California. With both trips, it was Dan who discovered the sites and urged us to go.
We first visited Crater of Diamonds – “the world’s only diamond site where you can search and keep what you find” – in May of 2000. Upon our initial viewing, it didn’t look like much – just an ordinary farmer’s field, before the crops have emerged. Plowed into neat little rows, the soggy dirt patch seemed no place for a sparkling diamond, but that’s the reason we were there. After purchasing our inexpensive day passes, we gathered our strainers, spades, gloves, and buckets, and trekked across the field. Although April would have been a better time to visit – when the seasonal rains cause the diamonds and other precious stones (including agate and amethyst) to rise to the surface – we were eager to begin our search.
Beside a sheltered screening area, we filled a bucket with dirt, scooped a few handfuls onto our screens, and patiently shook the box frames in the water bin. When nothing but rocks and potential gems were left in our screens, we turned them over on a nearby workbench to let the gravel piles dry before sifting through them more carefully. We spent much of the day repeating that process, and though we discovered no diamonds, we were surprised by how many interesting rocks and minerals could be found in several handfuls of ordinary-looking dirt. Of course, it’s the possibility that lured visitors like us – the possibility that we would find a record-breaking jewel, like the 40-carat Uncle Sam excavated at the Crater in 1924.
As for our trip to northern California, we went with the intention of searching for gold flakes and nuggets in the crystalline waters of the American River. At the Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park visitor center, Dan and I purchased two black gold-sifting pans and drove to a picturesque spot along the South Fork. While Dan alternately fished and sifted for gold flakes, I roamed the shore, taking in our lovely surroundings. When I spotted a mass of blackberry bushes, I finally recognized the real treasure of the American River. Later, in our hotel room, we stared at the gold flecks in our tiny vial and gorged ourselves on delicious blackberries. Now, wherever I go, I am more likely to hunt for simple treasures like wild strawberries before ever wondering about the gems that might be hidden beneath the surface.
So, when we finally hit the road in the fall of 2000 and journeyed to South Padre Island in southern Texas to meet a notorious treasure hunter named Steve Hathcock, I was less interested in finding buried coins and jewels than in discovering more natural treasures. During the course of several trips with Steve (over several ensuing years) into the deserted mudflats of northern South Padre, Dan discovered some interesting items (without the benefit of a metal detector) – items such as a massive rusted chain and an old Civil War bullet.
While I was proud of such finds – and intrigued by the drift seeds, sea glass, and sea coconuts that we found along the shore – I was even prouder when I made a discovery of my own: the intact, windblown skull of what appeared to be a coyote. Steve and his partner, Kay Lay, were so impressed, in fact, that they decided to display the skull in their small natural history museum in town. I couldn’t have been happier if I’d uncovered an old Spanish galleon just brimming with treasure chests. Of course, that’s easier said when you have yet to discover such a find.
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