Monday, July 11, 2005

Treasure Hunting In The LA Times!,0,4502785.story?coll=la-home-outdoors

Every once in a while - and, granted it is only once in a very great while - the LA Times has an article about Los Angeles that can only be told by someone with a long connection with what the city is... and once was; an article that connects with the collective conscious - and unconscious of the city.

Today's LA Times example is Ann Japenga's, 'The End of a Golden Age'.

The end of a golden age

When did we, Coronado's children, lose the treasure-hunt bug?


July 12, 2005

WHEN I WAS growing up in the San Gabriel Valley in the late 1960s, people still believed in treasure. My parents took my three siblings and me gold panning on the East Fork of the San Gabriel River, and families all over Southern California stashed sluice boxes in their station wagons for impromptu prospecting jaunts to the Mojave.

Rock-hounding and gold-seeking were nearly as popular as stamp collecting in those days. We tore maps to buried treasure out of magazines and studied stories about dehydrated prospectors who stumbled into town muttering "Black Butte" or some such clue with their last breath, all the while clutching a scrap of bandanna concealing a lump of gold.

Collectively, we believed there was something of value out there in the dirt, be it fossils, gems or relics.

I never thought about those teenage treasure trips again until I moved to Palm Springs a few years ago and found legends of loot up every canyon. I heard stories of Gus Lederer, the well-loved Corn Springs prospector who baked hotcakes for his 18 burros each morning. Then there are Peg Leg's lost gold, the Lost Pearl Ship of the Desert, treasure caves guarded by balanced rocks and an endless number of forgotten mines.

In fact, when an index to Desert magazine - a now defunct compendium to the desert and a valuable resource to us desert folk - was published recently, it contained no fewer than 11 pages of entries under "Lost Mines and Treasure," a glut that prompted the editor to ask: "Could there be more things lost in the desert than found?"

The treasures lost in the 1960s are for the most part still up for grabs, but there's one big difference today: The treasure seekers are gone.

Some of my earliest memories are looking for actinolite (a green crystalline mineral) in the great wash near our cabin in Wrightwood, and hunting for rare minerals to fill up my Dana collection in old mine tailings, and digging for purple bottles in the trash dumps of old ghost towns, careful to always fill in the holes and to never disturb the old buildings or anything in them.

Later, in high school, I searched the Superstition Mountains for the 'Lost Dutchman's Mine' and in the summer between high school and UCLA, I tramped the Pajarito Mountains on the Arizona/Mexico border in search of a long vanished Spanish mining town, using old photographs from the 1920's.

I never found the town, but I did find centuries old, lichen covered mining trails and in trying to discover more, ended up exchanging stories of the supernatural with Carlos Castaneda back at UCLA where I become the first person to read his doctoral thesis, 'The Teachings of Don Juan'.

But even more than the conventional treasures I searched for, I discovered what this country felt like when the first white men found it and how it was to be truly alone, the only man within 20 or 30 or even 50 miles. And then, one night in the Owens Valley, I discovered a group of fellow seekers, looking for their own 19th century treasure, and then spent ten years with them searching for it - and finding it until the one day it all ended.

Yes, Ann Japenga is right.

The treasure seekers of our generation are long gone, and will never return. But hopefully, there are other treasure seekers, in other places, looking for their own treasures and discovering that, as we finally did, that it is the search that is the best treasure of all.


eecue said...

i still love the desert and rock hounding. mine exploring is fun, too!

Brady Westwater said...

Glad there are still some of us left. Tried to post on your site, but it wouldn't let me. Photo from your loft seems to be taken from the Sante Fe Building. I'm just a block away.

Anne Patrick said...

A perfect example of what a blog should be. One great writer writing about another great writer.

I just ordered Japenga's book on AMAZON and look forward to buying yours too.

California Gold said...

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dan said...

Feel the need to hunt? Ted Nugent is the king of sport of hunting in my book.Rock and Roll and on the hunt for game.huntinghunting

Desert Magazine said...

Desert Magazine is currently on line.