; Phantoms and Monsters: Pulse of the Paranormal

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Daily 2 Cents: California Drought Ignites 'Gold Fever' -- Ivan the Terrible's Sword Found? -- Put Bigfoot On Endangered Species List

California Drought Ignites 'Gold Fever'

Bruce Meyer took a smoke break on the gravel bank of the scenic Bear River, deep in central California's Gold Country. He was wearing a wetsuit and bandana, and water dripped from his thick, graying beard.

Meyer had spent much of the morning on that first Sunday in August hunting for gold in the middle of the stream, in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada near Colfax. He showed off several shiny flakes in his pan, each about half the size of a grain of rice. He rinsed them with water and then sucked them into a small plastic bottle.

"Everyone has something they do; mine's gold," said Meyer.

Meyer hails from Carson City, Nevada, but he has spent much of the summer staying in his truck northeast of Sacramento to be near California's rich mineral deposits. And perhaps paradoxically, thanks to the worst drought in the state's recorded history, his work has gotten a little easier.

"When I started coming here four years ago, the river was about four feet higher and running fast," Meyer said. But now, it was easier to work in.

Meyer has been looking for gold off and on over the last 14 years. "The more I do it, the more I find," he said. A few years ago, he quit his job and started prospecting full time.

Last year, Meyer found a total of about four ounces of gold in California and Nevada rivers. At recent prices of around $1,300 an ounce, his find was worth about $5,200. It's not a lot of money, but Meyer lives simply. And he hopes to find bigger paydirt soon, like the stories he's heard of payouts up to $75,000.

From his office on the leafy campus of nearby California State University, Sacramento, hydrogeologist and geology department chair Tim Horner explained that prospectors like Meyer "have been able to get to places they couldn't before" because the drought has shrunk many of the state's rivers, "some down to a trickle."

As an example, Horner mentioned that one of his students recently found about $900 worth of gold in a stream that had previously been too treacherous to explore.

Although most of the world's gold is now produced in massive open-pit mines, "looking for gold [the old-fashioned way] is a popular hobby, and some people are making a living doing it," Horner said.

In fact, Frank Sullivan of the Pioneer Mining Supplies shop in Auburn says sales of prospecting equipment have been up 20 to 25 percent because of the drought. With his snow-white beard and hearty laugh, Sullivan looks the part of a miner in a town that was founded during the Gold Rush boom of the middle and late 1800s. In fact, the site where gold was first discovered in California, at Sutter's Mill in 1840, lies only about a half hour away.

Sullivan has worked in the mining business for about 50 years, in manufacturing equipment and supply sales. Before that his father worked in local mines.

"Everything in this area had to do with gold," said Sullivan, who started his store 35 years ago.

He stocks all manner of picks, pans, filters, sluice boxes, metal detectors, guidebooks, and snorkeling gear. As customers admired his collection of quartz crystals and petrified wood, Sullivan said he recently turned the store over to his daughter, Heather Willis, though he still puts in volunteer shifts to help her get some time off. The largest piece of gold he ever pulled from a California river was a nugget about half as big as his thumb that weighed about three-quarters of an ounce. It would be worth around $1,000 today.

Even after more than a century of searching, miners "still find stuff every day" in the area, Sullivan said. He buys some of that gold to resell, as do local pawn shops and jewelry stores.

From First-Timers to Experienced Snipers

The simplest way to get into gold mining is to comb through sediments along the riverbank. Gold is 19 times heavier than water and denser than about anything else in the stream, so it quickly settles to the bottom or into cracks between rocks or grains.

Among those searching for it was the Puumala family, who had set up on the bank of the Bear River that cool Sunday morning. The rushing water made a pleasant sound over the rocks and a great blue heron flapped overhead.

"We're hoping we can find something you can actually pick up with tweezers, so we can say we went gold panning and actually found gold," said John Puumala, who lives in nearby West Sacramento. "It's not about the money, but we'd like to have something to keep as a souvenir."

Except for one time at a theme park, the Puumalas had never looked for gold. Normally, they would have liked to go fishing to relax on a Sunday, but the low stream levels and warmer water temperature had made that difficult, so they decided to try panning.

The Puumalas had spent $50 to $60 on mining supplies, including some plastic pans and a small sluice box. They didn't have to get a permit to mine this way, but there has been talk in Sacramento of requiring such licenses soon.

Puumala got to work with a shovel and dug sediment out of the riverbed from under a large boulder.

"Before, the water line was probably way up there," he said, pointing to gravel several yards up the bank. "So I figure when the water was higher it might have washed down and deposited gold around this boulder."

He shoveled the wet material over a filter and into a bucket. His two young daughters tossed the large stones that stuck on top back into the cold water. Then his wife helped his daughters pour the sand-size grains gradually into a three-foot-long sluice box that was anchored in about an inch of water. The heaviest grains caught on the riffles of the box, while the lighter stuff washed into the river.

When the riffles were caked with dark sediment, John's daughter Jordan poured that into a pan and added some water. She swirled it around for a few minutes, while standing inches deep in the water in her rubber boots. A few tiny flakes glinted from the bottom.

"That's gold, isn't that cool?" asked John. Jordan nodded.

About a hundred yards upstream, Bruce Meyer was facedown in the middle of the river. Using his mask and snorkel, he was looking for gold in the sediment caught in a crack between rocks. He raked up the material with a pick, in a mining technique called "sniping." If he found anything shiny, he stirred it up. If it floated, it was pyrite (fool's gold) or mica. If it sank it was gold.

Later, Meyer explained that he used to mine in the same way as the Puumalas, but then he started finding more gold when he switched to sniping a few years ago. "I like sniping a lot better," he said.

Outside the Gold Country Museum in nearby Auburn, Ray Dods of the Mother Lode Goldhounds club described sniping as "finding a treasure chest." And the miner's task is simply to "find the door," he said.

With a thick handlebar mustache and period leather hat, Dods looked as if he had just stepped off a claim in 1870. In fact, connecting with the area's colorful history is what he likes best about mining.

Dods' fellow club member Ed Ebbit said his mother had won the local speed gold panning contest for 13 years. She died while panning not long ago, "doing what she loved," he said.

Sullivan had found his thousand-dollar nugget years ago through another mining process, called dredging, in which a large scoop pulls up sediment for sorting. The state has declined to grant any permits for that process since 2009, saying it can churn up toxic material like mercury in the sediment, impair water quality, and disturb fish.

Since 1840, billions of dollars in gold have been found in California, in addition to billions in platinum, silver, lead, and other metals. The Gold Rush swelled the area's population and transformed a sleepy frontier territory into a booming state. A few got rich, while about half the miners made a modest profit and half broke even or worse. Those that sold the prospectors goods and services tended to make out the best.

The frenzy was not without its downsides, however. Native Americans were decimated by the new visitors and the diseases they brought. Crime and violence spread through mining camps and towns, often fueled by whiskey. Prostitution was rampant. Immigrants from Asia, Latin America, and elsewhere were discriminated against. (See "The Real Price of Gold" in National Geographic magazine.)

Miners also left scars on the landscape in their relentless search for precious metals, Horner said. At first, early prospectors could pick finger-size nuggets right out of the streams. Once the low-hanging fruit was gone, miners began combing through the sediment, using pans, sluices, and a sorting device called a rocker box. Miners then diverted whole rivers, tore up the beds of dried streams, and took to blasting rock away with high-pressure hoses.

That "hydraulicking" process tore loose so much sediment that it raised riverbeds and even the floor of parts of the Central Valley and created bars in San Francisco Bay, until downstream folks got the state legislature to outlaw the practice in 1884. Miners also hammered into hillsides in search of "mother lodes," rich gold veins. In the process they also left behind tons of toxic mercury and cyanide waste, which they used to leach gold from ore.

According to Horner, when the magma that formed the Sierra Nevada cooled, gold often coalesced into veins along the edges of quartz formations. Over time, the veins weathered, and bits of gold broke off and got washed down into streams.

After so many years of mining, "it's crazy how much gold is still here," Meyer said. In fact, experts say previous prospectors recovered only a small percentage of the gold they worked over, thanks to inefficiencies and the tiny size of much of the fragments.

A Golden Future?

Steve Lindgren, a ranger who oversees the Bear River campground and recreational use area with the California Land Management Patrol, said the relatively high price of gold and the relatively weak economy have brought out more panners in recent years. The fact that low water means they can wade further upstream and "get to new areas" hasn't hurt, he said.

Horner said there's a good chance California's climate will get hotter and drier in the coming years. Although Sullivan worries that there may eventually be "not enough water to pan," at least for the next few years, it could open up even more stream reaches for miners like Meyer and the Puumalas.

"People come out and think they'll get rich but then they find out it's a lot of work," Meyer said.

Back at his store, Sullivan agreed. With a chuckle and a wink, he said, "Once you get the fever you'll have it until you die." - NatGeo


Did this sword belong to Ivan the Terrible?

The medieval sword was discovered buried under a tree in Novosibirsk region, and scientists are keen to unlock its secrets. The weapon was unearthed by accident in 1975 and remains the only weapon of its kind ever found in Siberia.

An exciting new theory has now emerged that it could have belonged to Tsar Ivan the Terrible, and came from the royal armoury as a gift at the time of the conquest of Siberia. The hypothesis, twinning an infamous Russian ruler and a revered battle hero, could turn it into one of the most interesting archaeological finds in Siberian history, though for now much remains uncertain.

What Siberian experts are sure about is that the beautifully engraved weapon was originally made in central Europe, and most likely in the Rhine basin of Germany before going to the Swedish mainland, or the island of Gotland, to be adorned with an ornate silver handle and Norse ruse pattern.

The scientists would be keen to hear from European experts who could throw more light on its origins. Read more at Siberian Times


Dining on Bugs

Facilities in France and Holland are set to produce crispy maggots for use in restaurant delicacies.

Insects could represent one of the single most effective solutions to world hunger ever conceived, that is at least according to scientists who have been developing increasingly efficient ways to farm crickets, maggots and other edible creepy crawlies en masse.

Despite being a type of cuisine that most people would be likely to turn their nose up at, insects are in fact extremely nutritious and far cheaper to produce than conventional foodstuffs as well as being a lot more environmentally friendly.

Now two new 'fly factories' are opening in France and Holland in an effort to provide maggots for human consumption to the European market. Each will produce upwards of 24 tons of insects on a daily basis destined for eateries across the continent.

Insects such as mealworms and crickets are already considered a staple foodstuff in some parts of the world including Asia where some insect species are considered a traditional delicacy.

Whether the idea will ever catch on in the west however remains to be seen. Read more at Metro


Billy Willard, director of Sasquatch Watch of Virginia, shows off a cast of an extremely large footprint he found and displayed during the Chautauqua Lake Bigfoot Weedend and Expo at the YMCA Camp Onyahsa in Dewittville last year.

Plea: Put Bigfoot on endangered species list

MAYVILLE – Save Sasquatch.

That was the desperate plea Chautauqua County, NY legislators heard Wednesday from Peter Wiemer, owner of We Wan Chu Cottages on Chautauqua Lake.

Wiemer wants the legislature to become the first governmental body in the country to put Bigfoot on the endangered species list.

“You’re not going to be looked at as being crazy,” said Wiemer, who spoke during the public portion of the meeting when citizens are given a chance to address the legislature. Some of the lawmakers rolled their eyes, while others covered their mouths, perhaps to hold back their laughter.

“You should err on the side of caution,” Wiemer urged.

He claimed there have been 17 eyewitness accounts of sightings of Bigfoot – or perhaps multiple Bigfeet – since 2011 in Chautauqua County. He added that the first documented sighting in New York State was in the 1800s. To date, he claimed, there have been “over 100 sightings in New York State.”

Wiemer showed the bewildered legislators plaster casts that he said were made from a foot impression of a Bigfoot.

“Bigfoots are not a paranormal, not scary or troublesome and are living among us in peace and harmony in Chautauqua County,” he added.

He said that the Bigfoot is classified as a “cryptide,” which he defined as a species that does not have scientific evidence of existence but has been seen by people.

Wiemer, perhaps not coincidentally, is the creator of the Chautauqua Lake Bigfoot Expo, held in 2011. Also, the third annual Chautauqua Lake Bigfoot Expo and Town Hall meeting is scheduled for this Saturday at YMCA Camp Onyahsa in Dewittville on Chautauqua Lake.

“Chautauqua County tourism would be thankful,” Wiemer said, “but the bottom line is it is the right thing to do protecting a species that is rare, possibly part human and documented first here in New York State.” - Buffalo News


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