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Behind The Wheel

It’s a long way down to the canyon floor below as the Land Rover hugs the mountain wall on one side, and a steep ledge on the other. The growl of the V8 is a little more pronounced in low range as you climb the rocky trail towards the summit. There is a storm rolling in and you can’t help but want to get off the side of this mountain before it rains and makes forward progress more difficult and dangerous. Looking down the side of the mountain to the left you see large pine trees, but up ahead the trail becomes measurably steeper. You wonder to yourself if it’s the end of the line as the path narrows and your hood is pointed up toward a wall of trees. But you notice that it’s a switchback, a very tight switchback cut into the face of the mountain turning to the left. It takes a moment to decide how to cut the turn properly to avoid having to back up and at the same time negotiate the washed out section of trail at the apex of the turn. You engage the DiffLock…

You make it through the switchback as the trail narrows further and climbs higher. The view of the mountain valley is breathtaking as you begin to enter a layer of low level clouds hugging the mountain near the top. A very loud crack of thunder follows the bolt of lightning as the air cools and it starts to sprinkle rain; you’re pulse rises and that feeling of having run out of time sets in. The windshield wipers flick back and forth as you negotiate a particular rocky section on your approach to the next switchback turn to the right. You wonder what this trail could possibly have been used for, what purpose it must have served.

It’s really pouring down rain and it starts to course down the rocks and ruts in the trail. The wet mud terrain tires are breaking their grip on the rocks on the steep climb and it’s time to engage one of the lockers. You decide on the rear first, because you know that if you engage the front it will be too difficult to steer should there be another switchback. You pick a line closest to the mountain wall and as far away from the steep drop on the right side of the rover; your blind side. The front end is pointed very steeply upward as the hood obscures your view to the trail ahead; all you know is what you remembered earlier of some very large rocks coming up. The truck is pointed so far up in front that it’s impossible for you to lean out to see; all you can do is negotiate the rocks from memory. The right front tire engages the first rock lifting the front end even higher as you try and figure out how close to the edge you are. The axles are crossed and you’re glad you’ve got those lockers now. With nothing but a storm filled angry sky in view through the windshield, one tire on a rock and another in the air, you break over onto a ledge cut into the mountain.

You’re foot is shaking on the accelerator and you let go of the death grip on the steering wheel. You’re there, you know at last why this trail exists. At this moment your eyes follow two narrow gauge railroad tracks straight into a mine shaft; into the pitch black of the mountain you’re on. As the rain lets up, you jump out and make your way to the entrance; you can’t help but notice the musty ice cold air escape the opening in the mountain… you turn on your flashlight, it’s time for the adventure to begin.

Treasure

Thanks to my father, I’ve always been a treasure hunter… it’s in my blood. I grew up in Arizona where some of the most legendary treasures are said to reside. The Lost Dutchman Mine, The Peralta Treasure, the Priest Treasure, and the Picacho Peak Treasure are but a few. I’ve found some interesting things over the years traversing numerous mountains and canyons, from Prescott to the North all the way South to the Gila River. We caretook what was left of the old ghost town named the Silver King Mine, the largest silver mine in Arizona located just outside the town of Superior in central Arizona. We restored an old stone cabin as a base of operations in addition to an old box truck he named “Brutus” which served as our motorhome during the months we spent there in the summer through a bitter cold winter… and I mean cold!

(Note: The school house at the bottom of photo is where we parked “Brutus”… it was just a flat spot on a hill when we were there. Also, We had a range mustang from here in Nevada named “Scarface” at the time, a stocky horse with a real attitude! I used to ride him all over the place including over the mountain range in the picture above)

I had built a wooden framed screen sifter where I would shovel dirt from behind the old stone dwellings used by the miners in hopes of finding anything of value. They used to throw their trash out back which made for some very interesting digging. Some of my finds consisted of old Chinese coins, the kind with the square hole in the middle, from the 1800’s used by the labores at the site. I would find scattered pieces of old copper tea boxes with orange paint and black Chinese characters, enough to assemble a complete box. As we metal detected the site, one find consisted of an old cast iron toy train car… very cool! At that time dolls were made from fabric with ceramic arms so I would find a bunch of these in the ground as well. I remember when my heart skipped a beat as I found a blue jewel the size of  a quarter, as it so happens it turned out to be glass costume jewelry! We also pulled quite a lot of silver ore from the area around the site.

I was the official backhoe of the whole operation. You see, my father operated the metal detector; and whenever there was a signal it was my job to dig! There was one instance when I dug so deep into the ground I was on my stomach looking at something that resembled a coffin. Turned out to be a partially exposed octagonal iron wheel from part of the mill. Needless to say I was less than thrilled (at the time). I did a LOT of digging during my time spent there as a kid.

But there was one particular find more valuable and precious to me than anything else. It is a sky blue bottle that I unearthed from it’s resting place over a century ago. I’ll never forget how beautiful it was sitting in the ground at an angle for so long that the water it contained created rainbow colored calcium residues that were permanently etched on the inside. I cleaned that old bottle and held on to it for a while until my Grandmother’s 70th birthday. I remember taking that bottle with my mother to a local bar hoping to get a cork that would fit so I could send it to her, full of red wine, as her birthday gift. My grandmother had kept that bottle of wine for over a decade until her death in 2000. I found it in her home while handling the necessary affairs, and it was the only thing that I wanted to return home with.

Upon my return home with the bottle, I pulled the cork and emptied the old wine to clean out the inside hoping it wasn’t stained. Completely unharmed, I happily put it on display on my bookshelf and set about researching what it was. The only clues I had were three letters stamped into the bottom (cCc). As it turns out, this bottle was manufactured in the early 1800’s by Carl Conrad and Company for another prominent company you may know as Anheuser-Busch! This bottle was not a wine bottle after all… but a beer bottle! Anheuser-Busch didn’t have the capability of bottling their own beer and used Carl Conrad and Company to provide the bottles. That is until Anheuser-Busch bought the bottling plant for themselves. The bottle is still on my bookshelf to this day containing my treasure hunting books, maps and an old smelter brick.

Another one of my prized possessions falls into the glass category also. It is an old purple shot glass from the 1800’s. What makes that so great you may ask? It’s because my father and I were hiking a large mountain in Prescott, Az. called the Bradshaw Mountains. As my dad stooped down next to the stream flowing through the pine trees to pan for gold, I sat down in exhaustion. I remember sitting on that old pine tree log as a kid watching my dad and looking down into the end of that tree trunk to find that shot glass. So imagine for a moment an entire forest of trees high upon a mountain in the middle of nowhere… and finding a shot glass from the 1800’s perfectly untouched, in the one log I chose to sit on. The very log that so long ago, an old miner drank to a hard days work. It amazes me to this day.

I’ve got many more stories, but I’ll stop here for the moment… I hope you enjoyed this one!

FREEDOM

First, I would like to welcome you to my blog! This is the first post and I can’t wait to see what direction it takes. My aim is to take the spirit of adventure combined with a love of Land Rovers and put them into writing.  I have a simple belief that only in a four wheel drive can you truly enjoy the freedom that most only dream about. With proper preparation and planning, the adventure of a lifetime is just the turn of the key away from being a reality. Whether you’re limited to a weekend excursion, or a full blown trip around the world… that world awaits.

So whether you own a Land Rover or a Jeep, a G-Wagen or a Pinzgauer… join me and let’s share some stories!