I left for Oregon on May 24th anxious to be on an excavator digging agate again. I had planned on working for two weeks or longer, depending on what turned up in the way of good agate. Of course I still have a desire to get to the bottom of the cave Jake and I discovered several years earlier, but I also must temper that desire with the necessity of finding good agate. The agate on the cave walls is not very good.
I arranged to have the excavator, a 320 Caterpillar, delivered to the gravel pit just off of Succor Creek Road on Friday morning, May 26th. I don’t know if this machine was a little faster than the one I used last year, but it only took 2½ hours to drive the excavator to the mine from the gravel pit. Driving the excavator to the mine this way eliminates driving across the canal. None of the bridges over the canal are strong enough to handle a 45,000 lb. machine. However, this also means driving through Succor Creek. When we got to Succor Creek, the river was higher than I have ever seen it. The excavator went through the water fine, although the water was almost to the top of the tracks. I thought the water was going to go through the doors of my truck, but it didn’t. Jake and I left the excavator at the mine and drove to town to get my travel trailer. We brought the trailer out to the mine and set up camp.
The first order of business was to re-route the road. The cave is directly under the road, and each year we must make a temporary road around our work area. I am not allowed by the Bureau of Land Management to move the road permanently or to close the road. This year we moved it a little further to the east to make room for stacking our overburden. Last year we found some good agate to the north of the cave. Jake and I decided we would try and uncover this area first. Since I must reclaim everything after each mining operation, it is not always easy to find places that have been buried. Sure enough, we dug about 20 feet further north than we should have, all the time wondering why we were not finding good agate.
Eventually we got oriented to what we knew was underground, cleaned off the top of the cave, and exposed agate in several places. Most of the rest of the work was done with a hammer and chisel. Good agate was in the rock just above the side cave. We worked this area very carefully by hand. The excavator was used to move some big rocks when it was possible to do so.
The pictures of the cave show primarily the side cave which still has a closed root. The main cave is in front at a right angle to the side cave. It is full with dirt and rocks because the roof is gone and I must build the road over the top. I know the opening goes down at least 10 feet, but it could go down much deeper. I tried to get the excavator close enough to dig out the debris in the cave with the excavator bucket, but I could not maneuver the machine into the right position to reach down into the opening. It will probably be necessary to dig the cave out by hand to see how far down it goes. Maybe next year.
See our Mining Blog for the play–by–play.