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As a Prospector Sees the Desert
Nevada State Journal - January 10, 1926 - Page 1

Life on the Wastes of the Far West Told in Article by Jack Bell

Fascination and Beauty on Desert Unequaled Even Though
the Lonesomeness Becomes At Times Unbearable, Says Writer

By Jack Bell

There is a feeling of sudden loneliness, all atmosphere of the unreal and a dread forboding that grips one as the western lights fade and sudden blackness envelops the earth, and the hunting cry of the wolf comes to one from across the unending shifting sands on the desolate sabd-duned worlds of the southwest. There is a feeling of absolute aloneness - of horrible death lurking on every hand - that chills the body as this period of the day arrives. The feeling for human companionship obtrudes itself into the order of things.

The night falls upon the desert like a black shroud. Above, the carbon radium lights of the stars shine forth in glory, and with a brightness almost unbelievable, while upon the earth one has difficulty in focusing even upon a sand dune, just a few feet distant. The sensations of these nights, in the unsurveyed places of the sand, catsclaw and reptilian life are the same, night after night, as the explorer and prospector makes camp.

There is, of course, a fascination and beauty to it all that cannot be gainsaid. There is a love for this life that cannot be explained. It is a fact that the nights are cruelly cold sometimes - that oftimes one is sure to find a cinnamon rattler within the blankets. The fight down there requires a man's part. A man must be inured to every hardship known to the investigator and prospector of this great unknown open. The man must have the initiative that obtains among no other class. The prospector is a being set apart and of himself. His knowledge of signs must be as of the denizens of these places. His eye must acquire the sureness and positiveness of the living things there, he must have faith, and the man who passes years, crossing, exploring and investigating in these unknown places is of surety a man that has lived a continual sermon as taught by the omnipotent God.

As a taskmaster the desert has no equal - as a teacher there is no comparison, and from its fountain of knowledge rivers flow across these barrens.

It is the place where wood, water and feed for the animals must be packed. Water jumps of 50 miles are many. Thirtyfive miles to water is close. Along the edges of the immense areas of uninhabited, unknown miles are found the riches that sometimes compensate the prospector in gold, precious stones and much sought-for commercial minerals that are somewhat rare, except in these places.

The compensations of the foreboding night are a thousand-fold when the early gray dawn lights up the east, and the same coyote points his sharp nose to the sky and sings his morning's chant to all the earth. One grows to love the uncanny howl of the coyote - a certain companionship and fellow-feeling prevail, a certain intimacy - and to not hear them late in the morning would bring a sensation of something lacking that would endure for the entire day.

Then the lights break out of the east in all their myriads of coloring and waves of grotesqueness pass over the short and small dunes, so that one's imagination can create almost anything in the way of towns, cities and unreal pictures innumerable. The great immense ball of molten dull red glows in a small area, then quickly follows the shafts of light as they chase in illimitable distances into the horizon. One never tires of the sensations of the sunrise on the desert. There is a vastness indescribable, a beauty unpaintable and not to be pictured by words. One has to experience all this to get the matter before him in all that there is - wonders, terrors, pleasures and dangers.

When the desert awakens there is a scurrying of lizards of every hue and size - the horned toad of all sizes, from the little fellow as small as a thumb nail on through to that of a big toad. The birds begin their chattering and the lark spirals into the sky with its beautiful song. The mouse family are night prowlers and their little tracks can be seen about the brown and black ashes of the cooking fire. Pretty soon a covey of quail fly overhead and make for their water hole miles away. These Gamble partridges - "cotton & tops" to the prospector - will fly 50 miles to water and then come back into the vastness of the desert. They find their feed about the bunches of catsclaw that have grown and grown and the sand drifts and packs about the roots until in some places the mounts are as high as 10 feet and some 60 feet in circumference at their base.

Breakfast is made over a small fire, of course; but first the burros are given grain and a layer of alfalfa and a hot cake apiece. The simple, nourishing meal is cooked, the animals all packed again, and the day's travel begins across the deep -gray-white wastes. A string of 12 animals is necessary for prospecting this country. They are all packed light - that is, not more than 75 pounds each. Their little hoofs sink down to their knees in the loose silicas. The man picks up a No. 2 long-handled shovel and picks out his goal days ahead, and starts his little train for the dreary, hard, 10 miles a day of travel. With the shovel he kills the deadly sidewinder out of the trail ahead of his animals. Many times a burro can be seen doubling his hoofs together and stamping out the life of the snakes, just as the deer will do - and he is just as quick - and it is a rare thing for a burro to be struck by these "little devils." When an animal is struck the man injects permanganate, as he does for himself. But the uncanny senses of sight and smell of the dependable burro make travel comparatively safe for the man, if he will watch their actions.

In this immense, unexplored section of the southwest desert land there is opportunity for years and years of exploration. New and important discoveries may be made of the races that have been historically dead for thousands of years. Many places along the rims of the tremendously large sandscapes are evidence of the now extinct primals.

There are many places where evidences of the perfect engineering skill of the little men still can be traced, as can their pottery and living utensils. They used cotton wicks in their lamps and parched corn was a popular diet. Baby footprints in the cement of floors and passageways are to be seen in the hundreds of rooms embracing the places where whole villages occupied one great house. Cedar reinforcements of ceiling are everywhere, though today there is not a vestige of wood for hundreds of miles.

In wells near these dwellings are found skeletons that have lain for ages in the cisterns where the bodies were thrown. It is a fact that the great lancelike spearheads of obsidian can be found where they were originally lodged in victim's back or skull and shafts of the lances are to be found. That the superior race was very small is proved by the small apertures connecting family rooms in the village houses. They were a peace-loving husbandry. The victims found in the wells were of large stature and skulls show the brute with little or no intelligence.

It is a matter of fact and history that the hot and cold blast was in operation in the manufacturing chambers of these circular and half-circular dwelling places. In engineering skill there is no deviation in positive accuracy of construction. The immense circles and half-circles are perfect. Their council chambers followed the points of the magnetic compass on the zero. There were benches of a sort. At every point of the compass, east, west, north south, sealed in at a point near the floor, are found magnificent specimens of turquoise ornaments - probably some mark of religious rites in dedicating the chamber. These are found in different numbers in different sized houses.

Out beyond in the higher reaches of the sandstone measures, where human habitation exists now and where the sheep and ponies of the Navajos and Apaches live, are hundreds of yards of rock writings.

There is one story, written in footprints and turkey tracks, that proves that the artists of long ago had a keen sense of humor. The story covers a length of red sandstone shelves under from the overheanging eaves of crystallized sandstone for a distance of a couple of hundred feet. The story starts in the east. There are hundreds of turkey tracks grouped, showing a herd that is feeding along. Behind these tracks are the footprints of a diminutive person - probably a boy. The turkeys are apparently feeding, as they are well scattered.

Then the next of the series shows in the background the footprints of a bear walking along with equidistant stride, in no hurry at all. This hairy, big brute is looking for feed.

The tracks of the boy turn backward as the lad sense the danger of the common enemy. The turksy at the same time together together like a milling block when excited. The tracks of the boy show clearly the effort he makes to get his band together.

Now the bear increased his stride. The turkeys become stampeded every which way, and the tracks carved in the stone show them making short flights for safety and then grounding again. The boy's paces grow longer. The bear comes running. The boy spreads his legs as far apart as he can. Then the turkeys seem to have taken to the trees and the boy's footprints show full length, and then, with the two footprints together, one can well imagine that he has also found sanctuary in a tree. The tracks of the bear go around in a circle with normal steps, and that is the end of the picture. It certainly strikes the humorous vein in even an old "desert rat," it is all so human in its conception.

The early Spaniards were along this section also, and there is a great general's name carved with his soldiers' on Inscription Rock, now reached by tourists. This is far north of the section described.

One of the remarkable evidences of the agricultural trend of these early peoples can be found down south of the deserts in the valleys that lead from the sand wastes. Here can be seen today the irrigating ditches where they were hewn through rock. The dams and all the laterals are as of today.

The rivers that are marked on the maps (surveyed by triangulation), the canyons, like as Animas, Chaco and others, have been great rivers at one time. By using a drive point with eight or ten sections of 2-inch pipe and a small force pump one is almost always assured of water of a kind, but in every case alkaline.

A few volcanic ridges run here and there through the expanses of sand seas. No man has ever had the nerve to go into this desert waste and brave the dangers and take his life in his hand to remain to prospect for anything. He is always making a cross-cut or shortcut to get into the rich mineralized hills that surround the sand seas. It is doubtful if this country will ever be seriously investigated - not until the water and feed problem is solved satisfactorily; that is a certainty.

Upon the plains that lie to the north of the sand area are natural parks that are perfectly beautiful. It is here that the antelope used to run in great herds, feeding on the short crowsfoot, the most nutritious of all forage plants. There were two oldtimers down there in this great rolling country - and I hope still are alive - that were there since the days of the awful Apache raids and torture carnivals. They fought and beat the Indians at their own game and are the type that has made the great west what it is.

In the Datil plains and Datil mountain country the red beds drive through - a beautiful country. It is infested with Indians, who run cattle and sheep and goats for large interests on the share plan. An ideal grazing country, far removed from the railroad and the law. It is here that the hard-riding, straight-shooting sheriff of the type of early days may be found in times of bloodshed in the borders of nowhere.

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