It’s Sunday, April 28, 2013, and the Nugget Buggy sits at The Pride, in Tellico Plains, instead of gold camp as I watch the rain for the second day in a row.
The rain seems to be unending and the height of all the streams around the area is the reason a halt has been called to the gold mining.
The return to Coker Creek was a good decision because after arriving and establishing camp in Doc Rogers’ field, big things began to happen.
First was the discovery that Coker Creek is loaded with flaky and fine gold. It takes a lot of work with a shovel, bucket, and feeding the sluice box, but after four hours of steady work, Oro Expedition ’13 was in possession of its first measurable amount of Tennessee gold.
Oro Expedition ’13 has found a major place of operation for what could easily be the next 30 to 60 days.
The second day in camp, I spent on a small tributary of Coker Creek and the hourly wage figured out at $10 an hour…not a bad start. One other thing I found out on that day was exactly how much manual labor is required to make $10 an hour mining for gold.
After a solid 4 hours of sluicing, I decided it was best to return to camp while I still had the energy for the half mile hike. Fairly close to camp was a gentleman standing by his vehicle with his mining equipment spread out on the ground. As I approached, the gentleman asked me if I’d had any luck. The look on my face must have told him that I’d had a good deal of luck in finding those little yellow rocks. After introductions were made, it was easy to tell that John and I were going to be great friends.
Our conversation led us to discover I had already made the acquaintance of several people John mentioned as also being miners, and with that it was easy to see that I was on the right track to meeting the right people to make Oro Expedition ’13 a success.
Through the progression of the conversation, John offered to act as my guide for the area. Over the next several days we covered many miles of the Cherokee National Forest, seeing many of its natural wonders and historical places.
A short distance from gold camp, but deeper into the National Forest, the Nugget Buggy found itself axle deep in a small tributary of Coker Creek. The reason the Buggy was so deep in the water was the road and the creek were one and the same. Once a parking spot was found, John and I proceeded into a small gorge and began our hike upstream. During the walk John talked about ‘The Wall’. Once we got to ‘The Wall’, it was a spot John and Bill from Bill’s Pit Stop, had established as a camp site. John was showing me what later became Outpost #1 for Oro Expeditions.
As the day and the conversation progressed, and the hole in the middle of the creek got deeper and deeper, a few things became clear—that John knew a lot about local history…a lot about mining for gold…and had just ended a journey that began in 2009. It turns out that his journey was a mirror image in reverse of the journey that Oro Expeditions is just beginning.
The next day, a hike half a mile from gold camp, established Outpost #2 for Oro Expedition ’13 at the Blue Hole.
The hospitality and mentoring I have received during my stay at Coker Creek has been overwhelming and fills my spirit to overflowing.
Even though the rain still falls in Tellico Plains, it’s time for the Nugget Buggy to return to gold camp with a stop in at the Welcome Center to visit with Ron and catch-up on more of his stories about gold mining in the ‘old days’.
Many years ago I sat on the front porch of my family’s home, in Swanton, with Grandma listening to the whippoorwills. With the harvesting of timber in their natural habitat, the whippoorwills left Garrett County, and have not been heard from since.
I received a welcome surprise one evening in gold camp as an old friend reappeared. As the day drew to a close, the song of the whippoorwills echoed through the forest bringing the spirit of Grandma and Pop into camp with me. Ibae bae tonu.
Thank you, Pop for all your help.
Saturday, April 27, 2013 and Oro Expedition ’13 is in its thirteenth day. I sit here in gold camp pondering the first twelve days, and looking ahead to the future.
Sunday, the 14th of April, was spent making final preparations and packing the Nugget Buggy to the hilt for the first leg of the Expedition.
All of the planning and preparing was over and the official start time drew near. The plan called for leaving in the late afternoon for a reason that dates back to my trucking days. My favorite time of the day to drive was at night so I planned on doing the first leg of Expedition ’13 from Western Maryland to Tennessee in the middle of the night. Around 5:30pm on the evening of the 14th I said my goodbyes to my lovely wife, gave Boss Cat a good final back rub, and spent quite a few minutes loving on Hannah, Chief of Security.
The Nugget Buggy was fueled up at the local gas station, and I headed out of town for Scheer Mountain and Route 220 South.
The journey south was a familiar one and I soon found myself at the Virginia—Tennessee border on Interstate 81. From there the Nugget Buggy proceeded to Knoxville and on the east side of town I waved goodbye to the Interstate highway for what would be very long time. This part of the journey encompassed the first two days, and the destination for this phase of the Expedition was changed at the last minute from Coker Creek GPAA claim to Cleveland, Georgia.
The GPAA Coker Creek claim presented a few challenges, i.e. unmarked boundary lines, the small amount of stream in which to mine in proportion to the number of people mining, and no sign-in book. There was also no information about camping facilities or places to stay.
So over Blood Mountain the Nugget Buggy went.
To Gold ‘N Gem Grubbin’ where I pitched my tent.
Due to thunderstorms making the river too high to prospect at Gold 'N Gem Grubbin' in Cleveland, Tennessee, I returned to Coker Creek a few days later. I found a place for the Expedition to settle into a long-term gold camp. Even before meeting several other gold miners in the area, I was able to find respectable amounts of yellow in my sluice.
Getting acquainted with a wonderful group of folk around Bill’s Pit Stop of Coker Creek, and around Tellico Plains, Tennessee, I’m looking forward to a great time mining with my new friends.
This was all of the conversation with Oro I could transcribe. The cell phone signal in the deep depths of the Cherokee National Forest died out, but the last thing Oro said before the call ended was:
“Even though the weather is wet and stormy, as long as there’s no lightning we’ll be prospecting in rain suits.”
On April 14, 2013, at 6:30pm edt, the first leg of Expedition '13 began as Oro and the Nugget Buggy rolled out of the driveway filled to the roof with camping and prospecting equipment. He still hadn't decided what his first stop would be, but after a midnight snack in southern Virginia, with our great friend from Over The Road, Tagalong, he decided to get to Georgia by way of Coker Creek, Tennessee.
Besides being in the heart of the beautiful Great Smoky Mountains, it is also the home of the Coker Creek, Tennessee Chapter of the GPAA (Gold Prospectors Association of America). While there, Oro will give us a report on the claim during the next edition of Oro Expeditions And Then Some..., and talk to the chapter officers about being on the show to update us on the work they've been doing with the Tennessee legislature in drafting new policies for suction mining.
Tagalong became the first member of the Friends of Oro Expeditions by purchasing chances to win in the First Nugget Contest. Good luck to all who enter.
Remember to join us on Tuesday evening at 8pm edt for Oro Expeditions And Them Some... as well as checking here for updates and maybe even some video as Expedition '13 moves around the country.
Oro Cas shares his thoughts and experiences as he travels the country on his Expeditions.