The Mountain of Gold and Eagles

     Granite plutons look like hot air ballons ascending in the atmosphere, except that they
are bubbles of magma asending through the earth's crust. If the ascent is swift, they burst
through as a volcano. But it is slow, they cool, crystalize, and harden as they reach the
surface. Rich Hill in Arizona is such. What makes Rich Hill unique in a mountain is that in
its slow rise to the surface, it rose up through the bed of river that had exited in a
previous age.It carried parts of that riverbed thousands of feet high.That same river channel
had a paystreak of gold veining through it. Gold dust and nuggets...nuggets so large that they
could be weighed in pounds.

     The mother lode, of course, is long gone, ground to dust by erosion in avery ancient era
and carried to the sea by the same river.Captain Pauline Weaver, a fur trapper , looking for a
lost burro, found the first nuggets in 1862. He and his Mexican comrads dug $100,000 worth of
gold before breakfast on that discovery day. In the gold rush that followed, 3 million dollars
worth of gold were dug from that ancient river channel. A lot of it was mined using only spoons
and butter knives. Today there is still gold being won on the sides of the mountain. Modern
prospectors and miners use electronic metal detectors to locate the very elusive few nuggets
still left.

     My ascent to the top of the mountain started from a mining claim called "The Devils Nest".
There I left the jeep to climb on foot. It was a very rugged climb through tall saguaro cactus,
prickly pear cactus and sharp pointed agave. It was through dry washes that could roar with
water during summer thunderstorms and around granite boulders the size of semi-trucks. The
climb was arduous and took hours.

    The granite rock that makes up the mountain is a very light, cream colored rock, almost
white. It's in sharp contrast to the dark water worn pebbles that litter its surface, the
latter being gravel from the ancient river bed.

     The top of the mountain that looks so sharp and ragged from its foot has , instead, quite
a few acres that are rather level. Even a small stream runs which has to be very unusual for
the top of a desert mountain.

    The remains of stone huts used by the early miners and the mining tools they had lugged
inch by inch to the top still litter the surface. Even an untrained eye can tell every rock
and boulder has been turned over at least once in the mad quest for gold. I could not help but
wonder if they had missed any nuggets. I did not trip over any.

     The view from Rich Hill is not unlike standing in the midst of a tumultuous sea. The waves
of purple mountains disappear into the hazy horizon, each peak jutting out from the bed of its
own erosion. The silence was so loud it hurt, except for the eagle screams, which pierced the
air and echoed back and forth among then rocky crags.

     I saw two eagles. I could tell by their color that the were Golden Eagles. As they rose in
flight on the thermal, they strafed and darted at each other. Higher and higher they rose,
wings outstretched to grab the rising hot air...darting, sometimes diving at each other, just
missing mid air collisions by the thinnest of margins. Suddenly, when nearly so high as to be
out of sight, they did collide! They hit, crashed into an embrace, their asent peaked, and
locked together they began to tumble into a free fall.

     Their screams shreaked as they tumbled and bell for wht seemed an eternity. I just knew
that when they hit the  rocks on the ground there would be and explosion of feathers. But at
the last instant before collision they broke enbrace. Inches off the top of the rocks, using
ground air as a cushion, they had saved themselves. Then again they sought out the same thermal
and continued to repeat their rise and fall.

     I was slightly embarrassed to realize that I had witnessed the sacred rites of eagles
mating. Also, I felt humbled by the fact that we as humans, could never hope to realized the
ecstasy of their act.

Back to In Memory of Don

     Rich Hill is a mountain for gold and eagles.

     Rich Hill is located in central Arizona a few miles south of the small village of Congress.
As most of then mountain is under the Bureau of Land Management Administration, it is open to
all citizens. Don Rodina is a professional prospector.