An RV trip that mixes boondocking with prospecting is my camping ideal. Far from towns, campgrounds, and crowds, the boondocking prospector lives in freedom, tranquility, and peace.
My Labradoodle, Bebe, and I were headed out on the first boondocking adventure of the season. The road trip took us north through Sandpoint, Idaho, then south down the eastern shore of Lake Pend Oreille, through the small towns of Hope and Clark Fork.
We left the highway at Clark Fork. Outside of the town, we entered the Kaniksu National Forest. The road was open, but this was very early in the high country. The weather and the road conditions were marginal. We took it slow, not wanting to beat our little travel trailer to death on the gravel road. After two hours, we arrived at the confluence of two major creeks near where we would be placer mining for the summer.
“Boondocking in the purest sense of the word”
We would be boondocking in the purest sense of the word and could pull off the road anywhere that was open and flat enough to park. I had a particular setting in mind. I’d been thinking of this spot all through the long winter months. It was just a few yards off the main Forest Service road and down a couple hundred feet of logging road in a clearing right on the creek.
I backed and maneuvered the trailer parallel to the creek about sixty feet from the bank. The creek was still full on its banks but well below the high spring runoff level. A few minutes later, we were parked, chocked, and leveled.
Listening to the sounds of nature
Bebe and I stood next to our little house on the creek bank and listened to the sound of the water on the rocks and gravel. There were a few bird sounds from high in the evergreens and, for the moment, nothing else. She looked at me in wonderment and sniffed air redolent of cedar, pine, white fir, and high-country creek verdure. We were more than twenty miles from the nearest paved road and thirty from any town. Though there were a few isolated cabins here and there on private parcels scattered amid the more than 2.5 million acres of U.S. Forest Service land, the sense—and reality—of wilderness isolation was profound.
We unpacked our Solo fire pit and set up a small camp table, a patio mat, Bebe’s camp lounge pad, and my camp chair. I plugged a gas cylinder into the Coleman stove and built a fire out of cedar tinder in the Solo fire pit. It was still early in the day. We spent some time dragging big red fir deadfall in and sawing them up with a Swede saw. I was keeping an eye on Bebe. This was wolf and bear country, not to mention deer, elk, moose, coyote, martin, and badger. But she was cautious and stayed close. I quit worrying about her taking off after wild animals.
Still early by the clock, the sun headed over the horizon, and wilderness was instantly plunged into deep shadow. Dusk would not come late or last long here. I hustled up our first camp dinner tonight consisting of beef organs for Bebe and a campfire-seared steak, camp beans, and sourdough biscuits for me. In no time, it was dark. We spent a while in the bright circle of the fire pit, tired from travel and living in the moment.
This is camping.
No campgrounds. No silly rules. No Check-In or Check-Out time. No people, noise, music, smoke, or pulsating disco lights.
We bedded down and gave in to sleep, lulled by the melody of the creek and the ambrosia of the dense night airs of the wild.
Dawn arrives early
Approaching summer in the northern latitudes, dawn arrives early. I awoke to light on the window shades, though it was just past four a.m. It was cold. I couldn’t reach the thermostat and didn’t want to leave my cocoon to do it, but I finally made the long reach, knowing any movement would rouse Bebe to the start of the day. As the furnace roared to life, a cold nose and a heavy paw confirmed that morning had come, and there would be no snooze waiting for the warmth.
We cautiously exited into the boreal cold dawn, checking for wildlife. I got about building a fire. I lit the camp stove and filled the coffee pot with creek water. Bebe stayed close, but a low growl warned of unseen fauna in the woods. I kept a close watch—and my Winchester rifle handy. Nothing approached. Soon the Stanley percolator puffed steam and filled the air with the aroma of fresh coffee. After our breakfast and before the sun had risen, we were ready to begin our placer mining workday.
Our plans for the summer
This season, we would work, for the entire summer, on a bench of an ancient streambed dating from more than 14,000 years ago—prior to the Missoula Floods that created Lake Pend Oreille. My plan was to undermine the old stream gravel at approximately the level of the current stream on bedrock. This season, we would make but a small divot in the massive stream bed.
The beauty of the setup was that the old bed adjoined the current stream so that I could set up a Grizzly Sluice as well as one or more Keene sluice boxes and feed them all from material close enough to move by a wheelbarrow. The whole setup involved no more than a half-dozen pieces of equipment, all hand tools. Having studied the geology of this ancient stream bed for years, both on the ground here and using Google Earth satellite imagery, I had very high hopes for the placer gold probability in this known mineralized area.
This is the first in a season-long series of chronicles of RV boondocking and prospecting, so stay tuned.