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By Trent Tibbitts

This story starts, as most stories do, with John calling to see if I would like to go camping. It was Friday afternoon, and I did not have any plans for the weekend. He was wanting to go to Dahlonega Georgia, where he has a camper. John belongs to a group of prospectors known as the Weekend Gold Miners club. They have property along the river and John keeps a camper there year round. During his 20’s, John spent most of his free time gold prospecting. He would use a dredge in the river to find gold. We got a late start, leaving the house around six o clock. Before hitting the road, John needed to attend to his brothers rabbit pin. John and I drove to Jake’s house, where John watered the rabbits. Jake lives off Mt Moriah Road and I ask John if he had ever been to Benson lake. He said no. We then drove on my direction to the lake. Benson Lake wasn’t built during the time Hollis Tibbitts and Mr Corley (two of John’s Great Grand Father’s and my Grand Father) and others in the community were involved with conservation and soul erosion. The lake was built to control floods and erosion. Once we had cross the dam, we spotted the largest box turtle we have ever seen. We stopped and took a few photos with our new friend.

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We got to the property around eight o clock. John had misplaced his key for the gate. He call a friend from the club and he met us at the gate with a new key. Once we got to the camper, we unloaded and set up camp. We had not eaten supper. So, we headed to town. John had seeing that a band he knew of was playing at the Crescent Moon in down town Dahlonega. The show started at 8, but we figured we could see the second half. We arrived at the Crescent Moon around 9 p.m.. The band was going strong. After being seated, we found out the kitchen was closed. However, we were able to order dessert. We both had a large helping of fudge brownie a la mode. We staying to the band finished around 10 o’clock. It had been long week and I was very tired. After stopping for Taco Bell, we headed back to camp.

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The next morning John showed me around the camp. We walked down to the river and saw where miners had dug into the hillsides. He showed me carvings on beech trees that were signs left by the old time minors. we also saw courts rock lying all over the ground where it had been blasted. There were many other campers there but not very many people. We then drove to the area known as Blue Hole. This is where the Etowah River runs into the mountainside at a large rock face and makes a 90 degree turn. John says that with his old dredge they could go 30 feet deep here. There is one known mine shaft on the property. However, all mine entrances around Dahlonega were blasted shut. John has fount where there are air holes that lead to the old mines. Also, others have used ground penetrating radar to discover cavities under ground. With current laws, no digging is allowed. A quick history of gold in Georgia. In 1828 gold was discovered around Dahlonega Georgia. The place was named Aurora, Greek or Latin for gold. It lies between Johns camp and the City of Dahlonega. Word got around fast about gold in the region. At first gold could be found lying along the creeks and river bottoms. Miners only had to walk and pick it up. Over 15,000 men came to Dahlonega during this time. It did not take long for all the easy gold to be picked up. The next step in the mining operation history is the panning for gold. Miners would shovel sediment from the bottom of creeks and streams into solution boxes and then they would pan for the gold that was trapped there. Once most of this accessible gold had been harvested, miners started using water cannons to wash the mountain sides down.  The runoff was sorted and examined for gold. When excavating the hillsides, miners would see gold in veins of quartz crystal. This is when hard rock mining started. Mines would be dug into the side of the hill following the vein of quartz crystal that contained gold. The ore would then be brought to the surface where it would go through a stamp mill that would break the rocks into fine sand. Then the process of sluice boxes and painting would continue. In 1849 gold was discovered in California. With most of Dahlonega’s easily accessible gold gone. Most miners pulled up stakes and headed west. So much gold was pulled out of the ground around  Dahlonega,  that a mint was built.  $600,000.00 in gold coins were stamped out of just some of the gold found.

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We grabbed a McDonald breakfast and went to the Crisson Gold mine of John’s friends for my first gold panning.  The store was very well stocked with any mining tool you may need.  It also had any gold mining souvenir you needed.  After a reunion between John and his friends,  He bought us a $15.00 five gallon bucket of sand to pain. He gave me a demonstration on how to pain for Gold. He found a few flakes on the first run. Then it was my turn. I turned,  shucked,  swished, shacked and sweraled until all the light sand, what’s called blonds in the trade, were gone. Black sand and gold was all that was left in the pan now. Gold is the heaviest item in the pan and if you have done it right it will work itself to the bottom of your pan. The idea is to wash out everything and leave the gold. I found two flakes on the first round. We worked four or five more pans each and then decided to rent a High Banker. This is a contraption that uses water to wash away most of the unwanted material.  The gold and heavier items are caught in a mat with a lot of ridges. We had about a half a bucket left to run through it. We dump one scope full at a time and gave it time to work the loss matter from the heavier. Once the remaining sand was sifted,  the loot was emptied in to one pan full and John panned out a few more flakes.

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After panning, we rode some of the back roads around the vineyards. Then decided to go tubing.  Not having our bathing suits with us we headed back to camp after a stop for lunch. The dirt road to the camp has several “speed bumps” but they can’t slow John down.  We changed and packed some dry cloths.  Then headed to a local river. We signed our rights away and jumped in the van.  The drive up river could not having been 3 minutes long.  Then we were at the lunch.  We took our tubes to the river’s edge and prepared for the polar plunge.  There was a rope across the river and we used it to pull ourselves out. The skeletal remains of an iron bridge  stands the river here. It sits on large rock pillars on each bank. We soon get use to the chilly water. This river was mined heavily during the rush. Someone during that time built a large iron box without a bottom that two men could work in. It was lowered to the riverbed and the men would enter in through a pipe from the surface.  The sand containing gold would be hauled up the same pipe. As more material was removed the box would continue to sink. It could go 30 feet deep.  The remains were discovered and restored and is on display just off the square in Dahlonega. About half way down there is a large rock in the middle of the river.  We climbed up on it. Much debate was had on how to jump off.  After carefully inspecting the area and weighing the pros and cons of each possibility John just jumps in. He lands in a good sitting position and didn’t land to flat. I take the long steep and it’s off the edge for me. More than halfway through my trip to the rushing river below, I had not made my discussion on how to land.  I was hoping to hit the water with the edge of the tube and then rock back into a sitting position.  My legs hung off the edge of the tube and would need deep water to safely emerge into for this to work.  I failed.  I stuck a rock in knee-deep water like an Olympic gymnast.  If I was not wet before,  I was now. No harm,  no foul. It was on down the river and soon our 15 minute trip was over. Not satisfied with the lackluster trip, we voted to turn it up a notch.  We the drove the 30 minutes over to Helen, an Alpine touristy city. Once in Helen,  we stopped at the first tube rental place in town.  We bought out tickets and then drove to the take out area where we would board a bus that drove us through town to the start of our float. The headwaters of the mighty Chattahoochee river starts just above Helen in the southern Appalachian mountains of the Blue Ridge. It is still very much a mountain river when it enters the city limits.  There are large water worn boulders and rushing rapids. We exist the bus, grab our pink tubes and hit the ice-cold water with out $4.00 push sticks. Luckily we were in the head of the back and it didn’t take long to get ahead of the bus crowd.  The river was very busy none the less.  The sticks did come in very handy to help maneuver through the rapids. It was a non eventful trip for the most part until we got just about to the bridge.  That is when we came up on a young lady with two kids.  The girl looked to be 9 or 10. The boy maybe 12 years old.  He had fallen off his tube and was wearing a life jacket.  We could tell not all was right.  We offered help and the little girl quickly said please.  John stepped up and was the man for the job. We thought it would be a quick 1, 2,3 and on our way, so i keep floating slowly down river.  John grabbed the boy and was going to put back on the tube. Well,  he was a big old boy and just laid there like a big sack of Idaho potatoes.  The tube went one way and John and the boy the other.  He tried it again but this time with instructions for the young lady to hold the tube.  Apparently John’s instructions were to complicated for her because once again the tube went one way and John and the boy the other.  Seeing the problem that he had, John decided it was time to solve it with brut force. It is the easiest way to solve most problems. John in waist deep waters picked the young over weigh lad up out of the river like he was carrying his bride over the threshold and so gently placed him back on to his pink tube. With a permanent back injury, John rejoined me down river happy to have served his fellow-man. He didn’t say that but I could tell.  We got a big laugh out of it and John really did help the kid out. We keep an eye on them the rest of the way down hoping not to have to offer an assistant but close enough if the need was there. We passed a group of terrorist playing in the river and figured the water would defuse any bombs they may have.  We made our jokes to ourselves.  A motorcycle rally was setup next to the river and we passed by that before getting out.  Once out of the river we were near John’s truck.  We grabbed our dry cloths and changed in the restroom before going back to Dahlonega.

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Once back in town it was supper time.  We first tried to get into the Front Porch but it was a 45 minute wait.  We then walked back across the square to the Crimson Moon where we were the night before and asked for our little hippie waitress again.  Lucky for us there were still some setting left. Even more luckily they were 6 inches from a table of retired ladies who made up at least half of the groupies.  We made friends fast. If not it was going to be a occurred 3 hours sharing personal space.  They were Buckhead Bettys from Atlanta, but Very nice. We each ordered the grill grouper sandwich. Big let down.  The father and son duo made up for the poor choice for dinner.  They sang mostly songs they had written. The songs were Americana that told hometown stories.  The father did most of the lead singing.  The son was a very good guitarist and John said that they were playing this really fancy guitar.  I was enjoying it alright until right before they were to take an intermission.  The father told a brief story of his life and a failed music career. Then said that this time around he was going to listen to his new manager more. That is when he broke out with the old gossip hymns.  Now we are not in a bar but it was about one step up from one. I mean I could see the bar from where we were.  I tell you that every one in that place was singing as loud as they could, standing up and clapping their hands,  like we were in a tent revival at a good old Baptist Church. We sang Amazing Grace,  I’ll Fly Away,  Will the Circle be Unbroken and on and on. I told the dad during the break I really did like his new manager. The second set was entertaining.  They brought up the rest of the family to sing a few songs. After the show we walked up and saw the river diving bell that is housed under a pavilion just off the square.  It was then back to camp.

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20140601_084557The next morning was Sunday, we got up and packed up camp. Then headed to town for another McDonald breakfast.  We then drove to the Consolidated Gold mine that is next to the Wal-Mart.  We were early so we ate our breakfast in the parking lot. A couple on a Harry rode up. We talked to them for a few minutes.  We talked them into going to John’s friends mining place.  They left and we followed. We went back to town to see if any shops we open. Nope. Too early.  After walking around a little bit the Gold museum that is housed in the old Court House opened up.  We went up stairs and watch a film about the Gold rush era in the old courtroom.  The bricks were made locally and flakes of gold can be seen in them.  The upper floor had more of the town history and the lower floor had most of the gold artifacts. In a huge safe behind glass was a set of gold coins the were minted in Dahlonega.  The gold for this region is said to be the purest in the world. After the education we went across the street to a general story.  We were walking through touching and commenting on everything and these two old ladies ask if we brothers. I asked if they thought we looked alike.  They did.  We told them we were cousins. We played around in the store for a little while.  Then we went back to the Consolidated Gold mine. It was just that, five gold mines consolidated into one. It had the largest stamp mill east of the Mississippi.  But only operated for six years. When mining became unprofitable all 250 mines around Dahlonega  entry’s were blow up to keep people out.  The hope was to return some day and start mining again.  For that reason all mining tools were left inside.  In the 1980’s gold prices hit a high in the $900.00s and a group of investor looked to open the most profitable mine back up. Once they had cleared the debris and pumped a lot of the water out, the bottom fell out of the Gold market.  That is when they decided to make the mine a tourist trap. John had been on the tour several times but this was my first.   A large group of us descended into the mine.  It was just as you would think a mine would be. It had a railway,  mine cars and big timbers bracing the walls. The mine shaft followed a vane of gold 20 feet wide in some places.  The Glory Hole was the area that has the greatest concentration of gold.  $50,000 of gold was removed in one day. That’s a lot of money in 1835.  The mine had finger tunnels off the main shaft that would follow a vain till it stopped. We were able to tour about 1000 feet of the mine. The rest of it was still flooded. Part of the tour was getting to pain for Gold.  We found a few more flakes. Before heading home we ate lunch at the historic Smith house.  It is Family style where you are seated at a large table with other guests.  Dishes of food are brought out and set on the table.  You pass them around and serve your self.  You don’t order, you just get what they bring and it is a lot. The food is always good. The house sits on a gold mine and the shaft can be seen in a room that was just recently built to showcase it. It was a fun trip.

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