Editor’s Note: This is the first of a two-part series about Bill’s adventure in Hell’s Hole.
Steep can be steep, and then it can be so steep that old men should not even dream about traversing it – neither up nor down. But when an old man is showed some pictures of rocks that you have only dreamt of finding, it causes you to slide down a mountain on your backside. And, if you ever get a chance to go rock hunting with Joe Rodriguez, just know that he is three-fourths mountain goat and except for a bum hip, he is still in his prime.
My rock hunting partner, Mike Bruton, and I first met Joe on December 9, 2020, when he caught us collecting jasper and since then we have hunted rocks about 40 times together. Where Mike and I used GPS to record the areas where we find pockets of gems, Joe does not, so when he takes us to his spots, we respect his wishes and do not GPS those spots.
We also do not share those areas with others.
Joe had sent us some pictures of some of the rocks of a vein he had found in 2015, and said he would like to take us to that area last week. Two years ago, he had taken a friend, Doug, to that area so Doug was invited to come along with us last week.
As the four of us got close to the parking area, I listened closely to the conversation and I should have picked up from it that it was going to be and long and tiring day, but I did not. Joe is the quiet type and when I asked how far we would go before we found material to collect, he said, “about a mile.” Thinking we would be doing what we normally do – hunt rocks until about noon, bring a load back to the truck, eat lunch, take a nap and go back out to search for more. So I took a couple of bottles of Gatorade, some snacks and an energy bar; a collecting bucket, backpack and my light pick.
No lunch and not nearly enough to drink.
The climb was an easy, gentle one but I was about half way up the mountain when I realized it was the first time that I had seen Joe hunting without his pick. But I was excited to find some of the rocks that he had showed us pictures of and dismissed the thought.
When we got to the top of the ridge, Joe showed us where there was some beautiful agate and we gathered some. Doug announced that he was not going down the mountain but was staying on top because he had a cold and didn’t think he could make it back out of the “hole.” I asked Joe where the awesome rocks were and he pointed to a ridge and said, “just on the backside of that point.”
It didn’t look too bad but I knew that I should have brought my lunch and more water, but even old men get excited about beautiful things that are anticipated. I was going to leave my pack with the rocks I had gathered, but Joe told me to leave my bucket with them and take my backpack, so I did.
We collected some beautiful specimens down the hill, crossed a steep ravine and went to a saddle on the ridge where we stopped and stashed to be picked up on our way back out. I noticed Joe had only three or four rocks stashed with his jacket and asked him where the seam of the sky blue agate was and again he said, “on the backside of that point.”
When we got to the point, I looked down at almost vertical razor-back spine strung with boulders, cliffs and downed trees from a fire years before. There was no game trail on it and we were going to need both hands and a lot of help to get down through all of it.
I watched as Joe went first, slipping, sliding and dislodging rocks. I would wait until he was out of the way before I started down so I would not roll a rock down on him. Mike brought up the rear also waiting for me to get in a safe place before he would start down.
About two-thirds the way down I hooked my toe on a rock and almost took a tumble but was able to grab the branch of a tree. Looking back, I saw a beautiful piece of green seam agate sticking up about four inches out of a rock. As I waited for Mike to come down to me, I started removing it with my pick and finally got out a piece for each of us.
“I don’t think we can make it back up this ridge,” Mike said to me as we put them in our backpacks.
“I agree, but I have been studying the ridges around us and I think that we can make it up that one to our north,” I said to him. “But then we won’t get those we stashed in the saddle.”
Joe had made it to the vein of agate and hollered up at us. So I sat on my butt and slid down to where he was standing, with some of the most beautiful agate that I have ever seen. Then I found out why he had not brought in any tools for collecting – hanging in a tree near the vein were a shovel, wrecking bar, sledgehammer and chisel carried in on previous forays into what we affectionately named, “Hell’s Hole.”
The ground was littered with sky blue agate laced with white and green markings, some looking like a forest against a blue sky while others were a large seam with a purple center. We saw the vein and started collecting, we could not believe what we were seeing. Heavenly stones in Hell’s Hole. In 2011, my first year collecting rocks, I had collected within two miles of it, but has never found anything like this.
To be continued next week …
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