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Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Lost Arch Gold Diggings

A Natural Arch similar to that found in the Turtle's Range of California.
Photo by Library of Congress Prints

We first became familiar with the story of the Lost Arch Gold Diggings by reading an account of the story in the Earth Science Digest a publication that has been long out of print that coupled with tales of my great grandfather’s gold prospecting and mining in eastern Canada in the 1860 fired my imagination for the lure of gold that remains to this day.

The story begins in the northern part of the Turtle Range that lies east and south of a range called the Old Woman’s Mountain on the Colorado River in California.  The Lost Arch Diggings have the distinction of being twice found and twice lost because some strange acts of Providence.

Jim Fish and a prospector that had arrived in California with the first gold rush in 1848 were on their way from Nevada to California in an old-fashioned buckboard drawn by a team of stringy bay horses.  While crossing the Colorado River they had filled their water barrel from the river.  From there they continued to make their slow search for hidden wealth.  They had been looking for gold for months already with little luck.

Two days after crossing the river Fish discovered their barrel was leaking, and when they turned the barrel so the bung-hole was pointing downwards barely two canteens of water flowed out.  Although Fish’s discovery was un-nerving it was a situation that was only to familiar to anyone that was used to traveling through the mountains.  When his partner returned, it is said his name was Crocker, he told him the bad news, so it was decided they would spend a day looking for water in the vegetation covered gulches they saw in the mountains.  

After spending a restless night early the next morning they set off on their search.  “Crocker went up one canyon while I took another, the one to the right,” recounted Fish to some friends from San Bernardino, California some months later.  He went on, “The main canyon deployed into a gulch on the right and I decided to follow this through the hot sun and down among the rocks so far that not a breath of air seemed to pass through the cleft. On and on I went, over stones larger than a house, around smooth and slippery boulders where water had certainly been at one time, but where then not a trace showed.

“My feet were lagging; my shins were barked and aching, for in the rush I had neglected to be careful. Turning a sudden corner in the gulch, I came upon a natural bridge that spanned the canyon. It was so odd, so regular in the outline of an arch that I could only stand and admire it. Beneath its shade, the most cooling place in the hell-hole, I found a large sandy area and there sank down to rest.

“While idly scratching the sand, its peculiarity attracted my closer attention. I got down on my knees and started to blow the dust away, and before me I had a great pocket of precious metal, gold that averaged the size of wheat grains. I filled several pockets with the heavy grains and, with all thought of thirst forgotten, hurried excitedly down the canyon to impart the news of the find to Crocker.”

After arriving at the buckboard Fish had to wait for several hours before Crocker showed up again.  Crocker finally showed up hours later despairing that he hadn’t found any water where he went.  At that moment gold was the last thing on their minds because all their thoughts were their quest for water, and the nearest water was in the Colorado River two days distant.

After a harrowing trip to the river they finally reached it only to have Crocker die a few days later and left Fish in a state of shock that took three months of recovery before Fish could set out for the Turtle’s again.  After expending all his money on a fruitless search Fish gave up the quest.

In 1900 a German prospector whose name was probably Peter Kohler came back from the Turtle’s came back from them with a tale of rediscovering the Lost Arch, but because he had been a naturalist in the Old Country he didn’t have a thought about any gold there, he was completely lost in the beauty and strangeness of the setting.  He had never hears Fish’s story of the gold so he missed the chance of a lifetime.

Later a prospector named John Packer searched in vain for ten years without finding a trace of the Lost Arch Diggings.  The desert is a strange place that has the capability of changing its face in the blink of an eye; perhaps a flash flood destroyed the arch and its usefulness as a landmark.


  1. Great story, John! It's still out there, Google Earth might help.... ":)

  2. Sounds like you borrowed the narrative from two Erle Stanley Gardner books - if so, credits are in order.

  3. Wrong! I didn't even know Earle Stanley Gardner wrote about the Lost Arch Diggings. I originally became aware of this site through an article that appeared in the Earth Science Digest during the late 1940's. Gardner didn't rate any recognition from me!

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