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Finding Uranium and Getting Stuck in the Desert

By Arka

21 March 2022

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Background

For a long time I have been interested in radioactivity, and ever since I got a Geiger counter a little over a year ago, I've wanted to find some naturally-occuring Uranium minerals. I live in California, a state not particularly known for its Uranium Deposits. There are no active Uranium mines here, and it was only mined for a short time in 1954, at the Kergon and Miracle mines in Kern County near Lake Isabella. My friend and I went there in September 2021, and located the main adit (horizontal mine entrance), as well as a cut of the mine which appeared to have been blow up, but we found no Uranium, with the exception of a slightly radioactive rock we found in the desert.

However, I still had uranium fever, so I located another Uranium mine on Mindat. It was called the New Method Mine or the Hope mine. The mine is located in the middle of the desert, near the ghost town of Amboy just off Kelbaker road, which goes off the former Route 66. Despite this remote location, there was more information about it than the other mine. Many pictures of different Uranium minerals found there existed, along with couple blog posts about the mine, and a YouTube video of someone who went to this mine, posted not even a month before I found the mine on Mindat.

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Mine Location

Camping

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On January 21, 2022 we arrived late that evening - subsequently getting stuck in the sand due to my friend's unfortunate miscalculation of the terrain and the nonexistent four-wheel drive of my 2018 BMW 330i. After trying to get the car out, we decided to set up camp and shovel more the next day. Setting up the tent was a struggle, and the wind made it impossible to sleep in. My friend and I were forced to sleep in the car, and made room by moving our stuff to the tent. I was awoken several times that night, and each of us got only around 3 hours of sleep.

The next morining the tent was destroyed. A large part of the day was spent trying in vain to dig my car out of the sand, but we did visit the mine. Since we arrived late the previous night we could also finally see the surroundings that morning. It was, naturally, in the middle of the desert, with no signs of civilization aside from Kelbaker road where the occasional car passed by. The road on which we were stranded was a desert wash. The mine was easy to see, and could even be faintly made out at night. The wooden structure atop, adit, and the contrast of the white tailings pile on the beige and brown terrain of the Bristol Mountains were noticible from afar. There was almost no wildlife, except for a crow and some insects. Broken bottles, scraps of metal, including a radiator, could be seen laying along the old mine road. The mine was around 0.5 km from our campsite, a short walk on a rocky "road" and up the tailings pile, which came out the side of a hill. At the top of the mine was a flat, with the main adit going into the hill, as well as a vertical shaft with a wooden frame descending down and enclosed with wire to prevent anyone from falling in. Around the other side of the hill there was a secondary adit.

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Looking towards Kelbaker road away from the mine
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Looking towards the mine and the Bristol Mountains

The Mine

mine adit
view_with_shaft

After ascending to the mine, I took out my Geiger counter and placed it near the entrance of the main adit, the reading quickly climbed from a background of ~30CPM to 180CPM. It was clear that it was radioactive, though not dangerously radioactive. Knowing that boltwoodite, uranophane, and sklodowskite are all yellow in color, we decided to start picking up yellow-tinged rocks, as and measure them with the Geiger counter. It turned out most of these rocks were significantly more radioactive than most the other non yellow rocks. So we started collecting a bunch of them and put them in an altoids box. Eventually, the contents of the altoids box read over 400CPM, and we began to get nervous, despite this not being of any danger unless ingested or exposed for a very long period. Sometimes, reason doesn't apply when dealing with spooky invisible forces of nature. We also put a cricket in the altoids box, and left him there for a day to see if he would survive (he did).

Upon coming back we further began to dig out the car. We spent around 4 hours shoveling dirt, with my friend's foldable shovel and a bent piece of metal we found. It was to no avail, the car was stuck on top of sand as well, and it was a complete mess. While shoveling, a group of people came by with a truck, and stated they had come to check out the mine. I asked if they could help us but they had no tow straps. When I said that it was a uranium mine, their curiousity about the mine vanished, despite me telling them it was perfectly safe.

After another hour or 2 of shoveling, another person came by, and noticed us while his kid had to pee. He did have tow straps, but also some treads used to give traction to vehicles. The treads, did not work, so no matter how much shoveling we did, we would likely never have gotten out. Using the tow straps, it was easy. Around a half hour after he pulled us out and left, he came back to pull us out further, since we were still on the sandy dirt road. We easily could have gotten stuck again, and he even said his 4WD truck had some issues. We began to reverse, and we did get stuck while reversing, but since he was there, he got us out easily. Its almost unreal how lucky we were.

After getting pulled out I went to Amboy to see if we could wash our hands and get something to drink. My hands were raw and in pain from the dust and shoveling. At the store they let us use their sink in the back, which apparently they dont normally do. Relief. That night, I slept much better. The stars were also quite amazing since there were no light sources aside from the sky and our campfire out there. Not a single light could be seen in the distance.

stars

The final day we went to the mine once again, and noticed a patch we had overlooked of orange colored rocks, located opposite to where the mine trail ended up. I set the Geiger counter on the orange rocks, and immediately the reading skyrocketed to over 600CPM. Needless to say, they were quite radioactive. After that we packed up and headed home.

Our Samples

uranophane?
uranophane? with geiger

This was the most radioactive sample I found that we took home. The yellow part of the rock is likely Uranophane, as looking up Uranophane yields almost identical looking rocks. I am not a geologist. But if you are you can perhaps tell me if i am correct at arkadag [AT] studiogherila.com.