Saturday, September 21, 2019

Rock Creek Gold Placer - A Mine Frozen in Time

1987 photo of the Rock Creek gold placer, South Pass. Near center of photo, some relatively fresh diggings
mark the location of the Gerald South placer (photo by the author).
When I moved to Wyoming, I did not become a cowboy. I got along fine with cowboys, but I just wasn't the cowboy type - didn't like horses, cowboy hats, or cowboy boots. Instead, I was into rocks and minerals, field boots, safari hats, and coyotes. 

We moved to Wyoming from New Mexico so I could work for the US Geological Survey. Then we moved from Casper to Laramie, where I went to work for the Wyoming Geological Survey. Over the years, I was employed as VP of US Exploration for DiamonEx Ltd and consulted on many gold, diamond and base metal deposits for companies, leading some to  mineral deposits. One of these deposits will soon become one of the largest gold mines in the world. 

I guess my fascination with mines developed during my college years, and in particular, I was fascinated by igneous and metamorphic rocks as well as diamond depositsgreenstone belts, gold, porphyry copper, and gemstones. I would likely still be working at the Wyoming Geological Survey (University of Wyoming), but during my last year in Laramie, I ended up working under two of the most corrupt politicians I've ever known - except maybe for Clinton (well, no I did not know the Clintons, thank goodness). So, I applied for early retirement and went off to work for DiamonEx Ltd, as well as consult for other mining companies. DiamonEx, Ltd, almost had a diamond mine in Colorado, but things fell apart with the 2008 stock market crash.

In 2015, RC Mineral and Rock, LLC hired me to consult on their Rock Creek gold placer at South Pass, Wyoming. I had an insatiable interest in South Pass beginning all the way back to when I started working for the Wyoming Geological Survey, and was hoping to one day get an opportunity to map the greenstone belt in its entirety. Less than half of the exposed greenstone belt had been mapped by Richard Bayley of the US Geological Survey, and I wanted to cover every inch of the ground in the greenstone belt as well as examine accessible old gold mines and the Atlantic City iron mine in the greenstone belt. So, in 1991, my treatise on the South Pass greenstone belt with a map of the belt was published (Hausel, 1991). I had a wonderful time, met many people I still call friends, accessed some of the old gold mines, and spent countless nights under the stars singing cowboy songs with the local coyotes.

Much of my early field work in Wyoming was devoted to diamond research.  I mapped the two largest diamond-bearing kimberlite districts in the US (Iron Mountain and State Line) and later mapped the largest lamproite field in North America (Leucite Hills). I extended my knowledge of diamond deposits while consulting for two different companies and searched for diamond deposits throughout the US and elsewhere. I worked for other diamond companies searching for diamond and/or deposits in California, Colorado, Kansas and Montana, but I could hardly wait to get started on South Pass, and other greenstone belt fragments in the Rattlesnake Hills, Seminoe Mountains, as well as the Copper Mountain supracrustal belt in the Owl Creek Mountains. I also examined many other potentially commercial gold deposits, such as in the Silver Crown district in the Laramie Mountains, and elsewhere in the US.

I was told by a couple of Directors at the Wyoming Geological Survey, and the Department Head of the UW Geology Department, that much of everything known about the Precambrian terrain in Wyoming, was due to my research, much like what Dr. Dave Love (RIP) did for Wyoming's basin geology and uranium deposits. It felt good to be standing in the same circle as Dr. Love - my good friend. 

I received a similar compliment from Dr. Sam Goldich at the Colorado School of Mines related to diamond deposits. Sam almost convinced by to spend time at CSM to do some isotopic geochemistry on the diamond deposits, but at the time, I was interested in mapping. But I wish I would have taken Sam up on his offer: Sam and I became friends  while working together on a International Geochemical Field Conference.

Mining districts and mineralized terrains of Wyoming (From Hausel and Hausel, 2011).
The diamond-bearing kimberlites in the State Line district were initially acquired by companies in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and gem-quality diamonds up to 28.3 carats in weight were recovered. During bulk sampling of the Kelsey Lake kimberlite, one diamond fragment was recovered from a larger diamond that was estimated to have originally been  about 90 carats (Howard Coopersmith, personal communication, 1996). 

So, in the early 1980s, mining companies had taken over much of the activity in the diamond districts freeing me to begin other research projects. The one that interested me the most was the South Pass greenstone belt at the southern tip of the Wind River Mountains where much of the geology and extent of gold mineralization was relatively unknown at the time. 

After beginning reconnaissance at South Pass in the 1980s, I was awarded a series of COGEOMAP grants from the US Geological Survey, which led me to a nearly decade of geological mapping of the 400 mi2 greenstone belt, its mines, and gold. Armed with a tent, topographic maps, Bruton compass, aerial photographs and a few pairs of boots, I began mapping accessible underground mines and the ground surface, and by the end of the project, had mapped eight 1:24,000 scale quadrangles (each quadrangle included approximately 48 mi2). These were compiled into a 1:48,000 scale map on the greenstone belt incorporated into a Report of Investigations published in 1991. 

South Pass Mining History
According to historical records, the first report of gold at South Pass was made by a trapper with the American Fur Company in 1842. The location of his discovery is believed to have been Strawberry Creek, east of Rock Creek. Several years later (1855), a group of 40 prospectors entered South Pass to follow up on the gold discovery and reported finding gold nearly everywhere. This was followed by a group of 9 prospectors who returned to the area in 1858, and commenced mining on Strawberry Creek. The decayed remains of their sluices were found in 1870.

While working at the Wyoming Geological Survey, I often led field
trips for the public, prospectors, and professional associations. Here,
I am talking to a public group just outside the old Atlantic City iron
mine at South Pass.
In 1861, another expedition to South Pass included a group of 52 prospectors who began mining Willow Creek (4 miles west of Strawberry Creek and 2 miles west of Rock Creek), when they were attacked by Indians and driven out. Two years later (1863), gold was  discovered on the Oregon Trail south of South Pass in the vicinity of Oregon Buttes. More than a century later, the US Geological Survey studied gold at Oregon Buttes and described one of the largest undeveloped gold anomalies in North America (Figure 1). 

In June 1867, a rich lode gold deposit was discovered along Willow Creek and the mine was named the Carissa. A short time later, the miners were attacked by Indians: three were killed and the rest driven out. The group returned in late July and in the winter of that year, more than 400 ounces of gold were recovered from the lode using only primitive hand tools. An additional four tons of high-grade ore was shipped to Springfield, Utah that yielded an incredible 1,400 ounces of gold!

Figure 1. Oregon Buttes viewed from geographical South Pass. The Oregon Buttes gold-paleoplacer forms
 much of the ridge in the sunlit area below Oregon Buttes. The US Geological Survey estimated the paleoplacer
 could host 28.5 million ounces of gold making it one of the largest undeveloped gold anomalies in North
 America. The source of the gold has not been identified but in all probability lies at depth beneath the cover of
 the younger South Pass and Wasatch Formations (photo by the author). In other words, it would appear from
 geological evidence, that a significant lode gold deposit occurs at depth within a buried portion of the South
 Pass greenstone belt.
Hostilities continued between miners and Indians forcing the US Army to establish Camp Stambaugh near the boom towns of Atlantic City and Miners Delight in 1870. But the Army had problems keeping recruits due to the many gold discoveries, which resulted in many soldiers deserting to search for gold. 

Figure 2. The Carissa lode (shear zone) at the surface is mineralized over a minimum width of 300 feet and
 likely as much as 1,000 feet. A case can be made that this shear structure continues 4 miles to the east to Rock
Creek where the gold-bearing structure is likely offset before continuing another 6 miles east to 
the edge of
  greenstone belt near Miners Delight.

Along this structure, periodic ore shoots occur that have considerable unprospected ground in-between ore
 shoots. The structure also continues a short distance west of the Carissa shaft where it disappears under
 geologically young sediments of the South Pass Formation and likely terminates against granitic rocks of the
 Louis Lake batholith (a potential source for some of the gold in the structure) (photo by the author). 
Based on limited sampling, drilling and extent of this deposit, it likely hosts over 
a million ounces of gold & potentially several million ounces. 
However, due to the lack of wisdom by the Wyoming legislature, the state
 purchased the property and quickly withdrew it from future mining, and ended up producing Wyoming's 
answer to Disneyland for the few dozen tourists that visit the mining park. For scale, note the geologist (Jon
 King) standing to the right of shear zone. Yes, keep looking, Jon is standing there.

By 1872, twelve stamp mills were reportedly operating in the greenstone belt and in 1878, the Army abandoned Camp Stambaugh and the Oregon Trail to the south had to be abandoned for a safer route further south due to increased Indian attacks. Hostilities ceased following the signing of the Treaty of Five Nations in 1882. 

Figure 3. Steve Gyorvary stands in the mined out portion of the Carissa lode on the 400-foot-level. This part of the high-grade lode was mined in the past and the empty space provides a nice perspective of the lode’s attitude. The lode stands nearly vertical and from this mine level, it continues upward to the surface. It also continues several hundred feet (potentially a few thousand feet) below this point. When the lode was mined, only the high-grade ore was profitable at low gold prices, and miners left an enormous, low-grade, resource in place. The low-grade ore is found in the mine ribs (walls) and could potentially occur over a 1000 foot width! During past operations, the mine produced more than 180,000 ounces of gold based on incomplete production records. But the un-mined deposit likely hosts considerably more gold than mined in the past (photo by the author)
In 1884, significant gold placer operations were proposed and the Granier ditch was constructed to haul water from Christina Lake (12 miles northwest) to South Pass. Startup of hydraulic operations did not occur until 1890. In 1891, 6,720 ounces were recovered.

Shear zones like the Carissa lode are important as these continue to feed gold into drainages in the greenstone belt. The shears are recognized by intensely folded and faulted structures containing broken (brecciated) rock, mylonite, strong lineation and foliation with quartz fillings and boudins (Figure 2). Several shear zones (lodes) have been identified that trend between South Pass City to Atlantic City to Miners Delight and many more are likely buried by alluvium and eluvium. There is also evidence at the Carissa mine that the shears continue to great depth: so there is a continuous source for detrital gold for placers in the region.

Gold from very small area on Rock Creek at the Stout mine (1987).
At the Carissa, past drilling by Consolidated McKinney Resources identified a highly anomalous, 80-foot-wide zone at depth. Assays of drill core ranged from 0.03 to 2.54 ounces per ton gold (the shear envelop was not tested). This mineralized structure was also intersected to depths as great as 930 feet. Anaconda Minerals Company reported their drill holes on the property interested a high grade ore zone of widths of 2.3 to 16.1 feet that yielded 0.11 to 0.36 opt Au to depths of 700 feet. 

In summary, there is ample supply of gold for placers downslope from the known lodes, and the lodes have been eroding ever since the Laramide orogeny that resulted in uplift of the Wind River Mountains some 70 million years ago. In other words, erosion of the lodes at South Pass has been supplying gold to these placers for tens of millions of years! Based on geology, the two better placers are Rock Creek and Willow Creek.

Rock Creek Placer
The South Pass greenstone belt encloses many in-situ lode and detrital placer deposits. As the lode deposits erode, they supply gold to drainages (placer deposits). Near the head of Rock Creek, Willow Creek, Smith Gulch and Atlantic Gulch is a prominent belt of gold-bearing shear zones (lodes) that is the source of much detrital gold found in the placers. It is also likely there are hidden lodes in this region, which the author found evidence for while mapping. Even so, the closer the placers lie to the known belt of shear zones, the greater the likelihood coarse gold (nuggets) will be found in stream gravel. Fine gold will likely occur throughout much of the Rock Creek placer from Atlantic City to the Sweetwater River. The headwaters of Rock Creek lie near the abandoned Atlantic City iron ore open pit mine and the town of Atlantic City sits immediately downstream and sitting on many known gold-bearing shear zones including the projected trend of the Carissa lode (Figure 4).

Portions of Rock Creek were mined from 1933 to 1941. Pre-1933 gold placer mining operations on Rock Creek were likely localized hydraulic operations designed to wash gold from slopes of adjacent hill sides. Some early hydraulic mining on Mill Hill along the south edge of Atlantic City (south bank of Rock Creek) was reported to have produced 10,500 ounces of gold. Without the use of dredging, trommel plants, pumps, or hydraulic mining, placer operations within Rock Creek would have been limited and largely ineffective due to the stream’s gradual gradient (2°) that is not favorable for gold recovery by sluice. A sluice  would require a higher water velocity for gold concentration than that supplied by such a gradual steam gradient.
Figure 4. Generalized geological map of the Atlantic City-Miners Delight-
South Pass district (after Bayley, 1968; Hausel, 1989) showing location of
principal gold mines. Mine locations and dikes  (horizontal lined
 patterns) mark locations of many gold-bearing
shear zones. Since these are the source of much
of the gold in the district, any placer
downslope from these will have gold and the size of nuggets
should decrease downstream
 from the shear zones. It should be kept in mind that there are
likely hidden shear
zones downstream (east) from principal lodes.

Historical reports indicate that rich gold specimens were found in Rock Creek. For instance, one fist-size piece of gold was reported to weigh 34 ounces and a boulder found nearby in 1905 contained an estimated 630 ounces of gold (Figure 5)! 
A 34-ounce gold nugget recovered from Rock Creek, Wyoming. Photo
courtesy of the Los Angeles Natural History Museum.

The Rock Creek channel is 100- to 250-feet-wide and locally narrows to tens of feet wide. At narrows, water velocities will decrease providing one of several types of placer gold traps in Rock Creek. For example, Rock Creek narrows immediately downstream from Atlantic City at the following GPS coordinates (see: Google Earth 42°29'34"N; 108°43’21”W). Another favorable trap likely occurs at stream meanders where water velocity again decreases (see 42°27'38"; 108°40’W).  

Figure 5. A 7.5-ounce nugget found with metal detector,  

Other traps likely occur in Rock Creek, such as at fault zone intersections with the creek (see: 42°27’44"N; 108°40’2”W). Examination of aerial photography on Google Earth shows a distinctly linear drainage on the west bank of Rock Creek that likely is controlled by an underlying fault. Other traps will occur where tributaries intersect Rock Creek, such as at Smith Gulch (42°28'26"N; 108°40’51”W).

Between 1933 and 1941, the E.T. Fisher Company constructed a concentrating plant with trommel and mined with an unattached dragline in order to dredge 6 miles of Rock Creek from Atlantic City to the Mormon Cemetery. Approximately 3 million yds3 of gravel were processed that averaged 0.012 oz/yd3. Production was reported as 11,500 ounces. However, based on the volume of gravel and average ore grade, production should have been 3 times higher than the reported production (about 36,000 ounces); thus, it is possible the operation lost considerable gold to the tailings. Nuggets up to 3.4 ounces were recovered in the first year of operation. 

Figure 6. Rock foliation in metagraywacke (dark-gray, micaceous quartzite) of the Miners Delight Formation along Rock Creek. The foliation is nearly perpendicular to the flow of Rock Creek and stands nearly vertical (at an acute angle). Rock Creek cuts 12 to 14 miles of rock foliation of the Miners Delight Formation before draining into the Sweetwater River. The foliation provides thousands of ridges and grooves that act as natural riffles at the base of Rock Creek similar to manufactured riffles in a sluice or Wilfley Table. These natural riffles likely captured considerable gold in the stream bottom.
The average soil depth for Rock Creek was reported as 10 feet and ranged from 9 to 12 feet deep. The upper 3 feet consisted mostly of loam (sand, clay and gravel) which was thought to be barren of gold and was rejected by the Fisher Dredge. Gold prices during the E.T. Fisher mining operation from 1933 to 1941 were 35 to 45 times lower than today ($26.33 to $34.87/ounce compared to $1,140/ounce on 9/3/15). Even so, the loam piles contained fine gold that was not extracted by the mining operation (Figure 7).

Much of the gold recovered from the creek in the first year of operation of the dredge, was found within 1 to 3 feet of bedrock, with the greatest concentration found within the 6 inches above bedrock. The gold was reported to occur as flakes, small particles and uncommon rounded nuggets with a typical fineness of 0.840 to 0.900 (84 to 90% pure gold). 

Figure 7. Gravel and loam piles from the Fisher operation on Rock Creek.  In addition to unmined tributaries, Rock Creek also has 3 miles of unmined gravel downstream from the Mormon cemetery. Unmined gravel also lies upstream from Atlantic City as well as throughout the mined portions of the drainage. Essentially, all of the loam piles remain untested for gold content and provide a potentially large resource if the fine  gold can be efficiently recovered. The mined gravel piles also contain some rejected gold. Even though these were mined and processed for gold, the processing plant did not appear to be efficient since gold can still be found in the tailings. For instance, one prospector from the RMPTH club in Ft. Collins showed me a collection of more than 100 nuggets recovered from gravel piles along Big Atlantic Gulch and Rock Creek using a metal detector. 

Figure 8. False bedrock provides another of many gold traps in Rock Creek.
At least one false bedrock layer was found in Rock Creek and in Smith Gulch.
The layer lies above bedrock providing a nearly impermeable barrier to gold.
This impermeable layer provides a trap for gold in the gravel
immediately above the layer. 
During a 1987 mining operation on Smith Gulch (a tributary of Rock Creek), prospectors Hank Hudspeth and Buddy Presgrove recovered about 20 ounces of gold per week, and periodically hit pay streaks yielding 20 ounces in a day. The gravels were 6 to 10 feet deep, and gold occurred as flatten nuggets and flakes near bedrock and in the sandy and gravel layers overlying thin clay-rich, false bedrock, zones. The gravel averaged about 0.1 ounce/yd3 (Hausel, 1989, 1991). These layers likely formed during periods of drought, that were followed by flash flooding (photo by W. Dan Hausel).

Prior to 1911, 750 ounces of gold were mined from Atlantic Gulch. Big Atlantic Gulch was later dredged by the Fisher dragline. Near the mouth of the gulch, the stream narrows considerably. The upper reaches of Big Atlantic Gulch from the Snowbird mine north to Cole and Placerita gulches, contains some unmined gravel.

Little Atlantic Gulch, a tributary of Big Atlantic gulch, lies west and parallel to Big Atlantic Gulch and cuts the same rock and shear zones. There has been very limited activity in this gulch. Further west, are a group of small gulches that are dry much of the year. These include Basket Gulch, Beer Garden Gulch, and others. East and parallel to Big Atlantic Gulch, are Smith and Promise gulches. Prior to 1911, 1,500 ounces were recovered from Smith Gulch and about 1,500 from Promise Gulch, yet some gravel remains unmined in these drainages.

E.T. Fisher Plant & Dragline

Figure 9. The E.T. Fisher gold processing plant, Rock Creek
 in 1934. Photo from the Edna 
Carpenter collection.
In 1935, Ross and Gardner from the US Bureau of Mines examined the E.T. Fisher  placer mining operation. At the time, the dredge had only been in operation a very a short time, thus we know practically nothing about the operation after 1934 until the outbreak of World War II when all gold mining operations were ordered closed by the government.. 

According to their report, the riffles used to extract gold from the plant were charged with about 100 pounds of quicksilver (mercury). It was reported 30% of the mercury was lost during sluicing and cleanup. This would imply that in one of the most important processes used to extract gold from this plant was only about 70% efficient. 
Figure 10. Remains of the E.T. Fisher processing plant on Rock Creek as it
appeared in 2015 (photo by W. Dan Hausel)
Mercury is a very heavy metal with a specific gravity of 13.6 (gold is 19.3) that was used to amalgamate with gold. Such a high mercury and amalgam loss indicates there was a problem with water velocity from the pumps in the recovery plant and/or the angle of the sluice was not at an optimal angle.

Ross and Gardner (1935) indicated that the dragline dug to the bottom of the creek. Their report indicates 18 inches to 2 feet of bedrock was typically scraped and processed with the gravel.  

Based on the successful nugget recovery in the Fisher gravel piles by various prospectors using metal detectors, there was a generally poor nugget recovery efficiency of the Fisher operation. In addition, the loss of 30% of the gold-mercury amalgam suggests other inefficiencies in the Fisher operation, and the avoidance of fine gold by the miners provides more evidence of the gold left behind by the mining operation. In 1987, the author visited the Gerald Stout mining operation located in a small piece of virgin ground in Rock Creek: this operation recovered considerable gold and it appears there could be considerable, unmined, virgin ground in Rock Creek. For instance,  the Fisher operation piled gravel and loam on the ore body while mining other parts of the creek; thus there could be considerable virgin ground in Rock  Creek (Figure 12). Whether there is enough gold for a commercial operation remains unknown. 

Figure 11. Rock Creek mine tailings provide not only sites for finding gold
lost during the initial mining operation in the 1930s, but also for
a giant resource for gravel (photo by W. Dan Hausel).
In addition to gold, there are other value-added materials including considerable gravel (Figure 11), decorative stone and sand. 

Other value-added commodities that should be investigated include: (1) frac sands, (2) gemstones, and (3) tungsten. After sieving any loam piles, any recovered sands should be examined for potential use as a frac sand for use in the oil industry as there should be considerable sand recovered by mining loam piles for gold. 
During gold mining, tailings should periodically be examined for gemstones. The metamorphic grade in the South Pass region is favorable for a variety of aluminuous gems including garnet, andalusite, sillimanite, cordierite, ruby and sapphire. In the past, there was one report of a gem-quality diamond found at South Pass and the author has also identified nearby unexplored cryptovolcanic structures. In the Louis Lake area northwest of South Pass, some high-quality gem aquamarine was recovered, and some could potentially end up in the South Pass placers. As a final note, scheelite (tungsten ore) was identified in the Lewiston gold district along the eastern margin of the greenstone belt. It is unknown if scheelite occurs in Rock Creek, but because scheelite (calcium-tungstate) is a heavy mineral, it can be recovered in a gold sluice. Rock Creek looks to be an excellent gold prospect.

I would like to thank  by James Healey and RC Mineral and Rock, LLC  for contracting me to examine their Rock Creek gold property.
Frozen in time. The E.T. Fisher gold dredging operation on Rock Creek, Wyoming, commercially produced gold
from Rock Creek at $32.32/ounce to $35.50/ounce. The operation ceased in 1942 when closed by
 War Minerals 

Board Order L-208 that was designed to focus the US mining industry on mining and recovery of metals needed for
World War 2. This mine, like many in the US, never reopened (Hausel, 2019). With gold prices of today (9/22/2019) as
high as $1500/ounce (more than 40 times its value when the mine closed) (see gold prices at Gold Prospector), Rock Creek
 should be considered a viable gold target. All of the ground from the processing plant, continuing downstream to the 
Sweetwater River is virgin ground and very likely has commercial gold at $1500/ounce. The same hold true for Willow
Creek and many tributaries in the district. Note the placement of gravel and loam piles sitting on unmined ground.
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  • Pfaff, B.C., 1997, Fine Gold. Broadway Books.
  • Ross, C.L., and Gardner, E.D., 1935, Placer methods of the E.T. Fisher Company, Atlantic City, Wyoming: US Bureau of Mines Information Circular 8809, 31 p.
  • Snyder, G.L., Hausel, W.D., Klein, T.L., Houston, R.S., and Graff, P.J., 1989, Precambrian Rocks & Mineralization, Wyoming Province: 28th International Geological Congress guide to field trip T-332, July 19-25, 48 p.
Steve Gyorvary at Atlantic City, Wyoming. An outstanding miner and
The highlight of my consulting trip to South Pass was
seeing my old friends - Steve Gyorvary and
Gerald Stout. I thank God for these times in my life. 
Old Friends meet again. This group photo shows members of my last public field trip many dozens throughout the years,
The photo shows the GemHunter to the far left of the photo in Khaki shirt and with hat. Standing behind me is my son,
Eric.Also in the photo, is my good friend - Steve Gyorvay. Steve in kneeling in the center of the photo. 

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