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The deserts of the American southwest have long been the discussion of lost mines and buried treasures. For hundreds of years, man has scoured the desert floor searching for any signs of the countless tales of lost riches. Some have claimed to have found the elusive treasures but only to be lost again, while others grew old or died trying. None the less, the legends live on as they are passed down from generation to generation. Maybe you will be the lucky one...

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Picacho's Golden Arches

It's been years since a bunch of teen-agers found golden pebbles under an arch in the Picacho region of southern California, but prospectors still seek them.

By James E. Mulkey

From page 8 of the March 1996 issue of Lost Treasure magazine.
Copyright ©1996 Lost Treasure, Inc.

The wild and isolated Picacho region of southeastern California has been well-known to gold seekers for more than 200 years. It's a land of jumbled mountains, canyons, mesas, hills and dry washes where the brown waters of the Colorado River laid down rich gold-bearing gravels thousands of years ago.

Mankind has long sought gold in the Picacho region. First came the Native Americans, followed by the Spaniards, then, toward the end of the last century, white men formed the mining district of Picacho. The latter group of miners were most active between 1904 and 1910, during which time they removed $2 million in gold from the district. Although the ore bodies at the Picacho Mine contained only a few dollars of gold per ton, the ore shoots were quite large - in fact, one ore shoot at this mine was 250 feet long and 160 feet wide.

More than 100 years have passed since Jose Mendivil discovered gold in the shadow of Picacho Peak. Although the boom camp that mushroomed into existence following his discovery has been abandoned, the Picacho Mine, which is located adjacent to Picacho Peak, has been reborn. Today, the mine employs 75 men and women with $65 million in gold being recovered each year.

The Picacho region also nourishes more lost gold legends than any other area in the Southwest. But time has a way of closing files. The men who told and re-told stories of lost gold and who followed the gleam no longer trace out the old Picacho trails with pack burros and gold pans, only the descendants of their burros remain in the region.

Placer gold occurs in almost every wash in Picacho Country in every direction out from the peak. According to William Clark in 'Gold Districts of California', the placer deposits in the various dry washes around Picacho were usually shallow and strung-out. Furthermore, according to Clark, some of the richest deposits were located at Oven Wash, which produced handfuls of $70 nuggets.

Quite naturally, more than one lost mine is said to be located near Picacho Peak. One such mine, the Lost Arch Mine, was discovered a few miles toward the southeast from Picacho Peak in the early 1930s. Although the more famous Lost Arch Mine - the one known to lost mine hunters everywhere - is located in California's Turtle Mountains, Picacho has its own Lost Arch Mine.

Picacho's Lost Arch Mine was discovered by a group of teen-agers on a Sunday outing. During the early years of the Great Depression, a group of teens drove out from Winterhaven (which is located a mile west of Yuma, Ariz.) following the old stagecoach road to Picacho Peak. The youngsters planned to hike to the peak, explore around it and possibly climb to the top, a popular pastime in those days.

During the 1930s, the road to Picacho was extremely bad and often impassable, as it sometimes is today. Although the youngsters tried to reach Picacho Peak, they didn't even make it across the summit between No Name and Picacho washes. Instead, they parked their car and started hiking toward Picacho Peak, located several miles across rugged terrain.

The teen-agers didn't realize how far it was from where they parked to Picacho Peak. As a result, they frequently stopped to rest. The day was hot, and before long, their water supply ran out. They began to search for a tank, a natural depression in rock, which from time to time fills with rain water. Finally, they located a water hole - a pothole.

One of the young ladies in the group climbed up to the ledge and dangled her feet in the water, while another took a photograph of her. After posing for the snapshot, the girl looked down and saw bright, shiny pebbles lying at the bottom of the pothole. She climbed down and gathered a few of the pebbles and took them home with her. The pebbles turned out to be gold nuggets.

A few weeks later, the teens drove back toward Picacho, parking near where they had stopped on their first trip. They searched and searched, but they couldn't find the arch or the pool of water again. They soon gave up their search. A few days later, the teens told their story to G.A. Rodenbaugh, Winterhaven's postmaster. They showed him the gold and a copy of the snapshot. Rody, as folks called him, was an aficionado of lost mines - in fact, his main interest was mines and mining. Rody spent 10 years searching for the Lost Arch Gold.

During the halcyon days when Picacho was in full bloom, more than 700 men found employment in the mines. A sizable community of 2,500 was built, only to be later abandoned. Long before the townsite of Picacho, which is located four miles north of Picacho Peak, became a California state park, Ed Rochester took up residence in one of the town's abandoned stores after he retired. Ed had been a trapper and a miner for most of his life. Finding and searching for gold was second nature to Ed. He had what old-timers sometimes called a nose for gold.

Apparently, Ed also had an ear for lost mine stories. Ed heard the story of Picacho's Lost Arch Gold from Rodenbaugh when he was in town on one of his infrequent shopping trips. After stocking up on groceries and fishing gear, Ed and his partner, Earl Kerr, made tracks back toward Picacho, stopping to prospect along the way in search of the Lost Arch Gold.

Ed Rochester, in a story written by harold Weight for Desert magazine, said, "Rody just knew the gold was there. He loaned us a copy of the photograph, and it was authentic. It showed the girl, the pool, the rock bridge and the cliffs around it."

Earl Kerr was known as a great hiker in the days following World War II. He decided he would try to find the Lost Arch Mine. After many weeks of searching, Earl found a place that seemed to match the scene in the photograph. There was a rock basin, a pothole and some cliffs - however, the arch was missing and there wasn't any gold. Earl took a snapshot of the scene. Earl hiked back to his cabin at Picacho, located near Ed's quarters, and showed Ed the photos, saying that he thought he had found the Lost Arch. The matter was forgotten.

Years later, after Earl had passed on, Ed drove into Yuma, Ariz., to buy supplies. As ed walked past Brumley's Photo Studio, he stopped to look at some pictures on display. Among these, was a scenic shot of the exact same spot the teen-ager's photo had shown. It showed the arch,the water and the cliffs. Only the girl was missing.

Ed's blood pressure began to rise. He walked into the studio seeking the man who took the photo, but Brumley had died. His wife ran the studio now, and it was Mrs. Brumley who answered Ed's questions about the photo in the window.

Mrs. Brumley told Ed that her husband took the photo out at Picacho a few years earlier. They parked alongside the road, and while she explored around the car, Mr. Brumley hiked into the area where he took the picture. As a result, she couldn't lead Ed to where the arch was located.

Ed Rochester left Brumley's Studio more puzzled than he had been when he entered. In Picacho Country, there are lots of canyons, cliffs and potholes surrounding Picacho Peak, particularly to the south and southeast. There are lots of arches, too. But where was the real Lost Arch? And where was the gold? Both Ed Rochester and Earl Kerr each kept a small jar half-filled with nuggets at their cabins and when one or the other would find a nugget, the finder would be certain to boast about it. The arch could have fallen, and the water could have been dry, but what happened to the nuggets? It was a question which bothered Ed Rochester to the day he died.

-- James E. Mulkey