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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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Lost Gold Of The Algodones

Some day, when conditions are right, a desert wind will sweep across the dunes and lay bare the gold nuggets that litter a certain stretch of caliche.

By C. Kutac

From page 30 of the December 1975 issue of Lost Treasure magazine.
Copyright ©1975, 1999 Lost Treasure, Inc.

Several miles west of Winterhaven, California, and Yuma, Arizona, the highway crosses a strip of sand dunes called the Algodones. Somewhere in these dunes that stretch northward for nearly fifty miles is an area strewn with gold nuggets.

Before a black-topped road spanned the dunes, there was a plank road that allowed early travelers to cross the shifting sands. As late as the 1960's, wooden remains of the plank road lay twisted and half buried in the dunes like the backbone of some gigantic animal. Some stretches of the plank are still visible.

Hiking in the Algodones Dunes can be dangerous. When strong des-ert winds whip across the dunes, they create a sandstorm that would do justice to the Sahara. Particles of sand grate across the skin, stinging the eyes and stifling the breath. Be-ing caught in a sudden wind there is a terrifying experience and a sure way to learn the real meaning of the term "visibility zero." The unfor-tunate victim of a dust storm in the Algodones can do nothing but be still and wait until the wind sub-sides.

It was a sand storm in the sum-mer of 1917 that led to the discov-ery of gold in the dunes. The pros-pector who was to discover the gold arrived at Gray's Well leading a burro loaded with supplies. Stop-ping to wipe the sweat from his face, the man rested while he studied the undulating waves of sand that stretched northward as far as he could see. To the east were also dunes and the dark wood of the plank road that stood out starkly against the pale sand. The prospector was on the way to the Cargo Muchacho Mountains to search for gold. The Cargo Mucha-chos lay to the east of the Algodones and ran more or less parallel with them.

The prospector left Gray's Well and walked north along the edge of the dunes, ignoring the plank road that offered a safe, secure passage. After he had traveled north for a mile or so, he turned toward the east and started across the sand, making his way through the second pass north of the old plank road. He was not long in realizing that his decision to pick his own route a-cross the dunes was a mistake. The sand was shifting underfoot with his every step. It would have been so much wiser to have followed the plank road with its solid wooden footing, but it was too hot for him even to think about walking back all that distance.

A soft breeze drifted across the desert whipping up little eddies of sand. Pulling his hat down firmly, the prospector urged his burro to a faster gait. Before he realized it, the gentle breeze had turned into a howling gale that was whipping the sand across his face, tearing the hat from his head and bringing tears to his eyes.

The air was so thick with blow-ing sand that the prospector could no longer see where he was going. Besides, the gusts of wind were so strong that it was hard for him to keep his footing. Dropping to his knees, he hunched his shoulders against the wind and waited out the storm. When the wind stopped, the weary prospector brushed the sand from his face and looked around. Although the contours of the dunes had been changed by the sand storm, he still had a good idea of which direction to head.

With a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach, he realized that his burro was gone with all his supplies. The wind had erased the animal's hoof prints. There was not one chance in a million that he could ever find the burro. What was worse, sometime during the night-mare of sand and howling wind, he had lost his canteen.

Although he was not lost in the desert, the prospector was without water. It was the month of June. He realized that he was in a pre-carious position. He dared not panic, yet he knew he could not afford to waste time. The hot weather would soon suck the moisture from his body, leaving him dead in a few hours.

Stumbling on, fighting to main-tain his self-control, the man came to a stretch of caliche where the walking was much easier and he could make better time. At least, he made better time until he noticed the rocks that lay scattered over the hard ground.

They were gold nuggets! He for-got his discomfort and gathered as many of those rocks as he could carry.

The gold weighted him down. He was lugging nearly twenty pounds of it. But how could he leave it be-hind? It was gold that he had come for.

With each step, the gold seemed to grow heavier, and the heat of the desert combined with his thirst to make every movement more pain-ful. By the time he reached the sta-tion of Ogilby on the Southern Pa-cific Railroad, he was almost dead. The telegraph operator on duty made him as comfortable as pos-sible. But there was little he could do except get the stricken man on the next westbound train.

Months went by. The year 1917 was drawing to a close when a stranger walked into the general store in the small town of Winter-haven along the Colorado River. He had with him a map that showed the approximate location of the gold nuggets in the Algodones Dunes. The prospector, after he had left Ogilby, had grown progressively weaker, but before he died he had given the map to his best friend.

Filled with enthusiasm and op-timism, his friend bought supplies and hired a local man to help him in his search for the gold. The winds, of course, had changed the shape, size and position of the sand dunes. All the stranger had to go by was the general location of the spot where his friend had found the gold. Little did he realize that, since sand dunes shift and move before the wind, the, golden nuggets that once lay in plain sight before his friend were now covered by tons of rippling sand.

The stranger gave up the search, since all he could find was sand and more sand. But hope dies hard. The next year, he was back again to scour the Algodones Dunes for the legacy of gold that had been left to him by his dying friend. Once again his search was a failure.

Once more he returned to the dunes, but at last he gave up the search, disillusioned and disgusted by the time and money he had wasted on the shifting sands.

Some day, when conditions are just right, a desert sand storm will sweep across the dunes and lay bare the treasure of gold nuggets that litter a certain stretch of caliche. Anyone wishing to possess that for-tune had better be at that spot at that moment. The very next wind will sift the sands over the nuggets and once again hide the gold of the Algodones Dunes

--C. Kutac