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Uncovering the Rich History of LDMA Mining Camps

By Tom Massie

In the thrilling tale of the Lost Dutchman’s Mining Association (LDMA), we embark on a journey through the bygone days of gold prospecting. Join me as we delve into the fascinating history of LDMA’s iconic camps and the remarkable adventures that unfolded within their rugged terrains.

The Birth of Italian Bar

The LDMA’s inaugural outing took place on Thanksgiving, 1976, at Italian Bar. Don’t be fooled by the name; Italian Bar is a gravel bar situated along the South Fork of the Stanislaus River. This once-decrepit mining camp, founded by an Italian known as Nervy, had fallen into disrepair before LDMA’s acquisition. The property was littered with decades of discarded items, remnants of old hippie encampments, and squatters reluctant to vacate the deeded land.

Taming the Wilderness

As a young teenager, I vividly recall the arduous task of cleaning up the trash dumps scattered across Italian Bar. Accessing the camp was no easy feat, with a winding and treacherous road that tested our determination. Setting up camp under a vast canvas military tent, LDMA members immediately set out to engage in dredging, highbanking, and sluicing. Surprisingly, the initial gold finds were modest, and doubt began to seep into our minds. But fate had other plans.

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Nuggets and Adventures

It was during these formative days that the true spirit of Italian Bar began to reveal itself. One moment, an enthusiastic member’s wife unearthed a thumb-sized golden nugget from a boulder crevice, igniting a wave of excitement throughout the camp. Another time, a greenhorn proudly brandished a fist-sized nugget, aptly named the “hook-arm” nugget, before accidentally breaking it off inside a fruit jar. Yet, the most unforgettable adventure occurred during a stormy night when the river swelled, and equipment had to be rescued to prevent loss. In the darkness, I guided a fellow member through treacherous terrain, narrowly avoiding a chilling dip in a deceiving pond.

Italian Bar’s Golden Legacy

Italian Bar has become a hallowed ground for gold enthusiasts, yielding countless precious nuggets throughout the years. I spent a summer vacation tirelessly tending to the Buzzard’s dredge, hauling rocks, and honing my prospecting skills. Eventually, the Buzzard discovered a remarkable “glory hole” in the canyon, unearthing over 800 ounces of gold. Italian Bar holds a special place in my heart, filled with memories of hard work, encounters with local troublemakers, and the camaraderie of a vibrant mining community.

Where Stanton’s Ghosts Roam

Stanton, Arizona, holds its own allure within the realm of LDMA. Initially, the town appeared worn down and forgotten, with collapsing adobe structures and tumbleweeds, hardly resembling the vibrant ghost town it is today. Yet, thanks to LDMA’s tireless restoration efforts, Stanton stands as one of the most well-preserved original ghost towns in the entire country. I fondly recall the perennial waters of Antelope Creek, where we swam and reveled in the scorching Arizona heat. Stanton also witnessed many memorable moments of celebration, gold discoveries, and the occasional misfortune at the poker table.

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Scorpions and Reflections

Stanton holds a special place in my heart, symbolizing solace and escape during tumultuous times. During visits to Stanton over the holidays, I developed a peculiar fascination with collecting scorpions, which I wanted to keep as pets. Once, I attempted to transport a jar filled with scorpions on a plane back to Fairbanks, Alaska, where I attended college. An amusing thought, considering the potential chaos if the jar had broken open mid-flight. Alas, I decided to release them into the wild, hoping they would find a new home and thrive as the northernmost scorpions on Earth.

The Tranquility of Duisenburg

Nestled just three hours away from my former residence in Temecula, California, Duisenburg Camp provided a serene haven during stressful moments. Often seeking respite from the chaos of life, I would venture to Duisenburg, setting up camp in the desert, mesmerized by the night sky, and finding solace amidst the crackling campfire. Here, LDMA’s gold-seeking spirit melded seamlessly with the tranquil desert landscape.

The People’s Club

LDMA isn’t just a camping club; it’s a community united by a shared passion for prospecting and the pursuit of gold. The true treasure lies in the connections forged with fellow members, transcending age and background. I cherished the friendships formed with seasoned miners during my high school and college years. Though some have since passed, their wisdom and guidance shaped me in profound ways. Now, I find myself becoming one of those respected “old timers” who imparts knowledge to younger generations.

The Dream Travel Itinerary

As I envision the next chapter of my life, retirement beckons with the promise of wintering in Stanton. Then, as the temperatures rise, I would migrate to Duisenburg Camp, reveling in the solitude of the desert. As summer heats up, Italian Bar Camp would become my refuge, offering a blend of nostalgia and adventure. From there, I would embark on a journey to Scott River, then Finley Camp, before seeking refuge in the cooling Alaskan wilderness. Eastern Oregon’s Burnt River Camp and the enchanting Blue Bucket Camp would serve as my autumn retreats. Finally, I would make my way to the East Coast, unwinding amidst the serene beauty of Vein Mountain in North Carolina, Oconee in South Carolina, and the historic Loud Mine in north Georgia. The circle of camps would become my home, an endless adventure of exploration and storytelling.

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A Permanently Bonded Association

The LDMA is more than a mere association; it embodies permanence, stability, and a sense of belonging. The titles and ownership of land bestowed upon LDMA members are unparalleled. Through the club, I have discovered countless treasures, both in the form of gold nuggets and cherished memories. And I eagerly look forward to unearthing even more in the years to come. So, here’s to you, dear reader, and your own prospecting endeavors. May we meet one day at the diggin’s or by the campfire, ready to share tales of our journeys.

For more information on LDMA and the fascinating world of gold prospecting, visit Ratingperson.

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