Pictures are thumbnailed.  Left click on one for full size image.

Last update:  February 23, 2016


      The “Utopia” gold mine is a hand tools only operation located on unpatented claims somewhere in the State of Montana.  The gold is contained in glacially deposited placer gravels, somewhat reshaped by meltwater and occasional runoff from frog stranglers.   These shots were taken at the top of the digs in 2009  and 2010.   Our excavations extend approximately 600 feet down the drainage from this point.

     These pictures were taken in August, 2012.  As you can see, the hole has gotten a bit larger. 

     The right image shows a rock discard pile with a view, which the Forest service said is too large and should be leveled.  When I suggested that the purple peckered ewok (a previously unknown insectivorous avian variety) was nesting in the pile, they decided to let it remain because if anybody ever saw one it would become an endangered species.


    The mine produces mainly coarse gold:  bright flakes and nuggets, with the largest found so far weighing more than 1.5 ounces.  A 1.3 ounce nugget was found in September, 2011 by Gloria Edden.   The photos on the left show "mine run", and the nugget on the right weighs about 16 pennyweights (.8 ounce). 


     The deposit was discovered around 1980, and we have been conducting a “hand tools only” operation seasonally (summerly) ever since.  Presently, there are three partners, L to R:  Amos Knapstad, Dave Edden,  and Yours Truly.  Here are some brief biographical remarks and a little about how we came together.


     I was one of several original owners, and eventually acquired 100% of the mine which is now shared with my two new partners Amos and Dave.   My day job was community college math instructor (first in Brooklyn, New York and now in the suburbs of Houston, Texas), and I used the summers to escape to Montana and dig off my frustrations.  I retired on May 31, 2015, and may devote more time to developing this passion into a real money-making venture or give it to the GPAA. 

On the left Dave and I are looking for sapphires at the Gem Mountain sapphire mine, and relaxing with a friend in his back yard. 

  One morning I was washing buckets of dirt in a stream below the mine.   I had hit a rich pocket, and was picking nuggets out of a micro-sluice every few seconds – about three ounces of them were in a stainless bowl next to me when I was approached by a somewhat irked redneck.  “You are fouling up my coffee water – don’t you know there is a cabin down below?”  I replied, “No.  Look in the bowl.  Want to join me?”  The Eddens and I have been friends ever since.  That's Dave and his wife Gloria on the right  She is saying: "Dang!  That one's bigger than mine!"

     Dave Edden is an experienced hard rock miner who was forced to retire when the mine he was working in was closed by its corporate owner.  Gloria and their son James also work with us. 


  I have collected corundum specimens (rubies and sapphires) for many years, and one of the World’s legendary sapphire deposits (“Yogo Gulch”) is located in central Montana.  In the 1980's I had the chance to visit the site and meet Amos Knapstad, a “Sapphire Villager” who had digging rights on the mineralization.  That acquaintance grew into an alliance for rock and fossil hunting, and now gold mining.

     Amos not only hunts gems and fossils (left:  in the Green River shales, Wyoming) but he is also an expert faceter.   My wife’s engagement ring contains a clean (VSI?)  nearly 4 carat pale green round brilliant Missouri River sapphire he found and cut.   From his pictures, it is not hard to see why he has been a “shopping mall Santa” on more than one occasion.



Here is how we looked in August, 2012.  Left to right: Amos, Gloria and Dave, son James, and my hirsute alter ego.  Note the bird in the herb garden - a good example of what local people do during the long, cold Montana winters.


   In the past, our operation has been “hand tools only”.  We dig dirt, screen out the larger rocks, and transport buckets of screenings to a wash site, usually the Eddens’ back yard.   There is no water where the gold is mined, and that is probably why it is still there.


    The dirt is fed through a sluice box, which is designed to allow water to flush out the less dense materials while retaining the “heavy fines” which are primarily a mixture of black sand (iron oxides - magnetie, hematite) and gold.  Occasionally, a large “picker” shows up in the sluice (see small "picker" on left).  The effluent builds up below the tailbox, forming "Lake Edden" (on the right).
     While Dave supervises, Gloria mucks the silts and lighter fines (which we call "futher"), lest they back up and clog the tailbox of the sluice.   He is thinking:  "It's a nasty job, but somebody has to do it!"  I should not repeat what she is thinking. 

     The truth is this is hard work, and breaks and comic interludes are a necessary part of the daily routine.  We do it for the love of the game, and when the gold pays for the beans and the beer it's a great season!


     The final separation is done in a gold pan.  My collar is up because the state bird of Montana is the mosquito.  At the mine, the oversize gravels, bedrock traps, and sidehills are “shot” with a metal detector.  Most of the large nuggets are found in this manner.  From her expression, I think Gloria found a small one.

This phase is usually followed by generous amounts of beer, B. S., and barbeque.  

     Our friends Jim and Debby Nelson seem to be thinking:  "Where's the beef?"  When you want your steaks well done, you have to wait!


Nobody can accuse us of being extravagant or wasteful.   I did actually eat that entire 4 pound steak after a hard day's work.  Our accomodations in town are pristine, the campsite has few amenities, and we do have some interesting challenges every now and then.  The bear picture was taken by Gloria in her back yard.  I took the snow shot in Elliston, eight miles to the east, in the month of August!    


     Security in the winter is provided by several feet of snow.  During the mining season we employ local sentries (ground squirrels and chipmunks, left).  Compared to our dreams of golden riches, their wages are peanuts (right)!!

It is not all work, and the animals provide entertainment during our breaks.  On the left that's Gloria, our camera lady, and Ferbit trying to get one more almond in there.  The butterfly on the right was apparently looking for salt, and I wish I had brought three worms! 

2013 update:
      We had a very interesting summer.  One new wrinkle was a new ranger unfamiliar with our activities, and there were new restrictions and hoops to jump through prior to the start of the new digging season. 
     We filed a Plan of Operations in March, and apparently that triggered three things that we had not experienced in the past.  First, there was a public comment period (30 days I think) where everyone had to wait to see if there were any contested issues before proceeding.  Second, we had to wait for a sensitive plants expert to examine our work area, making us very careful not to insult our weeds. Third, we were told our hand tools only small mine was subject to reclamation bonding (which may not be true if a court precedent applies to our case), and we were to be responsible for weed control even though some of the weeds may have been imported by the Forest Service to stabilize slopes denuded by a fire and not within the boundaries of our active work area.   

     We took the licking and kept on ticking.  Our group included two friends from our North Carolina corundum activities, and we had a great time getting some good gold and great cooking every evening thanks to Dave and Gloria.  See some pictures below the 2014 updater
2014 update:
     More new rangers, more restrictions.  We had to post bond for weed control, winterization, pit reclamation (including a bootleg one not dug by ourselves), and revegetation of our rock discard piles (think about that one)!  We did, and after a few lost days while the final arrangements were approved (despite my request in the spring they be done before I arrived).   
   The first two pictures below show the 2013 and 2014 diggings (winterized in the last photo).  Is this a small mine or not?   The third photo shows Dave shooting the bottom with a Fisher Gold Bug.   The other two show me screening and one of our better cleanups.  

2015 update
     This year was to some extent wasted because of restrictions imposed by the Forest Service.  The rangers seemed to disagree with our assertion that our hand tools only operation has not caused and will not cause a "significant" disturbance of surface resources.  As a result, we had to await approval for a Plan of Oerations that was for a term of one year for our 35 year ongoing explorations and that required reclamation using material we did not have.  Then, because we did not do it, we were issued a Notice of Noncompliance by the District Ranger!!  Sometimes I wonder if they know which end of the cart the horse goes on, and let me say nothing about which end of the horse ....  Enough of that for now. 
   Here are a few pictures of what we did get done at the digs.  Some nuggets were easy to find even by our rookie shooter (note the arrows, see fuzzy it in second photo), while others were more deeply buried.  The second nugget, found by a friend from Helena, weighs about 13.7 pennyweights (.685 oz.).  Both were found with MineLab 5000's.  That's Frank Wedl, an old gym buddy from New York who comes out every now and then, and our new swinger, Chuck Pharis from Tennessee, taking advantage of photo ops  with yours truly (not exactly American Gothic, but it could be worse)!
     We met another nugget shooter, Ray Powell, a resident of Helena, and he used a MineLab 5000 to find several nice nuggets in what we had thought was barren ground beyond the edge of the deposit.  This is good to know, and may tell us where to dig in 2016, if the Forest Service will let us.  Pictures of some of the booty will follow in 2016.
2016 Update
     Dave Edden passed away unexpectedly on February 12, 2016.  I will miss my partner and dedicate this page to him, his loving wife Gloria, and their children Marney, Amber, Allen, and Jim, all of whom shared the passion at one time or another on the hill.  May you rest in peace, Good Buddy!

     The future of this venture is in doubt, but we had so many years of pleasure in the quest that it will always be favorably remembered.  I will report here what we decide. 

     I have gone through my picture file and found some additional images that you might enjoy.  They are thumbnailed below so we can capture them at the Star Video Productions studio where I am working informally with the owner.  We will be putting together a DVD with stills and video clips from our escapades over the years.  It may be out by the fall of 2016.  Captions appear below the images.

1:  Dave, Gene, and Little Bear camping   2:  Dave and Will (yours truly) at top of digs (in 2008?)  3:  Dave shooting, Jim screening, me pondering something.  4:  Break time (ca. 2013).   5:  Dave, Gloria, and me sluicing in Eddens' back yard.  6:  The three partners screening.  7:  Gloia's wintery picture of a tree on the Divide above the mine.
8:  Sunset in Avon (forest fire to the west of town).  9:  Nugget from mine.  10:  Ditto!  11:  More gold, from cleanup.  12:  Dave and Glorria picking sapphires at Gem Mountain.  13:  Owner Chris Cooney is on left.  14:  Talk about focus on task, ...
15:  Dave and Amanda Montoya.  16:  Hamming it up with Dave and Buzz (Gordon Burns).  17:  Ben Brink math faculty colleague).  18:  Ben reading the manual, telling Dave what to do (Ha!).  19:  Ben and Will.  20:  Jim Edden, Dave Edden, Jim Sturrock (college roommate).  21:  Jim Sturrock's wife (passed away).
22:  My dad and me (ca. 2014).   23:  Avon dinner table.  24:  Never a bum steer in their house!   25:  Dinner crowd.  26:  Ben, Will, Dave expressing gratification.  27:  Dave and Little Bear.  28:  Time to warm up the coffee!  (See 1 above.)
29:  Gloria's picture - in back yard!  30:  Joe Kellermann at wet side campsite.  31:  Dave, Gene, Will with nothing better to do.  32:  Nugget.  33:  Break time.  34:  Supervising the sluicing operation.  35:  Dave and P.J. sorting stones.
36:  Amos, Dave, Will in mining gear and plumage.  37:  Dave with some of our gold.  38:  Jim at the mine.   39:  Dave at the mine.  40:  Dave at the barbecue.  41:  After the barbecue (in back yard).  42:  What the fuss is all about. 
43:  I had a moustache once - Marney and daughter (name?)  44:  "Joe from Ohio"   45:  Russ Carbone, from New Jersey.  46:  Guests from Tennessee GPAA chapter (I forget, will look up names).   47:  "Joe from Ohio".  48:  Russ and Dave taking a break at mine.  49:  Family tree.
50:  Jim, Glenda, Lesley, and P.J.  51:  Loaded, ready to go to Avon!  52:  Our mascot (leprechaun?) from Joe from Ohio.  53:  Will and Frank Wedl (gym buddy).   54:  Chuck Pharis and Will.    
  Here are some other nuggets I have seen.  On the left is the "Boot of Cortez", a 389.4 ounce nugget found in Sonora, Mexico.  I had the chance to examine it when it was brought to America (a long story - and I am convinced it's quite authentic).  The owner, Theo Manos, is holding it.  I recall the cabochon in his ring is from the "Sixteen to One" mine.  

 On the right above is "Fred" a 90-ounce gold in quartz nugget, estimated to contain about 66 ounces of gold.  (It does resemble a frog sitting on a rock, doesn't it?) It was found on a dump in Arizona by Bud Guthrie, a Montanan with a Fisher Gold Bug.  Bud has since sold it (new owner wishes to remain anonymous).  I was able to display it at the National AmFed show in Billings a few years ago (see case of his booty in first picture): provided that security guard ALF accompanied.  On the right is some of the gold from our own mine, not sure how much it weighs; but the big ugly nugget, which we call "Vienna Sausage", is a little over 1.3 ounces (26.18 dwt.).