By P. Dale Ware
If you like shooting old mining equipment and ramshackle miners' cabins, you would've enjoyed Lee Bergthold's lecture/slide presentation at AV College on Nov. 30 and Dec 1. Bergthold's program, titled "Ghost Camps of the Argus Range," was an account of his backpacking trips to old and sometimes forgotten mining locations west of Death Valley.
He made these trips in the recent past as part of personal research on these historical treasures, he said.
Most of the slides shown by Bergthold were of derelict mineshafts and miners' cabins, as well as disintegrating equipment used to dig and sift out the ore. Occasionally, there were images of broken down furniture in the cabins and personal items the miners left behind. Some of the mines dated back to the late 1800s, and others were as recent as the 30's and 40's.
Respecting the integrity of each mining site found was a top priority, Bergthold said. As part of an agreement with the Bureau of Land Management, he promised not to disturb the historical artifacts he discovered, nor could he disclose their locations." Antique buffs would like to take this stuff home with them," he said.
On a few trips, Bergthold ran into modern-day miners trying to dig a living out of the ground, he said. They were usually suspicious of him until he established a trusting relationship with them. Then, they would share wilderness secrets with him, such as where to find water, etc.
Since Bergthold was an outdoor survival specialist, he found that, many times, he knew more than the miners did about their surrounding environment. He knew where the water was because he had to use water sources to map his trips. "My specialty is finding water," he said. "I can smell it."
He digs it out of the ground or finds it in natural springs, he said. Sterilization is not necessary, most of the time, because he takes care to make sure the water is clean before drinking it.
Eating raw garlic on the trip helps with germ protection. And, in other cases, he purifies water with a special mixture of grapefruit extract, he said.
Most of Bergthold's jaunts are one-day field trips with photography students and do not involve backpacking, he said. Longer excursions are made with survivalist students and can last from 7 to 35 days. These people get special instruction in the classroom before they go out.
When Bergthold was asked why he likes to spend his spare time exploring and shooting pics in the backcountry, he said, "I guess I was born into it. I've done it all my life."