Tourist trap pays off


Travel experiences rate much higher than travel destinations to me. So while we spent the morning at Mt. Rushmore—a must see in the Black hills of South Dakota–it was the afternoon that made the day so memorable.

I wanted to try gold panning and dozens of the brightly-painted billboards exclaimed that Big Thunder Gold Mine was the place to do it. Maybe it was a tourist trap, but I was willing to overlook that fact. Plus everyone in my family was excited about the prospect, too. (Sorry about the pun.)

The experience included a tour through the mine, complete with the opportunity to wear plastic yellow hard hats. In an earlier post, I mentioned facing my fears and one of them is going underground in caves and such. But I was determined.

At stops throughout the mine, I learned about the two miners who had worked this claim. Their story can be summed up in numbers: 35 years of work, 630 feet into the side of the hill and 10 ounces of gold total. That’s dedication, desperation and an unyielding sense of hope all mixed up into one.

Afterwards, we were handed gold pans and given a short lesson on how to scoop, shake and swirl water over a mixture of sand and gravel to reveal tiny specks of gold. We collected them into a water-filled vial. Tacky souvenir? Perhaps. I don’t care, though. It triggers an experiential memory that is much richer to me.