Sierra Rivers

Saving Murphy's Bar

Narrowly dodging a pocket frog

Rocky Stone, who owns the bar probably wasn't cut out to be a bartender. He, at times, lacks a certain amount of discretion his profession requires. Having bought Murphy's Bar off of eBay, then having no luck reselling it on eBay, or at least not at a huge loss, he's settled into his role of serving beer and dispensing advice. Personally, I wouldn't take advice from a guy who bought a bar off eBay in a town with a population of 21. You can do the quick math on that and figure every man, woman and child in Hardrock would need to buy 3 beers a day for him to just break even.

The town of Hardrock breaks down into those who drink a lot more than 3 beers a day, and those who drink no beer. So Rocky has been busy sprucing the place up trying to attract people who are passing through Hardrock from the valley up to the lake. I think trying to sell beer to Lake People who just loaded up at Sams Club with everything needed to support a platoon for a week may be a questionable business model.

So, it was surprising when Rocky asked Flanagan what we were doing to make gold dredging legal again. Well, he didn't phrase it quite that way, as I recall the exact words may have been, "So you guys still running illegal?"

As some of you know it is considered insulting to call a miner, who happens to be between permits, "illegal." I have a pretty good poker face and can give the "Who me?" look with a certain level of expertise. Bob sputtered out some beer, wiped his hand across his mouth and said "What do you mean?"

Rocky said, "It's pretty well known you guys are running dredges up on Starvation Creek, even the Petersons know it."

The Petersons are Hardrock's single pair of crazy cat lady environmentalists. Grew up in the 60's and never quite got over it. They are the self-appointed stewards of the environment and never met a regulation they didn't like. Maggie Peterson still has a Hillary 2016 sticker on her car. The Petersons are dedicated to their cause and refuse to support any business which also doesn't support their agenda. Which means they have to drive all the way to the valley to buy a diet Coke. Being good environmentalists they don't see the irony in driving 85 miles round trip to buy a Coke, rather than spend the $1 to buy one at the bar.

I pondered this new revelation and said, "That would explain the increase in Fish and Game patrols in the area." Something many people don't realize is that miners in canyons are actually hard to find. That is, without a tip. Luckily there's no cell service in Hardrock, so it usually takes the Fish Cops a week or so to look into hot tips. Since the Petersons wouldn't be caught dead in Murphy's Bar I asked how Rocky Stone could know the Petersons would be so misinformed as to believe there may be some shaving of regulations going on up in the mountains.

Rocky replied, "Jim Fanghorn ran into them at the post office and overheard them saying they weren't going to stand for a bunch of miners destroying the environment for a few flakes of gold."

"Their backyard is a hydraulic pit." I said.

"They call it xeriscaping, but they said they saw some hoses sticking out from under a tarp in your truck, and they took some pictures of you filling up a 5 gallon gas can. They sent the pictures to the CalTip hotline."

"The gas is for the boat, we've been doing a lot of fishing." I replied.

"You don't have a boat." Rocky said.

"We might have a boat, you can't discount the possibility."

"The lake was frozen last month." Rocky countered.

"Yeah, it was cold."

"We've also been looking for some new mining claims just in case mining is ever legal again." Bob threw in trying to save me from coming up with some other use for a bunch of gas in the back of a pickup.

"If you're looking for new claims you'll want to stay away from the Dead Mule Creek area." Rocky said. "A mining club filed a bunch of claims in there and put up some signs saying it was the Dead Mule Creek Mining District."

"That's nice, but why should we stay away?" I asked.

"The enviros saw the signs and moved in to do a frog count on the Dead Mule Creek watershed." Rocky responded.

"There's no frogs up that high." Bob added.

"There are now." Rocky replied as he wiped the counter down and set up two more beers, unordered, but he's getting to know us pretty well.

Rocky continued, "Apparently they were successful in finding the last population of the distinct genetic subgroup of the Dead Mule Creek variant of the Sierra Mountain Yellow Legged Frog. They filed a lawsuit suing the Fish and Wildlife Service for not protecting the frogs on Dead Mule Creek. Apparently there's only two of these frogs but their habitat coincides exactly with the boundaries of the Mining District. A guy with a PhD even drew a map."

"So the Mining District just became critical habitat for the frog?" Bob asked.

"From what I hear it's an exact match." Rocky replied.

"Imagine the odds of that." Bob said switching to the his new beer, called Old Tailings which tastes a lot like Blatz without the bubbles. Someone local brews it, apparently unaware old tailings is what you throw away when mining. It is popular with the Lake People though.

"Yeah, apparently the DNA testing found traces of pocket lint. The scientists had never seen that before in a frog sample so they determined this was a very unique species, probably the last two of its kind." Rocky added.

"I didn't know frogs had pockets." Bob said.

"Last week some of the same bunch which did the Dead Mule Creek survey stopped in the bar asking about Starvation Creek. Apparently the Petersons told them Starvation Creek might have some undocumented miners." Rocky said, avoiding the "I" word.

"What'd you tell them?" I asked.

"I told them there hadn't been any mining up on Starvation Creek in 40 years but there was a new wine bar in Downieville so they decided to go look for pocket frogs in Downieville."

I may have misjudged Rocky, he's getting better at this bartending stuff after all.

Bob downed the rest of his beer and said "Well, I think we better get going. I think the fish are biting up at the lake and we need to get the boat in the water."

"The boat ramp has been closed for a month for repairs." Rocky said.

"I knew that." Bob said as he threw a twenty on the bar and headed for the truck. He turned to me and said "We need to fix that tarp."