A bright summer sun lights up the large red barn west of a pioneer home site off Southfield Road. Chirping birds in two tall pines are momentarily silenced by the Heber Creeper’s shrill whistle as she rolls southwest along the historic Heber — Provo railroad line. Suddenly, my Minepro metal detector beeps loudly, indicating a metal object approximately 8” below (according to the digital readout). I am detecting around a brick walkway that leads to the now boarded-up front door. I dig a circular hole in the reddish soil roughly 6“ in circumference around the center of the return — an approximate bullseye. About 5” down I stick my pinpointer in the hole and hear the growl and vibration that tells me I am close to uncovering history!
Not all Treasure is Silver and Gold, Mate!
– Captain Jack Sparrow, Pirates of the Caribbean
I love hunting for history. Even the smallest articles have a story and those stories help us understand those who have come before. And when we understand them, we can better understand ourselves. The object I discovered that day was a lightly worn brass token almost the size of a modern quarter and later determined to come from a Café that was operating in Salt Lake City as late as 1935. After I gently cleaned the dirt off the token, using only soapy water and a soft cotton cloth, words letters and numbers appeared: “Café Grill…Good For One…12½ Cents…Cigar…1600 E 300 N”. It must have been a big stogie to cost 12½ cents back in those depression era days. Later that day, under a grassy rise a few feet from the walkway, I also detected and uncovered a large brass padlock, with “Miller” etched in script on its face. More research revealed that the respected Miller Lock company was bought out by York in 1905. I found a similar padlock selling on eBay for $45 — mine is in slightly better shape. The owner of the property, a friend, lets me keep the finds. I leave him with an old Lincoln cent and some buried metal farm tools I dug up earlier. No gold or silver yet but some interesting relics from our Heber Valley past.
As a geologist, I am drawn to the rich mining histories of both Wasatch and Summit counties. Much of my free time is spent hiking and exploring the old mining sites. Today, a 2.7-mile hike takes me along a trail that partly follows a turn of the century (1890-1915) narrow gauge, mine railway. I gain almost 2,500 vertical feet before reaching the abandoned shafts and large tailings of a once-productive mine. This is quite a feat considering I am also hauling my detecting tools, backpack, and rock hammer with me — this ‘scavenger hunt’ will require a bit more effort. Here, Heber City, Midway and Park City miners once labored in tunnels that reached depths of 2,300’. This specific site was part of a complex that once produced thousands of ounces of gold, silver, lead, and zinc. Old assay buildings, cabins, latrines, storage bunkers, and even a saloon dot the site, mostly buried in pines on the south side of a creek. The majority of abandoned Wasatch Back mines are either part of Wasatch Mountain State Park or were bought by the Extell Corporation for development of the new Mayflower Resort complex. Detecting in these old mines is now almost impossible due to state and private property restrictions. But today is a Bonanza-Eureka day as I uncover Wasatch Back history once again in the form of narrow gauge railroad spikes, mining drill bits once used to set explosive charges to listen up the ore, a silver fork and spoon, a broken pocket knife, several high-grade ore/mineral specimens, and a pewter cup that perhaps once watered a thirsty miner!
Uncovering our rich past is not limited to those with metal detectors and rock hammers. Sometimes a historical object with a story to tell can be found half-buried in an old wall or attic space while remodeling, or even hidden in the pages of an old book that once belonged to someone’s great-grandparents. The publisher of Heber Valley Life Magazine found a variety of historic artifacts, including old tin holders with colorful labels, while remodeling the old building that now houses Heber City’s own magazine and printing company!
Finally, there are many local fields, ballparks, fairgrounds, old home sites, municipal parks, and other places that make for great detecting and scavenging. It is vital to get permission first before detecting/exploring on private property or State Park properties. National Parks are strictly off-limits.
To learn more about detecting, scavenging, and collecting history I recommend reading back issues of local newspapers and magazines. You can also join a local historical society, talk to the folks at the Daughters of Utah Pioneers Museum on Main Street, or attend a meeting of the Wasatch Coin and History Club (held on the last Tuesday of each month at the Wasatch County Library in Heber City from 6-7:30 PM). Happy hunting!
List of Tools for Beginner Treasure Hunters
- Inexpensive metal detector
- Garret pinpointer
- Extra batteries
- Sturdy trowel
- Canvas or tough nylon pouch with handle to carry extra batteries, and items found.
- Small, sturdy steel shovel (optional)
- Metal or plastic sand scooper with small holes to catch coins in sandy areas (optional)
- Hand-held GPS map and place marker (optional)
- Small towel to dry things off if it rains
- A few Ziploc bags for extra found items
List of Tools for Advanced Treasure Hunters
All the above PLUS:
- You’ll want an advanced metal detector and pinpointer capable of differentiating iron, silver, copper, and gold with a depth meter and waterproof 11” coil.
- Extra coil for deeper detecting – 16” (optional)