A full year before Nevado del Ruiz, the highest active volcano in the Andes Mountains of Colombia, erupted on November 13, 1985, the mountain began to show warning signs. The people living in the surrounding area, especially the town of Armero, were warned of a pending eruption, but a year is a long time to wait for a predicted eruption to occur, and after a while, the people began to consider the warnings to be false alarms. After a time, life went back to “business as usual” as the people believed the warnings were like a predicted blizzard that never materializes.
When the predicted eruption began on November 13, 1985, the people though they had been right, and the area had dodged a bullet, because the eruption was actually considered a mild one. The eruption produced a series of lava flows that surged over the volcano’s broad ice-covered summit. the super-heated lave became flowing mixtures of water, ice, pumice, and other rock debris that poured off the summit and sides of the volcano, forming “lahars” that flooded into the river valleys surrounding Ruiz. A lahar is a destructive mudflow on the slopes of a volcano. The lahars joined normal river channels, filling them to flood levels. To make matters worse the situation was exacerbated by heavy rain. Within four hours of the eruption, the lahars had traveled over 60 miles, killing more than 23,000 people, injuring over 5,000, and destroying more than 5,000 homes. The town of Armero was the hardest hit, losing three quarters of its 28,700 inhabitants. The lahars destroyed everything in their paths: roads, bridges, farm fields, aqueducts and telephone lines. They wiped out 50 schools, two hospitals, in addition to the more than 5,000 homes. The region lost 60 percent of its livestock, 30 percent of grain and rice crops, and half a million bags of coffee. 7,500 people were left homeless.
Because there had been ample warning, the losses could have been minimal, if the people living in the river valley had moved to higher ground. It’s not completely their fault. We humans, have a tendency to lose faith in what we have been told, when thing don’t happen immediately. After a year of hearing that the volcano was going to erupt, people began to think that the vulcanologists were wrong. Then, when it did start, it didn’t seem to be the horrendous eruption that had been predicted. All this led to a lack of a feeling of urgency, and thereby, they death of 23,000 people. So very sad that we could so carelessly refuse to take heed.
During the gold rush years, in 1857, to be exact, two German men who had been traveling with a wagon train headed to California, decided to leave the rest of the group and headed out on their own. They wound up in the Mono Lake region of northern California. One of the men would later describe the area as “the burnt country.” While crossing the Sierra Nevada near the headwaters of the Owens River, they sat down to rest near a stream. Looking around, they noticed a curious looking rock ledge of red lava filled with what appeared to be pure lumps of gold “cemented” together. That was how their “mine” got its name.
The ledge of that hillside was literally loaded with the ore. The excited men couldn’t believe their eyes. One of the men was laughing at the other as he pounded away about ten pounds of the ore to take with him…because he did not believe it was really gold. The man who believe that it was gold drew a map to the location and the two men continued their journey. Along the way, the disbeliever died and since he was laden with so much ore, the believer tossed the majority of the samples. Then, after crossing the mountains, he followed the San Joaquin River to the mining camp of Millerton, California. After a long, weary journey, the German had become ill and soon went to San Francisco for treatment. He was diagnosed and cared for by a Doctor Randall who told the man he was terminally ill with consumption (tuberculosis). With no money to pay the doctor and too ill to return to the treasure, he paid his caretaker with the ore, the map he had drawn, and provided him with a detailed description.
Doctor Randall shared this knowledge with a few of his friends and together they decided to go for the gold. They arrived at old Monoville in the spring of 1861. After enlisting additional men to help, Randall’s group began to prospect on a quarter-section of land called Pumice Flat. Their claim is thought to have been some eight miles north of Mammoth Canyon…the 120 acres were near what became known as Whiteman’s Camp. Word of possibly a huge cache of gold spread quickly and before long miners flooded the area hunting for the gold laden red “cement.” One story tells that two of Doctor Randall’s party had in fact found the “Cement Mine,” taking several thousand dollars from the ledge. Unfortunately, for those two men, the area was filled with the Owens Valley Indian War which began in 1861. The Paiute Indians, who had heretofore been generally peaceful, were angered at the large numbers of prospectors who had invaded their lands. The two miners who had allegedly found the lost ledge were killed by the Indians before they were able to tell of its location.
Though the “cement” outcropping was never found again, the many prospectors who flooded the eastern Sierra region did find gold. Apparently there was a huge cache there after all. This resulted in the mining camps of Dogtown, Mammoth City, Lundy Canyon, Bodie, and many others. The lost lode is said to lie somewhere in the dense woods near the Sierra Mountain headwaters of the San Joaquin River’s middle fork. If it really exists, it must be very well hidden.