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Cofre -- Rio Arriba (standard:adventure, 1002 words)
Author: GXDAdded: Apr 07 2009Views/Reads: 3143/1709Story vote: 0.00 (0 votes)
The Colombian river Cofre was home to some of the world's most poisonous snakes, guarding their gold. Come upstream with me and have a look for yourself.


Downstream along the Rio Cofre, they told me, the muddy banks would be
crawling with snakes.  But up here at the headwaters of this sinuous 
river, reptiles weren't common -- an occasional half-drowned straggler 
perhaps, wandering beyond the foraging range of the nest. 

Instead, the clean stream burbled and plashed with turbulence among
sharp stones of every size.  At one point it swelled and overflowed a 
natural dam, where it widened outward into the soft banks, forming a 
pool.  And below the bank, a beachlet stretched out to the ripples.  
The sand near its rim lay black and crystalline, facets glistening in 
the Cauca sunlight. 

The pool formed a fairy grove under the coarse-leaved palms.  It was
about forty feet wide and clear as a polar sky.  Blue fish whipped and 
flashed; sunlight shimmered on a carpet of golden pebbles lining its 
bottom; a concerto of crickets echoed off the liquid mirror surface.  
Ripe oranges along the bank sprayed an appealing, citric spray into the 
air.  If anyone had ever dreamed of finding El Dorado, it had to be 
like this.  All I had to do was to fill up my ore-sampling bags and go 
back to the lab. 

Under tall ferns, only a stone's throw away, the opposite bank shrank
back into shade.  No welcoming beach had formed there.  That clay was 
brick-red, yet the sands beneath my feet were ebon, jet, raven-black. 
One drag of the magnet through this mud left it with a beard of 
magnetic chips clinging to its stubby poles.  Black sand often conceals 
many hidden treasures . A magnet becomes the magic tool whose singular 
field coils embrace the electrons of face-centered cubic structures 
with a preference, drawing first one, then another of the valuable 
metals and minerals from the gangue. 

Iron ore is more magnetic than ilmenite.  So I use deep-reaching magnets
to attract even monazite, sand-mother of Uranium.  My ultraviolet beam 
penetrates the deep water to reveal a host of gems twinkling in its 
eerie glow.  I probe the pool with ultrasound, looking for silver- and  
goldstones.  Here and there, I scoop up a sample of the sandy bottom.  
After I dry out these samples, I'll sift away the coarser sand and fill 
my bags with the valuable fines.  Back at the laboratory, my assistants 
will use a static generator to split the residue into metals and 
non-metals.  After that, the centrifugal funnels will separate lighter 
gems and ores from heavier ones. 

Each instrument, each processing step singles out the sands of value. 
After microscopic examination, all I needed was an independent assay, 
so I could validate my mining claim. 

The heavy, yellow sand -- which would be sifted further, screened and
ground and sifted again, rabbled and spread to flow across the ribbed 
concentration tables and onto the magnetic belt, then down spirals, 
where subtle gateways open wide along the spiral channel's side, eating 
up the shallow stream a little at a time; where the top-gates split out 
coarse sand and particles of ground-up bone from an oceanload of 
washed-up fish; where the next gates get down to business by splitting 
off oxides and silicates of lighter elements, allowing particles loaded 
with compounds -- Yttrium and Hafnium, Tantalum, Rhenium, flinty 
Cesium, radioactive Thorium and Polonium and Protoactinium -- to 
segregate near the bottom -- the heavy, yellow sand would go to my 
customer.  That was the harvest. 

"El Patron" paid well in advance to be sure a report came back
confirming a source of Uranium.  Well, my customer was going to get 
that report -- in Spades. 

Long ago, the world went bonkers.  Tough men plundered the earth to
snatch up all its metals: copper and silver and gold for coins, lead 
and zinc for batteries, iron for bridges and skyscrapers and autos, tin 
for cans, nickel and aluminum for jet planes; cobalt, molybdenum, 
tungsten and zirconium for war machines.  By 1990, all the good stuff 
was gone.  Now the mining machines were rooting about in the tailings 
and waste of yesteryear's mines, sniffing for traces and scraps.  But 
this lode of virgin metal two hundred miles up the snaky river -- it 
could change things. 

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