The Resurrected “Origins of Funranium”

People ask pretty regularly, “What the hell does Funranium mean, anyway?” Well, here’s your explanation. I don’t promise that it makes good sense however. Need to go find that “Guarantee of Insobriety” statement I wrote again…

Once upon a time, I was driving along Interstate 580 with a friend from college and was talking to her about the recent fun prospecting and camping I’d had with my family at the Lost Dutchman Mining Association claim in Duisenberg (nearest town is Randsburg, CA).  Duisenberg was a gold camp in the middle of the Mojave Desert mining the caliche deposits.  Imagine, if you will, a thin limestone crust of false bedrock at varying depths throughout the Mojave with gold lying on top of it due to erosion of the nearby monazite quartz deposit.

Monazite is a mineral that rang a bell with me as both a frustrated geologist and a radiation safety professional.  I recognized it for two reasons: 1) It’s why the pretty purple quartz that makes the beaches of Kerala, India so beautiful, and 2) It’s purple because it is a thorium/uranium rich earth that gives Kerala a natural background dose rate roughly two orders of magnitudes higher than average sea level USA.  You see, gold, silver, platinum, thorium, and uranium are alike in that the preferentially taken up by water and deposited as veins in rock.  In the igneous petrology game, they are known as chemical incompatibles when it comes to the magma; if there is an available solvent to take them, like water, the metals will go there rather than form minerals.  It should come as no surprise that during the Uranium Rush of the late 1940s and early 1950s that the Mojave was home to several uranium strikes.

While laying all this out to my friend, I had a revelation:

1) Camping is fun.
2) Properly prepared, the desert is fun.
3) People like booze.
4) People like gold.
5) Small scale prospecting for thorium and uranium should be substantially similar to that used for gold (i.e. panning and dry rocker)
6) Unlike gold, a handheld meter can easily determine if you’ve found something radioactive.

In mathematical form: desert camping + prospecting for thorium/uranium + booze = AWESOME

On reflection, I realized that the combination of hooch with rough camp prospecting is about as traditional a post-1849 California activity as you can get.  All that’s missing from this equation is camp followers and guns.  However, this is how I envision my brand of fun:

The group will set out for the camp in one or two vans (depending on group size) to accommodate people and supplies.  On arrival at camp, tents will be set up and instructions on dry panning will be given with the intention to wash down concentrates accumulated in the field on a water recycling rocker at camp.   The intrepid souls will be issued map, GPS, panning equipment, radio, a bottle of their favorite booze (my personal preference being the creations of St. George Spirits), and 4L of water.  They will then set out looking to make their strike now that they know how to find that sweet spot on the caliche layer.  They could, alternatively, have a nice hike and/or stagger around the claim with a bottle of whiskey in hand.  At night delicious meats will be grilled while what concentrates have been accumulated by the prospectors are further concentrated by the rocker.  Then, before bed, I will take my meter to the concentrate, assay the materials for activity and give everyone their very own vial of the day’s thorium/uranium to cuddle with through the cold desert night.

Folks, that is Funranium.

If you are interested in having me arrange a Funranium Expedition*, it is possible that I could be convinced to take the time off work. (UPDATE: AHAHAHAHA, no, as if I have that much free time ever) Obviously, I’ll have to make all intrepid souls sign a waiver or some such; anything as patently foolish as wandering in the desert with booze in hand is something insurance companies and lawyers want no part of.  It’s quite obvious the rise and dominance of the insurance industry is a recent manifestation, because the Gold Rush and Westward Expansion wouldn’t have worked if liability coverage and deductible had been a part of it.

* You will have to provide your own camp followers and guns if you want a more authentic prospecting experience.