The "Lost Josephine" mine is a legend in Utah, with treasure hunters everywhere alleging it to contain Spanish gold and silver and skeptics claiming it to be just another treasure hunting fantasy.
Gary Holt, a Summit County resident, believes he may have found the Lost Josephine mine and a bounty that no other prior claimant to the mine has discovered.
The mine, located by Hoyt's Peak in the Uinta Mountains, Holt says is a low-sulfidation epithermal vent directly over the Hoyt Canyon fault line. He claims he has extracted $30 million of what he markets as Goldcite, a form of fibrous calcite.
Holt said the U.S. Forest Service approved his plan of operation to mine at the site in February of this year, which Heber/Kamas District Ranger Jeff Schramm confirmed with The Park Record.
Holt added that previous owners of the mine, who he says could date all the way back to Jesuit priests in 1650, were not able to locate the gold in the mine because of steam and water from a nearby caldera that makes descending into the vent difficult.
Much of the history of the mine is purportedly documented, according to Holt, including a story of a Coalville marshal in the early 1900s who found a Spaniard operating the mine with two slaves.
Tom Flanagan, a Forest Service archaeologist who is familiar with the area, said Holt's claim of mining calcite is just the newest excuse to continue "treasure hunting," not mining, at the site. He said previous holders of the mine claimed there to be gold and emeralds.
"When these guys look for their lost Spanish gold, many archaeological sites get looted," Flanagan said. "That mine is a natural feature they have now un-naturalized."
Brandon Holt, Gary's son, was the one who initially discovered the lower portion of the mine that contained the calcite deposits protruding on the cave surface. In the lower portion, he said, there is almost complete darkness, in which he once got lost with friends.
"You don't know dark until you're down there," Brandon Holt said. "It was a harrowing, terrifying experience. But I'm sort of an adrenaline junkie."
Holt said he has sold Goldcite rings that he has made at gem shows, and added that it is a new material that hasn't been shown before. He showed both slabs and jewelry made of Goldcite and is preparing to wholesale it to jewelers.
Holt said, according to a gemologist, Goldcite could sell for $8-12 per karat, and that with the diamond market being weak, he thinks an opportunity could exist for Goldcite to do well.
As far as the claims about gold deposits in the mine, Flanagan didn't buy it.
"If we had those kinds of gold mines in the Uintas, I'd be a rich man," Flanagan said. "A lot of treasure hunters will map on a natural solution cavity and try to purport that it's a historic or ancient mine and then try to mine it."
Brandon Holt, however, said there is a good chance the mine may be the Lost Josephine.
"What clinches the story for me is that by the opening is a wagon trail that leads to a prayer tree," Brandon Holt said, adding the prayer tree was used by the Spanish for religious rituals.
Flanagan said there are many so-called "Lost Josephine" mines and that individuals like Holt are "part of a legacy of guys" that are regulars on treasure hunting websites. He said he knows he is often characterized as a "federal government villain," but maintains that no actual mining has occurred at the site yet.
"We're not trying to ruin people's fantasies," Flanagan said. "The reality is what we see on the ground people with an idea like this, they wind up actually destroying things."
Holt said the gold in the calcite and that gold yet to be discovered in the lower portion near the boiling zone of the site "is still in active development."