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Like most fishermen, Alva A. Simpson used to bear patiently with the usual protests from his wife whenever he set out on a little weekend search for trout in the mountain streams around Santa Fe. For all his patience, though, the protests bothered him. Even if the fish weren't biting, his wife's remarks were. But eventually he solved the problem, and in a rather simple way—with only an outlay of $30 for a Geiger counter and the announcement that he was out to make the family fortune. The counter went with him on his fishing trips and so did his wife's blessing.
Unfortunately the Geiger counter just about ruined his fishing. He began to watch the needle jump, and pretty soon the cutthroat and the rainbow became less attractive than uranium. In such unlikely places as the Truchas Peaks north of Santa Fe, around Cordova and Trampas, he began to stake claims, not only for uranium but for mica and beryllium as well.
Simpson was New Mexico state welfare director then (about two years ago), but now he is president of United Western Minerals, whose officers include people like Jock Whitney and Pat Hurley. It is one of the West's biggest uranium outfits.
"Some of my friends," Simpson says, "have chided me about giving up sport in favor of business. But they're all wrong. It's just that uranium hunting has turned out to be a more exciting sport than almost any other kind of hunting I've done."
That's as may be, and there are certainly those who would disagree with Simpson, among them perhaps his field superintendent, Big John Verna of Pueblo, Colorado. Big John was an elk hunter mostly. He owned a grocery in Pueblo and when the hunting season arrived he would just close the store for the duration. He has collected a huge jar full of elks' teeth as mementos of his prowess and some of his heads have record-breaking spreads.
Verna began in the usual way, by taking a Geiger counter with him on hunting and fishing trips, and pretty soon he had the uranium fever. It gnawed at his conscience and he still has a little remorse about it.
"I even began buying a bull license, then would forget to shoot my bull," he confesses. The uranium sickness disturbed him a good deal, chipping into his hunting time that way, but Big John finally solved it with a neat compromise. He sold the store, joined Simpson's outfit and has a humane understanding with the company that he can quit uranium hunting for a few days any time other kinds of hunting or fishing look too good to be passed up by a moral man. Now he has found some wonderful, untouched fishing streams in Utah and intends to make the most of them before the state starts advertising them and the tourists pour in. Came across them while uranium hunting.
Geiger counters—and mine evaluators and ore analyzers—have become standard merchandise in quite a few sporting-goods stores of the Mountain time belt. They can be rented for $5 to $20 a day, and it is possible to buy a cheap Geiger counter for as little as $15 or a scintillation counter (much more sensitive to certain types of radiation) for as much as $500 or more. These have become common equipment in saddle packs and tackle boxes of western outdoorsmen.
While some, such as Simpson, have abandoned themselves to uranium, others seem to be able to take it or leave it alone. It takes stamina, but a determined, strong-willed man can cure himself of the uranium urge without joining Uraniacs Anonymous. Jerry Rogers is one who has done it. Jerry made a fortune in oil and natural gas and retired to Farmington, New Mexico, to hunt and fish.