When it came time to retire, Yukoners Keith and Betty Dye decided it was time to start the hands-on work of placer mining.

For six months of the year the Dyes search for gold at their Amigo Mining operation located near Dublin Gulch, north of Mayo.

For the wintry six months of the year, they do mission work in Lagunitas, Mexico from their perch in Arizona.

“I’ve played at mining since the first summer we were here, in July of 1978,” Keith says, leaning back against the sofa behind him. “Then we retired and we took on a

whole new life.”

Setting up a full-time placer mine three years ago wasn’t easy: first there were the 135 questions on the Yukon Water License form.

Betty laughs as Keith leans forward with a let-me-tell-you expression, and begins to rattle off some of the questions: “How many square miles does your creek drain? What’s the gradient of your creek? What birds nest there?”

He leans back again, hands behind his head. “A greenhorn who thinks he’s going to come here and go mining, he’s just going to throw up his hands and quit.”

Fortunately, a mining inspector guided them through the questions and they set up camp.

“If I’m going to spend six months of the year in camp, it has to have some of the amenities of home,” Betty says. “A motor home with hot-and-cold running water, a propane cook stove…”

They’ve since added an old-style wringer-washer, internet access and a satellite phone to communicate with family and friends.

The Dyes begin their mining day at 6:30 a.m. Betty cooks breakfast while Keith fills the pit with gravel. Then they sluice for gold until 10 or 11 o’ clock p.m.

“Anybody who’s even thinking about going mining better have a pretty rock-solid marriage,” Keith says.

“We’re mining amigos,” Betty says, with a twinkle in her eye.

Keith says the best part of their day is the cleanup.

“That’s getting the gold out,” Betty explains.

“If you can drop it in the pan and hear it clunk, it’s a nugget,” Keith says.

But the thrill of that clunk is not the only excitement in camp.

“We were in our mud room, working on cleanup when two bears walked in,” Keith says. “I don’t eat bear meat. It took five warning shots between their legs to get them to leave.”

Betty says she can’t really shoot a gun, then adds, “But I can shoot a .22 and hit the bulls eye.”

Keith laughs, “That’s for small bears.”

The Dyes have now put an electric fence around their camp, but Betty still sings at the top of her lungs if she has to walk back to camp alone.

They also have to deal with equipment breakdowns and six-hour trips – one way – to Whitehorse for parts.

But none of this is about becoming rich, Keith says, explaining that they are mining so they can spend winters helping the people of Lagunitas, Mexico.

These mining amigos, along with the help and generosity of others, have established a medical-dental facility, a youth centre, a church and a pastor’s residence in Lagunitas.