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Saturday, May 02 2020
Researching new areas in which to prospect for gold, gems, or whatever you are seeking can be a lot of work, but since we’re now about six weeks into the Coronavirus quarantine, most of us have extra time that could be put to good use. Even though you may not be out in the field every day, you can still be prospecting! And even if you’re not making plans for out-of-state road trips just yet, you can still dig down into the history of local areas for new ideas. In other words, use your downtime wisely, so you can hit the ground running with your gold pan, highbanker, pick and shovel, metal detector, or other equipment as soon as shelter-in-place restrictions are lifted.
Tuesday, February 11 2020
The big gold rushes of the 19th century have long since ended, but in most cases you can still prospect for the precious metal in these same historic areas. If you’re interested in giving recreational gold mining a try but not sure where to go, below are some key locations where you can still find the yellow metal by gold panning or metal detecting. Since gold was found in these areas, likely the old-timers didn’t get it all— so you may get lucky and strike it rich (or at least catch gold fever)! Rules and regulations differ from state to state, so always be aware of the local laws. And if you want to metal detect on private land, you’ll need permission from the landowner.
Below is a very short list that offers a few ideas only. Beginners should search the internet or join a local gold prospecting organization for more information.
Keep in mind that even if there has been no major “rush,” major amounts of gold have been found in many other states, too, including Georgia, Michigan, Montana, New Mexico, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. Good luck!
Monday, December 23 2019
Did you know that “bad” weather can be a plus for prospectors? No one ever hopes that Mother Nature causes catastrophic loss of life and property, but the ups and downs of weather events in any gold-bearing area are something to take advantage of. Nature can help all of us in our quest for the shiny stuff!
Typical winter storms usually do not create enough havoc to force substantial amounts of "new" gold into movement. However, when Mother Nature really goes to work over a “bad” winter or for an extended period of time, a great deal of gold can be set free, creating a bonanza for gold hunters in spring and summer. Gold veins that have been hidden for decades suddenly can be exposed. Floods can also sweep gold out of abandoned mines and wash it downriver. Known gold digs can be washed out, trees uprooted, and the landscape eroded. Benched gold deposits can be released and transported back into running streams.
If you’re in an area that experiences high-water events, get out and keep an eye on the water flow so you can try to figure out where the gold actually drops out. Watch the flow lines around boulders and trees. Watch where the flows slow down. The rule of thumb — gold is in the inside bend where water is slowest — is a rule of thumb, but not always 100% accurate.
On the flip side, if drought conditions prevailed last fall and continue this winter, adequate water levels needed for panning and sluicing may be difficult to find. By knowing this ahead of time, you won’t waste your time. You can plan to travel to better areas in the coming months.
Water isn’t the only force that can work in a treasure hunter’s favor. If you are a detectorist, keep an eye on the wind. Downslope winds can strip and scrub away a great deal of surface material. This wind-driven movement of top sands can make an exciting difference— areas that came up empty just last year may suddenly be productive for a metal detector!
Whether you’re in the midwest, southeast, or way out west, water table elevations and annual precipitation can have a significant impact on the amount of gold exposed in waterways, which can affect the probability of what you’ll find in your pan. Greater than average winter precipitation may swell waterways, liberating trace gold previously stranded in ground by droughts of late summer and early autumn. Good luck and be safe!
Sunday, July 14 2019
Alluvial gold refers to tiny gold flakes that come to be through water erosion and movement. In geology, alluvium is loose sediment which has been eroded from a primary source, transported and further eroded by water, and redeposited. Since gold is extremely dense, it is easily trapped alongside other dense alluvial particles. The bits of gold found in these deposits of alluvium are called “alluvial gold.”
The alluvial environment is a very complex one, with many natural forces competing with each other. The forces that lay down gold are a summation of many flood water events of varying intensity that cause the reworking of sands and gravels. Between major flood events, water naturally flows along the already created path and typically the gold present in the gravel or on the surface will not move much. But the larger flooding events can change the drainage routes and even the river’s shape. Some curves can be shut off from the stream and bypassed. Where the water speed decreases, gravels will drop out of suspension, creating alluvial pay streaks that are typically located along and near the riverbed.
To identify where a pay streak might be located, take the flow of the waterway into consideration. The most productive streaks are formed as a result of major floods that are significant in terms of both water flow and intensity of erosion. Greater amounts of gold are present here as compared to regular gravels. Pay streaks tend to possess a comet-like form. At the “head” or “heart” is found the richest concentration of gold. At this location, the gravel is coarser and the sandy and silty fraction is much less. This little bit of silt is present only for a few centimeters on the surface, laid down in the last phases of the flood as the silt is dropped. The gold in these gravels is typically small flat flakes, with maybe a small picker or two.
As gold prospectors, our objective is to learn to read a stream and recognize the pay streaks it contains. Think about where you are going to dig before you start and then repeatedly test the gravel you are processing. It is important to consider the presence, form, and depth of the bedrock on which the water and all the alluvial gravel deposits are sitting. In many cases, the gold will naturally concentrate in the lowest part of the riverbed, making a gold-rich path. During high water events, much of the gold is picked up and put back into motion, which leads to forming new pay streaks. Some will be laid back down along the low line of the stream, but may also end up a little farther downstream. The gravels in contact with the bedrock or false bedrock base are often the richest. The same facts apply to the alluvial pay streaks that are formed on gravel bars— the lowest level of the gold-bearing gravel is normally the richest.
The alluvial environment changes over time. Alluvial pay streaks generated 100 years ago could become buried, then subsequently be eroded and exposed again. The erosion might be in part or in total, generating a new series of paystreaks further downstream. Pay particular attention to large boulders and trees. Obstacles like these may partially block the water flow and provide an opportunity for increased gold concentrations, especially behind the obstructions. If there are fissures, holes or natural traps in the stream, be sure to sample these areas, too.
Although high water events are sporadic, when you do find a paystreak caused by one, it can be a very productive spot. Stick with it and keep in mind most are small and narrow and best worked by hand with a sluice and gold pans.
Nugget of News Blog
Sunday, December 30 2018
When prospecting an area that’s known for gold, put yourself in the boots of the old-timers who came before to help you decide where to begin. Look at your site from all directions and think about what they could and could not do way back then. Your modern-day equipment and knowledge are a lot more advanced than what they had to work with, so you’re already a step ahead! Many times miners jumped in with both feet and started mining to beat the other guys. But being in a hurry meant they could have missed a lot, or moved on too quickly from their original discovery before it was completely worked out. Considering the lay of the land will reveal important clues that can help you better formulate a plan when you're out in the field. Here’s what to look for:
Host rock (or bedrock) could be shale, diorite, granite, quartz, clay or other material. Keep an eye out for changes in the area’s host rock and notice the direction in which it’s running.
Contact zones occur when a rock or mineral cuts or crosses the host rock. Generally, gold is deposited along contact zones, which can be a few inches or several hundred feet wide. If bedrock in your area runs north to south and you notice a color change in material that runs east to west, you’ve found a contact zone.
Outcroppings are a lump of high ground with weather-worn rocks which are generally rounded and usually situated on ridges, but can be located anywhere. Especially look for iron staining on outcroppings.
Ditch lines of yesteryear were generally dug into and run along somewhat level ground. Very close to diggings, especially in hilly or steep terrain, they may have been cut loose to wash downhill. Follow the old water ditches and see where they end up.
Exploratory trenches were not used for water but most of the time were deeper and would often circumnavigate a rich area that may be throwing gold from clay lines, pockets, quartz seams and any other local contacts. Trenches were dug simply to expose any contacts that may be present. As a contact was crossed, old-timers checked it out in both directions for values.
Rock cairns are piles of rock or stone used for claim corners. Standing high on a slope looking down is a great vantage point from which to spot cairns and other man-made landmarks. By locating a historic claim, you definitely have a great place to begin!
Monday, October 01 2018
A highbanker, sometimes called a power sluice, is a very flexible and efficient piece of equipment when you’re gold mining in areas with a good amount of water. Their main use is to allow you to pump the water to the gravels rather than carrying heavy buckets of gravel to the water. The optimal place to use a high banker is a location along a river where there are lots of bench gravels that have been left high and dry by erosion. Just shovel material directly into a high banker and let the equipment do the rest of the work! As long as there is sufficient water close by so the hose can reach it, you’ll be good to go. High bankers are available in various sizes. The bigger the unit, the more gravel it will handle in a day. That also means it will likely be heavier and less portable. High bankers are fairly simple to set up and operate. They have three main components: a hopper feed box, and sluice box, and a pump.
Hopper: The feed box contains a grizzly screen with a water spray bar. The water is normally sprayed from simple plastic pipes with a series of small holes drilled into them. A water valve located ahead of the spray pipe controls the amount of water flow going into the feed box sprays. A series of rods are arranged to make a slat-type screen (called a grizzly) that allows water and smaller material to fall through and go down into the sluice box. The large rocks that are caught by the grizzly are washed with the spray and then rejected. The slats should be set on an angle so that most of the larger gravel will slide off the slats by the pull of gravity without you needing to push them off by hand. Some rocks may hang up, but for the most part, they will slide off on their own. The spray water comes out under a lot of pressure and washes any loose sand or clay into the sluice and also provides part of the water needed to move material through the sluicebox area.
Sluice: High bankers utilize a normal sluice to recover the gold from the gravels, and the operation of the sluice box portion of a high banker is basically the same as that of a hand or stream sluice. With a highbanker, the water is supplied by a pump rather than the flowing water of a stream. The matting and miners moss underneath the sluice’s riffles are the same. Gold flakes get caught in the riffles and moss the very same way as it does in a hand sluice. A nice back-saving bonus on a high banker is that it will be on legs, so you can operate it on any terrain. A normal hand sluice lays on the bottom of a streambed.
Pump: The centrifugal type pump should be set near the water as it is more efficient to pump water uphill to the sluice than to suck it up to the pump. This is only important where there is a lot of vertical distance between the pump and the sluice. If there is less than 10 feet of vertical distance, it does not matter much. Pumps can be set up quite a distance away horizontally from the sluice. It will work so long as there is sufficient water at the source where the pump is located. Vertical distance is more of a problem than horizontal distance; 30-40 feet is the maximum vertical climb for most pumps. The standard lay flat type of hose is used to carry the water up to the feed hopper. Be sure to have enough hose and some extra in case you spring a leak! Remember to position the pump so that you aren’t breathing motor exhaust fumes all day!
The big advantage of a highbanker is working materials that are found in a location away from a river, like benches and other isolated patches of gravel. Moving the water to the sluice with a pump saves you from carrying the material down to the stream. The only disadvantage to highbanking for gold might be that it’s more equipment to pack around than just your usual digging equipment. It would be wise to test your ground before hauling in your high banker. Testing will indicate if there is enough gold in the gravels to warrant bringing in more than a hand sluice. If you have at least an amount of gravel that represents a full day of digging and sluicing, bring in a highbanker.
The adjustment of a high banker is much less than the steep slope you usually would use with a hand sluice. Adjust the water flow to the minimum flow rate that it takes to get all the rocks that fall through the screen to keep moving down the sluice box section. If rocks or gravel hang up and bury the sluice, you need more water and perhaps a steeper box angle to wash that stuff away. The height of the feed box is another important adjustment. You want it low to allow you an ease of feeding in the material. If too high, you will hurt your back lifting heavy shovels full of gravel. Too low and you may be constantly sweeping away tailings at the back of the sluice.
The feed box itself should be adjusted to ensure the angle of the slat screen rods (the grizzly) allow the gravel to be well washed before it moves out as waste. This is because a lot of small gold adheres too the larger cobbles. If rocks and cobbles just roll through without getting a thorough washing, you will be losing gold. The rejection of the large oversize rocks is important as it lets your sluice to a better job. If those bigger rocks make it into the sluice, you’ll be getting much worse recovery of fine gold.
Be sure the foot valve or strainer on the intake hose is clear and able to deliver a full water flow. Sometimes the foot valve can get clogged with leaves or other debris. A blocked or partially obstructed foot-valve won’t allow the high banker to operate properly. For environmental reasons, it is a good idea to have your water drain into a pond or pit that is not directly connected to the stream. This is so that the clay and mud can settle out, otherwise make sure there are no legal issues of putting that mud back into a flowing stream.
Some models of highbankers can also be run as a dredge. These highbanker/dredge combos can save you money, offer flexibility, but are also a bit of a compromise since the dredge portion is generally small. Combo units will be equipped with a suction nozzle type of intake. This design is best for working small shallow streams and tributaries. These systems are designed to be set up alongside the stream edge and have adjustable legs rather than float systems that you’d normally see on a larger suction dredge. With a suction nozzle and more hoses, the combo unit will operate as a suction dredge, picking up material from underwater crevices and delivering it to the sluice. Highbanker/dredge combos also can be ideal for working in and around ponds in old hydraulic mining pits.
The next time you are out in the field, consider if a highbanker or power sluice can help you get more gold. To determine if the answer is yes, ask yourself these questions: Where is the nearest water? Can I shovel directly from the diggings into the feed hopper? Can I set it up to allow gravity to do a lot of the tailings clearing work? Where will the pump go? With a little thought and planning, you’ll be able to decide if highbanking for gold will increase your productivity. In most cases it will. Move more dirt, get more gold! Good luck!
Monday, July 30 2018
Places where gold naturally concentrates in an environment of streams and drainages are known as paystreaks. No matter if you are panning, sluicing, dry washing, or metal detecting, in many ways your success at gold prospecting comes down to locating these elusive natural pay streak concentrations. Keep in mind that most gold paystreak formations occur during times of flooding and that many factors affect how gold gets deposited. Perhaps the biggest factor is that gold is dense and is more than 19 times heavier than water. The denser an object, the more easily it will resist the flow of moving water. That means it takes a very strong and fast moving water flow to move along a nugget the size of a pea.
When deciding where to start sampling, it’s helpful if you think of a river or stream as a sluice box. Waterways obviously don’t have aluminum riffles and matting, however, they do have natural gold traps that do the same thing that a sluice will do— allow gold to settle out of gravels and be caught while the bulk of the sands continue downstream. Heavy material such as gold doesn’t get spread along evenly, it is most likely caught in certain areas. The downstream parts of inside bends in a stream are favorable places to look for pay streaks. Just how good depends on how sharp the bend in the stream actually is. Usually the sharper the bend, the better the pay streak. If a tributary is known to have coarse gold, look at the intersection of the tributary and the main channel.
Behind an obstruction (large boulder, an island, or an outcrop of bedrock) is another good place to look for a pay streak. Boulders and other obstructions can create turbulence where ordinarily smooth flowing water turns into fast flowing whitewater. It is between the fast white water and the quiet dark water that gold drops out. The coarsest gold tends to be found on the outer parts of the pay streak, and the finer-sized gold is on the inner part of the pay streak. When you are working, if it seems as if the streak is petering out as you go toward the middle of the water flow because you are finding little gold, this region of the pay streak is often where the biggest number of nuggets are most likely to occur.
Once you know where paystreaks form, you might wonder if they are more likely found on bedrock or in gravels. They are nearly always found on bedrock or some sort of false bedrock. False bedrock might include caliche, a clay layer, or just a well-packed hard pan. You may just get lucky and hit something great with your first shovel of dirt, but more likely you’ll need to test a few different places. Even very experienced prospectors need to keep testing to find those hotspots and paystreaks. Good luck and keep sampling!
Tuesday, February 06 2018
Historically, California has been known as the land of the big nuggets. After the Gold Rush began in 1849, some of the biggest nuggets were discovered there because so many more people were out looking. For example, in 1854, miners working underground in the Morgan Mine at Carson Hill in Calaveras County pulled out a 195-pound mass of gold. It was 15 inches wide and four inches thick! In 1859, a gigantic nugget was taken from ancient Tertiary river gravels on the slopes of Sawmill Peak near the West Branch of the Feather River and the small community of Dogtown. That nugget weighed 54 troy pounds. The spot where it was discovered was a hydraulic mine on the Willard claim that had a history of producing large nuggets in the past, including a 96-ounce nugget.
Plenty of stories abound from California, but plenty of big gold has come from other states as well. Colorado's biggest nugget weighed in at 156 ounces (13 troy pounds). It came from the Gold Flake mine located on Farmcomb Hill in Summit County, Colorado in 1877. It's easy to see why Montana's nickname is the "Treasure State" since it has produced a few big nuggets, too. One weighed 53 ounces and was displayed at the Paris World Expoition of 1889. The largest in Montana was over 170 ounces and was dug at a depth of 12 feet in Snow Shoe Gulch on the Little Blackfoot River. Nevada's largest nugget was taken from the diggings of the Osceola District in 1878. It weighed 24 pounds (but eight pounds of that was quartz). The old Spanish miners found plenty of big gold in New Mexico, including one nugget in the late 1890s that weighed over 65 ounces.
Unlike many Western states, the largest nugget in Alaska was found rather recently. In 1998, the Alaska Centennial Nugget, weighing 294 ounces, was mined along Swift Creek near the town of Ruby. This area is well known for its past production of large nuggets. A big nugget was also found in Anvil Creek near Nome which weighed 182 ounces.
North Carolina's claim to fame is the Reed Gold Mine located in Cabarrus County. It was the site of the first documented discovery of gold in 1799. For years, that 17 pound nugget was used as a doorstop because no one recognized what it was! At the time, it was worth roughly $4,000 (when the price of gold was $20.67 for an ounce). The Reed Mine actually produced a lot of big gold, including some weighing 28 pounds, 17 pounds, 16 pounds, and 13 pounds. Two different nuggets came from this area that weighed eight pounds each and another two nuggets were nine pounds each. Several more nuggets have been unearthed that weighed five pounds and less.
These examples of where large nuggets have been found are by no means exhaustive. A Google search will provide lots of fun stories about past and present finds across the United States. But no matter who has found what, the big question remains: Where do you hunt for big gold these days? Generally, big nuggets occur in places where rich gold-bearing fluids flow through the same pathways for a long period of time, allowing continued deposition of gold that lead to the formation of large pieces. These bigger pieces form where a change in geology allows a gold-bearing waterway to efficiently drop gold all in the same place. The same type of geology that produces rich pockets of ore with lots of visible gold are often the same areas where big nuggets are found. The really big nuggets are parts of pockets that have so much gold that they hold together as a single piece even after tumbling around in a stream.
The simple answer to where to hunt for big nuggets is to hunt where they have been found in the past. Past finds of big gold indicates these locations have the right geology for their formation. Big nuggets in a stream environment will work their way to bedrock very fast and stay put. They will often be lodged in deep crevices. Keep in mind that big nuggets are also worth more than their actual metal value. The fact they are so rare adds to their value. If you haven't found your big gold yet, keep looking! And if you can't wait to own your own shiny stuff, buy gold nuggets here.
Nugget of News Blog
Wednesday, June 14 2017
Fun and exercise are two great reasons to go gold prospecting, but you might as well make some money while you're at it, right? The best way to do that is to increase production rates. Assuming you are mining on a known gold-bearing claim or waterway, volume is the key to your success!
Graduating from the basic gold pan to some other form of simple equipment is the best way to increase production rates. Just going from a pan to a sluice will increase production by at least 500%, depending on how it is used. A highbanker will work about the same amount of material as a well-run sluice, though it can move the water to you instead of you bringing the gravel to the water, thereby dramatically increasing volume of production. A drywasher will produce similar results by allowing you to work without water.
A dredge or highbanker/suction dredge combo is the next step up. A dredge uses a gas motor to generate the suction that will load and transport the material to the sluice, which greatly increases volume, as well as allows you to reach gravel on the river bottom that would otherwise be inaccessible (unless the river is seasonal or there is a prolonged drought). The more material a dredger can push across the riffles, the more gold can be recovered. An additional benefit to dredging is that it also allows you to clean gold out of all the cracks and crevices in the bedrock. A shovel just cannot do that.
The size of the dredge intake nozzle is the most important factor in how much material a dredge can process, but it is not a direct one-to-one relationship. For example, a 5 inch dredge will not move twice the material that a 2.5 inch dredge can move. It actually can move much more. The surface of the hose is figured in square inches, the area (and therefore the volume) goes up much faster than the diameter and the corresponding production rates go up proportionally. A larger hose size will also clog less because more sizes of rock and gravel will pass through. Having to stop and remove clogs can significantly reduce the time you get to spend actually moving dirt and finding gold. No matter the size, you're likely to have rocks jam up the hose from time to time, but generally, the larger the hose the less frequent the clogs that slow or stop production. In most areas of the country, a 2 inch dredge is considered a "recreational" size and may not require a permit to use, whereas much larger nozzle sizes would require a permit. Always know the laws where you intend to gold prospect and mine before you buy equipment.
Beyond dredges or highbanker/suction dredge combos, you can get into some professional mining set-ups that use trommels and jigs and shaker tables and earth moving equipment. Every deposit is different, varying in size and grade and structure. Environmental conditions and access will dictate mining methods and knowing the rock types and size of the gravel is critical in determining which equipment will work best for increasing your production. Finding a suitable deposit to mine and finding a way to work it economically— to justify your time and expense— is the first step. Then choose the right equipment to increase your recovery rate and speed of recovery and make more money. Good luck!
Saturday, April 01 2017
Typical winter storms that regularly occur in gold-bearing areas usually do not create enough havoc to force substantial amounts of "new" gold into movement. However, when Mother Nature really goes to work over a “bad” winter, a great deal of gold can be set free, creating a bonanza for gold hunters in spring and summer. Gold veins that have been hidden for decades suddenly can be exposed. Floods can also sweep gold out of abandoned mines and wash it downriver. Known gold digs can be washed out, trees uprooted, and the landscape eroded— all pluses for prospectors!
When tons of rock, cobble, and boulders are swept downstream along bedrock during a huge storm, quite a bit of destruction occurs. Plants, weeds, and trees that normally grow along the river and gravel bars are washed away. And when a major storm or flood tears up large portions of a streambed, a fair amount of this newly-released gold, because of its weight, will be deposited along the riverbed and settle into cracks and crevices (hand dredges are an ideal tool in this situation). Flooding on this scale occurred in Colorado in 2013. After the heavy rains in the west this winter (in California, Oregon, and Washington to name just a few affected states), this summer promises to be one of the best seasons for small scale miners in many areas. Even farmers in Thailand are looking for gold now to try and make up for the economic loss of ruined pineapple crops caused by floods.
Stream bed layers caused by several floods over time are referred to as “flood layers.” Flood layers are usually a different color, consistency and hardness from the other layers of material within the streambed, making them easy to recognize. Larger, heavier pieces of gold will work their way down toward the bottom of a flood layer as they are washed downstream. The smallest and lightest flakes of gold might not work their way down through a flooding layer at all, but might remain dispersed within the material. Of course not all flood layers contain gold in large quantities, but it’s a good place to start. In early spring, rivers are still high in most places, but in the next few months, stream beds could be exposed for better gold hunting. Some of the best areas to look for flood gold are where the stream or river widens out, or levels out, or changes direction. These areas can allow concentrations of gold to collect either on bedrock or in the contact zones between layers. Another place that tends to collect gold are gravel bars, especially the ones located towards the inside of bends in a waterway.
No one ever hopes that Mother Nature releases the type of fury that causes loss of life and property, but when a catastrophic weather event occurs in a gold-bearing area, take advantage of it. Get out there and get your share of the shiny stuff! With so much more runoff than normal shaking gold from them thar hills, the best prospecting will come in the summer months when the water has receded. Good luck and be safe!
Tuesday, November 01 2016
Researching and exploring new areas in which to prospect for gold, gems, or whatever you are seeking can be a lot of work, but the process can go much quicker and easier when you know where to start. If the weather where you live is keeping you indoors much of the time this winter, use your downtime wisely by researching and planning for next spring and summer. But don’t rely on just one source of information. Confirm it through several sources. It’s not that you don’t trust Uncle Joe or a “friend of a friend” tip, but facts can be distorted or forgotten over time and that “secret” nugget patch found 30 years ago just might not turn out to be quite so secret any more.
The best kind of research brings together different forms of info from a multitude of sources. It is the info gleaned from COMBINED sources that can help you to determine the best possible place to locate precious metal or gems. The more info you can lay your hands on, the better. Consider these resources:
Old mining district reports and mining history books. Most western states have some form of mining and geology agency, although they all have different names depending on the state. Find out what information is publicly available at the agencies located in the area you will want to prospect. Old history books can be more help than any state agency because they were written by folks with ties to the area they wrote about. That means they often include valuable information on old mining discoveries or operations that didn’t make it into a government report.
Topographic maps. Many old mining areas are shown on topo maps, but usually not on the newer versions, so try and find older topo maps. Many of the newer versions may have old mines removed as a way for the government to “keep the general public safe” by not advertising the whereabouts of the old and “dangerous” mine shafts.
Aerial photos. Google Earth is amazing in its quality and detail of photos. Many times you can see individual trees, hiking trails, rock outcrops and even hand-stacked piles of rocks left behind by old-timers. Sometimes larger features and patterns (areas where miners removed a lot of brush, for example) cannot be seen from ground level, but are obvious from far up in the sky. This is also a good way to get an idea of the condition of the roads in the area so you’ll know in advance which look to be commonly traveled. Google Earth ties in with GPS, too. You can review the photos, check them against maps, and get the GPS coordinates of the precise location you want to visit. No more guessing if you have arrived! You will know for sure with GPS that you are in the right spot.
Reference libraries. The librarians at state mining divisions and university libraries are generally very friendly and helpful. These libraries are open to the public, so don’t feel shy about requesting help. Any university with a good-sized geology or mining program should have quite a few geologic reference resources including old reports, magazines on the mining industry, thesis reports by graduate students, and even reports by engineers and geologists who were on site at the big operating gold mines in the late 1800s. Many of the old books and reports found in the university libraries will be out of print and cannot be purchased anywhere, so be sure to make photocopies of any documents you need while you are onsite.
Many prospectors are discouraged by the amount of work and time that can be involved in researching new areas, but when you find a new spot with good gold, it will be well worth your time and effort!
Monday, July 20 2015
As you read this, water levels in many Western states will be at their lowest of the year— in some cases, the lowest in a couple of years. Snow levels in many of the mountain ranges were only a fraction of normal for the second or third winter in a row. Drought conditions continue in the majority of California, Nevada, and many parts of Oregon, Arizona and New Mexico. About now, water temperatures are also at their warmest in many places. What does this mean for gold prospectors? OPPORTUNITY! Low water levels in rivers and streams offer the best time to snipe for gold, so take advantage of this unique way to gold mine this summer.
Gold sniping, also called crevicing or cracking, is basically cleaning out cracks and crevices in and around bedrock— areas that were submerged for many, many years but are accessible during times of drought. These areas have the potential to trap and retain gold. After visually determining the best places to snipe (more on that later), all you need are a few simple tools for collecting and panning the high-grade material from those cracks. Basic, yet effective!
When normally rushing rivers and streams are reduced to a trickle and boulders and bedrock are exposed, you won’t need a wet suit or snorkel, only some waders. The boulders can still be very slippery, though, so keep that in mind when crossing waterways. Most snipers do use a mask and snorkel and wetsuit. In addition, the basic tools for sniping include a plastic gold pan, long stainless steel tweezers, snuffer bottle, plastic vials, pry bars to loosen jammed-together rocks, a garden trowel or similar tool to dig behind boulders, and a bucket. A hand dredge or nugget sucker can really come in handy, too.
The first step in prospecting, of course, is to stop by the appropriate BLM or Forest Service office to determine where you can recreationally hunt for gold. You don’t want to accidentally trespass on someone else’s claim. Once you’re there, visually study the river and think about all the areas that gold might be hiding. Loose flakes or nuggets of placer gold are much heavier than the surrounding sand and gravel, therefore, the dense metal gradually works its way downward and collects in seams in the bedrock. The inside bends of rivers tend to be good collection spots because the water slows there, allowing the heavier sands and metals to collect in and around anything that obstructs its path. Try investigating the exposed underwater root systems of any trees found along the bank, too. These act as natural gold traps. Large boulders offer opportunities as well. It's best to snipe on the downstream side of these monoliths since the back eddies occurring there sometimes pull gold and other heavy materials out of the passing current and force them to settle.
If you’re sniping underwater, float on the water with your mask and snorkel, going downstream with the current. Look for crevices below the waterline that are reachable. When you locate a likely spot, remove the loose sand that commonly fills crevices in the bedrock. “Fan” away the sand and lighter debris with your hand, then use a pry bar or other crevice tool to loosen packed gravels. Once exposed under water, gold just seems to glow, especially on a sunny day, so it’s easy to use tweezers to collect the flakes and pickers. Walnut-sized nuggets are few and far between, but the thrill of the hunt will keep most snipers looking! Be sure to thoroughly clean out each crevice because the majority of the gold is going to be concentrated at the very bottom.
When you need a break from getting your feet wet (or the rest of you), panning along the bank or using a gold vacuum in the dry material along the shoreline can be lucrative. When the water level is low, plants, logs, and smaller rocks that used to be below the waterline are now visible. Gold might have collected around these obstructions when they were under water, but no one thinks to look here because they’re now in plain sight and almost too obvious. What others miss could be your bonanza!
Bigger is not always better. With most mining operations, the more dirt you move, the more gold you get. Sniping is about the little things— working smaller areas very thoroughly. Perhaps the most pleasurable thing about sniping is its simplicity. You can hike in and get away from the crowds, and enjoy some peace and quiet and lovely scenery. It is a cool way to spend a hot summer day, and if you have patience and really learn to read the stream, you will find more and more gold using this method. If you’re new to gold sniping, you also might want to search YouTube for videos showing snipers in action.
As difficult as drought conditions are for farmers, ranchers, and many others, prospectors can use the low water levels to our advantage. Now is the time to work potential bedrock hot spots that could never be reached in normal years. Summer won’t last long, so get out there and get your share of the gold… sniping is just one more mining method that could have you yelling “Eureka!”
Saturday, May 09 2015
In July 1986, Life magazine described Nevada’s U.S. Highway 50 between Ely and Fernley as the “Loneliest Road in America.” At the same time, AAA representatives warned travelers to avoid this empty 287-mile stretch unless they were “confident of their survival skills.” Much has changed in the last 30 years. The scenery is still wide open, there’s not a lot of traffic, but it’s far from lacking in amenities. This scenic corridor retraces the route of the Pony Express and Overland Stagecoach trails, connects you to plenty of recreational opportunities, and passes through five full-service communities. Eureka is one such stop along the route, and is one of the best-preserved 19th century mining towns in the state.
Lead and silver ore was first discovered in Eureka during the fall of 1864 when a party of five prospectors traveling 70 mile from the silver camp of Austin to explore the area. Unlike most new mining strikes, not much excitement was caused by this find— not because the assays of the rock weren’t favorable, because they were, but because the smelting methods available at the time were not suited to treat the oxidized gold-silver-lead ores (those which are found above the water level) they had found. The ore was rich in iron and arsenic and occurred in a form that was hard for the miners to process economically. When smelters were perfected and constructed several years later, mining boomed. The 16 smelters around town certainly didn’t improve air quality, but perhaps it was the 100 saloons that helped the nearly 10,000 residents forget about the pollution! At about that same time, several rich ore bodies on Ruby Hill were discovered, and as a result, the Eureka mining district became quite prosperous. Because of the town's central location in the state, it became a railhead for the whole area, which kept Eureka alive even after production decreased.
Most of the district’s production was made between 1870 and 1890. Although there have been large amounts of gold produced in the last 50 years, the recorded production up to 1964 was approximately 313,000 tons of lead, 7,000 tons of zinc, 1,000 tons of copper, 1.65 million ounces of gold, and 39 million ounces of silver. These production totals are probably understated since records prior to 1901 were incomplete. Since 1964, nearly 1.5 million ounces of gold and a lesser amount of silver have been produced by open pit mining. Mining continues in the Eureka area and new operations are being planned at the Mt. Hope mine, a few miles north of town. All in all, the area around Eureka, Nevada is well mineralized and seems to have a bright potential for future production of all sorts of metals.
To get a sense of Eureka’s past, and see dozens of historic buildings and sites in downtown, pick up a self-guided walking tour map at the Sentinel Museum, then spend a couple of hours or all day stepping back in time. A few highlights include:
Eureka Opera House, built 1879, has been fully restored and now serves as a convention center and auditorium. Elegant features such as a chandelier, curtain, wood floors and horseshoe balcony (one of only three horseshoe-shaped balconies in Nevada) have been preserved. Historic graffiti has been preserved back stage from the early days, and the tradition has been continued with signatures of the people who have performed at the Eureka Opera House since it was reopened.
The 1877 Jackson House next door to the Opera House has been beautifully restored and has nine Victorian bedrooms upstairs, and a bar and restaurant downstairs.
The brick Eureka Sentinel Newspaper Building dates from 1879 and now houses a museum. This structure was used as the newspaper office and residence until 1960, and was made into a county historical museum in 1982. The downstairs press room, shown above, features all original equipment on which the Sentinel was printed in the boom days of Eureka. Old copies of the Sentinel are tacked on the walls. In the mining history room upstairs you will see tools from the early days of mining, as well as historic stock certificates, ledgers and personal miners items. Lifestyle artifacts from the early days of Eureka are there, too, including items from schools, homes, and businesses.
IF YOU GO:
10 North Monroe Street (right behind the Courthouse)
November – April: Tuesday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
May – October: 7 days per week 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
31 South Main Street, Eureka, NV 89316
Monday, September 01 2014
In the spring of 1859, flakes of gold were found in Clear Creek, a tributary of the South Platte River in north central Colorado. Some prospectors were happy finding rich gold dust, but John Gregory was determined to find the source. For months, the Georgia native followed North Clear Creek upstream from the present-day city of Golden, and on May 6, 1859, made the first lode discovery in the Rockies! Gregory sold his two claims for $21,000 a few months later and left the area, but his name carries on. “Gregory Gulch” is located between the towns of Central City and Black Hawk. The Gregory Mining District encompasses these towns plus several other mining camps, and as a whole, this area is referred to as "The Richest Square Mile On Earth.” Central City takes it name from being “central” to all the mining activity.
Within two months of Gregory’s initial gold discovery, 900 fortune-seekers were living in log shanties and tents. By the following summer, the population had swollen to 10,000. In no time, businesses and mills were thriving and the area became the leading mining center in the Kansas Territory. At this time, Colorado wasn’t yet a state, but its prominent place in mining history was already secured. Between 1859 and 1918 (considered by the National Register of Historical Places to be the area’s “period of significance”), the total gold output was $83,364,157! Most of this was in the form of placer gold, which was extracted with pans and sluices. This “easy” gold played out within the first five years of discovery, and by the end of 1863, most work had shifted to hard rock mining.
The promise of riches continues to lure people to Central City today, but it’s not so much to find gold— but to gamble. Limited stakes gaming was legalized in 1991, and has made this area an important destination once again. Gambling was big business here in the 1880s, drawing the likes of Doc Holliday, and even Soapy Smith all the way from Alaska. The downtown core is now a National Historic District, and casinos reside in many of the restored historic buildings. Much of the beautiful and original woodwork, ceilings, and ornate furnishings date back to the 1870s. A scenic loop drive in the hills above the town is the place to find gold rush cemeteries, abandoned mines, headframes, and many other mining relics.
Take a Walk
The best way to learn more about Central City’s gold rush and admire its architecture at the same time is to stop at the Visitor Center on Eureka Street for a walking tour map. Choose from several self-guided walking tours, depending on your interests. Many of the town’s most magnificent buildings are in downtown, whereas Victorian residences are located outside of the business district. No matter how much ground you want to cover on foot, keep in mind you’re above 8,000 feet in elevation here, so pace yourself. Some buildings are open for guided tours (admission charged) but even if you don’t peek inside, you’ll get a good sense of the town’s history right from the street. If you want to shake hands with one-armed bandits or play poker at any time during your walk, you’ll find a chance to meet Lady Luck every step of the way.
One of the most notable buildings in downtown is the 150-room Teller House Hotel. Located on the corner of Eureka and Pine Streets, it was built in 1872 at a cost of $87,000, plus another $20,000 to furnish. From its non-descript exterior, you’d never believe that the Teller House was once considered to be the most elegant hotel between Chicago and San Francisco. Financed largely by Henry Teller, who became the first senator from Colorado and later, Secretary of the Interior, it’s no longer used as a hotel but is the center for opera-related activities (Central City Opera House is next door).
In April of 1873, President Ulysses S. Grant came to see his friend Henry Teller. To impress the president, mine owners decided to lay 26 ingots of solid silver to make a path to the entrance to the Teller House so President Grant wouldn’t have to dirty his boots when he stepped from his carriage. Those wealthy citizens also had an ulterior political motive. At the time, Congress was debating whether gold or silver should back the dollar. Legend has it that Grant became angry when he saw the silver bars and walked up the boardwalk instead of on the silver path so as not to show favoritism. As we know, gold eventually won.
The grand opening of the Opera House in 1878 (next door to the Teller House Hotel) started a tradition of community theatre, ranging from opera to vaudeville. Buffalo Bill Cody performed here as well as P. T. Barnum’s circus. The Opera House is known for its elaborately frescoed ceiling and perfect acoustics. In addition to Central City’s very popular Opera Festival held each summer, performances are held year round in this beautifully restored 550-seat theatre. The Opera Association also owns the Williams Stables building on Eureka Street. Initially constructed in 1876 for the use of Teller House guests, the building was purchased a few years later by Sheriff Dick Williams and his son. It was from here that a Stanley Steamer automobile could be had for hire— quite an achievement back in the day!
Many of the Main Street establishments are identified by “blocks” and named for their original builders. In addition to the Teller House Hotel, Henry Teller also built the Teller Block for $6,000 in 1874. The upper floor was purchased a few years later by the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, which retained ownership until the 1990s. The Mullen Block was completed in 1874 by Thomas Mullen. Originally a drug store and clothing store, the Elks Lodge bought the building in 1902. The Harris Block was built in 1875 by Robert Harris and was home to the New York Store Mercantile that sold dry goods, clothing, and furnishings.
Gold in Them Thar Hills
The scenic forested hills above town offer evidence of the thousands of mining claims that placed Central City and the surrounding area in the history books. When you’re ready to take a short loop drive, the helpful staff at the Visitor Center will point you in the right direction. The route is mostly a well-maintained dirt road that takes you past headframes, abandoned mines, and sites of once thriving communities. Nevadaville is one such mining camp that 1,200 gold seekers used to call home. Along the route you’ll see the Coeur d’Alene Mine. Originally opened by Robert Cameron in 1894, the shaft reaches some 700 feet into the depths of Gunnell Hill. Records indicated that in 1915 this mine employed nine men who earned from $3-$4 per day. You’ll also see the shaft house of the Boodle Mill. Because of the serious safety hazard posed by abandoned mines, trespassing laws are strictly enforced. Although tempting to explore, keep away from old mines and tailings to avoid accidents.
Known for their excellent stonework, the rock retaining walls visible in various places along the route were built by a very large population of Cornish miners. The walls were part of the former Gilpin Tramway, a 26-mile narrow gauge railroad that once looped around the gulches and through the surrounding communities. Sidings went to many of the major mines. Most of the retaining walls don’t use mortar, and were instead constructed using a dry-stack method. After more than a century, most of the rockwork is still holding up— no maintenance required.
The loop drive also takes you through the “cemetery district.” Many stories are told through the memorials and headstones. Harsh weather, less-than-clean water, mining accidents, and few physicians were the norm during the gold rush. So were epidemics of scarlet fever, diphtheria, and the Spanish flu. Sadly, you’ll notice that a large number of children are interred within the cemetery fences. When you visit, please remember these sites are historical grounds, but are also still in use today. The Gilpin County Historical Society also holds an annual “Cemetery Crawl.”
"Oh My Gawd Road"
After getting your fill of gold rush history and gambling, a popular route leading out of Central City to Idaho Springs takes about 30 minutes. It isn’t quite as bad as its moniker, but it’s not for the faint of heart either. The “Oh My Gawd” Road (CR 279) is more dirt than pavement and wouldn’t be wise for drivers who don’t like narrow, twisty roads, but the mountain views make it worth it. Along the bumpy route you’ll pass the famous “Glory Hole” mine workings, drive through Russell Gulch, and see many more mining relics that attest to “The Richest Square Mile on Earth” in days gone by.
IF YOU GO:
Central City is located in the Rocky Mountains, only 35 miles west of Denver. With the newly opened, Central City Parkway, visitors can reach Central City 12 minutes after exiting off of I-70 at exit 243.
The Central City Visitors Center is located at 103 Eureka Street, at the northern end of Main Street in the old Wells Fargo Building.
Articles and photos by Denise Seith. This article first appeared in the May 2014 issue of Gold Prospectors Magazine, published by the Gold Prospectors Association of America (GPAA).
Monday, March 04 2013
Once primarily used by landscapers and construction contractors, gold miners are now using Rock Crushers / Pulverizers to save time and get more gold. In most cases, you can take your rock crusher straight from the shipping container and use it in less than half an hour. No wasted time trying to find the right pulleys or chains because you get everything you need when you place an order. A rock crusher that has been designed and built by miners for miners can be an invaluable tool -- these tough machines are built well and rigorously tested in the field.
Whether you need a manual rock crusher or a power rock crusher (choose gas or electric), turn rock into talcum powder and get ALL the gold!
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