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.
As you begin researching, don’t rely on just one source of information. Confirm it through several sources. 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.
- LR2000. Utilize the Bureau of Land Management’s Legacy Rehost System, LR2000, for information on mineral development, mining claims, classifications, and more on federal lands. After all, you don’t want to accidentally claim jump or waste time if an area is closed.
- 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. You will then know for sure that you are in the right spot once you travel there.
- 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.
If you are a member of Gold Prospectors of America (GPAA), know that claims are still open as of May 2020. GPAA Claims are located on federal BLM and USFS land. At this time, only developed property and campgrounds have been closed in certain states. Access to GPAA claims has not been impacted, and if your local guidelines permit, you are free to continue prospecting as long as you are following the CDC guidelines to slow the spread of the virus. This includes practicing social distancing, and not being in groups of more than 10 people.
Although COVID-19 has changed the world as we know it, chances are good that as a prospector you PREFER social distancing. And what better way to enjoy solitude than out in nature armed with some new knowledge gleaned through research that can make your mining efforts more profitable. It’s no surprise that when the economy takes a turn for the worse, the price of gold (and many other precious metals and minerals) usually reach new highs. And every time the price of gold starts to climb, recreational prospectors get a bit more motivated to seek out hidden fortunes. Many people might get 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. Good luck and stay safe!