Gold Prospecting - Equipment - Real Stories

Ever since the days of the 1849 California Gold Rush, prospectors, treasure hunters and vacationers have flocked to the west coast to hunt for gold. They use gold pans, sluice boxes, metal detectors, dredges and drywashers in their prospecting from Canada to Mexico.
Drywashers   Gold Panning   Sluice Boxes   Ghost Town Stories
Gold Panning painting by Evelyn Carpenter

Today There's Money In Recreational Gold Prospecting

Gold Panning Painting by Evelyn Carpenter
Recreational gold prospecting of all sorts including gold panning has today become a popular hobby and its no wonder with gold prices well over $1000 an ounce it does not take very much gold to pay for your weekend and that's going first class all the way!

Look at it this way, if you held a one ounce fishing weight in your hand it's pretty small and light, but if that same little fishing weight were a small gold nugget, it could well be worth over a $1000 cash to you!

  • Where To Look...
  • I'm sure you have heard those classic stories about ignorant prospectors following their burros into some very unlikely places and there striking it rich. Perhaps the secret to finding gold is only known by burros. Could it be burros are smart after all?

    The old 49'ers had a funny but very true saying that is still valid to this day..."gold is where you find it!"

  • Very young or very old mountains are likely places for gold...
  • Mountains of tertiary or quaternary age are good.

    In english this means that in the United States most all of the mountains west of the Mississippi are good candidates, especially the Rockies and the Sierra Nevada.

    Gold is mixed with rocks formed under great heat and pressure. Later the rock is then worn away over many many years by wind and rain. Now the gold at this point, becomes seperated from the rock by wind and rain and is carried down into nearby streams and rivers. Remember that gold being very heavy gathers along banks on the inside of curves and bends where the water slows and also behind boulders. This kind of gold mining is called "placer" mining and the stream deposits are called "gold placers".

    A simple gold pan is effective in detecting and recovering small amounts of gold from a stream bed placer deposit and letting you know where to set up your sluice box.

  • A good clue in a dry wash is black sand.
  • Gold is often mixed in with black sand. The black sand is called magnetite and is magnetic. A small magnet will pick up a huge amount of it. However, if the black sand is very evenly distributed, the yield of gold will often times be poor, but if the black sand shows in sharply defined layers or bands then the gold may also be concentrated in those strata and bands. Look close.

    Placer Nugget Prices $$$

    A small one ounce placer nugget, the type found in bed rock cracks exposed in a stream bed, or behind the riffles of a drywasher, can be worth many times the current gold price to jewelry makers and collectors. I'm told that currently, a little one ounce placer gold nugget could be worth somewhere between $2,000 to $4,000!!

    the simple gold pan still a very important tool for gold prospecting

    How To Get Started Prospecting For Gold

    The Trusty Gold Pan

    A good gold pan is always important no matter what type of gold prospecting you are doing at the moment. Ultimate GOLD Panning Kit

    If you are in the deserts areas of the U.S., a gold pan is necessary to "pan out" the material from behind the riffles of your drywasher.

    In gold producing mountains with running streams, your gold pan will help in locating the correct area where the gold is coming into the stream to set up your sluice box. That way you won't have to haul material any great distance over boulders and old tree stumps to get to sluice pay dirt.

    How To Pan

    gold panning and sluice boxes A good way to learn how to pan for gold and use the gold pan correctly, is to first condition your pan (see below).

    My Gold Recipe...

    Fill your pan about half full of sand along with 5 small lead BB's.

    Mix it all together, add water almost to the top, and shake it hard. The shaking is important as it causes the lead BB's (or gold) to settle to the bottom of the pan.

    Now practice swirling the water around in the pan and letting a small amount of the water and sand mixture slip over the edge with each swirl.

    Keep doing this until you see the BB's at the bottom of the pan. Do not worry about how long this takes, because you will get faster and faster with practice.

    Now count the BB's, there should still be five! Practice this a few times and you will be ready for an adventure on a real gold bearing stream, river, or out in the desert with your trusty gold pan, metal detector and drywasher.

    Conditioning Your Gold Pan

    What most people don't realize is that new plastic gold pans have not been conditioned for panning.

    When the pans are manufactured there is a wax residue and possibly some oils left on all plastic pans thanks to the molding process. If this is not removed, all your fine gold will "float" and be lost.

    Keene Engineering Company recommends cleaning a steel gold pan with the solvent acetone and fine steel wool, but with a modern plastic gold pan, using something like Simple Green cleaner is a much safer alternative and works just as well.

    Keep cleaning your pan until the water in it wets both the bottom and sides and doesn't bead or puddle up. Try it! It works!

    Important Panning Tip

    Here's a good tip and it's what I do.

    I keep a small bottle of dish soap handy when I'm out prospecting and I add just one or two drops into the pan near the end of my panning. This will break the surface tension of the water and keep the fine gold flakes down on the bottom of the gold pan.

    This trick works with both plastic and steel pans.
    Only use a drop, you don't want any suds!

    If you don't have a pan, I recommend getting this Deluxe Gold Pan Kit

    That kit contains everything you need to learn how to pan gold FAST! I use a black pan but I think they offer the green colors which really helps you see the fine gold.


    Find Beautiful Gold Nuggets in dry desert and mountain washes...
    Bounty Hunter TK4 Metal Detector World's most popular metal detector with easy-to-use technology and proven treasure performance has made the the Tracker IV the number one selling hobby metal detector on the market and with the right coil, these same detectors will work great in those rare running streams that show up in gold bearing desert and mountain areas. Metal detectors are fast and require no set up time! You can cover a lot of ground with one of these.

    Gold Prospecting Using A Drywasher

    The eastern desert area of Southern California and Southern Nevada is dry and hot in the summer, cold and windy in the winter, but this has not deterred modern-day prospectors from hunting for small gold nuggets worth $1000's of dollars each in those hidden dry desert washes.

    Drywasher Basics

    drywasher, gold panning and metal detectors are effective in the dry areas The drywasher as a method of gold recovery was first used sometime in the early 1920's and is a device that will seperate heavy gold from lighter gravel material using air and not water.

    The basic principle is the same as that of gold winnowing, where gold bearing material is placed on a blanket, and tossed into the air to fall back onto the blanket.

    While the material is up in the air, wind currents will carry away most of the lighter componets leaving the heavier gold and black sand behind to return to the blanket.

    In the drywasher, dry material, sand, gravel and small rocks, are shoveled into the top hopper or "grizzly" as it's called.

    This grizzly device screens out the larger rocks and allows the sand and small gravel to fall down onto the riffle board.

    The riffle board has a cloth that allows air from a blower to pass up through it.

    As the sand travels along, it comes to a series of riffles, much like a sluice box, that the gold bearing sand must cross.

    Air from the blower is blown into the bottom of the riffle box and goes up through the cloth and the sand and light material is blown away.

    As the material, pulled by gravity, travels down and across the riffles, any gold present will be trapped behind the riffles. These are then removed and the remaing material put into a gold pan and panned out.

    Drywashers can be "home built" very economically, and drywashing is known to be one of the fastest methods for recovering gold from dry sands in the desert. Gold Buddy Maverick Drywasher

    Drywashing Areas

    There are many hundreds of dry washes reaching down from the mountain ranges of the high desert areas of California, Nevada and Arizona. These offer great opportunities for using a drywasher to recover gold.

    Many people are surprised to learn of the vast extent of gold mining and prospecting sites in Southern California. This is in fact partly due to the massive amount of publicity surrounding the discovery of gold in the northern Mother Lode area of the state and the resulting California Gold Rush.

    These same early prospectors also found gold in the dry desert areas of Southern California.

    As an example of a little known area, the Escondido District, which is 25 miles north of San Diego, is where the early Mexican gold prospectors, using primitive equipment mined the rich surface ores many many years ago. There was considerable activity in this district in the 1890's and early 1900's.

    The rich Dale or Virginia Dale District is another example in southern San Bernardino County and northern Riverside County.

    It extends about 50 miles east-northeast of Palm Springs.

    There are many known gold deposit sites between Palm Springs and the Dale District, all good areas for drywashing.

    Perhaps you could vacation in Palm Springs or Las Vegas and pay for it all with your gold prospecting. I'm sure its been done!

    Here's a tip when prospecting for a drywashing site that produces gold.
    Look around for those small tailing piles of rocks and sand that were made years ago (1920's and 30's) with older drywashers. If you can find several of these old drywasher tailing piles...You will find gold there.

    When you find many old tailings that are close together and look like they have been there many years, then run all those through your drywasher. Older drywashers were not very efficient at recovering small flakes of gold like the ones today and you may find these tailings to be a bonanza.

    Visit some of the old lost Ghost Towns of Southren Nevada and California.

    Most of these were "hard rock" mining towns where the gold was removed from the rock ore. This does not mean that there is no placer (surface) gold down in the washes. After all, that might of been the way they located the mine in the first place.

    Look for other drywasher tailings and set up shop. However, make sure you are not on private property!

    A True California Ghost Town Gold Story

    Holcomb Valley California

    The history of Holcomb Valley is interesting. During the great California gold rush, Bill Holcomb left Indiana to find gold in the mining camps of Northern California. He gave it a good try but it did not work out for him up there and after a year of not finding much gold he became discouraged and drifted south towards Los Angeles. When he arrived in Los Angeles he happened to meet a man from San Bernadino who told him about a small gold find east in the San Bernardino Mountains.

    It was late fall in 1859 when Bill Holcomb left L.A. for "Starvation Flats" as that area was called then.

    There he met other miners who were preparing for winter. Bill was a good marksman and was hired by the other prospectors to get bear. He set off through Polique Canyon looking for bear. When he reached the top of the ridge he looked north and saw a beautiful valley about two miles away. It was getting late so he headed back to camp. The next day he and an Indian friend set off again in search of bears for food. They tracked a grizzly into that same valley he saw the day before and as they caught up to the bear they noticed a large outcrop of quartz. Bill being a prospector, forgot about the bear, climbed up to the outcrop and saw that it was shot full of gold. The gold was in veins running all through the shattered quartz in that outcrop. Holcomb Valley had been discovered. The news of the find spread like wildfire and by late spring in 1860 the valley was swarming with prospectors.

    Just east of that original discovery, a small town sprang up almost over night. On July 4th 1860 the many miners now in the area celebrated and the blacksmith's wife, Mrs. Van Dusen, made a giant flag out of available materials. Everyone liked Mrs Van Dusen so much they decided to call the new town Belleville after Mrs. Van Dusen's pretty little daughter Belle. Belleville had one general store, two butcher shops, two laundries, one bakery, three carpenter shops, two blacksmiths, one stamp mill, one saw mill and of course three or four saloons. The Presidential election that year saw 307 votes from Belleville for Abraham Lincoln and the following year Belleville missed becoming the county seat of San Bernardino by only two votes!

    By early 1875 most of the gold had been found and people were beginning to leave. That summer, Bill Holcomb returned to the small valley he had discovered 15 years ago. There he saw the last futile searches for gold taking place, most of the area now deserted and Belleville was quickly turning into a ghost town. The story that most people don't know is that in those few years more gold was taken out of Holcomb Valley, per square mile, than anywhere else in Southern California.

    Holcom Valley is located northeast of San Bernardino on the north side of Big Bear Lake. Get a map of the area around Big Bear Lake and you'll be able to drive right to it.

    My Personal Saga of the "Lost Nugget Mine"

    On this occasion, Jim a long time friend of mine from high school, and I were trying out my new compact 30 inch sluice box on a rare desert stream I had discovered a few months earlier while prospecting in the Black Hawk mining district northeast of Big Bear Lake California. This area is well known for producing silver, but gold has also been found there as well.

    We were down inside a narrow canyon in an area where there was actually running water and a rocky stream bed, but the water only surfaced for a hundred feet or so before it sank back underground. There were signs of an old rock arrastre and a few ancient iron pipes lying around. We ran some shovel fulls of gravel from the hillside through the sluice and an hour or two later, or more, we actually found a very little gold nugget the size of a shrunken dried small pea.

    We were so excited you would have thought we found the Mother lode, not just a tiny little nugget, but in the excitement and passing it back and forth between us, it was dropped and disappeared once again into that gravel bed.

    Of course we tried hard to find it, but the day was getting late and the sun was getting low so we never did. To this day we refer to that area as "The Lost Nugget Mine"! It turns out that we were not that far from the old ghost town of Holcomb Valley, about which many stories of lost gold are told. There are still many areas like this where you may prospect, and if you make a discovery of a valuable, locatable mineral, then you may want to stake a claim.

    These areas are mainly in Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming.

    Such areas are mainly unreserved, unappropriated Federal public lands administered by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) of the U.S. Department of the Interior and in national forests administered by the Forest Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Public land records in the proper BLM State Office will show you which lands are closed to mineral entry under the mining laws.

    These offices keep up-to-date land status plats that are available to the public for inspection. BLM is publishing a series of surface and mineral ownership maps that depict the general ownership pattern of public lands. These maps may be purchased at most BLM Offices.

    For a specific tract of land, it is advisable to check the official land records at the proper BLM State Office.

    Gold Prospecting - Drywashers - Gold Panning - Sluice Boxes - Ghost Town Stories
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