I have been prospecting and mining for gold both as an interest and being an occupation for almost 30 years and for me it’s a blast! From the deep green forests to the rolling sagebrush hills, few people see the maximum amount of of America’s available spaces as I do. I kick around kooky little old towns in the middle of nowhere. I visit historic sites where the pioneers of the west toiled for decades to extract precious metals from the ground. As fun as that’s though, finding your own gold, either as a nugget or in solid hard rock is just a special experience that’s hard to equal.
School kids in California find out how James Marshall accidentally discovered gold nuggets while constructing a water powered sawmill in the Sierra foothills. The excitement caused by Marshall’s discovery was a fire that ignited gold and silver rushes all throughout the western US. Well known may be the story of O’Reiley and McLaughlin who accidentally discovered the Comstock Lode silver bonanza while working a small deposit of placer gold, tossing away a blue-black waste that later proved to be rich silver ore. A century ago, Jim Butler, while traveling from his ranch in central Nevada, noticed some quartz vein material. Being truly a good prospector, he collected an example, but he thought so little of his find so it sat on his porch for months before it was tested. That sample became the first of several rich discoveries at Tonopah. I could write a whole book telling the stories of those individual prospectors who, whether intentionally or unintentionally, found rich deposits of gold and other valuable ores. These finds have experienced no small effect on the development of our country – historically millions upon millions of ounces of gold have been recovered from deposits found by individual prospectors.
The gold prospecting world is simply divided in to two halves. They’re placer gold and hard rock gold. Hard rock is gold, which remains in the initial solid rock where it formed. Northern Nevada is extremely full of gold, mostly as these primary hard rock type deposits. The hard rock, open pit mines of Nevada have produced nearly 100 million ounces since their discovery in 1960. Although a few small operations still exist, hard rock mining is usually done on a big scale. The key problem for individuals enthusiastic about hard rock gold deposits is high capital costs for the gear to crush and process hard rock ore to be able to extract the gold from its solid rock enclosure. Because of this, many prospectors who search for hard rock gold seek to market their finds to large companies that possess the resources to develop them.
Any gold that has weathered out of its original rock matrix, be it a quartz vein or another source is called placer gold. Once it is freed from the vein, any accumulation of that gold is called a placer deposit. There are many different types of placers depending on what far the gold traveled, its origin, etc. The four most frequent forms of placer deposits are: 1) Residual – where the initial vein has weathered, but the placer gold remains pretty much “set up” and still in just a few feet of the initial source; 2) Eluvial – where the gold has traveled a short distance down from the foundation, but hasn’t made it into streams and other drainages – they are often called hillside placers; 3) Alluvial – Where in actuality the gold has made it into area streams and rivers mts gold. These placers are sorted by running water and usually the gold lies mostly on or near the bedrock; 4) Beach placers occur where small gold particles make it completely down river to the ocean. Wave action can concentrate the heavier fraction of the sand, producing black sand layers containing fine gold.
Due to the comparative easy recovering gold from placer deposits, most individual prospectors begin seeking placer gold nuggets and flakes. Some later progress to a pastime in hard rock deposits, but many still begin searching for flakes and nuggets of free placer gold. Once you see your first gold, you won’t have much trouble seeing what kept the old pioneer prospectors going under such rugged conditions. It’s always great once you produce your own gold, and the excitement is real. There’s undoubtedly in my mind that gold fever is just a condition which actually exists. Within my experience, staring too closely at gold nuggets or thinking too much in regards to the quest to locate them often causes it. Luckily, it’s a pleasurable condition with few, if any, harmful side effects. Prospecting for gold is an interest that’s easy to fall into.
It doesn’t necessarily cost a mint to find yourself in prospecting. It can be as simple as buying a gold pan for $10 and grabbing a bucket and the garden spade from the garage. On the other hand, there are many great gold saving products available to the modern prospector. Some allow the modern prospector to perform things no old timer could ever dream of. From metal detectors, to portable suction dredges, to dry placer machines and other gold recovery devices of most types, many significant improvements have been manufactured in small scale prospecting equipment. There certainly is not a problem finding ways to pay the maximum amount of money on good equipment as you would like – a lot of great stuff is available. Most individuals start off small and purchase more advanced equipment while they get more active in the hobby.
So whether its searching for another million ounce ore deposit or simply finding a small gold nugget you are able to call your own, rest assured, it is still possible. For those who enjoy hunting, hiking, fishing, off road exploring or some of the other many outdoor hobbies so many folks be involved in, prospecting might be something you would be interested in. For just about any outdoor enthusiast, it’s worthwhile to learn a little about gold deposits – because another big find might be yours!