No Gold There

A Beginner's Guide to Ignoring Advice

Here's some advice...

DredgeSometimes the best advice is to, well, ignore advice. But, of course, that's advice.

Have you ever had someone tell you "There's no gold there." or "It's all worked out."

Here's a secret. There's gold just about everywhere in the Sierras, and there's a lot more of it than you may imagine.

A few years ago I spent some time looking for some new mining claims. I found a small ravine which was pretty non-descript, and I could find no real reason it should have gold, other than it was in the right area where gold had been fairly plentiful. There were no claims on the ravine and I asked a few local miners about the area.

Most of the miners agreed there was no gold in that ravine. They said the ravine didn't drain a hydraulic pit, nore did it cut the old tertiary channels, so there was no point wasting your time there.

Despite the opinion of the local miners I went anyways. The ravine had decent access compared to what I was used to and I had an afternoon to spare.

Above. These little gulches, barely able to fit a 2" can sometimes hold good gold.

My first stop was a creek where I already had some claims, but I wanted to sample upriver a bit. All I had to do was stop the truck, hop out with a pan and wash some dirt. It had gold, actually quite a bit of fine gold. I was surprised to see the amount of gold in the pan because the creek was within 100 yards of the road. Satisfied the area had gold I headed for the ravine.

Most of us have our own panning style, and we even vary this style depending on what we're panning. If I'm panning out concentrates I'll take my time, when I'm just sampling a creek I'll whip right through it. Usually I'll just leave any gold in the pan as I take my next sample, and just keep accumulating gold in the pan until its worthwhile to take out a bottle. More often than not I don't bother. I don't have the patience to pan my way to riches.

Gold PanThe hike into the ravine I was interested in was about 3/4 of a mile. The trail ran along a long finger of a ridge then dropped down a steep slope. I dropped down the slope to the nearest place with enough water to pan which was a spot of clay-like bedrock. The bedrock was soft enough I didn't think I'd pick up anything from it, but I grabbed a sample anyways and quickly panned it down using my rapid panning technique.

Whoah. Maybe not so fast I thought as I saw I nice string of gold starting to appear at the top of the pan. I slowed my panning down and the gold just kept showing up until I had about half a penny weight sitting in the pan.

I put that in the bottle and took a careful look around. There was no reason this ravine shouldn't have been cleaned out, but it obviously wasn't. I eyed the exposed bedrock which extended from one side of the creek to the other and thought about bringing in a little dredge to clean it up.

Looking downstream the ravine rapidly fell away into a steep canyon with slick bedrock. The type of area I rarely got any gold from. I looked upstream and could see a couple hundred yards of flat ground so I headed up river. The first nice looking crevice I came to was about four feet out of the water, but I decided to clean it out and was rewarded with a nice line of BB sized nuggets. I moved upstream again and got nothing, not so much as fine dust.

Right. Nice to see a pan like this when you're sampling.

I spent the afternoon panning up and down the ravine and found it to be spotty at best, but the spots where it had gold, definitely had gold. But, the question remained - where did it come from?

Most creeks in the Sierras you can figure out where the gold came from. The vast majority of the creeks were fed by the old tertiary channels, those which weren't enriched by the channel were enriched by the dumping of tailings from the hydraulic and drift operations. On occasion you'll find a creek enriched by local lode sources, but these are more rare.

Although there was no obvious reason for the gold to be in the ravine I went ahead and filed a claim on it and spent the next few months returning to sample it. I finally packed in a 2" dredge to that shallow bedrock and picked up about 1/2 ounce in the 10' of material. I moved the dredge downstream a bit and recovered another nice patch off a piece of hard bedrock, but it required moving a couple feet of overburden which isn't the quickest thing to do with a 2" dredge.

The season ran out, but my curiousity about the ravine didn't. I asked a knowledgeable prospector to walk the creek with me and see if he could figure out where the gold was coming from. The first spot we dropped into we scraped some gravel off a bar and both had some nice flakes in the pan. We moved downstream a bit and recovered some more nice flakes. We moved upstream and got nothing. So where was it cominig from? We grabbed our packs and hiked about a mile upstream panning as we went. Nothing, nothing and nothing. Not so much as dust.

DredgeAt the end of the day my friend could shed no more light on the source of the gold than I could. There was still no reason for the gold to be where it was, but there it was.

That summer I spent some time walking the ravine from bottom to top, sometimes with a gold pan, sometimes with a metal detector and rock hammer. I covered both sides of the ravine from top to bottom.

I found the source of the gold and it was unexpected. At the rim of the canyon was a quartz ledge with an old 1800's lode mine. Plenty of quartz tailings to indicate it had produced, and the claim records showed a series of locators over the years. The lode mine was at the top of a small feeder ravine and it explained some of the gold, but it didn't explain the gold upstream from the lode.

As I hiked the ridge upstream from the lode I found an old hydraulic pit which was probably only 5 acres in size. The hydraulic workings weren't on any of the maps, and it appeared to be a small branch off the main tertiary. Following the flow of this small pit it became clear this small branch was actually cut by the ravine I had been working.

Left. You know you're dredging a small creek when you're working under a log

I had a two-fer. The source of the gold was both lode and tertiary.

Upstream from the area I had been panning out some nice gold I would get completely skunked for a couple hundred yards. The bedrock was a really soft clay-like material and I believed this was the reason nothing would stick. In several sampling trips I never got so much as a flake out of that stretch, so I ignored it. The ravine could support a 2.5" dredge at best, some areas you might have been able to put a 4" on, but it would have been hard pressed to find room for the pontoons, and with a flare jet there just wasn't enough water to run anything bigger than a 2", so I kept sampling with the 2" and eventually brought in my 2.5". Yeah, you do get tired of throwing every pebble out of the way.

I ran the 2.5" for a couple of days in some early summer ice cold water and thought I'd like to try upstream a bit. The same stretch where I had been consistently skunked with a pan, but what the heck I thought. I'm here and I might as well try it. I moved the dredge upstream from a small water fall and put it down on a piece of the soft clay bedrock and headed for the bank. Wow.

I was in the gold once again. Not a speck on the dry land, but where the gravel would drop out sure held a lot of gold. I worked the area for a few more days and got some nice gold, enough to tell me to keep at it, but this ravine I could only work for a short period in the spring and I was heading to another claim with the 4" the next day so I packed out, but planned on returning the next summer.

Quite a few summers have passed, and I've been through quite a few claims during that time. I pick them up, work them for a year or two, then drop them. But, this little ravine I've always kept. I still spend the early summer on that ravine, some days are terrible, some areas are spotty and some areas are great. This is the only place I've worked where I could actually see gold laying on the bedrock while standing on the bank. On the Yuba I've seen gold laying on the bedrock, but that was only when I was in the water with a regulator and mask. This ravine I could see it standing on the bank and all I had to do was drop a little bitty dredge on top of it and have a great afternoon.

Over the years I've puzzled out why there was gold there. Of course it was fed by the lode source and the placer source, but more importantly it was passed over by the dredgers because it was too small to run a decent dredge, and when you panned it more often than not you got nothing. The gold was spotty, but good. It still is, and I'm still working it.

Left. Not a bad day for a 2" dredge on a scrappy creek

Gold PanThe lode source above this ravine tells me there is the chance to find a really nice nugget in there somewhere. The vein this ravine cuts once gave up a 50lb quart nugget to some folks running a drift in the 1800s. The placer miners quickly became lode miners and did really well for a couple of years.

After you've been at this for a few years what you find is most prospectors are lazy. No one I had talked to had actually been to the ravine, they just believed what they heard, and I've not bothered to correct their opinions. A truism about the Sierras is there is gold everywhere. Where there is gold everywhere it's bound to accumulate somewhere. Those somewhere's are getting scarcer every year, but they're still there. Ignore the advice and go find out for yourself. That little ravine is proof that ignoring advice is good advice.