My First Quest for Gold

Catching the fever

There's nothing like finding your first nugget


Above, a nice day working a crack

All of us at one time or another were stricken with the fever, gold fever. Like the name says, it really is a fever, or more like a passion. Once you get it it's hard to cure.

There's nothing to compare to uncovering an untouched crevice, watching the clay and gravel being removed and seeing the gleaming gold nuggets wedged in the crevice. The gold was deposited in this crevice millions of years ago, untouched by man and waiting for you to make the lucky discovery.

I have dredged and mined for about 35 years. Some summers were good, others were not. I work as hard as anyone, winching boulders out of the way, working late in the day until the sun fades behind the ridge top. In July and August I find hyself hiking out of the canyon at dusk, sometimes with a flashlight.

Here I am counting the months until I can get back in the water. I most definitely have the fever again, and there's only one cure. This wasn't something I was born with, I contracted it.

I can look back and laught about my first experience looking for gold. I was in high school and a friend and his dad had a claim on the North Fork of the Yuba in Sierra County about 2 miles below Indian Valley and above Canyon Creek. Even though I was born and raised in California, I had never been to Sierra County, the place I now call my second home. The first time I went with my friend I watched them us a small dredge and recover some nice pickers off the bedrock. The second trip I was prepared. I bought a used wetsuit and booties, hood, mask and snorkel and I was ready to find gold!

The memory seems like a fog. It was over 35 years ago. I was determined to find gold. I can remember being in the water for only 1/2 an hour and I had already covered the bottom of a one ounce vile. This gold finding sure was easy, all you had to do is pick it up. I worked a while longer and finally left the water and my rich streak.

I showed my friend thinking he would be as excited as I was and boy was I proud, I was the best gold finder ever. Then the look on his face broke into a big grin and a laugh. Yeah, my gold was mica and I felt like the biggest fool on the river. Needless to say I learned quick.

I often think of that day when I bring friends of my kids to the claim and teach them to pan for gold. The first thing I do is put a flake in the pan for them. Once you have seen gold there is no mistaking it. The glitter of gold has a magic attraction.

Gold is where you find it. The old timers were good at what they did, afterall they had to eat. I have been 25 feet under water, through 12 feet of overburden just knowing I'd strike it rich only to find rough hewn lumber laying on the bedrock.

Sometimes I sit on the bank and wonder what it was like in the 1850's, and how they managed to get that deep in the river without all the stuff we have. For what they had back then they were really good, tough and persistent.

I'm not the kind of prospector who jumps around looking for paystreaks. Each year I patiently start up where I left off the year before, working upstream, one side of the river, then the other. One summer my partner and I found one of those untouched crevices. It was small, but that day I knew what the old timers meant when they would should "Eurkeka."

It was a fairly small crevice, but it was just packed with gold. We pulled nine ounces of that small crevice and the majority of it was either pickers or small nuggets.

It's an incredible site to see an untouched crevice. This crevice was in a steep section of bedrock slanting down into the deep hole where I found the rough cut lumber.

They must have missed this crack on their way to the bottom of what must have been a glory hole. I can only imagine what they found if this one lonely crack still held 9 ounces.

Over the years if there is one thing I've learned, it is dig, scratch, scrape and wash. From my first day of collecting fools gold, I have learned gold will work itself into places where there are no places. Every hairline crack in the bedrock opens up during a big flood. They open just wide enough for the gold to drop in, then close back up when the water pressure drops.


Above, the results of cleaning a previously worked crevice.

I have also found crevices which were cleaned out, only to find more gold they missed. I just dig deeper and I'm more thorough. Sometimes I find some really nice nuggets. A garden hose is a must for cleaning out these crevices.

After doing this for 35 years I can tell you there is still a lot of gold out there waiting for you. It's rarely easy, always an experience. One day you too will jump from the water and shout "Eureka!"