Southern California Placer Areas: Rattlesnake Canyon and the E. Slopes of the San Bernardinos

Welcome to Rattlesnake Canyon

Like their much larger cousin, the Sierra Nevada Mountains, the eastern slopes of Southern California's San Bernardino Mountains contain their own share of gold in both lode and placer form. Some of these mineralized areas are quite well known, while others are known to only a few.

One of the latter areas is Rattlesnake Canyon which lies in broken, high-desert terrain approximately 20 miles northeast of that well-known playground of the wealthy, Palm Springs. Rattlesnake Canyon is a dry placer location, as are most (if not all) of the gold placers scattered in various locations along the eastern slopes of the San Bernardinos. The Canyon can be reached by a combination of paved and unpaved roads and, as far as I can determine, the unpaved portion (about a 10-mile stretch) can be negotiated in good weather by 2-wheel drive vehicle.

What to Look For

The Canyon area contains extensive placer gold workings, including the inevitable drywasher tailings piles (coarse and fine) as well as "coyote" holes, small pits, and many of the other "signs" of desert or dry placer mining activity. The gold here can be found in the form of small placer nuggets (2-20 grain), flakes, and fines and seems to be spread throughout the area. But potential Rattlesnake Canyon miners should pay special attention to the following:

Low-laying areas such as washes, gullies, and arroyos (typical stream deposition areas that should be checked first)

Older coarse tailings (raking these out and checking with a metal detector or re-running them through a drywasher may prove profitable)

Areas of caliche ("desert cement") with gold bearing gravel on top (where caliche is present it acts as a type of false bedrock and can be a very good gold "sign" at the Canyon)

Nearby slopes and ridges (pay very close attention to these areas since theory has it that the placer gold at Rattlesnake Canyon eroded out and down from the higher points in the vicinity and a number of small-to-medium nuggets have been found by miners and nugget shooters in these spots)

Under the BLM/US Forest Service?

As far as I can tell, most of the Rattlesnake Canyon area is under Federal (BLM/US Forest Service) administration and is open to small-scale or recreational mining and nugget hunting with metal detectors. However, you may want to check this out for yourself and also verify whether or not any unpatented claims are active in the Canyon. With gold at its current price, this is a distinct possibility.

Good Opportunity for Exploration

The east side of the San Bernardinos contains locales other than Rattlesnake Canyon that point the way to gold mineralization or that were worked sporadically for placer gold. A bit of research on your part should bring some of these areas to light. Either way, the east slopes present a good opportunity for exploration and the potential discovery of small, undiscovered placers or limited-potential, hard-to-work gold areas that the old timers passed by in favor of richer, more extensive workings.

Word of Caution

A word of caution: always make sure you are prepared for desert outings, especially during the warmer months. Rattlesnake Canyon is at a 5,000+ elevation, so it will be cooler than the desert floor below, but still hot during the summer months. Take plenty of water with you and make provisions for any scenario, including "buddying up" and letting others know where you plan to be.

(c)  Jim Rocha (J.R.)  2008