Gold Mining History of California: Significant Locations, Dates, and Information (Part 1)

(Small-scale gold mining operation in San Francisquito Canyon, circa 1890.)

Although most of you are at least somewhat familiar with the California Gold Rush and subsequent mining activities, there is much more to my home state's mining history. In this post I'll bring some of that history to light as well as providing you with useful mining information you may not be aware of.

Gold Panning Kits
Mining Equipment

"Potholes" District (1775): The discovery of rich placer gold ground by the Spanish along the Colorado River not far from from modern-day Winterhaven, California was one of the first (if not the first) gold discoveries in the entire Golden State. The "Potholes" area is near and dear to my heart....I worked claims there some 20-25 years ago using my trusty old wooden "puffer" dry washer (built by Sam Radding). This district is still a decent gold producer if you can find yourself a stretch of open ground in some of the most forbidding desert gold terrain you're likely to encounter. (Note: E-mail me if you want to learn more about the "Potholes" District. J.R.)

San Ysidro Placers (1828): The Spanish also discovered gold interspersed throughout small, mostly dry placers near the border community of San Ysidro due south of San Diego. I prospected this area for a short period of time when I lived in San Diego County in the 1980s and found placer gold, but not great amounts of the yellow metal. This area's proximity to Tijuana, Mexico and the international border would now make it somewhat risky in that many illegal immigrants as well as criminal types use the back country for their "business," nefarious and otherwise. In other words, I'd steer clear...there are better, saner areas to prospect or mine in California.

San Francisquito Canyon Placers (1835): There is no doubt that the Spanish had a "nose" for finding gold and other precious metals in the New World. They did it again in what is modern-day Los Angeles County at an area now known as San Francisquito Canyon. Fairly substantial gold placers were worked here right up until the advent of the 20th Century (see the old photo at the beginning of this post). Small lode veins were worked here as well. Gold can still be found in the Canyon at various locales if you are patient, thorough, and can find areas free of development.

Gold Pans

Placerita Canyon (1842): Of course, the name Placerita Canyon itself should tell any prospective miner all he or she needs to know. A mini-gold rush took place here in modern Los Angeles County when coarse gold and nuggets turned up entangled in the roots of wild onions in the area. The Placerita Canyon placers were fairly rich but very shallow in nature, so the boom didn't last long and the miners moved on. Lest you think too hard about checking this area out for gold, be advised that a good chunk of the historic area is now a California State Park and off limits to lowlives and scum like us (miners and treasure hunters that is!).

That's all she wrote for now my friends. I'll have more for you later.

Keep coming back and be sure to check out the "Bedrock Dreams" Donation Drive Raffle...who knows, you might win a nice prize.

(c) J.R. 2010

Questions? E-mail me at