Gold in Southern California: the Santa Ana Mountains

(View toward Silverado Canyon in the Santa Ana Mountains.)

Set Aside as Public Lands

The Santa Ana Mountains are sandwiched between two major interstate highways, I-5 to the west and I-15 to the east. This gold-bearing mountain range of modest altitude (5,687 feet at its highest point) also has the misfortune of being in one of the most densely populated regions of California.

Gold Concentrates
Gold Pans

I say misfortune because the more "rats in the cage" there are, the more difficult it is to find gold areas that aren't overrun, beaten to death, or off limits for one reason or another. So I find it encouraging that despite their proximity to major Southern California (SoCal) population centers, much of the Santa Anas has been set aside as public lands under the Trabuco District of the Cleveland National Forest.

Silver Boom in 1870

Numerous old arrastres for crushing ore found in the Santa Anas over the years suggest that the Spanish were mining gold and silver in the mountains long before the arrival of Anglo Americans in 1848. There is not much literature on just how much gold came out of the mountains early on, but there seems to have been a slow and steady stream of precious metal taken out of the Santa Anas in both placer and lode form.

A mining boom in Silverado Canyon took place from 1870 until 1883 when over 1,500 miners, their families, and the usual "hangers on" populated the area. Most of the recoveries were in silver, zinc, lead, but quite of bit of gold and antimony were produced as by products of  hard-rock mining.

Fairly Large Placer Nuggets

Historically speaking, one of the best locales in the Santa Anas for placer gold can be found in the Lucas Canyon area where fairly large nuggets were found early on. However, part of this old placer area has been incorporated into the San Mateo Canyon Wilderness area where mining is not allowed. (Why is it the best gold areas always end up like this?)

Placer Gold Locations

Take heart, however. Just about any wash or stream course found below old hard-rock workings or mineralized zones still carries placer gold. However, your best bets for finding gold in the Santa Anas will be in the more remote areas where hiking or packing in is a must. 

 (Old mine entrance in the Santa Anas.)

Also remember that most streams in the Santa Ana Mountains are seasonal or intermittent, so any sampling on your part will be made more difficult by lack of water. If you decide to try the Santa Anas for gold, you may want to check with one of the ranger stations first to get a drift on what they require in terms prospecting or mining in the mountains.

Good luck and let me know what you find.

If you liked this post, you may want to read: "A Tough Way to Get Rich (Part 1)"

(c)  Jim Rocha (J.R.)  2011

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