Placers, Paystreaks, and Pockets (Part 1)

(Beautiful placer nuggets like this can still be found in many gold districts throughout the world.)

Gold Placers

The term "placer" is a Spanish word that loosely means "to please or gratify" or is a "pleasure." Whatever the true meaning, placer is the most common term used to describe alluvial (stream or wash) gold deposits, regardless of their location. It goes without saying that placer deposits are the bread and butter of every recreational or small-scale gold miner here in the United States (and elsewhere for that matter).

One thing I've learned in all my years of small-scale mining is that no two gold placers are alike. Some placers are spotty or "hit or miss" while others are relatively rich in terms of their gold concentrations. This holds true whether a given gold placer is located in or near running streams or left high and dry in a desert dry wash or arroyo.

Unique "Identifiers"

In terms of small-scale or recreational mining activities, the best placers tend to be those that are more remote or harder to get to and at, while placers that are easily accessed (located along or near main roads or highways) tend to get worked over more. Common sense, right?

Gold Pans
Gold Prospecting Books
Gold Panning Kits

Each placer area or district has its own unique "identifiers" when it comes to the amount, size, and type or purity of the gold available within its boundaries. As I've alluded to already, some gold placers contain consistent gold values and others don't.

Coincidentally, some placers are noted only for their fine gold concentrations while others produce decent amounts of large flakes, coarse pieces or "chunkers," and even small-to-medium sized nuggets. The purity levels of these placer gold values can range from a low of around .750 fine (out of a possible .999 purity level) all the way up to around .920 fine.


Paying concentrations of placer gold are invariably known as paystreaks or pockets. It's interesting to note here that the term paystreak evolved over time and is actually a more modern descriptive term. During the California Gold Rush the '49ers most often used terms like "pay dirt," "wash dirt," and "pay lead" to describe gold-bearing (auriferous) gravels containing large or paying concentrations of the yellow metal.

(With this level of effort, you can pretty well bet these old timers were following a good paystreak or multiple paystreaks.)

Placer paystreaks are generally referred to in terms of their overall economic value in pennyweights, grams, or troy ounces per cubic yard. Hard rock gold miners (a different breed entirely, by the way) invariably describe vein or lode gold values as grams or ounces of gold per ton of material processed.

Extended Layer of Gold

A true paystreak is typically an extended layer (or multiple layers) of placer gold extending for some distance vertically or laterally, or both. The most consistent paystreaks are usually found where the hydraulics of running water create a reliable pattern of gold deposition points over the course of time.

On the other hand, in my desert or dry placer mining experience I've found that true paystreaks are much harder to come by. The few I've been able to locate, work, and recover in dry placers were not very extensive and tended to be very limited in terms of their overall "richness."

However, many dry or desert placers DO contain good hot spots or pockets of placer gold. I'll tell you more about pockets in my next post, so stay tuned.

Good luck out there.

If you liked this post, you may want to read: "Gold Mining Questions and Answers: Part 17"

(c)  Jim Rocha (J.R.)  2012

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