Tailings, "Newbies," and a Bit of Placer Gold

 (Yours truly with "newbie" Art S. at Pilar, New Mexico.)

Those of you who've been with me a while now at "Bedrock Dreams" know that I'm not big on  tailings as a source of gold-bearing material. After all, tailings piles are essentially mining refuse, so I generally avoid them like the Black Plague.

OK, that said I have to admit a couple of things to you. My very first nugget came from an old tailings pile on my aunt's property outside Nevada City, California when I myself was still climbing that "newbie" mining curve. Looking back now with 20/20 hindsight I guess all I can say is that I just didn't know any better.

Along the Rio Grande

As the saying still goes, however, "Gold is where you find it." I am also obliged to say I've seen some decent gold values come out of tailings at times in my three-plus decades of small-scale mining, especially in certain dry placer locations where the lack of water and careless mining have created opportunities for the rest of us. Still, I'm not a tailings guy and never will be.

Gold Prospecting Books
Gold Pans

In a recent post titled "'Newbie' Finds His First Placer Gold 'Chunker'" I told you about Sam G. and a prospecting/mining foray he and I made to a New Mexico placer gold location that will remain undisclosed for any number of reasons, some of which I am sure you can surmise. This past weekend Sam, his buddy Art S. (another "newbie"), and myself made a run up along the Rio Grande to Pilar, New Mexico where old bucket dredge tailings can be found.

(Sam and Art running my old portable sluice box.)

"Hit-or-Miss" Proposition

Although I had researched the Pilar location some time ago, it was my fellow veteran miner "Rattlesnake Jim" who tuned me in to the particulars there. What little placer gold exists at Pilar is spread erratically throughout the old river rock dredge tailings and very much a "hit-or-miss" proposition at best...just as most tailings are.

(Yours truly "assisting" Sam.)

In the past I've seen a few small-to-medium gold flakes taken from screened material at Pilar as well as numerous "microdots" of flour gold that take a trained eye to spot the majority of the time. I've also seen, believe it or not, one nice little nugget (perhaps .75 grams or so) taken from the Pilar tailings by one lucky gold panner.

Flakes of Gold

All this said, the best thing about Pilar is that it's a decent and easily accessed basic training ground for "newbies." In my recent foray with Sam and Art, the idea was to show the boys how to run a simple sluice box, perform a clean up, and pan the concentrates out. This is exactly what we did.

 (Gold flake resting on the miner's moss [right center].)

No, Sam and Art didn't strike it rich but they did find a few flakes of gold and learned something new in the process. Their enthusiasm and hard work was duly noted by yours truly but I fear the boys may have been on the verge of mutiny at a couple points when my steady stream of barked commands and directions irritated the hell out of them! But hey, I tend to mentor as I was mentored...the old school, hard-ass way.

(What the boys took home.)

Their Own Opportunity

Anyhoo, a good time was had by all after everything was said and done, and the weather couldn't have been nicer to us. I suspect Sam and Art are nursing a slight case of gold fever these days but that's not a bad thing.

If the boys stay at it, I suspect they'll turn into highly competent miners down the road. Providing I'm correct in this assumption, at some point they'll have their own opportunity to run a couple of "newbies" through the ringer!

Good luck to one and all.

If you liked this post, you may want to read: "Can I Make a Living Gold Mining (Part 2)?"

(c)  Jim Rocha (J.R.)  2012

Questions? E-mail me at jr872vt90@yahoo.com


  1. Great story, JR. I'd gotten wrapped up in work up here in Red River but now that things have settled down I've been reading your blog again. As always, I walk away ready to get out there and go to lookin'. Thanks for all the info you put out here.

  2. Hey Dave...thanks for the good comments. Hope you guys are doing well up there. J.R.

  3. Think I may be a week or so late on replying to this thread. My name is Matt and I've previously lived in Espanola. I've panned some tailings at Pilar to no avail but where I did have luck was in Embudo. Where the Embudo and the Rio Grande meet is a prime area. Also, the river that runs through Dixon have proven successful in the past. Just a hint.

  4. Thanks for the tip Matt. That's good info to know. Best, J.R.


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