What the Old TImers Taught Me About Gold Mining (Part 7A)

 (The old timers weren't geologists, but they knew what to look for.)

My two old timer mining mentors taught me many things and I'm passing that info along to you in this series of posts. As you read this series, remember that small-scale gold prospecting and mining is not always about tips, tools, and where to find gold. It's also about heart, spirit, and attitude.

Keep Your Eyes Open

"Ma Nature has her own bag of tricks and she don't always play fair when it comes to giving up her gold. But she'll give you signs. So keep your eyes open." That's pretty much a direct quote from one of the old timers who schooled me up back in the days when I was still greener than green. At the time, I just nodded my head and thought, "How the hell does that help me?"

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As the years went by I slowly came to understand what my mining mentor was telling me. Mother Nature does have her own way of both making things tough and protecting her gold, but on the other hand she can point the way to gold if you know what to look for.

Dying Art

I've written in the past that I believe that REAL gold prospecting (as practiced by the old timers) is a dying art. I know there are lots of clubs and individuals out there who use the term "gold prospectors" or "gold prospecting" as part of their monikers, but I wonder sometimes how many of those folks really know how to prospect for gold (placer or vein) or what it truly involves.

Now before some of you get all steamed up, I'm simply posing a question here, not attacking any particular club or individual. Sheesh! For any number of reasons, lately I'm starting to think that some miners out there are getting as soft an exterior shell as all these whiny ass politically correct types we have to deal with at work, in the media, and out in public. Anyway, I'm not here to kiss your butt but teach you something.

Signs and More Signs

What sort of signs was my mining mentor talking about? Remember, both he and my other mentor spent a good part of their lives out in the field, prowling or working the harsh mineralized terrain of southeastern California, southwestern Arizona, and southern Nevada as well as numerous placer districts in northern California and elsewhere. They knew their stuff.

My mentor on hard rock gold prospecting signs:
  • "Colors in rock or quartz. The more colors the better, like peacock rock. Better yet if has pyrites. Grab that rock up and take a closer look at it. Just 'cause it ain't showing free gold don't mean it ain't ore, so get your magnifier out and check it again. Bust it open and see what's inside. Crush it up and pan it if you have to. Don't walk away from good-looking rock until you know for absolute certain a ton of it won't even buy you a cup of coffee." 
  • "Changes in the country rock around you that happen all of a sudden can be good sign. Stop and think what Ma Nature is tellin' you. There's a reason for that sudden change in rock. What is it?"
  • "Spots where the plants and trees are different from the rest of the plants and trees growin' nearby. Are these trees and plants small, stunted, or withered looking? Sulfides might be lurkin' about or maybe right under your boots."
  • "Light or white-looking lines or spots that stand out from the regular color of that hillside you're starin' at off in the distance. Is it quartz? Could be, and you need to look closer to see if that ledge is just bull quartz or carrying hundreds of ounces." 
 (Hard-rock mining is a different ballgame.)

  • "Anything that looks out of place or like it don't fit in or don't belong with the rest. Ma Nature likes things orderly. If you hit a spot that just don't look right or don't fit the surroundings look closer."
  •  "Always check for signs of old mining work. Could be just a coyote hole or two, a small pile of tailings, or an old adit. Some other old timer was here before you and there's a reason why. Did he get all the gold or just part of it? Was he good at getting the gold or was he a lazy ass or a bonehead? Check things out but stay the hell outta old shafts and workings unless you're dead set on being a memory."
  • "Check for float trails. Anytime you see float scattered about on the lower end of a hill or slope, there's a ledge or outcrop breakin' up some place above and that ledge or outcrop needs to be found and eyeballed. Hell, you never know...you might just go home a rich man."
  •  "If you're pannin' or samplin' along a wash or stream and the color you're findin' just stops  there and everywhere else upstream, focus your eyes on the side slopes at that very point. That's where the gold will be, slowly workin' it's way down from a ledge or outcrop."
I have many other hard-rock prospecting tips like this from my mentor, but they're too numerous to list here. In my next post I'll relate what my other old-timer mining mentor taught me about placer mining prospecting.

Until then, best of luck to you.

If you liked this post, you may want to read: "Success as a Gold Miner (Part 1)"

(c)  Jim Rocha (J.R.)  2012

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


  1. Hello Jim, What about quartz? I've been told the "milky white" quartz rarely has gold, and to look for the stuff that is more clear like glass. Is that true? We have some of both here, I've crushed/panned both, but not a hint of gold so far. I keep looking and hopeing, but I have to say I really don't know what to look for. Some of it has black spots and streaks, others have green coper coloring showing. I know that is suppost to be good signs.....

  2. When the old timers talked about "bull" quartz they meant stuff with no evidence of mineralization. Usually that sort of quartz is a bust. However, I've seen some beautiful ore samples of snow-white quartz (with no other colors in it) that has the look of powdered sugar with free-milling gold. However, clear or quartz crystal looking stuff I've NEVER seen associated with gold myself. Green is a good color to check closer...the black spots could be manganese or?...gold ores here in my area will have those dark areas or specks...manganese. est, J.R.

  3. So it sounds like I've been told the opposit. I have a few pieces here in my yard I have brought home, I'll send you a picture. Thanks!!

  4. The pics were highly interesting...I'd like to take a look at those rocks myself. Best, J.R.

    1. I have a few questions i an ontop of amethyst vein I have all kinds of qaurtz a bunch of it I have gold ( mica , pyrite) assuming and sulfide I need help my back yard is a giant sluce the oldtimer was here for 100 years there's gneiss and schisst everywhere help

  5. Can you find gold in any river im east of Calgary and im not sure if this is an acceptable spot for look for gold(bow river)


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