Gold Mining is a Labor of Love

 (Probably not the best choice for a mining novice.)

Although "greenhorn" seems to be universally accepted as the go-to term for aspiring gold prospectors and miners, I tend to favor another term...novice. Since we all have to start somewhere, I too was once one of these energetic but often hapless souls looking to strike 'er rich.

I Didn't Know Any Better

I was "greener" than most when I first started out. In fact I was greener than green with a head full of grandiose dreams about getting the gold and lots of it. That said, let me tell you a little story about the very first time yours truly went looking for placer gold.
To illustrate just what a novice I was nearly 35 years ago, the location I happened to choose for my first mining foray was a dry placer district well off the beaten track in one of the most inhospitable desert areas of southeastern California. How inhospitable? Like the other side of the moon. Now some of you are sitting there shaking your heads and wondering just why the hell I would choose a harsh environment with no water as my first gold mining destination. Well, to put it simply...I just didn't know any better!

Reality Therapy

You see I had read a a short treatise on California gold areas some weeks before and figured this locale was within striking distance and, most importantly, had gold. I called a buddy who knew even less than I did about prospecting or mining and he agreed to accompany me. Vibrating with excitement and anticipation, we packed up a tent, snatched up our camping gear and gold pans, and headed straight away for that desert wasteland full of piss and vinegar and high hopes for pulling in lots of yellow metal. I was so certain of success in this regard that I took along along an empty baby food jar to put all my gold in. Absolutely true. Now you know just how green I truly was.

After 4 days of sweating like pigs in the desert sun, eating wind-blown grit, and dodging scorpions and at least one sidewinder that I almost sat on, reality began to rear its ugly head. It suddenly dawned on me that baby food jar wasn't going to get filled nor were we going to be riding home weighted down with a fortune in desert gold. Although my spirits were dampened considerably I was still hooked. Hooked bad, as a matter of fact. My erstwhile "pard," on the other hand, never returned to the goldfields. Once was more than enough for him.

Success or Failure?

We probably wouldn't have found the slightest trace of precious metal on that crazy trip had it not been for the help and direction of a more experienced miner who was running a motorized dry washer not far from us. With nary a sarcastic word or put down of any sort, this kind gentleman showed the two boneheads a few basics and put us onto some small pieces of desert gold. Not much, mind you...but gold none the less.

Gold Panning Kits
Gold Concentrators
Metal Detectors

Now the moral of this little tale may be perfectly obvious to some of you out there and to others...well, who knows? Depending on your perspective you could say that my first attempt at mining was a failure. I disagree.

For me that first mining trip was a complete success. Never again would I over-inflate my gold getting expectations, nor under-estimate how hard you have to work to recover small amounts of the yellow metal. More importantly, I vowed to learn every little thing about gold and gold mining I could stuff inside my dim-witted brain so that I too could take a novice by the hand and steer him (or her) in the right direction. Without stroking my own ego I have to say that, as the years progressed, I did a pretty fair job of getting myself up to speed in that regard.

Hang in There

My experience over the decades is that the harsh reality of gold mining does one of two things to novice gold seekers. It either sends them running for their air-conditioned living rooms with their tails tucked between their legs or stiffens their backbones with a desire to learn all they can about mining and become the best they can be. So if you're a greenhorn or a novice, hang in there. Things won't get easier but they'll get better. Most importantly, you'll get your fair share of the gold.

You know, when I look back on that first mining foray, I too have to shake my head and smile. Just what the hell was I thinking? But here's the deal. I wouldn't change that experience for anything in this world, or any other mining experience or mining-related escapade I've had over the years. You see, it's been a labor of love.

And what about that baby food jar I failed to pack to the rim with gold? To this day it remains buried in that arid, wind-swept gold ground as a reminder.

Good luck out there.

(c)  Jim Rocha (J.R.)  2013

Questions? E-mail me at


  1. JR, My prospecting "partner" had high hopes of quitting his job, buying a new truck or at the very least new tires for his truck. I told him not to count on finding much, if any at all. He thought I was crazy. The first time we went, we found gold....tiny little specks of gold. All he brought to put it in was a buckskin pouch, no jar of any kind. He said "well, I wasn't exspecting it to be that small." As a kid, nearly 50 years ago now, we went gold panning and I've gone off and on through the years since.I only got serious about it 3 or 4 years ago though. I at least had an idea what to exspect. My best day so far to date is only 6 grains....gas to get there cost more than that. This is a hobby, nothing more. You could get rich, but odds are against it. You either enjoy it, or you do something else pretty quick! Most of the time the real "Gold" is just getting out into the wild places,and enjoying yourself. Gary

  2. You are absolutely right about where the "real" gold is Gary. Thanks for commenting. J.R.

  3. Ahhh...."the ignorance of youth". Your story Jim, pried opened my own box of "golden" memories. So here's my little one.

    Alright.....don't laugh, "bought" into my first gold experience at age 8. You see...we went to Knott's Berry Farm....where they were actually "panning" for real my Buena Park CA.!!! I SAW IT...WITH MY OWN EYES!!

    So I scrimped and saved all of my lawn cutting and lemonade monies for 2 years....and at age 8...went back to get "MY" own gold!

    Dreamed for months....and finally the day came! Ran all the way there. Well, let's just say I panned for 3 hours straight, with the supervision of my wise but patient dad....who still laughs about it to this day. You see, he was a coal miner for many years. Like others of his generation...he already knew how hard mining really was, with questionable reward. But... to teach me a valuable life lesson, he just indulged my little "dream" with a smile.

    Well needless to say....after 25 a buck a pop....I got my first vile of gold dust.
    And I might was "waaaay" more than the others got....(for a buck!) (For $25 bucks back then....I sure hope so!) I still have that little vile with the "Knott's" sticker on it. Took it out this morning...after reading your blog.

    So thank you Jim. Like I said, "Ahhh, the ignorance of youth"!

    San Francisco

  4. That's a great little story there in its own right. Thanks for sharing your memories and your first search for gold! J.R.

  5. Dreams not just wasted on the youth. I must be having my second child hood because I am sitting in the bush now with all them same dreams :)
    The trouble is my real first go at getting some gold gave me an ounce of nuggets in 10 days. Well to say the least I was hooked, still am.
    That was only 4 years ago and now I want to all know about it. I may have left my learning run a little late. Probably should have done the mining thing at 16 or 17 I knew everything then :) Some of my friends that live in captivity don't see what value I get out of this adventure. Put aside the gold and the value in this lifestyle is very rewarding in and on so many levels. Sometimes looking into the camp fire flames and enjoying the canopy of stars above I can't help think I was born in the wrong era. I think the adventure has only just begun. If it is just a wet dream at my age please don't wake me yet :)

  6. I know exactly what you're saying and how you feel G. Once in your blood it's hard to turn away...except from the rat race out there. Best! J.R.

  7. Jim, took my own advice and went after some gold today. Only found 2 1/2 grains, but it is amazeing how your troubles and worries don't seem as bad in the mountains. That trouble I told you about...I talked to a friend of mine that is an ex-judge and now a lawer. He gave me some pointers.....keeping my fingers crossed!

    1. Back in the saddle again here Gary. Glad you got some gold. Keep me posted about the other madness. J.R.

  8. Hello Jim, off subject here but I sent you a couple of emails and didn't get a reply?
    Did they not get through to you? Or did I get something wrong again? Key word "Nugget"

  9. Hey GS...I've been offline till last night. Please re-send e-mails in question, OK? Thanks! J.R.


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