Interpreting Visual Prospecting Clues: a Dying Art? (Part 6)

 ("I guess we're not in Kansas anymore Toto...")

If you've been following this series of posts, you may have already picked up on an old-timer trick or two when it comes to visual prospecting clues. I hope this is the case and in that spirit, let's move forward on once again.

It should come as no surprise to you that the old timers didn't have much in the way of access to the sorts of specific information we rely on these days. The so-called "information highway" is very wide and long today...for the old timers, however, that sort of information was virtually nonexistent. The old timers gained their knowledge of gold mineralization and gold geology not from books (or TV, or videos, or the Internet) but from direct observation and a good deal of trial and error.

Gold Concentrates
Gold Concentrators

None of the visual prospecting clues that the old timers looked for were very difficult to identify if the truth is told. Still, if you have little or no idea what exists right under your nose, you're essentially going to be stumbling around out there as blind as the proverbial bat. One of the basic visual premises the old timers understood was so simple in its logic that it might make you shake your head and smile. Here it is:

7. Keep an eye out for areas or locations similar in physical appearance, topography, and geology to other gold-bearing areas or locations

Here's a classic example of what I'm talking about. During the height of the California Gold Rush (1849-1855) aspiring gold prospectors and miners flocked to the Motherlode Region from every corner of the known world to try their hands at striking it rich. A goodly number of these Argonauts were from Down Under. Like many of their contemporaries, the Aussies that stuck it out in the California gold fields learned a great deal about placer mining as well as the budding art of hard-rock prospecting and mining. They also learned how to observe their surroundings for signs of gold.

After they'd had enough of the frenzied hordes swarming the hillsides of the Sierra Nevadas, most of these Diggers made the long voyage back to Australia. Once home, it didn't take long before the light bulbs started going on inside their heads when they began to see areas nearby or in the Outback that bore a remarkable similarity to some of those they had seen and observed in California. The end result? Some of the largest gold discoveries in Australian history.

Similarities and Dissimilarities

Sure, the visual clues to gold's presence will vary to some degree or another depending on where you're looking for it. That said, there will be nearly as many physical characteristics that ARE similar...and that doesn't matter if you're prospecting the slopes of the Sierras or the deserts of southeastern California. So keep this very simple concept locked inside your brains. If you start seeing visual clues in a new location or environment that you've seen elsewhere in areas containing gold, it's time for a bit of prospecting regardless of outcome.

Let me qualify things a bit here to avoid confusion. Just because you found a chunk of iron-stained country rock in a known Arizona gold district doesn't mean that a new gold rush is about to begin because you found a similar-looking chunk in Kansas. I don't mean this in an insulting way to anyone (least of all those of you in the Sunflower State) but it provides a stark example of what I'm trying to say here. Moreover, in contrasting the two what you should focus on is not the similarity between the two chunks of rock, but the dissimilarity of the broader geologic and topographic features between the two locations. Get the picture?

One Thing in Our Favor

Again, none of this is relatively difficult or especially challenging. Most gold prospectors and small-scale miners I've known over the past 35+ years (including you) are pretty damn sharp whether they're highly educated or not. In fact, as someone with both bachelors and masters degrees, I don't think those pieces of paper make you any smarter and they sure as hell aren't prerequisites for being an able gold prospector or miner.

Don't get me wrong here. I value education and appreciate my own. At the same time I despise those academic snobs who puff and strut and pontificate, all the while looking down on the salt-of-the-earth or blue-collar types. Despite the fact I spent 11 years working alongside a-holes like this when I myself was tied to the academic plow, I grew up in a strict, working class environment where you got a swift kick in the butt if you didn't move fast enough.

I guess one thing in our favor in this regard is that most geologists I've known were not snobs. Neither were the old timers...

("And to pontificate further class, let me just say this...woof, snort, blah, blah, woof, snort, blah, woof...")

(c)  Jim Rocha (J.R.)  2013

Questions? E-mail me at


  1. Jim,
    Could not have put into simpler terms.....look for the same....than look at the differences. You consistency is to be commended. After all of our conversations here on the continue to remind me of the rudimentary values of "successful" small scale miners. Thanks Jim....great series! Be safe out there.

  2. You're more than welcome and I appreciate your support and comments. Best to you, J.R.

  3. The fair is over!!!!!!!I hope to get into them thar hills soon.....this weekend maybe.
    Thanks to you, I will be looking for some of the "signs" you have mentioned here these last few posts.
    As always Jim, THANK YOU!
    I truly mean that, THANK YOU.
    Not just for this, but for being there when I needed someone to "talk " to. I'll let ya know how this mess turns out. Gary

  4. You're welcome Gary. Best of luck in that deal. J.R.


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