On Dry Washers, Desert Gold, and Working Dry Ground (Part 2)

(This beautiful photo taken near Randsburg, California by miner Dan T. reminds me of a landscape oil painting.)

My first post on this topic has generated a good number of e-mails and comments. Both of the latter provide good material for the Bedrock Dreams mining mill, so I'll be addressing those directly in this post, as well as rambling on in my usual inimitable style.

(Note: All of the photos included in this post were sent in by Dan T., who definitely has an artist's eye and a miner's heart. Great job Dan...thanks much!)

New Dimension

Let me preface things by stating that NO, I don't think dry washers and dry washing are suitable for every small-scale gold mining environment. For example, if you're working up in Alaska, the Yukon, or an Amazon rain forest a dry washer is probably not going to do you much good since the material you run through it has to be absolutely dry to establish any sort of recovery efficiency at all. What I was trying to get across in the previous post was the simple fact that I believe you should know and be comfortable with ANY small-scale gear or equipment that can be employed to good effect in your mining endeavors.

Gold Prospecting 
Gold Pans

A secondary theme that I was attempting to communicate (and not very well, I'm afraid) is that desert and dry placer areas in general are places of great beauty, peace, and contentment for those who are able to fully discern those attributes. Yes, these types of areas are also harsh and potentially dangerous in certain instances, but if you know the score and are properly prepared, desert placer mining experience adds a whole new dimension to your existing gold prospecting and mining skills. Is it easy? No, it's not. So if you're a "newbie" to mining or a perennial couch potato harboring get-rich-quick dreams of mining gold in the desert, you'll soon be disabused of those notions. For the umpteenth time, gold mining is very hard work for typically very small returns.

 (Dan's mining "pard" M.D. swinging his detector as sunset approaches the desert.)

OK, onward and upward. Here are some comments submitted by Dan T. (our miner and artiste with a camera):

"Not Much of a Player"

"My prospecting partners and I think of dry washing as just ONE of our tools. A baseball player who can only catch, or a golfer that only drives the ball 300 yards is not much of a player. The gold is different every place we prospect. Some places I like to wet wash (most call it recirculation), some places we metal detect, and other places we dry wash. Often it can be more specific."

 (Slightly oxidized quartz...there's a lot of this lying on slopes, terraces, and the alluvial plain around Randsburg. Photo courtesy Dan T.)

"In Barstow (Dagget area) a blower dry washer works well. But at Randsburg a 'puffer' works best. A wet washer at Randsburg must be set up correctly or clay will clog up the riffles. And if the clay at Randsburg isn't crushed (say using a cement mixer) you may lose gold even in a 'puffer.' Then there is the subject of dead air space...I hope J.R. touches on that as he is a much better writer than I. J.R. you have a gift with words...a true wordsmith."

Dan is absolutely correct here. A dry washer is a single tool but a miner who could put one to good use and for whatever reason chooses not to is missing part of the overall mining equation. (A well-rounded miner is what again?) More importantly, Dan touches on a fundamental gold prospecting and mining premise that many fail to grasp: no two gold locations (even within a specific district or region) are exactly the same. Each will have its unique characteristics and challenges, and each may require a totally different approach or, at the very least, a variation in equipment and how that gear is employed in the field. To illustrate this point, Dan has mentioned that a "puffer" dry washer is better in certain locations while a blower or hydrostatic machine will be a better choice in others.

 (Sunset over the desert. Photo courtesy Dan T.)

I realize that some of you out there are not sure about all this and that the likelihood of you ever using a dry washer or working dry placer ground is slim to none. That's OK. What's important is that you learn something here...perhaps something that you may be able to rely on or apply in your future mining efforts. Knowledge is power my friends, but in gold mining it's everything.

Once again, my thanks to Dan T. for his beautiful photos and for commenting. No worries Dan, we'll get to the subject of "dead air" in my next post.

Good luck to all.

(c)  Jim Rocha (J.R.)  2013

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

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  1. JR, I grew up in Southern Nevada outside of Las Vegas. You are right about the desert. At first all you see is the same empty nothingness, but then you look closer and it is beautiful. The cactus flowers,The sagebrush,the rocks than are usually hidden by brush, the clear air makes the scenery stand out like no other place. In some ways I miss all that. Here in Idaho we have a "better" mix. We have sagebrush, scorpions, rattlesnakes, but we also have pine trees and snow. The dirt here is dry,(high desert)but if you dig down a few feet it is damp. Not wet, but damp and cool to the touch. Would a dry washer work with that, or would you need to spread it on a tarp or something to dry it more? As always, GREAT STUFF HERE!! Gary

  2. Gary, the material you run through a dry washer must be completely "bone" dry. Therein lies a problem in some desert placers. here in N. NM where I am, most of the high desert dry placers here get damp once you dig down a bit (which you mentioned in your area as well. The old timers would spread canvas or blankets out, spread the damp gold-bearing material on it, and let the sun dry it out. Then they'd run it...usually through a somewhat crudely built hand-powered dry washer. But when you're working areas with no water, you do whatever it takes. Best, J.R.

  3. JR, Sounds like it would be best to spend one day digging and spreading it on canvas,and another day running it through. If the gold is good, it would be worth it.

  4. That approach would work. In most desert placers the sun does it work pretty quickly though. Best, J.R.

  5. Another great series of posts.
    If possible in upcoming posts, can you speak to;
    Level adjustments of grizzly and riffle tray
    Does cloth (keene dw212 puffer) need to be cleaned periodically , it looks clean, but now i am concerned about clay/caliche build up.

    Due to lots of rain here in southern New Mexico, it will be awhile before the dirt dries out enough to run material. But, i want to be ready!

    1. I'll do my best to cover your questions and the "dead air" concept in subsequent posts. Best! J.R.

  6. J.R. The above post stating that you could dig for a day....and dry the material for a day...also assumes that you know for a fact that the specific area you are digging is "productive". You won't know this until.....you run the material on day two. So dry washing in this manner is for those who have a specific spot / claim they may have been working for some time. If you are working a new spot....using this technique would be a little difficult....as the material you maybe running on day 2 would be the same as "sampling" and requires that you keep track of the specific dig sites on your canvas drying tarp. Now if it's all bone dry....not a problem.

    So my question is...when sampling for dry washing....would you "wet" pan your samples to determine the most productive areas to dig? Could the dry washer be effectively used for sampling in general? Thanks again....be safe out there!

  7. Yes, I'm assuming the gold is where you are working. I have never had to dry material before running myself, however. A very neat item to have around for sampling is a portable "back-back" type dry washer. These are usually DIY puffer types (I've never seen one manufactured for sale) and are operated by a lanyard or a "slap" handle. Best, J.R.


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