On Dry Washers, Desert Gold, and Working Dry Ground (Part 9)

 (Old arrastre in the Rand Mining District of southeastern California.)

I'll be tying up a few loose ends in this post, including some info on desert gold and any tips I may have missed along the way in this series. So hang in there.

Desert Gold Attributes

In the broadest sense, gold is gold no matter where it comes from or where you find it, wet or dry. But that's where generalities end and specifics begin. There are distinct differences between desert placer gold and the gold you typically find in a running stream, including the fact that most desert gold is coarser than its wet placer cousin. No rocket science involved here, of course. In a running stream gold is tumbled, pressed, and worn smooth by hydraulic action and abrasion but in desert environments that erosional factor is intermittent (or missing entirely in some instances). This coarseness holds true even for many very small pieces of desert gold...when examined under a jeweler's loupe or magnifying glass very little wear will be evident in most incidences and gold surfaces will appear broken, rough, or even "spiky" at times. Also note here that placer gold that is consistently and significantly coarse may also mean that it's nearer the source (outcrop, ledge, vein, stringer, etc.) and has not "traveled" very far.

Gold Concentrates
Gold Pans
Gold Prospecting Books

Desert placer gold is also more prone to "contaminants" such as copper, iron, silver, and tungsten to name the most common culprits. In general, this means the purity level of desert placer gold is often less than that found in wet placers...but NOT always. I'll use the Old Placers District of the Ortiz Mountains (near my home) as an example: High desert placer gold from the this area runs about .917 fine out of a possible .999 purity level, an amazingly high purity for dry or desert placer gold...in fact the highest purity desert placer gold I've ever recovered. The Old Placers are a bit of an anomaly in this regard...most desert placer gold will run from the .725-.850 range, generally speaking. As long as it's gold, I'll take it either way!

Off the Hook?

Those of you who are primarily desert prospectors and miners and who commit the bulk of your mining time to dry washing and nugget shooting know how contrary desert gold can be. Rarely does it follow the nice, neat deposition principles that govern gold in running streams (sometimes it does...but most of the time it doesn't). This fact can drive you crazy at times and increase your mining frustration levels tenfold. This is one reason I'm always harping about "thinking outside the box" when it comes to locating and recovering desert or dry placer gold. Your fundamental gold prospecting and mining knowledge will serve you well up to a certain point and a certain point only when it comes to desert placering. After that, you'll need to improvise and remain flexible in your outlook.

 (Dry placer gold claim.)

Next, just because desert gold often fails to conform to the rules of standard deposition doesn't mean you're off the hook when it comes to sampling...unh huh...no way, no how. (See? You thought you were going to slide off easy on that one didn't you?) Granted, sampling becomes much more problematic without water, but it can be done if you're really committed to success as a desert miner. I've already mentioned some dry placer sampling methods in this series, but if you need reaffirmation in that regard hit me up, OK? By the way, one of my all-time pet peeves is watching somebody pull into a desert gold location, unload all their crap, set up a dry washer, and start shoveling/bucketing furiously without so much as a sampling "Howdy do?" Do these folks actually think all that dry gold is going to come snaking toward them like iron filings to a magnet? Good luck on that one (and God forbid you ever roll up on me like that if I'm out and about!).

Made in the Shade

Repeat after me: Gold mining is not for whiny voiced wimps, cry babies, fat little honey boo-boos, lazy asses, or any other Darwinian form of non-hacker...have I not said this many times before in Bedrock Dreams? Yep, and it remains as true as ever. But dry placer or desert gold mining takes the cake as far as throwing the worst your way. I've seen more than a few wet placer miners toss in the towel in the desert and vow never to return (and many didn't). They bitched (and bitched) about the heat, the lack of shade and water, snakes, assorted insect vermin, dry winds, and being forced to eat sand, dust, and grit while bucketing material and feeding a dry washer all day. By the same token, they also failed to see the wondrous beauty of the desert and its delicately balanced environment, not to mention desert gold. In other words, they had no respect. So why would the desert respect them in return?

 Me? I've always loved the desert and desert mining despite the inherent dangers and hardships. It's where I cut my mining teeth as a young, ignorant, stumble-bum greenhorn and it's my first love as far as mining is concerned. Those of us who have the option (geographically speaking) to work both wet and dry placer environments have it made in the shade, compared to most. Think on that for a moment...if you've never had the opportunity to work the desert then you should give it a try sometime.You'll not only learn a great deal and widen your mining perspectives, but you'll join an elite family of mining hard cores.

My best to all you "desert rats" out there!

(c)  Jim Rocha (J.R.) 2013

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


  1. You know what J.R.? One of those gold prospecting magazine editors in-chiefs oughta hit you up to write for them. These last few posts about the desert would be tough to beat. Glad you are going to be alright and didn't get seriously injured.

    1. I've written for magazines like the International Calif. Mining Journal (ICMJ) in the past, but I dislike being restricted in what I write and how I write it. So now I don't bother submitting to these sorts of mags. Thanks for the good thoughts and your support! J.R.

  2. Jim, why do you think it is desert gold is often less pure? Do the impurities just wear down quicker in the water? Kind of seems like wet or dry gold would be more or less the same. One thing about the desert mining, they can't say you are killing the fish! Then again they do say that digging (surface disturbance) on "federal" ground is a crime. You can't win playing the game with rules like that. Robert Service had a poem about the frozen North, but it applies to the desert too. It says something like "you hate it like hell for a season, then it twists you from foe to a friend". Gary

    1. Gary, the purity levels I speak of are based on direct observation and not hard science. I know some geologist or scientist out there will say I'm nuts in this regard and that's OK. This is what I have seen and experienced though...why it is this way exactly, I can't say. You make a good point point about dry washing and dry placers...they can't run you off for killing fishies or froggies or stirring mercury up in a stream. But give these a-holes enough time and they'll cook up something to prevent you from dry washing too. Best, J.R.


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