The Psychology of Small-Scale Gold Mining (Part 1)

(Gold mining is not always about what's on the outside.)

Without a doubt some of you have read the title of this post and are wondering where I'm going here. I chose this topic at the request of a Bedrock Dreams reader and I believe it holds value for all of us, so stick with me.

Let's get this straight from the start...I'm no Sigmund Freud or PhD clinical psychologist here to psychoanalyze anyone. That said, I do believe there is a fundamental psychology behind small-scale gold miners and gold mining in general that deserves examination, no matter how off the beam that may seem initially. We are all individuals with unique personal characteristics and views on life in general, but we (as gold prospectors and miners) also share common traits and aspirations over and above those differences. Let's look at a few of these commonalities:

Creativity and Imagination

Most of the time when we hear these words we think of artists, writers, actors, singers, dancers, and so on. However, I believe that every one of you out there has a creative bent that surfaces in one form or another and that is often best expressed in your mining and prospecting activities. In my three and a half decades doing this small-scale mining thing I've often been incredibly impressed by the ingenuity, creativity, and imagination of those who mentored me and worked alongside me. These attributes surface in many ways, including the ability to design, build, and employ personal versions of all sorts of mining gear and equipment as well as making improvements to that gear. I've also witnessed this same creativity and imagination blossom when it came to problem solving in the field and coming up with viable solutions to addressing those problems and getting the gold.

Gold Concentrates
Gold Pans
Gold Concentrators

It's my opinion that you'll have a difficult time excelling at small-scale gold mining if you can't think (and act) from a creative perspective and nurture and grow that creativity and imagination. The most successful miners I've been around over the years had creative minds and, to a great extent, were true "artists" at their craft. Those miners and prospectors I considered the least successful were those who were stuck in a self-constructed box of rigid thinking and a "by the book" lack of imagination. Sure, the latter types still get gold but those who can apply their imagination and creativity out in the field are invariably better miners. I would also propose that they're also more well-rounded as individuals. So the general rule of thumb here is this: tap into that creativity and imagination of yours and learn to think outside the box.

Capacity to Dream

This psychological attribute is inherent to every individual who ever swirled a gold pan or swung a pick at a quartz ledge. Miners, above all else, are dreamers. The capacity to dream, whether small or large, is what drives most of us to do what we do and love it while were doing it. Don't confuse dreams with greed here...they are two different animals, one positive and supportive and the other innately destructive. History is full of examples of the latter and it makes for painful reading and study.

 (Gold miners are dreamers.)

Dreams, on the other hand, are potent drivers that can propel you out of the mundane and ordinary, provide you with direction and energy, and keep you going no matter what. In gold mining and prospecting the capacity to dream surfaces in many ways, including the fact that we never tire of seeing color in a pan or wondering what the next shovelful of dirt will bring our way. Never mind the fact that most of the time we fall short of finding that multi-ounce nugget or that rich paystreak...the dream carries us forward regardless. I think you see what I'm getting at here.

Long ago one of my mining mentors said that any gold miner or prospector who said he (or she) wasn't a dreamer was a liar. This may be a harsh assessment, but there is truth in that old timer's statement. There was also truth in another statement he made: "Don't let reality spoil your dreams and don't let your dreams spoil reality."  I think there's a delicate balance suggested in this bit of old-timer wisdom that we should all heed. In the meantime, whether your mining dreams are small or large isn't the core issue. Following your dreams is.

There's more to come, so drop back by will you?

(c)  Jim Rocha (J.R.) 2013

Questions? E-mail me at

Interested in reading older posts? Learn about the 2008 Bedrock Dreams archives here.


  1. Jim, there is a certain lure or romance in making at least part of your living off the land. It's fending for yourself with what God and nature gave you to work with. You have no boss, you have no pressure except what you put on yourself. It is a measure of your own self worth. You are competing against yourself and nobody else. I find mining and fur trapping comparable.....trapping is a little more of a sure thing.....but still a challenge. now that the weather is changing, my thoughts are more to trapping, but I'm still eyeballing those rock outcroppings and stream bottoms with gold in mind. The wild, weather it is mining, hunting, trapping or whatever,stays with you no matter where you are or what you are doing. It is what we are made of...without it, life would not be worth living. The folks that live this way are dreamers. We are a special type of person that I'm afraid are dieing out slowly but surely. The fast paced world we live in doesn't suit us, but we struggle to fit in, never quite doing so. I for one, will never quit trying! Gary

    1. Very well put Gary. Thanks for the astute comments and for being such a staunch supporter here. J.R.

    2. G. Thomas
      thanks for your post and it is very true and I admire you and your thoughts. very best of luck to you
      and stay safe out there.

  2. Great article. nice angle on the whole mining subject and very refreshing to read something a little philosophical. I really appreciate what you do here J.R. and that's not B.S.

    I know you "mine" the snapshots and pictures you use here from various sources, so I don't hold you responsible. But I have to say that I cringe when the 3 gears image is used to represent technical concepts. From an engineering perspective it's abhorrent! Those gears won't turn! It's just AAAAAAH! Ok I feel better now. Carry on......LOL


    1. The gear image wasn't meant to express a technical or engineering idea Bo...just the "inner workings" of our minds...that's all! Best, J.R.

  3. JIM,
    You're absolutely right on the money! Who would go out into the 100 degree heat / frozen Alaskan tundra.... put thenselves at odds with ALL mother nature had to throw at them, amimals , insects, reptiles, arachnids....and still be there days later with only a little gold to show for it? Let alone.......come back and do it many more times! Who else would a kid at Christmas.....alll winter..... to go out prospecting in the early spring to find what may have come down the mountain in the creeks and channels? Who....those with dreams of redemption..... and a new season of prospecting...that's who!

    Miners are a strange and rare breed......of dreamers, naturalists, hard workers and of course DIY'ers. I beleive it helps me channel my energy and sharpens my focus....not just for the mining part...but the other parts of my life as well. As I always say...."all things in balance" it helps me do just that. Balance my "city" side with the ever present desire to get the hell out of town! Some keen observations JR....looking forward to the next installment! Be safe out there!

  4. Thanks my friend. Glad you found something useful here and I appreciate your comments. J.R.

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