Saturday, December 14, 2013

Don't Judge a Book by its Cover When it Comes to Gold

At one time or another you've all heard this old adage. There's a great deal of truth in this saying, especially when it comes to working bedrock crevices.

Bigger isn't Always Better

I realize that most, if not all, of you out there are familiar with bedrock sniping and crevicing principles and methods, regardless whether you practice these principles or methods above ground or underwater. But what many of you may not know is that astonishing amounts of placer gold can be found in very small bedrock crevices.

As Americans, many of us maintain a "bigger is better" attitude (if you're from Texas multiply that a concept a hundredfold!). There's nothing intrinsically wrong with this approach when it comes to crevicing or small-scale mining...other than the risk that it could blind you to other possibilities. One of these possibilities is that those very small or even tiny cracks or crevices you typically bypass may contain more placer gold than the larger ones you usually target.

"How or why is this so?" A very logical question to ask. There are two main factors to consider here in answering this query:

1) Larger, more accessible bedrock crevices tend to get worked over first (and often multiple times).

2) The outward appearances or sizes of smaller cracks and crevices often lull miners and bedrock snipers into misjudging their real potential (the "judging a book by its cover" syndrome).

 Judging the Book by its Cover

The first factor here is pretty much self explanatory. People, including small-scale gold miners, are creatures of habit. We tend to take the path of least resistance in most instances and large, readily accessible bedrock cracks and crevices are signposts along that path. The thought to bear in mind here is that every other miner or sniper who has worked that section of bedrock has thought (or is thinking) the same thing. Now this doesn't mean you should ignore larger crevices, especially those that are harder to reach or work. No way, no how. They can produce some very nice placer gold, providing they haven't already been cleaned out by others who came before you. And the only way to determine that is to check things out first.

On the other hand, smaller bedrock crevices tend to get bypassed by a certain percentage (often a higher percentage than you may think) of miners and snipers because these cracks just don't "look good." There's that "judging a book by its cover" routine again. Another thing that turns some snipers off about smaller bedrock crevices is that they take a lot more work to access and clean out. What's the path of least resistance here again? Bypass that smaller, hard-to-work crack or crevice in favor of the easier-to-get stuff. Not a good move brothers and sisters. In fact, in gold mining it's never a good idea to take the lazy man (or woman) approach.

What I Learned

Here are two things I've learned from first-hand experience about small cracks or crevices:
  • They often open up into larger cavities or cracks containing decent amounts of placer, including small nuggets and large flakes (as well as fines).
  • They are harder to open up and work, but the potential rewards can be well worth the effort.
Here's just one example of what I'm saying here:

Many years ago along the North Yuba River in California's Motherlode I decided to take a break from dredging and highbanking and do a bit of above-ground crevicing. I don't know why this is, but I've always found this sort of activity relaxing and peaceful, especially after long hours in cold water and dealing with the vagaries of running motorized equipment where Murphy's Law is in constant effect.

 (Even small crevices like these can contain good gold.)

The area I was mining was in a fairly steep canyon where the river made a smaller split around a very large gravel bar. Bedrock was fairly shallow here and large sections had just emerged as water levels dropped in late summer. I grabbed up my crevicing tools and a 5-gallon bucket and went to work, hitting all the larger bedrock traps and cracks and ignoring the smaller, tighter ones. It didn't take long for me to realize that the bulk of the larger bedrock crevices had been dredged (or otherwise worked) repeatedly and what little gold I was recovering from them was probably the result of the previous winter's flooding.

The Light Bulb Went Off

Displeased with the results I was getting, I decided to work a crevice that was barely wide enough to get a welding rod into. In painstaking fashion, bit-by-tiny-bit I started digging out that crevice using the smallest tools in my sniping arsenal (this bedrock was hard and tight and just about totally resistant to crack jacks, pry bars, or anything else you might use to break it up). That tiny crevice went down about ten inches or so and it took me a while to remove everything I could from it using my altered welding rods and other jury rigged crevicing tools I'd devised.

The upshot? Nearly three pennyweights of gold and count 'em...three small nuggets as well as some pickers and decent flakes. How that gold got pressed down into that crevice barely wide enough to take a welding rod I can't say...Ma Nature can do some interesting stuff when it comes to stream hydraulics and deposition physics. All I do know is that the light bulb finally went off in my head after that find and others like it.

Remember what I told you the next time you're out there crevicing or sniping. You may be pleasantly surprised...

(c) Jim Rocha (J.R.) 2013

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