(This bench holds possibilities as well as potential dangers.)
If you've been following this series to date, you know that I left you hanging a bit in my last post. Well, I'm going to try and rectify that little issue right now, so read on.
My Best Stuff
What got me so excited about that feeder creek's clay-cemented gravel bench was my first sample pan...and my second...and my third. In the very first pan I turned up an elongated placer nugget weighing about .70 grams, a couple of "chunkers," and a half dozen medium flakes. The next pan held another chunker, more flakes, and a nice crescent of fines. The third test pan held another small nugget (maybe .50 grams) and more flakes.
All of this gold was much coarser than the river placer gold my bickering "pards" and I were dredging up on the nearby river and here's a clue for you...all of it was mixed in with extremely coarse black sand that ranged from fingernail-sized chunks on down. Truth is, in the course of nearly 36 years trying to get the gold I've always found my best values with this sort of black sand. Remember that. It doesn't mean I haven't found gold with fine black sands or, in some instances, very little black sand at all. What it means is that my best stuff has invariably been associated with coarser black sand material.
Lesson on False Pride
What happened to that bench? Even my erstwhile pards stopped their arguing and whining when they saw what I'd recovered from those test pans. We pulled in the dredge, secured it, and proceeded to go at that bench like a bunch of over-excited newbies on their first day out. Like many clay-bound benches, this one was all pick and shovel work of the worst sort. But the lure of gold eased that pain somewhat as we swung away, shoveled, classified, and puddled chunks of clay and gravel in a 5-gallon bucket before running it through my trusty old Keene sluice box. We worked the hell out of that spot before we left that season and we did it the old-fashioned way with muscle and grit.
The gold? We got more from that bench in a day than we typically did river dredging in 3 or 4 days, additional nuggets included (all about .50 grams up to about a gram and a half). I'd found good ground by skill or luck (take your pick) and it was a lesson about benches and clay that left a lasting impression on me even to this day. All this occurred in the late 1980s. In the summer of 2008 my son and I stopped by this creek to take a look at things. Claim warning signs were now everywhere on the feeder but the mosquitoes were still minding the store.
(Although more water-worn and smaller in some instances, the nuggets and "chunkers" in this pan remind me of THE bench.)
I couldn't help myself...braving the aggressive squadrons of flying blood suckers, my son and I hiked upstream to take a look. The creek was much more overgrown than it used to be with thorny blackberry bushes everywhere and uncontrolled growth of other sorts. When we finally came across that bench it was still there and it didn't appear anyone had worked it since I and my pards had last been doing the Pharaoh's bidding. By way of explanation, in this part of the Northern California Motherlode river dredging was the big thing back in those days and many of the local miners tended to look upon sluicing or highbanking feeder streams as beneath their mining dignity, suited only for tourists or novices. Pride goeth before a fall, I guess.
Where is It?
If I had half the chance I'd be perfectly content to work that very same gravel bench until the day I died (or as long as the gold held out!). Despite the mosquitoes, it was a beautiful and serene little spot I've never forgotten. Sometimes when all the day-to-day BS gets me down I pull an image of it into my mind's eye and think about whiling away the hours there, running that dirt through my battered old sluice. It's a thought that makes me smile. In all honesty, mining like that, just like the old timers, is the only thing that truly brings peace to my heart.
I see you're getting antsy. Where's the creek and what's its name? You damn well know I'm not going to tell you that, despite the fact you're all fine, stand-up people! I'll give you a hint though...it's somewhere between Nevada City and Downieville, California.
That ought to give you something to chew on...
(c) Jim Rocha (J.R.) 2014
Questions? E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org