Don't Get Fooled by Waterfall Gold

(This beauty in the N. California Motherlode is nice to look at but I suspect there's little gold directly beneath it.)

I'm going to take a short break here from my series on mineral rights royalties to discuss a topic I've briefly mentioned in the past but which I believe deserves deeper analysis, no pun intended. So sit back and read on.

First, allow me to make a disclaimer here. Although I won't be mentioning any specific television programs or the reality mining "actors" therein, I'm certain you'll know who and what I'm talking about here. There are two reasons for my desire to keep these specifics on the down low: 1) I made up my mind some time ago not to give these shows any more publicity than they already get (for far too many reasons to go into here) and 2) I got sick and tired of being verbally abused and threatened by all those cranks out there who have nothing better to do with their lives than swill beer on the couch and lap up the golden BS being thrown their way by cynical reality TV producers hell bent on making more money. You'll have to forgive me, but I find those who so strongly identify with and "idolize" TV stars (reality or otherwise) as brain dead to a great extent. But hey, that's it or not.

Big Mistake

OK, that piece of antagonism out of the way let me proceed. A few years back when a certain TV reality crew made "an ancient waterfall" the focus of their commercial mining efforts I shook my head in disbelief. Not because I think this particular crew was deficient in placer mining experience and expertise...they're not and I have a certain amount of admiration for their skills and work ethic (especially compared to others on the same program). That said, I found this crew's logic flawed at the time. Their big mistake in my mind was that they were digging down to reach bedrock directly beneath where they surmised this ancient waterfall to be. If I remember correctly, the depth down from overburden to reach the bottom of the waterfall was significant (135 feet?), to say the least.

Since I was still watching this particular program at the time, I turned to my wife and said something to this effect, "They're NOT going to find their best gold directly under that waterfall. It's freaking common sense! That large a volume of water rushing over a significant height will create extreme turbulence when it hits bottom and will wash most of the gold out and farther downstream where it will settle and drop in the first low-pressure area it meets." As is usual when I get on my mining pulpit and start preaching, the wife just yawned and went back to filing her nails. She's heard my mining sermons far too many times over the years I guess.

(Preaching from the mining pulpit.)

Recently I became aware (thanks to some of you good folks out there) that I was proven right after all. Once this particular TV mining crew reached bedrock (or close to it) beneath the supposed "ancient waterfall," their gold take was...well...disappointing to the extreme. Interestingly enough however, when this same crew moved downstream from the supposed waterfall to where I surmise a low-pressure area or "calming of the waters" was located their gold take increased exponentially. Rocket science? Nope, just common-sense gold deposition theory. To their credit, despite their early mistake (and it was a big one) this crew figured things out, went back to work, and found the gold they were looking for. I say bully for them and good job.

Take Heed

So am I patting myself on the back here for being so prescient? Nope, not at all. My intent is to get you to see once and for all that the areas directly underneath waterfalls are deceptively attractive from a deposition standpoint for many would-be placer miners, including some with reasonable experience under their belts. But DON'T BE FOOLED whether you're a novice or an old timer. Waterfalls, be they large, small, ancient, or modern typically aren't good gold deposition points and don't deliver the goods in the great majority of situations. A classic case in point is outlined above. Yep, I've told you so in the past and now I'm telling you again. Still, there will be some of you who will e-mail me detailing your success stories with waterfalls over the years and how much gold you recovered from them. Good for beat the probable odds with a long shot.

 (Thankfully, most long odds propositions are exactly that.)

The rest of you mere mortals take heed. If you're smitten to the point of distraction by waterfalls or water rushing down from any sort of height like this TV mining crew was, I suggest you start turning your focus instead to classic drop offs (I've written about them extensively in Bedrock Dreams so use the site's search function). You may not find the fabled pot of gold beneath that waterfall's misty rainbow, but by working good drop offs you will find good gold. So what will it be? Pie in the sky or yellow metal in your hand?

Remember, most of us are true small-scale miners who can't afford and don't use fancy excavators costing hundreds of thousands of dollars to get at the gold like commercial miners do. We have to do it the old-fashioned way, bit by bit...flake by flake.

So mine smart.

(c) Jim Rocha (J.R.) 2014

Questions? E-mail me at


  1. Hi JR and readers, GS here from Australia. Glad you had this break from the royalty stuff. I need my fix on mining talk :) interesting about drop offs, the mind boggles at what would be a drop off. Water moving gold and making a re-deposit or new deposit over time occupies a lot of my thoughts. I have watched a Geo talk about the time scale and gold formations. (Andrew Jackson) A well presented talk and probably very factual. Did it help m with my understanding of gold prospecting from a small scale miners point of view. Well not really is the answer?
    Had he talked about re-deployment, re-distribution or redepositing gold as an effect of the elements over the past forty thousand years, that would have helped me a bit more. Drop offs, dykes, runs, strike are all things I need help with, while on the ground with my head down and bum up. Bugger the royalty chat Jim :) get me back to common sense mining I am falling in too deep on theory.


  2. I hear ya G...but my aim is to provide material which isn't always the "go here, do this" thing. That pleases some, but not others. There's plenty of the other "usual suspect" stuff out there. That said, I understand your angle here though. I will do my best to give something for everyone. Hang tough in the Outback! J.R.

  3. Hello Jim, looking at the Boob Tube last night, I see Fred's son on that "un-named show" is foaming at the mouth to divert a stream with a flume so he can mine the waterfalls!! I think the only gold that might stay under a waterfall would be towards the cliff face in what little back eddy it would cause, but most like you say, would be washed out and past the fall itself. Downstream from my best gold spot, there is a large waterfall,a hundred feet or so high. Above the falls is visible exposed bedrock. I keep eyeballing that. I'm sure there would be gold above the falls, but if you went over........well, it wouldn't be good! The water is not moving real fast there, but I'm sure those rocks are slick. Not only that, but this is that closed area I told you about and folks could see you from the road. Gotta keep hid from the prying eyes of the forest nazis!! Gary

    1. I'm still a believer in checking the first low pressure area downstream from the fall itself. Thanks for the comments Gary, J.R.

  4. Thanks for all your articles JR. I have read nearly all of them. Great stuff. Still have yet to get my pan dirty but will be heading out as soon as my foot has healed. Probably San Gabriels as they are about the closest to me, but there are so many places I would like to visit. Your Baja articles really got me going. (I plan on making a donation if I ever find anything!)

  5. Hang in there my friend. You'll get your gold. Thanks very much for the kind words and your support. J.R.

  6. Jim, just looking at your "flag count" of Bedrock Dreams visitors.....NOT TOO SHABBY! That' a lot of countries. Congrats! Gary

    1. That's a cool little app I think. Fun to see the countries and the flags. Best, J.R.


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