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 me...like it or not.
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.
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 you...you beat the probable odds with a long shot.
(Thankfully, most long odds propositions are exactly that.)
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 firstname.lastname@example.org