(Those elusive nuggets...)
It should come as no great surprise to anyone that those elusive nuggets are what most small-scale placer gold miners dream about the most. Whether you fully realize it or not, there is an art and a science to finding placer gold nuggets and I'm here to elaborate on that particular subject.
I'm speaking from over three and half decades of experience when I tell you that those barely visible microdots of flour gold and tiny flakes in your pan will only sustain your gold fever for a limited time...unless you're pulling those items by the ounce, that is. In fact, you could say that finding nuggets is the small-scale mining equivalent of receiving an Emmy Award or a hitting a walk-off home run in Major League Baseball. All in all, a very satisfying and highly rewarding (if relatively rare) event.
The more savvy and experienced among you already know that there's both an art and a science to finding and recovering gold nuggets, regardless of the approach you take in doing so. Many newbies or greenhorns, on the other hand, tend to believe that nuggets grow on trees or alternately, that they show up in your gold pan or sluice box simply by chance. Not true...never was this way in most instances and never will be. So listen up:
POINT 1: Gold is extremely dense and heavy.
Yep, you're right. Here we go again. I wish I had a dollar every time I've written this statement or spoken it aloud trying to school up an aspiring gold miner. Yet this simple fact can be very deceptive (more so for some rather than others). If you understand the significance of gold's weight and density as it relates to deposition physics, then why on God's green earth would anyone spend their valuable prospecting and mining time searching for nuggets close to the surface in a stream or wash unless bedrock was exposed?
(Nuggets don't come easy...just ask any New 49er.)
Are there exceptions to the above rule? To a minor extent, yes. In dry or desert placers or gold areas where only limited or intermittent water flows occur, gold deposition physics can take a hiatus of sorts. Nuggets can be found at all levels including very close to the surface. That said, the bulk of those nuggets and the larger ones will still be found on or closer to bedrock or false bedrocks like clay or caliche layers. Even in areas with little or no water flow, those nuggets will still be heading downward...albeit at a much slower pace than their waterborne brethren.
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So, if you're out on that stream or wash just to have a little fun and maybe find a bit of color or a flake or two...it's all good. On the other hand, if you're on that stream or wash dead set on finding nuggets you're going to immediately apply POINT 1 to your endeavors and in a thoroughly pervasive manner.
Want nuggets do you? Look deeper then.
Best of luck out there.
(c) Jim Rocha (J.R.) 2014
Questions? E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org