The Long and Short of Small-Scale Prospecting and Gold Mining

The price of gold has dropped considerably since I first began writing and publishing Bedrock Dreams back in 2008. The yellow metal is hovering near $1000.00 a troy ounce as we approach 2015 but that's not the driving factor for most small-scale gold prospectors and miners with color running through their veins.

You see, small-scale guys and gals like you and I aren't driven solely by the price of gold like commercial operators, speculators, and the commodity buyers and sellers on Wall Street. Sure, the higher the price of gold the more bang for their buck small-scale miners enjoy. But as I've said many times before, when you get right down to it small-scale gold prospecting and mining is a labor of love. Nothing more and nothing less.

An Understatement

There's not one small-scale miner I know worth his or her salt that didn't come into this thing of ours without the expectation of hitting it big somewhere in the back of his or her mind. Sure, when you're still green behind the years as a newbie prospector or miner all sorts of fantasies and dreams dance through your head about striking it rich. I was no different when I first started out over 35 years ago. In fact, on my first mining venture into a well-known desert gold district in extreme southeastern California I took along an empty baby food jar to hold all the gold I was expecting to find! Laugh if you want, but that's how greener than green I was early on.

I'm embarrassed to admit it now, but I actually expected to fill that jar with yellow metal using only a gold pan, some basic hand tools, and a panning tub. Needless to say I was soon disabused of my preconceived notions about gold mining. After four days enduring scorching daytime heat, bitter nighttime cold, avoiding scorpions and snakes, and eating more silica-laden dust than was probably healthy for me, I was soon disabused of my unrealistic expectations about hitting the "big one." In fact, that first gold outing was an eye opener. Afterwards, I experienced an epiphany of sorts. "Hey, dumb ass," I said to myself, "getting gold ain't that easy." An understatement of sorts, don't you think?

Did this realization dampen my enthusiasm for gold prospecting and mining? Absolutely not. In fact, as hard a lesson as it was, the small fire burning inside me only blazed hotter and higher. I awoke one morning and knew I was hooked, come hell or high water. That's when I began to take small-scale gold prospecting and mining seriously, and made it a point to learn everything I could about mining history, methods, equipment, and techniques. If I was going to be small-scale miner then, by God, I was going to be a damn good one. And I am.

Why We Keep on Keeping On

You newbies out there listen up. "Gold mining is hard work for little return." I'll say it again. "Gold mining is hard work for little return." Those fertile dreams of yours about clutching hand fulls of yellow metal and dancing a jig at the same time are probably not going to become reality. They might, but odds are you'll end up busting your ass like a slave building the pyramids of Ancient Egypt to get a few pennyweights of gold at a time. Doesn't sound too promising does it?

This, however, is where the boys get separated from the men and the girls from the women. You hard cores and veteran prospectors and miners out there know what I'm talking about here. Small-scale gold mining is something that either gets into your heart, mind, and soul or that leaves you totally detached and uninterested. Interestingly enough, the weak brothers and sisters fall by the wayside when they finally realize they won't be buying a new Lamborghini with all that gold they expected to get. The rest of us? Well, we keep on keeping on because we love what we do.

That burning love for gold prospecting and mining is our beacon and our guide. It's one of the driving forces within us and it has nothing to do with the current price of gold or how much yellow metal we ultimately get to put into our pokes. Hell, I've prospected, panned, sluiced, dry washed, high banked, metal detected, and dredged when gold was in the 200-dollar range as well as when it was nearly $2,000 a troy ounce. Did I care about the relative price of gold while I was out there busting my hump and turning my hands into hamburger? Not really. Fact of the matter is, I still don't. Why? Simply because I'm a small-scale gold miner and I love all things mining.

An Important Distinction

Yes, I realize this is an alien concept to those of you just starting out or whose world outlook is more material based. In fact, some of you may be shaking your heads in disgust or even pity. That's OK friends, that's perfectly fine. You go for the gusto and I'll just continue doing my small-scale mining thing like I always have. I have a need for the almighty dollar just like you do, but the difference between us is that I'm at peace with the fact that I'll probably never strike it rich. Can you say the same? I'm not passing judgment here, just asking a question.

Let me digress here a moment or two so I can assist those of you who are gold prospecting and mining newbies or greenhorns. You're probably wondering why I keep making a distinction between gold prospecting and mining. They are two parts of a whole but they are also totally different pursuits when taken separately. As Shakespeare once wrote, "Once more into the breach, dear friends, once more." Gold prospecting is the search for gold while mining is the getting of that same gold. They go hand-in-hand but not all prospectors are miners. Here's where things can get confusing. All small-scale miners are gold prospectors to some degree or another. Understand now?

Not by a Long Shot

Whatever the case, small-scale miners and prospectors have been at it since time immemorial. We are part of that great endeavor, bearers of the torch of history who, in our own small way, pass the traditions and techniques along to the next group of dreamers and gamblers. Dreamers and gamblers, you ask? Yep, that's what we are whether we choose to admit it or not. You see, no one in full possession of their faculties would do what we do and endure the coincidental hardships if they weren't part dreamer and part gambler. That those dreams are rarely realized and the odds are usually stacked against us is neither here nor there. The bottom line is that we love what we do right down to the tiniest show of color in our gold pans.

(We've always been dreamers and gamblers.)

As we approach the new year bear in mind what I've said here. Especially those of you who are just taking your first baby steps into small-scale gold prospecting and mining. Whether you realize it or not, you're entering a realm that places great value on trust, honesty, and plain old hard work. Unlike the gold speculators out there or the greedy hustlers on Wall Street, we aren't going to jump out a window if the price of gold drops. No, not by a long shot. We'll just gather our gear together and head for the gold-bearing streams, deserts, and hills that we love so much. After all, what more could a person want in this all-too-short life we live?

That's the long and short of small-scale gold mining and prospecting.

Take care.

(c) Jim Rocha, 2014

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  1. The "An Understatement" paragraph ...... what an excellent preface page to J.R.'s new book that would make.

  2. I'm finally getting a chance to read these. Jim, you hit this on the head perfectly. Like Robert Service wrote "It's not the gold that I'm wanting, so much as just finding the gold". It's the challenge behind it. Sure, we all want to hit the big one, but few ever do. As you know, I'm a hunter. I'd love to shoot a record book buck, but that doesn't mean I'll pass up a spike for the dinner table. I never made it out to the creeks last year, I hope to change that this coming year. After doing this fairly seriously for the past few years and looking at the little pinch of gold in my jar, if I ever fill it, it will be hard to sell. I look at that and recall what it took to get it. It will not come close to the amount of money I've spent in gas to get there, or pay wages for the time I've spent, but hey, it's Gold! Gold I found myself.....the first person ever to see it......I think I'll keep it! Good luck to you this year. 2014 was not one of my better ones. I hope 2015 will be better.


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