California's Coastal Ranges: Hidden Gold Potential?

 (Part of California's Coastal Ranges.)

I'm a native Californian who grew up in the San Joaquin Valley within the shadows of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. I knew little of gold back then other than what I was taught in history class about the California Gold Rush and the significance the Sierras played in that epic period.

Coastals Neglected?

Needless to say, the richness of the Sierra Nevada Batholith and its 150-mile long and 75-mile wide gold belt overshadowed every other lode or placer gold strike in the once-Golden State. If you're a Californian and wondering why I use the term "once-Golden," e-mail me and I'll do my best to explain why. I just feel this blog post (or any others) is not the right place to discuss that assessment on my part and is best reserved for a one-on-one discussion or debate. So that's that.

Getting back on track, California's coastal mountain or peninsula ranges were never given the attention of would-be Argonauts during the Gold Rush or thereafter, for that matter. The Sierra Nevada's lodes and placers were far too rich in gold to ignore and after all, why settle for a fried baloney sandwich when caviar, steak, and lobster were so readily available in the foothills of the Sierras? Aside from an important cinnabar (mercury) mine in the coastal ranges that fed the gold amalgamation needs of the Motherlode's sluices and rocker boxes, prospectors and miners left California's coastal ranges to the settlers and ranchers who became an offshoot of the largest mass migration of people in American history. Gold or silver in the coastal ranges? Who the hell really cared? There were untold riches in gold awaiting just to the east. More gold, in fact, than had ever been seen or recovered at any given point in time.

Because the coastals were "neglected" in this regard, it's my contention that it wouldn't hurt a few savvy gold prospectors and small-scale miners to take a closer look at these mountains. The coastal or peninsula ranges extend near or along the California coast for nearly two-thirds the length of the state and are broken up by San Francisco Bay into the Southern and Northern Ranges. That's a lot of ground my friends, and some of it has the potential for producing both placer and lode gold. How do I know this? First, gold has been found in both forms at isolated locations in the coastal ranges and secondly, the underlying geology of localized areas of the ranges is conducive to gold (and silver) mineralization. Sure, you'll find lots of sedimentary rock structure in the coastals (not so good for precious metals in general) but you'll also find granite and serpentine (a sedimentary by the way), and metamorphics, among others.

An Example

Now guess what? Granite is the main geological component of the Sierra Nevada batholith and serpentine has emerged as the underlying bedrock in selected locations of that gold-rich area to the east known as the Motherlode Region. But most importantly, metamorphic rock structures are the single most prevalent bearers of precious metals in the American West, Motherlode batholith or no batholith. Starting to get the picture here? Now this doesn't mean the aforementioned rock structures are highly mineralized in every instance, or even in most instances. But I'll bet you a dollar to a donut that some of the coastal ranges contain localized areas where a fairly high level of mineralization took place and that workable gold seams or placers exist there. If, and it's a big "if," you can find them. The not yet found or untouched ones, anyway. After stating all this, I fully expect some geologist or mining engineer to tear my ass up because I'm not stating inarguable facts based on scientific study and overblown PhD. theses written in a dimly lit library or study hall. No, I'm basing my premises on 35-plus years of gold prospecting and small-scale mining expertise and what I'll simply term my "miner's intuition." Now just who are YOU going to believe? The "experts" or me? (Don't answer that!)

 ( Who ya gonna believe? Him or me?)

As an example of what I'm talking about here let's head north to Napa in the California wine country. I know I've mentioned gold and silver in this area before, but let me rehash a few facts for you. Both lode gold and silver were found in the Napa area's coastal range in the late 1800s and the mines that originated from these initial discoveries were worked right up into the 1950s. The most important of these were the Palisade (a.k.a "Grigsby") Mine ($2,000,000 recorded production at $35.00 USD per troy ounce) and the Silverado Mine. Small amounts of placer gold have been recovered (and still are recovered) from drainage streams in the Calistoga and St. Helena areas. I also know for a fact that fair amounts of placer gold have been recovered from various streams in the Santa Cruz Mountains to the south of San Francisco.

Anything's Possible

Now here's the real kicker. I myself recovered placer gold back in the 1980s from a very small stream in the coastal ranges far south of Santa Cruz. No BS, my friends. Just plain fact. And here's a little addendum for you: please DON'T ask me to disclose locations because I won't. It's your job to do your own research, find potential gold locations in the coastal ranges, and come up with your own gold. There's a method to my madness here and if you can't understand it, that's on you...not me. I'm not being contrary here, but it's never a good idea to disclose where you get your gold unless it's common knowledge. Again, the first rule of gold mining and treasure hunting can be put quite succinctly. "Keep your big mouth shut!"

That out of the way, I think California's coastal ranges hold some decent hidden gold potential if you're willing to put in the time and effort to do your research and find that gold. Don't expect to come up with two or three of ounces a day, but anything's possible. Especially if you use your brain and your feet to locate a small untouched placer or vein. Virgin ground is virgin ground, my friends and in my humble view it's always better to be on unworked ground than it is reworking gold ground that's been hit countless times before you stumbled along. Even if you don't hit the "big one" in the coastal ranges, think of the high adventure you'll have looking for it. Just you and a "pard" perhaps, out there using your combined knowledge and experience to locate gold that you can truly call your own. I think that'd be pretty damn satisfying, don't you?

Best of luck out there.

(c) Jim Rocha (J.R.) 2015

Questions? E-mail me at


  1. This has been going through my mind for years.Especially since one of my friends that is in a prospect club with me is a deep driller. He related a story to me about when he was working on a highway in the Santa Monica Mountains. for whatever reason they were supposed to do core testing. For the road I guess. Low and behold some of the core samples that came up had gold in them. so I do believe you Jim. And no we won't get started on the Golden State. It is no longer the Golden State but the brown state. Enough said.

  2. Yep, the trouble with California is there are too damn many nuts. Do you realize it is the only "state" with boarder guards against the rest of the United States? Gold or no gold, I ain't going..........

    1. If you mean the "boarder guards" at the agricultural check point in the desert near the state line with Nevada, the reason for that is to try to prevent organisms and pathogens that could have devastating effects on California's agriculture industry and a good portion of the American food supply. Consider the plight of the Gros Michele, aka "Big Mike" banana. These used to be your standard commercial variety banana, however the banana trees that produced them were driven nearly to the brink of extinction by the Panama Disease, caused by a fungus that had taken up residence in the soil of the plantations, and had managed to spread to every country with banana plantations, and devastate them within a 50 year period. This necessitated the switch to Cavendish bananas, which are the current commercial variety you can get in the supermarket, however new strains of Panama Disease are now beginning to infect the previously resistant Cavendish banana trees and there is a silent, yet somewhat frantic effort now taking place to produce a new variety of commercially marketable banana which is resistant to modern strains of the fungus which causes Panama Disease. There is a reasonable chance that the banana will cease to be a common place supermarket fruit within a few decades. Despite safeguards such as the agricultural checkpoint, California has had it's fair share of agricultural scares over the years. I remember when we had that medfly infestation and they sprayed malathion all over the place in Ventura County.

  3. I live on central coast and prospect san luis obispo and monterey counties, the gold is here!

  4. I'm near the Santa Monica Mountains. They are mainly sandstone, shale, and sedimentary and ancient sea animal remains, but there was some ancient volcanic activity in the north western portion and if you know where to look you can find some agates and unimpressive calcite with the occasional nice little calcite or quartz cluster. I've seen a nice little natrolite cluster someone once found and there are some thumbnail sized deposits of the rare mineral here and there. I guess where there is quartz there is a non-zero chance of finding gold and more power to anyone who finds it there because you are going to have trapse through steep, rugged terrain with rattle snake and tick infested dense chapperel studded with poison oak and the occasional mountain lion to find it.

  5. Back in the 1960s and 1970s I recall that the beach in Santa Monica was truly beautiful with microscopic flecks of gold. There were also microscopic gold flecks in the ocean water. When I would point this out to adults on the beach they would explain it was Fool's Gold. I spent a lot of time working and living away from Santa Monica. When I returned after 2001, the sand on the beach no longer had the gold flecks, nor did the ocean water. Nowadays the golden beach isn't golden anymore. It remains a big mystery to me as to what happened. Meanwhile, I read on the Internet in the 1990s that Santa Monica beach had back in the 1820s been a place where the Chinese did gold prospecting. Another Internet article mentioned that someone finally figured out that the gold flecks in the water were actually real gold, just too tiny to collect. I've continued to wonder if they real source of all the Mercury found in the waters off Santa Monica in the 1970s was perhaps the result of the government using screens covered in Mercury to take gold from the water. My presumption is the gold flecks on the beach possible sunk of their own weight. My other presumption is that it is some sort of volcanic underground ocean water that brings up the gold flecks periodically and that perhaps it hasn't occurred for many years. Frankly, it's all a complete mystery to me. My only other thought is that those gold flecks are still there but the sunlight today is filtered through the aerial spraying so the sun rays that would make the gold sparkle don't come through the sprayed junk in the air. Just to be clear, the beach still has a sparkle, but it is not the gold sparkle I grew up with. There was a reason these beach sands were called golden. Unfortunately, those with real memories of this are dying out.

    1. The sand at most beaches is trucked in from places like Fresno. Most sandy beaches in Los Angeles County are fake... it's all originally cliffs and rocks...


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