Mining Tips From an Old Timer (Part 4)

In a convoluted sort of way this series of posts constitutes a crystallization of my "legacy" to you, just as Bedrock Dreams itself is a broader aspect of that legacy. I expect one (or more) of you to carry things forward at some point so that our combined gold prospecting and small-scale mining knowledge and experience is picked up and carried forward again by the next generation. So let's get to it again.

9. Feeder streams can be really good or really bad.

It's funny how this statement has been proven over and over again to me throughout my small-scale mining career. I have no solid explanation for it either. I just know that this is how things work when it comes to feeder streams or washes. Let me back up a second and clarify things a bit in this regard. Feeder streams tend to be more this way in wet placer areas and a little less so in dry or desert areas. How's that for making the issue even more confusing?! Anyway, the feeder streams, creeks, gullies, and washes entering a major gold-bearing wash or river should always be examined and sampled. Why? Even though it may seem to be a 50/50 proposition overall and things could go boom or bust, when you hit pay dirt on a feeder it tends to be very good pay dirt...sometimes far superior to that found in the major water course it feeds. One reason for this is that the old timers tended to focus their efforts on the major gold-bearing streams and left the feeders to those who were too late to get onto the major diggings or to those who were considered racially "inferior." Of course, if those feeders once considered "hardscrabble" turned out to be rich in yellow, those same arrogant and prejudicial block heads cooked up schemes to chase the current occupants away. So sometimes feeders got worked as heavily as the major gold-bearing streams did and, at other times, were barely worked at all. It's a crap shoot.

 (A "feeder" in gold country.)

I can tell you this though. As recently as 2010 I've worked feeders in northern California's Motherlode Region that were as devoid of measurable gold as you'd expect to find mining the Platte River in Nebraska. On the other hand, some feeders in that same area that I worked 35 years ago were still putting out plenty of gold, including numerous small nuggets. Aside from the old timer thing, I believe that some feeders just weren't close enough to eroding lode veins or large amounts of elluvial gold to become significant gold producers themselves. That's just a theory though. What you yourself want to take away from all this blather is that feeders should always be checked out but remember to flip a coin to predict whether they'll contain workable amounts of gold in them. Oh, before I forget let me pass this along to you about good feeders. Back in the early 1980s when I was still a young mining pup, I met an old timer (and I mean a REAL old timer) who'd been working the same feeder creek for over 25 years. My eyes nearly jumped out of my eye sockets when he showed me just part of his finds on that feeder! He had the largest amount of placer gold I've ever seen firsthand in my life and a good part of it was in the form of coarse gold and nuggets. Now here's the real kicker. He did it all the old-fashioned way with no motorized gear, just a bit of digging here and there and lots of crevicing and sniping. (No, I'm not blowing smoke up your butt...all true.) So again, when feeders are good they can be damn good. Remember that.

10. Check your ego at the door.

Small-scale gold prospecting and mining is composed mainly of very good people with good intentions who love what they do and pretty much maintain a "live and let live" philosophy. For the most part these folks are easy to be around and a joy to swap mining stories with. On the other hand, the only people who like blowhards or arrogant assholes are other blowhards and arrogant assholes. In fact, when these types get together it's like a three-ring circus with both parties trying to outdo the other with their tall tales and generic, self-serving bullshit. It's all about egos and one-upsmanship, you see? You know, there's a big difference between being confident (which you should always be) and being a swaggering fool. As I've said before, the small-scale mining community is a lot smaller and closer than you think and that community doesn't suffer fools gladly, to its credit. Want to get along as a small-scale miner no matter where you go? Want others to help you, assist you, tutor you, and show you all those little insider things you need to know about small-scale mining? Then check your ego at the door.

11. Nuggets hide in funny places.

Let me preface this tip by saying that your best gold and your biggest gold will, the majority of the time, be found just above or on bedrock or false bedrock in streams and washes. This is pure common sense (aside form it being physical law) since placer gold is so heavy and dense. That's the rule of thumb when it comes to gold deposition and that rule should be respected and followed...well...most of time anyway. But Ma Nature likes a good joke once in a while and will play head games with you at times in this regard. Here are just some of the "unusual" places I've found nuggets hiding in the past:
  • Just below the surface of barren "blow sand" along the bank side of a large boulder (not upstream or downstream sides).
  • Numerous nuggets locked into a bench wall of gravel and clay a good 15-20 feet away from the feeder stream I was working.
  • Packed into tiny boulder crevices barely wide enough to get a pocketknife blade into (still scratching my head over that one).
  • Fused together with a fist-sized mass of rusted/degraded iron composed of old nails, bits of scrap metal, etc. taken from bench gravels.
  • Along various "high points" far above the current stream or wash course.
  •  "Sandwiched" between large rocks in shallow water.
  • Just below small drop offs (wet and dry).
  •  In the upper part of exposed feeder stream banks.
  • At the bottom of shallow "potholes" a good distance away from the current stream or wash mixed in together with...yep, you guessed it...bits and pieces of oxidized iron scrap.
  • At shallow depth in desert terrace gravels far above the present stream course.
Need I go on here? Getting the picture, are you? When it comes to nuggets (or placer gold in general) anything can happen, That said, the examples I've outlined above are the exception rather than the rule. I've used them to show you that sometimes you need to think outside the box and not follow the rules of deposition physics slavishly.

 (Those nuggets can hide in funny places.)

That's it for this go round. Talk to you again soon.

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

Questions? E-mail me at


  1. Sometimes feeder streams cut through the ancient river channel and that is the source of the gold.

  2. Sometimes feeder streams cut through the ancient river channel and that is the source of the gold.


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