(California's gold-bearing South Yuba River in flood stage.)
As a brief reminder, I've been missing in action the past two weeks. I was up in the high plains of the American Midwest visiting a long-time (50 years now) Vietnam War buddy and helping him celebrate his 70th birthday. Honestly, I'm somewhat surprised either one of us made it out of that place in one piece let alone get to enjoy long and prosperous lives. But so it goes for the lucky and the blessed. (Now that I've digressed let's get back to "high point" gold.)
What's "High Point?"
OK, the next question I need to answer for you is how do I define "high point" gold? Here's your answer straight from the horse's mouth (or posterior, if you prefer):
I consider "high point" placer gold to be Au trapped or deposited anywhere above the current stream course during the highest water flow conditions in streams, creeks, rivers, washes, or gulleys. Now I'm not talking here about a slight raise in water levels due to a gentle rain or a sudden, very brief (and innocuous) desert thunderstorm. No sir or madam. I'm talking about those flooding or flash flooding events that are unusual, prolonged, excessive, and that have extremely high water levels compared to the norm.
Let me elucidate a bit more on this. A 10-foot or 15-foot (or even much higher) upsurge of water is not uncommon in certain years along selected gold bearing rivers. I myself have witnessed some gold-bearing rivers in California's Motherlode Region rising high enough that debris was striking the upper reaches of highway bridges just below the roadway bed. That's the extreme. However, "high point" gold can become a factor in smaller creeks and streams where water levels rise only a foot or two by comparison. Like my old-timer mentors used to tell me, "There ain't two gold areas exactly alike anywhere." So, what constitutes the potential for "high point" gold deposition in one locale doesn't necessarily mean those same conditions hold true at another location. A six-inch rise of slower moving water in a major river isn't going to mean much gold deposition higher up but a 10-foot rise in rushing, turbulent waters in a small creek or wash may wipe out existing "high point" gold deposits and carry that gold far, far away. So keep an open mind about these deposition factors.
(I see "highpoint" potential on the other side...do you?)
There's an old adage in small-scale gold mining that recommends you learn to view any gold-bearing stream, wash, or gulley as it would be in flood stage. My mentors used to say that it helped if you took a long look at your surroundings, noting where the largest obstructions were higher up the sides of the stream course, and then closed your eyes and saw that same scene in an extreme, high water context. The idea was to gain a mental picture of that scene, estimate where the placer gold would most likely be deposited, and then use that mental "photo" as a guide to your gold prospecting activities. I have to admit that this approach hasn't worked for me in every instance in the past but it's worked enough times that I consider it a viable method for rooting out the existence of "high point" gold in streams and washes. This is especially true if you're working areas that exhibit diverse conditions or that contain a plethora of bends, turns, islands, gravel bars, and obstructions of all sizes, especially if the latter are located higher up the stream or wash banks. Then it's time to turn on that mental camera I spoke about earlier in this section.
Contrarian All the Way
I've found over the years (too many of those now!) that just about any decent obstruction will trap various amounts of "high point" gold. I'm talking here about trees, rocks, boulders, depressions in the terrain, natural shelves or riffles, freshly exposed bedrock packed with gravel, or anything else that wasn't knocked over, lifted up, or carried away by those flood waters. If you're luck enough to be on scene shortly after water levels have dropped your first task in "high point" prospecting is to look for these obstructions higher up the banks and away from those low-laying areas you normally work. This holds true even if you don't know if a stream or wash has been subjected to extreme high water events in recent memory. Trust me...at some point in time that very same wash or stream you're checking out was flooded and contains "high point" gold to greater or lesser degrees.
On the other hand, Most week-end or amateur gold panners (sometimes they're miners and sometimes they're not) don't have a clue about "high point" gold possibilities. They're gonna do what the books and videos and self-proclaimed "experts" tell them to do which is essentially what every other Tom, Dick, and Harriet has done...work the most likely looking spots in the lowest levels of the streambed. Sure, that's the logical thing to do but you know by now that I'm a contrarian and don't like doing what everyone else is doing, especially when that concerns working beat-over ground. Sure, you can get a few colors or flakes doing the sheeple thing, but as for me? Well, I'd rather roll the dice in certain instances and try turning up something good where no man or woman has gone before (or at least isn't thinking the same way about gold deposition).
(I guarantee you I could find "high point" gold here or your money back!)
Best of luck.
(c) Jim Rocha (J.R.) 2015
Questions? E-mail me at email@example.com