Mining Tips From an Old Timer (Part 7)

I hope you all took the time to read my last post on stolen valor. It's an important issue that requires our commitment, dedication, and follow up. Now back to the task at hand.

19. Common rust can be golden.

As I've mentioned elsewhere in this blog, oxidized (FeS2) or rusty iron can be an important visual signpost when it comes to finding placer gold. To take this idea a step further, there have actually been a few occasions when I've found placer gold fused together with oxidized clumps composed of old scrap metal, nails, and so on. When my pards and I were spending the bulk of our summers dredging in the northern part of California's Motherlode Region it was always a cause for excitement and anticipation when old, rusty square-headed nails started showing up in the dredge's riffle boxes because this meant we were getting into old ground and we knew the potential gold value of this indicator. The last time (late summer of 2010) I puttered around on California's North Yuba River I was pulling material from behind a large boulder when newer nails and bits and pieces of rusty metal started showing up. I hit a nice pocket of gold sitting behind that obstruction atop a false clay bedrock, by the way. So, when oxidized iron and nails start showing up in your gold pan, sluice box, or dredge riffle box it's a signpost, a blinking yellow light signal telling you to slow down and proceed carefully because gold could be just around the corner (if it's not already mixed in with that rusty junk metal). Also be aware that larger clumps of fused oxidized iron can also stain the surrounding ground (including bedrock cracks or crevices) a deep reddish-orange. That's another visual clue that gold may be nearby. Other finds with a similar specific gravity and density are lead shot or fishing weights, etc., but these items don't produce a tell-tell visual clue like oxidized iron does.

 (Clumps of oxidized iron like this can be a signpost to gold.)

Here's a cautionary tip about rusty iron in the goldfields. You desert rat dry washer types in the United States, Australia, and elsewhere know that most dry placer locations are extensively littered with iron trash of all sizes and all types...from tiny bits of wire to nails to pieces of old tin cans and just about every other type of oxidized object you can imagine. So don't expect what I'm saying here about the visual clue presented by rusty iron in wet placers to hold up in desert or dry placer locations (although it can on rare occasions). Remember, in wet placers you have constant water flow which concentrates heavier objects 24-7, 365 days a year. In dry placers water flow (and subsequently, concentration) is intermittent at best and the visual clues presented by rusty metal aren't nearly as reliable, so don't misinterpret what I'm saying here. If you folks head out to your favorite dry placer areas and start running material through your dry washers at every location you find rusty iron, you're gonna end up working your tails off turning over hundreds of acres of ground like a gopher, and in the end...finding little or nothing gold-wise. Jeeze Louise, brothers and sisters! Next thing you know you'd come looking for me with the intent to cause great bodily harm (and I couldn't blame you).

20. Don't believe everything the dream merchants tell you.

Here's an old rant (and a valuable tip) for you. You know, there's a fine line between supplying small-scale miners with the gear they need or providing a communal atmosphere for club members and selectively "elaborating" upon or phonying up the real nature of gold prospecting and mining to entice greenhorns or other poor souls who don't know any better. Why do the dream merchants do this? Typically for personal gain and/or cold, hard cash or, in some instances, to stroke their own egos, do some power tripping, or to be looked up to by others as the "big dog" or expert. Hell, I'm an erstwhile expert of sorts and I've NEVER tried to sell you a bill of goods about the nature of this mining beast. In fact, I've tried my best to dissuade you from this madness at times as much as I personally love it myself. Small-scale gold prospecting and mining can be a tough row to hoe and it's certainly not for everyone. But the dyed-in-the-wool dream merchants out there care not one iota for that simple fact. They're looking to tap into those golden dreams of yours and work you as much as possible by selling you the things you need as well as many of the things that you don't (and likely never will). Don't get me wrong here. I have friends and close mining associates who sell mining gear or equipment, books, and just about everything else you'll need either online or through their brick-and-mortar prospecting and mining shops. The distinction here is simply that any close associate of mine isn't going to be blowing smoke up your ass just to get a sale. They're gonna lay it on the line and tell you the truth...good, bad, and in between. Or they're not going to be close to me in the first place. On the other hand the truth tends to get stretched to greater or lesser degrees by the hard-core dream merchants be they shop owners, online purveyors, or self-proclaimed "Grand Poobahs" of prospecting or mining clubs. So mind thy step. Don't believe for a minute everything the dream merchants tell you about gold mining, prospecting, nugget shooting, gold investing, claim filing, or whatever the hell it is they're trying to cram down your gullible throat. They're only going to focus on painting the brightest picture possible so they can come out on top...not you. Looking to be sold a bill of goods? Then accept what the dream merchants say as gospel and start throwing your folding green their way. And while you're at it, smile as you get fleeced (I wanted to use another word beginning with "f" here but my better self took hold).

(The main lure used by dream merchants is your golden dream.)

21. The confluence of two streams concept is overrated.

Over the years I've heard a lot of back-and-forth banter between small-scale gold miners about placer gold accumulations at the confluence of two streams, particularly on the first inside bend just downstream of the "feeder" stream that connects with a larger, gold-bearing tributary or dry wash. In the recent past even some of those commercial gold-mining "heroes" on the Discovery Channel and elsewhere on TV have made a big fuss from time-to-time over this confluence concept, but it really doesn't hold much water (pun intended) as far as I'm concerned. I've never done any better gold-wise dredging or dry washing at a confluence than I have anywhere else along a given stream course and that's a simple fact. I imagine back in the early mining days in the Western and Southwestern U.S. this confluence concept held a certain amount of merit considering that most of the workable gold ground was virgin (or nearly so). I've read personal diaries and historical accounts of the California Gold Rush where great gold finds are mentioned in connection with confluences and I don't doubt a single, solitary word of these accounts and writings. But that was then and this is now. Speaking strictly from personal experience working (dredging, dry washing, highbanking, sluicing, crevicing, sniping, etc.) on many occasions in both wet and dry placer environments, I don't recall my gold take being much better (if ANY better) than other likely gold concentration spots along the streams or washes I was working. That's the long and the short of it.

 (The confluence of two gold-bearing rivers, the Trinity and the Klamath.)

Since I'm in engineering and working at a large national laboratory, the only thing that would convince me that confluences are consistently better from a gold production standpoint than other parts of a stream or wash are hard facts. Gimme the data. Say, of 100 confluence-type streams tested or sampled from the surface to bedrock, sixty, seventy, or eighty percent of those very same confluences showed much better gold values than counterpart locations tested or sampled elsewhere along the same main tributary. See what I'm getting at here? There's no real evidence, no hard facts that state the confluence concept is viable. It's all hearsay or supposition, despite the seeming deposition logic therein. My opinion? The confluence of two streams concept is overrated. But hey, that's me. It surely doesn't hurt to check a confluence gold environment out. Just don't get fixated on them like a certain white-haired mining prophet ("Yer all millionaires...!") on reality TV who went wayyyyyyyyyyyyyy overboard on waterfall gold. By the way my friends, nix the waterfall idea in favor of good drop offs. You'll do better gold-wise in the end. No false prophet here...

That's all she wrote for now. Be safe out there.

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

Questions? E-mail me at


  1. Almost all of my mining experience has been on the East Fork of the San Gabriel River (which today sadly is closed by a rather large fire) and I've never found any appreciable gold in the areas where small creeks branch off and come back together. I thought I might because the gold comes off the mountain sides either from high benches or lode deposits. Almost all the gold I found there has been pretty much where you'd expect it, but I have found a little here and there in unexpected places. Square nails on the river have always been a good sign and I always found gold when I came across them. I found a flat iron (clothes iron) once with a decent stash of flakes in the hole. Gold is where it has been found before. A few years back I decided I'd try the west fork and go up bear creek (a tributary not blocked by the reservoir) and do a little prospecting. I'd always wondered why no one prospected there and no one ever had an answer other than "the gold is here on the east fork". I found some nice outcroppings, lots of black sand, some rather nice size pieces of magnetite, but no gold.Does that mean gold is not there undiscovered? No.But it does mean I won't spend time searching for it. I spend my time where there is a history of gold being found.

    Reading your series I see we have a shared disapproval of reality TV prospectors. I stopped in a few times to watch (kind of like coming upon a train wreck) and found myself talking out loud to the TV. Needless to say I don't stop and ponder anymore when I come across them. It's either fabricated drama, or a case of idiocy. You're right, you do not undertake a large expensive venture without taking samples. I sure as hell will not spend $8,000 on a rock crusher unless I have a pretty solid basis to believe I am going recover 5-10 times the cost of it. It's not just the recovering the cost of the crusher, there are a hell of a lot of incidental costs associated with it.

    And just as an aside, I saw an ad for one of those devices that can supposedly locate gold deposits 5 miles away and laughed my tail off. If those devices were that good, why would you waste your time manufacturing them for sale? Hell, if they could find gold deposits that efficiently you'd just corner the market on the deposits, claim every plot of ground you could and work them dry. You'd make a damn sight more money than you could ever hope to make selling the devices. Another excellent series Jim.


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