Mining Tips From an Old Timer (Part 8)

(It's all about getting gold into that poke.)

Here's another installment in my old timer's tips series. Who's the old timer, you ask? That would be me. Bit-by-bit I'm passing along my own gold prospecting and mining knowledge gained over the course of three and a half decades as a small-scale miner and guess what? It won't cost you a dime. Quite a deal when you stop and think about it, isn't it?

22. Coarse or chunky black sands can mean coarse or chunky gold.

You know, I've recovered gold in all sorts of areas (wet and dry) and under a wide range of conditions. The heavy black sands (hematite, magnetite, ilmenite, monozite, etc.) in those gold-bearing concentrates I've processed have run the gamut from hardly any black sand at all to moderate amounts of fine black sand to copious quantities of coarse or chunky black sand. All in all, the best gold (largest and coarsest) I've found along the way has come from concentrates containing coarse or chunky black sands. Go figure. This has remained true whether I was dry washing in California, Arizona, New Mexico, or even Old Mexico when I was venturing south of the border back in my early days as a small-scale miner. Ditto for the years I spent dredging and highbanking in the Northern California Motherlode Region. A well-heeled and highly schooled geologist could probably explain why I tended to find better (bigger, coarser) gold with chunky black sands but that theoretical aspect escapes me completely. I just know it's least in my own personal experience. So what I'm trying to tell you here is that the presence of coarse or chunky black sands in a known gold-bearing area can mean you're getting into a spot containing coarse or chunky gold and maybe lots of it. Notice that I said "can mean," which implies a certain amount of variability. It's certainly no guarantee (by the way, there are no guarantees in gold mining). However, coarse or chunky black sands can be another important visual signpost or clue to the presence of placer gold in alluvial or even elluvial form. Just laying that out there for you. It's your prerogative to accept it or reject it as the case may be. (But if you're as smart as I think you are, you'll remember this tip about coarse or chunky black sands).

 (Coarse, chunky black sand compared to its finer counterpart.)

23. Sometimes you can't see the riches you're standing on.

There have been countless times when I've been out in the field doing my prospecting and mining thing and wondered to myself just how many large nuggets or rich pockets of placer gold I just walked over unknowingly. Ever think the same thing? I thought so. That "If I only knew what was there" concept or fantasy is probably truer than you or I ever imagined but since we're not supermen or women and don't have X-ray vision, we're pretty much S.O.L. when it comes to proving or disproving our perception that riches may indeed be directly under our feet at times. Bummer, dudes and dudettes. The underlying tip here though is this. If things aren't going well in that hole you're currently digging, that exposed bedrock you're crevicing, that section of bench gravels you're running through your highbanker, or those arroyo gravels you're shoveling onto the hopper screen of your dry washer, then by God move over a few feet in one direction or another! That pay streak, those nuggets, or that rich little pocket of gold may be just a foot or two away, so why not act on your intuition and give things a whirl? What have you got to lose? Absolutely nothing. That's all I'm saying here. Sometimes we can't see the riches we're already standing on (or that lay only a few feet away).

Let me give you an example of what I'm talking about here. Wayyyyyyyyyyy back in the 1980s when I did the bulk of my suction dredging in Northern California, there were a couple of young (and somewhat inexperienced) dredgers on the adjoining claim who'd been working their asses off for at least a month looking to hit a good pocket or paystreak. But as each day passed that moment of glory eluded them and they were barely surviving on a few grams a day even after working their way down to bedrock. Well, enough was enough and these two frustrated miners bailed on their lease and headed for parts unknown. Not long afterward an older gent working alone with his beat-up dredge came along and surveyed the scene. He started dredging around the hole left by the young dudes and just a few feet downstream from it he hit good gold and lots of it, including the largest dredged nugget (14.2 grams) I had seen firsthand at that point in time. You could've pushed me over with a feather that day. But I learned a lot from that experience and my observations of it. Was the older guy just lucky? Maybe. However, instead of diving down to the same old section of bedrock the boys had worked he opted to move a short distance away and work his way down on the edge of the hole they'd already dredged. What's the moral of this story? If it's not happening where you're at, move over a few feet and try digging. It's as simple as that.

24. Gold talks and BS walks.

I've been fortunate to have been around some very good placer gold miners in my day and consider myself extremely lucky to have been mentored by a trio of old timers who knew their shit. Most importantly, these three gentlemen knew how to get the gold and they had the proof of that fact in their possession...well at least a good part of it, anyway. Although a couple of these old timers could get pretty vocal (especially when "instructing" you in the finer aspects of prospecting and mining), by and large they were pretty quiet and solitary people. On the other hand, I've come across my fair share of loud mouths, blowhards, self-proclaimed experts, and run-of-the-mill BSers in my mining career as well. I prefer the quiet types over the latter any day of the week, but sometimes you just can't help getting stuck with idiots no matter how hard you try. I've even had a couple of pards who I thought were OK on the front end but who turned out to be big-time BSers once I'd had been around long enough to hear what they said and see what they did. And it was mostly saying rather than doing on their parts.

Each and every one of you reading this will come into contact with a mining BSer at some point (if you haven't already). You'll recognize them by their arrogant, know-it-all-attitudes and their constant spinning of tall tales about how great they know, God's gift to gold miners, women, and small children everywhere. Here's the deal though.  For better or worse BSers have a burning urge to be recognized as individuals worthy of that recognition they so rightly deserve (in their own minds, anyway). You see, deep down BSers are nothing more than poor, lost souls with highly fragile egos. Somewhere along the line Mommy or Daddy didn't pay enough attention to them (or conversely, didn't redden their butts with a belt once in a while). So now YOU get stuck with that job. Like BSers everywhere, these sorts are very long on hot air but short on yellow metal. So the next time they start pumping up their personal bellows via the tried and true "blah, blah, blah, woof, snort, I found more gold than you did, blah, blah, woof, snort" routine and telling you how you need to do things the right way (their way, that is), or they spin you another tiresome and outlandish yarn for the umpteenth time about their amazing gold recoveries, here's what you do. Ask them to show you the goods. Ask them to produce those jelly jars filled with gold or those nuggets as big as hen's eggs. Then listen to them stutter and scramble for reasons why they CAN'T show you their finds. The excuses will start rushing out of their mouths like water over a steep rock fall but no gold will be forthcoming. You can count on that. In the end, gold talks and BS walks. There it is...

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

Questions? E-mail me at


  1. I know a loudmouth liar like that. The funny thing is that he does have some gold to show, and nice stuff too. I suspect he bought it somewhere, The guy is a geologist, but I have never known him to get out and do any prospecting on the side. Some (most) of the stories he tells are so far from the truth, only a little kid or a complete moron would believe him. I wonder if your course and chunky black sand is that way because it has not worn down fine? If the gold is bigger along with the black sand, is it possible they both formed in the same source? I don't know much about black sand, except it can be a good sign of gold (sometimes), and that too much of it is a pain in the butt! Clogs up your riffles and makes panning the cleanup harder to do. Dang it Jim, I still have not gone out once this year yet! Gotta do it before the snow falls.........

  2. 22. Coarse or chunky black sands can mean coarse or chunky gold.

    "A well-heeled and highly schooled geologist could probably explain why I tended to find better (bigger, coarser) gold with chunky black sands but that theoretical aspect escapes me completely. I just know it's so..."

    My understanding (correct me if wrong, I don't know much) is that the size of the material/wash often determines the possible size of the gold, so if the wash is sand sized, then the gold will be as well, whereas if the wash/material is fist sized then the gold "has a chance" of being nugget sized (along with having fines present as well) So basically when out and about, I always look at wash deposited that are larger then pea to marble size, river worn. Reminds me of how a sluicer complained that he never got gold above .1gram, due to the fact his sluice setup clarfied material down to that size so he never could get larger than that in his sluice, only in the tailings.

  3. I wish I had met you in the field years back. I believe I would have been a much better miner and person for it. I know the brilliant I'm better than everyone types. I met a youtube prospector on the east fork recently (early may this year, 2016) and he left me with a distinct disliking of his attitude towards others. I was a subscriber to his channel. Not anymore. These days it seems that there are very few mentors out and about. I have found two people that supply me with valuable useful information. You, and Jeff Williams (a youtube channel if you haven't seen it). He's silly, but informative.

    I don't know you personally, obviously, but had we met, I'd have been your best student. I'm not an educated person, you can tell by my writing. I have issue trying to clarify thoughts succinctly. I find I learn best when there is an interesting story line. You're very good at that. You have a novelists approach to your writing. Too much technical jargon and I tune it out. There's a very knowledgeable geologist on youtube that I can not watch. It's absolute boredom.

    All this information on your website is going to be invaluable to me over the next few years, but not just me, it will be valuable to my brother, and anyone else we can pass it on to. We'll do our part to pay it forward. Thanks again, Jim. Think I'll take a drive to the gold store. The river is closed because of the fire and there are some items I need.



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