The Forgotten Potential of Elluvial Gold (Part 2)

 (This gent knows his stuff...he's searching around and below a "blow out" on an elluvial slope.)

In this, the second post of this series, I'll be addressing some specific aspects of elluvial gold deposits that you should know if you're interested in recovering some (or all?) of the yellow metal they contain. You should know by now that I'll shoot you straight with both the positives and the negatives from an informational standpoint. After all, I'm no dream merchant. But you knew that already, didn't you?

OK, let me get to the heart of the matter by pointing out the obvious:

1. It's a waste of time to pursue elluvial deposits where major mining operations (open pit or underground) took place.

I can't stress this point enough. Common sense should dictate why this is so (especially in the case of open-pit mining operations), but let me explain a bit anyway. In the old days rich lode mines were the subject of quite a bit of attention, not to mention work and development. Even if you can access the ground these old mines are located on, the nature and scale of the overall operations on that ground pretty much precludes the possibility of finding an associated elluvial deposit. The hub of activity around that old lode included just about anything you can imagine, including wagon or vehicular traffic, sample holes or test pits, the construction of ore dumps, processing facilities, head frames, slag heaps, huge tailings piles, structures of all sorts, and so on. This beehive of activity means that any elluvial gold that was not found or recovered in these larger operations is probably buried under all sorts of structures or debris, or was dug out deliberately or perhaps inadvertently while that mine was in operation. Sure, famous old mines are great places to visit from a historical standpoint, but my suggestion to you is to avoid them like the Black Plague if you're intent on finding an elluvial gold deposit.

(Here's an interesting looking elluvial slope.)

I know what some of you are thinking. It goes something like this: "Well, I could take my super-duper gold detector to one of those big mines and if there's any elluvial scattered around I can probably find it." Really? I don't think so and here's one more reason why. The sheer amount of metallic trash laying around those larger mine sites (not to mention smaller ones) is absolutely daunting and includes large pieces of trash metal right on down to small bits of wire, nails, and screws. Hundreds of thousands of false signals that you're gonna have to dig up if you want to be sure you aren't missing any small pieces of elluvial (or other) gold. Any nugget shooter worth his or her salt will tell you that using discrimination of any sort on your machine can prevent you from finding smaller pieces of gold. You'll get so damn frustrated you'll be ready to hurl that machine down the nearest mine shaft by the end of the day, provided you lasted that long. It ain't worth it. Trust me, I know. I've tried it. Still, people do get struck by lightning and you might too, metaphorically speaking, that is. My advice (for what it's worth) is to let that idea go. Unless you've done your research homework and established the fact that elluvial gold existed at that site in the first place (we'll talk more on this point next), you're just pissing into the wind in the first place.

2. Research helps, but it's hit or miss with elluvial gold.

You all know what a fanatic I am when it comes to doing your research homework before heading out on any mining or prospecting enterprise, especially to a new location or area. Research is a big help in most contexts and it can be when trying to get a line on elluvial deposits as well, but it's a hit or miss proposition much of the time with elluvials. Again, not all lode mines had much in the way of elluvial gold. Others had none. But some had elluvial gold up the wazoo. Those latter are the locations you want to try and find or stumble across. I guess in the end either way is OK as long as you find the gold. Just understand that most of the historical mining literature is spotty when it comes to elluvial gold but if you look hard enough through old narratives and reports you just might turn up a significant nugget of information as I did back in the 1980s when I found a small elluvial deposit. No, it didn't make me rich but gave me some nice gold for my efforts. I was pretty proud of myself at the time because it was my own research that led me to that elluvial deposit in the southeastern California desert. Sure, I had some luck with me too but this is one case where information about a potential elluvial was there to be gleaned and I was the one who harvested that info. That said, I do believe in most cases you'll experience a reasonable amount of frustration trying to gain information on most elluvial deposits simply because the ones you're most likely to find elluvial gold at or on are going to be associated with smaller hard rock lodes that were also worked by a solitary miner or a small group thereof. And what academic wants to focus his or her eye on those piddly sorts of efforts when there are bigger fish to fry historically?

3. Smaller lode mines are one of your best bets for finding elluvial gold.

It's equal parts experience and opinion that make me believe this to be true. First of all, smaller lode mines and their coincidental mining activities never reached the same heights of action applied to larger, richer, and better-known mines. You can even find many of these smaller mines close by (geographically) to the larger and more familiar mines.These smaller lodes worked by a single-blanket jackass prospector or a pard or two hold promise for the following reasons:
  • They were not given as thorough a going over like the larger, richer sites.
  • Usually they are not as well known (or are unknown altogether) in the historical mining literature (Yes, you're right...this can be a two-edged sword).
  • Smaller sites hold greater potential for elluvial deposits that were either un-worked or under-worked.
  • Smaller lode sites are especially numerous and spread throughout the southeastern, western, northwestern, and southwestern United States (and elsewhere for that matter).
 (One of the many smaller old mine sites scattered throughout the West.)
  • Accessing these smaller venues will be easier (for the most part, anyway).
  • From a gold detecting standpoint these smaller mines have less metal trash to contend with (but there'll probably still be enough to make you want to tear your hair out by the roots!).
  • Smaller sites (including test pits) have not experienced as much attention after the fact as the larger, better-known mines.
In my next post in this series I'll be talking about finding "virgin" elluvials and providing you with some helpful tips that can make that happen.

Until then, be safe.

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

Questions? E-mail me at


  1. JR, lots of old mine shafts and test holes in my area. A lot of old cabins too. They are fun to poke around through, but like you say, a metal detector is useless unless you are after old cans and nails. Still, they are worth a look. I have found quite a few old bottles, and I know a guy that once found an old rifle in a fallen down cabin! Not gold, but heck sometimes it doesn't need to be. The Chinese miners were often robbed or murdered back then and it was common for them to hide their gold.......some never made it and the gold is still there if you are lucky, who knows?


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