(I'd suspect there's a newbie or two in this bunch.)
If there's one glaring mistake I see most newcomers make, it's the fact that they're constantly "skimming" the surface of that dry wash or streambed and failing to dig deeper. I'll even take this a step farther and say that, over the years, I've seen quite a few experienced small-scale gold miners do the same thing. Ultimately, this approach is going to leave you with your pockets turned inside out and very little gold in that vial of yours.
A Case in Point
One thing to remember above all is that gold is an extremely heavy and dense precious metal. I know I've said this same thing many times already here in Bedrock Dreams, but it bears repeating on occasion. Gold's weight and density combined is the main factor why it gets deposited where it does in any given dry wash, stream, or other low-lying area. Very little gold of substance or quantity will remain close to the surface, especially where running streams exist to transport and deposit it. With a specific gravity of 19.2 (nearly twenty times heavier than water) even the smallest particles of gold are much heavier than the larger rocks you're tossing out of your gold pan or sluice box. Here's a case in point. Just recently my aspiring pard and carnal Ernie Martinez and I have been checking out a small stream in Northern New Mexico that lies within the boundaries of the Tusas Mountains mineralized zone (I'll be doing a post on our efforts soon, by the way). The whole idea was to establish whether or not color existed in this particular stream and it does, albeit very small in size and very little in quantity. As a relative newcomer to prospecting and placer mining, Ernie was amazed at how even the tiniest microdots of flour gold remained in his gold pan while much larger rocks were washed out. So there's that weight and density factor again. Yes, there are instances where gold will do very funny things in terms of it's movement and deposition. This is especially true of dry placer or desert gold regions. But those instances are anomalies and NOT the rule of thumb as dictated by deposition physics. Remember this point because it will serve you well over the long haul when it comes to your gold mining and prospecting efforts.
A True Blessing
Here's the deal. You have to dig deep (or deeper) if you truly want to find good gold. There's just no easy way around this point unless you have (or find) access to shallow or exposed bedrock, whether that bedrock is true (country rock) or false (e.g., clay layers). If this is the case you should thank the high heavens and blow Ma Nature a kiss for allowing you the opportunity to get at good gold the "easy" way without having to clear (by hand, no less) tons of overburden containing spotty gold values. For those of us who are small-scale gold miners bedrock means that much of our gold deposition and concentration issues have already been resolved. If you're an old timer and/or experienced miner like myself, you understand fully what a blessing this truly is. And if you're a newbie or greenhorn one day you too will realize how important bedrock (or its equivalents) can be. But newcomers to the small-scale mining block most often are the worst offenders when it comes to digging for gold because they anticipate good gold (and lots of it) under every rock and in every pan of dirt they skim from the least likely locations. Now don't take offense you greenhorns. I know I've touched a nerve by saying this but you need to back off a bit, take a deep breath, and remember that I too once walked in your shoes. This is how I often know what you think and how you think it.
(Gold like this doesn't jump into your hand...you have to dig for it.)
Understandable but Not Acceptable
The main issue facing all of us, newcomer or otherwise, is that typically our field time for prospecting and mining is limited, to say the least. Since we're "on the clock" (so to speak) when we're out and about we feel pressured to produce instant results and the resultant intellectual and emotional satisfaction that comes from finding color, no matter what size or quantity. This is understandable but not necessarily acceptable in my book. Taking the easy way out is not the same as working smart, as I've said before in this blog. One problem with our culture today is the preoccupation (obsession?) with instant gratification. "I want it and I want it now. All of it." It should go without saying that if you approach small-scale gold mining and prospecting this way you're bound to be disappointed and frustrated in the long run. Hell, for that matter in the short run too. In fact, I'll tell you that in my humble opinion you shouldn't take up gold mining or prospecting at all because it ain't gonna work for you and I don't want you crapping up what I hold dear and have spent three and a half decades perfecting. Got that? Good.
There's an obvious gold-mining/life parallel here in terms of this post's title. Ahhhh...but you had that wired from the beginning didn't you?! Yes, digging deeper means that you physically take the time and effort to dig down into that stream or wash to get the best gold but it also implies a secondary, more important function. Gold mining, in many respects, is a microcosm of life in general. Replete with lost opportunities, "shoulda" and "coulda" dones, and a choice between taking the high path or its lower counterpart. Just as becoming an adept gold miner will require you to dig deeper with that shovel in your hands, it may also require you to dig deeper inside yourself to overcome the obstacles tossed into your path by the fates or through your own decisions (or lack thereof). Look around you, both in your gold mining activities and elsewhere and you'll see them. Those who always take the easy way out, those who shirk personal responsibility, and those who expect someone else to clean up the mess they make with themselves and their lives. Gutting up isn't in their lexicon of behaviors nor is honest self-appraisal. They always "skim," never digging deeper or putting forth the hard work necessary to make things better. But they still consider themselves "golden" and worthy of all things, including your acceptance and support. Me? I'll pass on yahoos like that each and every time, both in this life and in my mining activities. You see, I know what it's like to dig deep. How about you?
Questions? E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org
(c) Jim Rocha (J.R.) 2015