You Have to Dig Deep

(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 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.

Dig Deep

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

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


  1. I created a response to your blog but I can't post in comment section because I can't prove I'm human? I took a screen shot to show you and here is my response that you can post up if you wish, regards Jake

    I suppose a reason for people not digging deep (besides being lazy etc.) could be that as soon as they do "water" comes into their hole, now we all know what happens once water hits gold, it sinks to the lowest point and becomes near impossible to get at, It's always "running away" Well that's what I've experienced so have had to "Let it go" once water is in because the gold stops being in the material that I could get, just concentrates lower lower out of my reach. You will then have those that say use they use a "yabbie pump" but my experiences with these haven't been successful, just can't seem to ever get any colour with them, user error it would have to be or is it not the right tool for that job?
    I've even tried putting in dry material to soak up holes but they keep on refilling, any other idea's what to do when water comes into your hole? regards Jake

    1. Digging in water is a tough way to go. Dredging is really about the only efficient way to work in the water. I work above the water in the bank where I see bedrock coming out of the water. Following the bedrock up into the bank can lead to virgin untouched gold deposits. I have been working one such bank for several years getting good gold.
      Rattlesnake Jim

  2. Good morning JR, I've been super busy here and haven't had a chance to read several of your posts. Just looked at this one. I've had reasonable good luck digging in the stream bed itself, but have never found bedrock and I'm limited to how deep I can get by the height of my boots. I have thigh high boots, but that only lets you dig three feet deep at most. A friend had chest waders and got a bit deeper, but didn't seem to do any better. I think most of what we are finding is "flood gold" since deeper doesn't seem better in this case. There is a layer of decomposed granite type gravel, after hitting it, we find little if any more gold. The stream is small and neither deep or flowing fast, so I'm not sure what to think. Upstream is a swampy pond of still water so I have a hard time believing it is coming from there. Take what I can get I guess........

  3. Another good post to ponder JR – thank you! I'm a newcomer and "going for bedrock" is one of the principles of placer mining I've had pounded into my head over and over. At first it seems improbable. Was the gold sitting on bedrock all along or did it keep moving deeper over time until it could move no further? How could gold possibly keep moving through all that dirt and gravel? Accepting this mining commandment – "Thou shalt dig deep and quest for bedrock" – was a leap of faith for this newcomer.

    When I've failed to dig deep enough was it out of laziness or impatience? Neither I think. It was more inexperience, a lack of preparedness, and a failure to adapt in the moment. Maybe when the day began I had a plan to cover a lot of ground, crevice and test a lot of locations. I simply wasn't prepared mentally to switch gears and spend the time and effort to go as deep as the situation called for. Now I'm learning that I will likely come across spots where I need to go deep and I should be ready to adapt, hunker down, and maybe spend all day digging out a particular location. Developing the judgment to decide *when* to go deep is another matter.

    Best - Jim S.

  4. Finally, there are others like me and my wife. We are dry creek miners
    that realized early on to dig deep. You can see our adventures below as
    we have documented our efforts in digging deep holes in our quest for
    good gold. We prospect by punching holes, then proceed to mining with
    the use of our recirculating highbanker which allows us to process more
    than 80 buckets 3+ yards of -1/2 material with 80 gallons of water...
    Once we find a good location we continue to mine it for several weeks.
    It takes a mental strength in addition to physical strength to go deep.
    You also have to be stubborn as there are more than just one or two 6'
    deep holes that just don't pan out. In my video series Moving South we
    document our quest to finding virgin ground well outside of the now
    visible creek bed. The first ellipsoids start with prospecting the creek
    (which we determined to be the tailing channel) and our progression
    outside of this channel.



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