Sometimes It's a Game of Inches

 (Ma Nature is capricious but beautiful.)

At times small-scale gold mining and prospecting can be as rewarding as it is frustrating. One way of ensuring that you experience more rewards and less frustration in your mining and prospecting activities is understanding that, much like football, it's a game of inches. Read on and I'll explain what I mean.

Giving Up the Goods

You know, gold is a funny thing and Ma Nature just loves to jerk our chains at times. She does this by hiding her treasures in ways that often show no rhyme or reason or, when they do, the gold never lasts long enough (from a recovery standpoint, that is). But when you've been around the mining game long enough you end up realizing that Ma Nature isn't being nasty and capricious...she just wants you to work a little harder and smarter for what she surrenders. After all, if gold was easy to get it wouldn't be worth much, right?

 (If gold were easy to get we'd all have lots of it.)

What this little preamble is bringing you to is this. Ma Nature often leaves you hanging at one spot while just inches (or a few feet) away she's ready to give up the goods. This interesting little game of inches has been proven out to me many times over the course of my own small-scale mining career and perhaps you've seen it happen in your own mining and prospecting experiences as well. I've actually witnessed aspiring and veteran miners alike throw up their hands in disgust saying that "This spot sucks. There's no gold here," and then stalk off to hunt for better ground elsewhere. Along comes another miner and sees the former's evidence of work (holes, test pits, tailing piles, etc.). After inspecting the works this miners says, "Well looks like somebody was doing some work here. Let's see if they were getting anything." Then they set to sluicing, dry washing, dredging, trommeling, panning, or high banking mere inches (or at times, a few feet) away from the previous miner's "diggings." Not long after Ma Nature tires of the game and offers up some of her riches in the form of pockets, paystreaks, nuggets, or coarse gold simply because the new guy or gal was persistent enough to dig a little farther over or a little deeper. You see, even Ma Nature has a hard time putting the whammy on someone as patient (or lucky) as this! Now in a number of instances it's been yours truly himself who acted in the role of the "other" miner and, to be completely truthful, it was I who got up and left in disgust only to see another miner take what could have been mine and mine only. That's how it works sometimes and if you don't already know this...well, you must be pretty green behind the ears still.

Lessons Learned

Let me give you a couple of examples of what I'm talking about here. The area of Northern New Mexico my hard-charging but greenhorn pard Ernie Martinez have and I have been prospecting lately is pretty short on gold and what's there is quite small. However, good bedrock is abundant so this makes the gold game least to some extent anyway. Last weekend I took the little woman up to this spot just to get her out of the house and into the glorious wilds for a bit. After all, it was a beautiful day and we had an even prettier location to play around on, so why the hell not? Which reminds me...when was the last time you took the wife or girlfriend or the kids to your favorite gold spot for a day outdoors? (Or should I not ask this question?!) Anyhoo, the previous week Ernie and I had been at this same location. I distinctly remember Ernie taking material from a couple of sample pans out of a particular crevice and complaining that he wasn't getting any color from it. He then abandoned that particular crevice for a "better" spot. Oh, you see what's coming do you? Good for you! Yep, when the wife and I were there last weekend I decided to dig a bit more material out of Ernie's crevice and voila!! My pan showed eight pieces of gold (twelve colors is the most we've found in a single pan of creviced material at this location, by the way). I called Ernie from work this past Monday to fill him in on this tidbit of info (and to teach him a valuable lesson). Needless to say, he wasn't a happy camper. You see, for a newbie, eight small pieces of gold in your pan is equivalent to a good clean out after someone like myself (or you?) has been dredging all day. In other words, he was seriously bummed to hear that news. Lesson learned.

 (Yours truly panning 'er out.)

The other object lesson I mentioned earlier involves me. Yep, yours the flesh. I was about five or six years into (i.e., the early 1980s) my small-scale gold mining and prospecting thing and dry washing at a well-known spot in the southeastern California desert. I'd been digging away at a section of iron-stained bench gravels for a couple of days and was doing OK. Not great, but OK. Just to the left of where I was working the bench gravels started getting bound up in caliche, otherwise not-so-fondly known as desert cement. I'd taken a couple of practice swings with my miner's pick at this caliche but found the material bound up in it too hard to break up easily and too much work to process, especially since I assumed the gold contained therein would be just OK like the stuff I was currently getting with a bit less work. Eventually I grew tired of my meager returns at this spot, shut down my puffer, and started packing up to move. About that time another miner showed up with his dry washer, a Keene electrostatic model and asked how I was doing. I replied "Fair to middling." I also told him I was packing it in at this location and moving on. He said, "Well then I guess you won't mind me working this section just to the left of your spot." He was talking, of course, about that caliche-bound material. I nodded my head and said, "Knock yourself out." I packed up and headed back to my camp site. Late the next day I grew curious because this other miner had been running that Keene electrostatic at my old spot nearly all day without let up. I strolled on over to see what as happening. He shut down and showed me what he'd recovered from that caliche since the day before. It was coarser gold than what I'd been finding and included a half-dozen small nuggets. Not only that, he had as much gold in one day as I'd recovered in two days! He was lucky, you say? Maybe. But he set to work on a spot only a foot or two away from where I was digging. (Lesson Number 1.) He was also willing to do the work necessary to see if the gold was there and recover it. (Lesson Number 2.) I rest my case, red face and all.

You Might as Well Swing Away

I can also tell you this. I've seen or experienced just about as many situations as the two described above where NO gold or no better gold was found. Ma Nature rarely sends you neon signs in this regard so you won't know if you don't go for it. Hells bells, people! This life's a crapshoot anyway so you might as well swing for the fences. You ain't gonna hit a home run if you don't swing that bat.

There it is...

(c) Jim Rocha 2015

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