Dry Holes are There for a Reason

 (Dry holes come in all shapes and sizes.)

Undoubtedly most of you have heard (or used) the term "dry hole" at one point or another during your small-scale mining and prospecting careers. Some folks will debate whether this term evolved from water/oil drilling or gold mining, but there's no debate on that issue in my own mind. I've read historical mining accounts of the American West where this term was used long before anyone ever set up a wildcat drilling rig in west Texas. But as usual, I digress from my main point which is that dry holes are there for a reason.

A Fickle Thing

Perhaps there's a greenhorn or two out there right now reading this and wondering just what the hell a dry hole is when it comes to small-scale gold mining. Essentially a dry hole is any prospecting, sampling, or mining you perform that results in a big goose egg. In other words, you find little to nothing in that hole you're digging or that spot you're working. Zero, nada. For a gold miner this is the equivalent of getting slugged in the solar plexus by some half-crazed berserker with fists the size of small hams. That is, it hurts like hell and can knock you out of the game (if you let it). You old salts out there and those with reasonable mining experience know what I'm talking about because you've been there and done that more than once in your mining careers. Gold is a fickle thing and Ma Nature can be even more fickle in terms of how she chooses to dispense her treasures to those driven to find and recover the yellow. Moreover, she can be downright cruel at times and withhold her bounty altogether. That's your dry hole scenario brothers and sisters. You put forth all that time and effort and what does Ma Nature do? She kicks you in the chops, thank you very much. You see, Ma Nature doesn't give a hoot how smart you are or how hard you worked...she's got other things to tend to other than making things right for some obsessive "down-'n-outer" looking to get a ticket punched at her expense.

 (Ma Nature can be nourishing or nasty...take your pick.)

Where the True Metal is Tested

Are dry holes fun? No, they are not. They're alternately frustrating and discouraging, with a slight sense of hopelessness thrown into the mix just for good measure. Dry holes will try your patience and test your experience and knowledge, and still leave you scratching your head after all is said and done. Dry holes are the biggest obstacle any miner must overcome and only those with true color running through their veins are up to the challenge. Quite a few newbies and greenhorns fall by the wayside when they hit their first, or second, or third dry hole and it suddenly dawns on them that they aren't gonna fill that gold pan with nuggets and flakes after a few hours of half-hearted effort on some gold-bearing creek or dry wash. This is Ma Nature again, teaching a valuable lesson for all to see...at least to those who aren't completely blind when it comes to all things mining. Dry holes are bitter pills to swallow for greenhorn and veteran miner alike, and they should not be taken lightly nor dismissed as mere stumbling blocks along the path to untold riches (anyone who believes the latter is definitely in for a surprise, by the way). You can dig, dredge, dry wash, or highbank your veritable ass off and still end up staring into a dry hole. Then you'll stand there faced with the age-old quandary of whether to simply throw in the towel or take a deep breath and start all over again. This is where the truest metal is tested and the color yellow must be cast aside. You see, neither life nor mining are for cowards and quitters. It takes guts and determination to fight your way through the hard times and the slings and arrows that life and mean-spirited people sling your way. Ditto for dry holes in the mining sense. Quitters never prosper and those who can't adapt and change to meet the challenges at hand (or ahead) will inevitably find themselves staring into dry hole after dry hole. This is true in life as well as gold mining.

 (Every wash and creek has its share of dry holes.)

Move Forward

Oh sure, there will always be those malicious sorts who take joy in the dry holes you dig for yourself and there'll also be those well-intentioned folks who will offer you cheap advice that seeks to drive you along the same cattle path that most everyone else follows. When that happens you needn't get angry or retaliatory. Just take a deep breath, keep your own good counsel, and heft your gear without looking back. The past doesn't define you nor do the nay-sayers who constantly whisper negatives in your ear like, "You can't do that. You're too dumb, too inept, not smart enough, not tough enough." Who you gonna believe? Them or the little voice inside that says you can do it regardless? Hell, if you have to dig a hundred more dry holes before you hit that rich pocket or paystreak then by God, do it! Eventually the universe is going to recognize your persistence and determination and force Ma Nature to deliver you the goods. Dry holes are meant to be lessons. If you haven't figured that out by now then by all means take that lesson to heart this very moment. Make a silent vow to yourself that you aren't going to allow others to define you or dictate to you how you should feel. Steel yourself to those slings and arrows and all the rest of those dry holes and become the very best you can be as a father, mother, brother, sister, teacher, carpenter, engineer, mechanic, artist, writer, gold miner or whatever it is you truly aspire to. That dry hole you're staring into right now isn't the end. It can be the start to a whole new way of thinking or viewing life, and the impetus that finally gets you out the door and going. That dry hole, if approached properly, can lead you to the gold. Trust me, I know...

Smile the next time you dig a dry hole and learn the lesson it has to teach you. Move forward, not backward. But most of all, go for the gold in every aspect of your life.


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

Questions? E-mail me at jr872vt90@yahoo.com


  1. Another good one here Jim ! The problem is, that we are all too spoiled today. Nobody wants to work for free......most don't want to work at all. If there is a "for sure" paycheck waiting at the end, they will do a half ass job, as little as the boss will allow. Sure there are still a lot of hard workers out there, but their numbers are dwindling. Gold mining, at least on a small scale, you are working for yourself with no guarantee of anything except a sore back, and blisters. Most that try this don't last long, those that do should probably have their heads examined. You have to be somewhat crazy to do this, but I love it! Because of my hip, I haven't made it to the creek now in two years......this summer that is going to change! The best advantage we have today over those early miners is the historical records from those early miners. They did the work (for free) digging those dry holes and telling us where the gold is not, as well as where it is. The library or computer seems like an odd place to go prospecting, but it can pay off big time if you are just willing to do the work for free. As you keep stressing JR, do your research! It will help keep the blisters off your hands and maybe a little gold in your poke. After having my hip replaced, I am trapped here in the house. Looking out the window, it snowed 6 inches last night. For an outdoors man like myself, this is the worst kind of torture. I should be out setting traps, "prospecting for fur"......Nothing I can do about it, so I'll do my research on gold in my area. If nothing else JR, your posts like this one keep those little gears in my crazy head turning and keep me interested. THANK YOU for that! Gary

  2. Persistence always pays off in one way or another. There's always a benefit. I Enjoy your insight Jim.


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