A Simple Strategy for Working Dry Gold Ground (Part 1)
(Dry ground I stumbled across here in New Mexico. Note the shallow bedrock.)
In this post I'll be outlining a very simple strategy for working dry gold ground that can be applied to wet placers as well. Granted the latter will prove more difficult in this regard, but the overall principles I'm laying down here still apply and I'll explain how later. So let's get down to it.
Update on Previous Post
First off, let me back peddle a bit and address a reader comment on my previous post on sluice box comparisons. Here's the comment as it relates to the Bazooka 48" Prospector sluice box:
"J.R., you missed two of the biggest pluses. That the Bazooka has no classifying. Just shovel the dirt and rocks into the sluice. AS long as the water flow is good. It will move the material through and out the end. This allows way more material to be run. Making for collecting more gold at the end of the run. Some of the smaller units need some classifying. But you need to match the size bazooka to your needs. The 48" prospector is a beast at moving material. Just need the water flow."
This is an issue I should've addressed in my last post because it's so obvious, so I apologize to one and all. But here's the deal. As I touched upon in my own reply comment, I rarely classify material when running my Keene A52 as long as I have good water flow available. Granted, sometimes larger rocks will hang up in the A52, but a quick swipe with a shovel or a three-foot length of heavy dowling (which I use for this job) gets those rocks moving out of the box. That said, the Bazooka Prospector (in fact all the Bazookas) employs a straight chute configuration without riffles that allows the water flowing through the box to sweep the larger material right out the other end. That's a plus for sure and rating credit should be given to the Bazooka in this regard. One thing that bugs me about the Bazooka Prospector, however, is the grizzly screen. Smaller rocks tend to get caught or jammed between the grizzly wires and you have to get those puppies out of there quite frequently to ensure the heavies and gold are getting down to the gold collection box. So in my mind, it's six of one and a half dozen of the other. Whatever floats your boat, ya know?
OK, let's move on to the core of this new series of posts:
It's All Good
First, let me define "dry ground." I suspect most of you immediately thought of the typical dry, desert placers I so often speak of, but my definition includes those gullies or streambeds of any size in areas where flowing water is concurrent. Let me give you an example. Those of you who've spent any time prospecting or mining California's Motherlode Region know that both the southern and northern mine areas along Highway 49 contain many famous gold-bearing rivers and streams (the Tuolumne, the Mokelumne, the American, the forks of the Yuba, and so on). You also know that the Motherlode contains many gold-bearing gullies or small creek beds that are bone dry...for the summer months, anyway. So my definition of dry ground gets expanded to include these sorts of auriferous locales. That said, my main focus here is on (as you rightly assumed) those dry, desert placers you expected me to talk about. Confused, are you? Don't be...like I already said, the tips and suggestions herein can be applied to just about any small-scale gold mining context, so no worries. It's all good.
(Highway 49 runs through California's Motherlode Region. Nearly every river, creek, stream, wash, and gully in this area carries placer gold.)
STRATEGY STEP 1: You need to be serious about what you're doing.
What I'm laying out for you here requires a serious, hard-working approach based on consistency, persistence, and thoroughness. Sure, small-scale gold mining and prospecting should be fun, but you can have fun and be serious about what you're doing at the same time. Don't mistake going about your mining or prospecting activities half-assed as being less serious and more fun. You're doing neither. You're just being half-baked or half-witted...take your pick. If you can't come to any level of seriousness about what you want to accomplish as a miner (or as a person) then you shouldn't be here and shouldn't be pursuing small-scale mining (or self improvement, if that's the issue). Uncle Jim wants you to join up! But I only want you or can help you if you have the capacity to apply yourself seriously to the basic steps I'm about to set forth. And that's the name of that tune.
STRATEGY STEP 2: Find a small section of shallow bedrock or false bedrock in a good gold spot.
For this strategy to work properly you have to find yourself a small section of gold-bearing ground where bedrock or false bedrock (i.e., caliches, a clay layer) is shallow enough for you to clear it by hand in a reasonable time frame. What's reasonable? A few hours at most and less is even better. First off, you've already predetermined that color exists in this location...otherwise, why bother? Next, the section you select to work should not be greater than five feet or so in any direction. If the dry creek or gully is only three feet wide then you'd mark off a 3' x 5' plot. It really doesn't matter what the exact size is really. What matters is that you measure off an area that's workable within the time frame and constraints you're gonna have to contend with. If going larger is not do-able, then go smaller. If what you've initially laid out or assessed is too small, then go larger. In other words, select a section of wash, gully, arroyo, or dry stream and section it off one section at a time in a way that's realistically executable. That's it.
STRATEGY STEP 3: Forget the overburden.
This strategy calls for working sections of gold-bearing ground with minimal overburden covering bedrock or false bedrock. Anything more than a foot to 18" is a no-go and a waste of your valuable mining time. Remember, there's only you out there (or perhaps a solitary pard) and you don't have the means, time, or the gumption to remove six feet of rock and gravel overburden from a given section of ground. We're looking for immediate or near immediate bedrock access here, OK? Begin working your section by removing ALL the larger overburden from it. That is, the bigger rocks and pieces of gravel and dirt sitting up near the surface of that overburden. Once bedrock or false bedrock is exposed, allow whatever smaller rocks, black sands, iron stone or oxidized iron, heavies, or concretions like caliches to remain in place for the time being. Just toss the overburden over to the side or behind you where it won't interfere with what you're doing...DO NOT bucket it up, sample it, or run it through any type of mining gear, including your gold pan. JUST LEAVE IT BE! This is going to kill some of you, especially those with overdeveloped senses of curiosity. Trust me, not much gold is carried in that overburden and the little amount of yellow that may be present in it is typically fine or flood gold that was recently carried in or deposited. It ain't worth fooling with in this particular strategy.
(Overburden is the bane of every small-scale gold miner's existence.)
STRATEGY STEP 4: Start cleaning your section and and bucketing the material that's left atop bedrock (or false bedrock).
Once the overburden is removed, start cleaning your section using any and all tools at your disposal. Aside from the usual crevicing tools and hand trowels, you'll want some stiff-bristled brushes of various sizes to "sweep" your bedrock or false bedrock section clean, including any cracks, crevices, or depressions. Even if the bedrock is flat or seems nearly so, sweep it as clean as the proverbial whistle. Don't leave a speck of dirt behind. Gather it all up, classify it if necessary, and then dump that material in a five-gallon bucket. Once that bucket fills up, load up another one. And so on and so on. Keep going until that section you measured off or selected is cleaner than Maggie's old drawers could ever hope to be. As you clean your section this way, you'll notice that the material starts adding up fairly quickly, so make sure you bring enough five-gallon buckets to handle it. I usually bring six or seven buckets, but you can play that by ear until you get a good drift on things.
That's it for this round. There's more to come so stay tuned.
(c) Jim Rocha (J.R.) 2015
Questions? E-mail me at email@example.com