$2,000+ in a Shovelful of Dirt (Part 1)

 (Spinning a yarn.)

The gold mining history of the American West is rife with great gold discoveries, most of those concrete in terms of reality and some...well, maybe not so much. There is a persistent tale however, of unbelievably rich placer gold ground in the desert country of southeastern California. Interested? Then read on because I'm about to spin quite a yarn.

And While I'm at It...

Nearly four decades ago I started my up and down career as a treasure hunter. Over time I recovered numerous small caches, made a literal killing on the beaches of Southern California, and turned up quite a few old coins and valuable artifacts all over the West and no small number in the the Southeastern United States, including some fine U.S. Civil War items. Additionally, I'm one hell of a researcher and pretty damn good with treasure sign if I don't say so myself...and I do! So I do know of which I speak. Anyhoo, a little bragging now and then is harmless for the most part. And while I'm at it...oh, never mind.

Your Choice

In case you're wondering what the reason for that preamble was, just let me say it was a natural progression for me to move into small-scale gold mining from treasure hunting and for decades I worked at both as hard and as earnestly as I could. I still do, although my treasure hunting activities have subsided for the most part in favor of small-scale mining. That's my one and true love. But give me the opportunity and I'll still head out on some potential wild goose chase if treasure might be found, big or small. One of the main points I learned along the owl hoot path is that every treasure tale, no matter how bogus it might appear or sound, has a core element of truth to it. You should remember that before you start poo-pooing or shaking your head to the negative when some crusty old coot like me starts flapping his gums about treasure of any sort, including rich placer ground that's gone missing in action. Some particulars about such rich ground is what I'm about to relate to you. It's up to you if you choose to believe this tale or not.

 ( I never met a treasure hunter who wasn't a bit crazy...myself included.)

Setting the Stage

Earl Dorr was an old time prospector and gold miner. He grew up in Colorado in the late 1800s but headed farther west like many other young men of the day. By the 1930s (the height of the American economic Depression) Ed found himself prospecting and mining hard rock gold ground in the barren desert wastes of California's eastern San Bernardino County. Some of you reading this are familiar with this area since you work dry placers in and around this area, as I used to do on occasion. In fact, I had dry placer claims in my possession in this region way back in the early 1980s. It's a tough nut, the Mojave Desert. But it has it's share of natural beauty as well as gold. During the Great Depression many "down-n'-outers" reworked the old placers and hard rock claims in this region, trying to eke out a meager living just as Earl was doing. That sort of sets the stage for what follows, brothers and sisters.

 (The man himself. Earl Dorr.)

A Sworn Affidavit

In a sworn affidavit signed in 1934, Earl stated that he'd found a series of caverns in the mountains not far from Ivanpah Dry Lake. What mountains you ask? The Clarks, the Mescal Range, and the Ivanpahs. In fact, Interstate 15 running from Baker, California to Las Vegas, Nevada passes right through the middle of this region. So what's the big deal about finding some caves in these scorched and barren mountains? Well, the fact that Earl swore literally and figuratively that a river rich in gold ran deep down in those caverns, thousands of feet beneath the surface. In his affidavit Earl stated that a 2.5 pound sample taken from the gravels of that underground river averaged out at nearly two full ounces of gold. Well hell's bells, that's one shovel full of dirt in my world boys and girls!

 (I-15 at Mountain Pass.)

Location, Location, Location

The exact location of Earl's underground river of gold hasn't been found (if it does indeed exist) but Earl claimed it ran in a line beneath Kokoweef Peak and the now aptly named Dorr Peak. These peaks lie to the southeast of modern-day Mountain Pass where I-15 cuts through the mountains called out in the previous section. The distance? Only a few miles actually. Earl said he followed his underground river for at least eight miles, which means that's one hell of a bounty when it comes to placer gold. If Earl was on the up and up, that is. And he can't be that wrong because geologists have suggested that at least 300 miles (yep, you hear right) of underground caverns exist in the area Earl said he found his river of gold. The most notable of these caverns is Crystal Cavern on the slopes of Kokoweef Peak. It could be that's the location Earl first entered on his way to a rich discovery. Then again, who knows in these sorts of situations?

(Kokoweef Peak.)

Well talk more about Earl and his river of gold in the Mojave. I want you to chew on things a bit first.

Best to all.

(c) Jim Rocha (J.R.) 2016

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


  1. when I lived in Las Vegas, I was completely immersed in Earl Dorr and his river of gold. I spent several weeks planning an expedition with metal detectors, ropes, cameras, and gold pan all yes and I did not forget plenty of light. My friends and I got down to Kokoweef Peak to find the whole area fenced in and nobody was allowed entrance. They had huge no trespassing signs everywhere. I did talk to one man who said they were going to give tours of the cavern and charge for the tours. I think they spent all their money on the fences and signs because nothing came out of the mountain and no tours where ever conducted as far as I know. Busted heart! That was back in 1975 or thereabouts. Can't wait to hear, as Paul Harvey would say, the rest of the story.

  2. Thanks for the info from your own experience Stan. I suspect you'd still play hell getting in there but we shall find out, won't we? Stay tuned my friend.

  3. JR, off topic here, but I grew up between Las Vegas and Henderson Nevada....when there was an in between. We lived there from about 1972-1979. I can't recall if I had breakfast or not this morning, but for some reason I remember the address and zip code to our house there. Anyway, what all this is leading up to is I looked up Kokoweef peak on google Earth to see how far it was from where we lived. It's not that far, but not real close either, and on the California side of the border, but I was shocked at how much "Home" has changed! We had no neighbors up until about the time we moved...... Thanks for steering me down "memory lane!"


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