Letting the Cat Out of the Bag (Part 3)

 (Small nuggets like these [and many larger ones] can be found on Ramshorn Creek if you know where to look.)

In this post I'll be giving you the ins and outs of working Northern California's Ramshorn Creek. Take heed of what I have to say IF you can gain access to Ramshorn. Remember, where there's a will there's a way.

Working Ramshorn Creek

Once again, this little gem of Northern Motherlode feeder stream can provide you with good gold if you know how to work it. To that end let me say that the easy way to let the cat out of the bag on this one can be summed up with a two-lettered strategy: B&B. That is, boulders and benches. That's where your attention should be focused should you gain access to Ramshorn. Forget the usual stuff. It's all about boulders and benches on Ramshorn Creek, nothing more and nothing less. How do I know this? It was driven home to me by one of my old-timer mentors who worked Ramshorn to great effect and had the gold (including many small nuggets) to prove it. The old timer I mention here was one of three individuals who schooled me up when I was still green behind the ears when it came to gold prospecting and mining. They were all members of what's been called the Greatest Generation, folks that had endured the economic depression of the 1930s in the United States and who had a collective mining experience of 150 years or more when I was their student and, to a great extent, their "go-fer." Working with these old timers was a painful experience at times but they taught me well. I'm eternally grateful to them for that.

 (Depression-era gold miners dry washing in the desert.)


When I use the term boulders in the context of working Ramshorn Creek I'm talking about stream obstructions at least three feet in diameter or more. Not big rocks, mind you, but boulders. Anything of this size or larger is one of your targets. The other is benches (B&B again) which I'll get to next. Ramshorn has quite a few boulders littering its length and width if memory serves me well. It's been nearly 30 years since I last worked the creek, so everything I'm saying here is drawn from that fading memory and what my mentor taught me. Regardless of the memory thing if you follow my instructions for working Ramshorn you should do quite well, all things considered.

 (This ain't Ramshorn but note the boulder sizes here.)

Obviously, any boulders sitting in deeper water won't do you much good without some sort of suction device like a dredge or highbanker with suction attachment. The first is a no-no in California these days and the second is anyone's guess. So  it gets down to you and your "come along," sluice box, five-gallon buckets, and hand tools. 1) Get that come along strap wrapped around a boulder and winch that puppy out from its current resting place. 2) Dig up all the gravel that rested beneath it as deep as you realistically can as well as around the hole or depression left by it. This remains true EVEN if that boulder was resting in shallow water. Yes, digging into water with a shovel (or?) has its inherent problems and potential gold loss, but you will still recover the good stuff this way. What's the good stuff? Flakes and fines, but most importantly coarse placer gold pieces and numerous small nuggets ranging from a half gram on up to four grams (or thereabouts). Larger nuggets are not out of the equation here but expect the smaller ones to show up most frequently. 3) Bucket up and run that boulder material through your sluice box and start collecting your gold. If you handle things well on Ramshorn this way, you'll get the gold. No two ways about it. My mentor had a small jar chock full of only nuggets (yes, just nuggets) taken from Ramshorn this way. So be advised.


There are a number of benches that a good eye can spot along Ramshorn's length. A very productive one sits not too far upstream from Ramshorn Creek Campground opposite a high bluff where some privately owned summer cabins exist. This bench sits a short distance away from the creek itself and is composed of old stream gravels cemented into a fairly solid wall. The bench walls along Ramshorn will display either a yellowish or pinkish cast or sometimes both colors mixed together. Those are the benches you want to seek out and work. It takes hard effort getting the gold-bearing material out of these benches so be prepared for heavy duty pick and shovel work. That's what's needed to bust these walls up and loosen the old gravels from their clay prison. 1) Use one five-gallon bucket as a puddling bucket to soak down larger rocks with hardened clay still attached to them. NEVER run material with clay still stuck to it through your sluice. You're just pissing into the wind and throwing gold away. 2) Any material not coated with dried clay can be classified or run directly through your box. 3) Once the dried clay has been soaked off the larger rocks in your puddling bucket pour or spoon out the residue into your sluice header. You're off and running then. What can you expect to show up in your sluice box? The same as what you'll find beneath boulders, albeit with less nuggets. But small nuggets are in Ramshorn benches as well. I know because I've recovered them from those benches.

(Bench gravels cemented in dried clay.)

That' essentially it. Here's another word of advice at Ramshorn. Don't waste your time doing the usual sampling BS at Ramshorn that you see newbies or many prospecting club members do out in the field. They've read too many prospecting books or have seen too many You Tube videos on "where the gold is." Dig in those usual spots on Ramshorn and you'll be damn lucky to turn a color or two. Forget that hot mess and follow my instructions here, OK? I'm telling you straight.

What about bedrock at Ramshorn? I don't recall ever seeing much in the way of bedrock at Ramshorn Creek. Even shallow bedrock. It's there, of course. But mostly what I remember is that its' covered up pretty good by overburden.

That's it for now. I wish you all the best out there.

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

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


  1. Love your articles Jim, and if I ever get here I'll take this post with me. Memory these days is not as good as it once was. U was our on the east fork of the San Gabriel canyon 2 days ago trying out a portable sluice. First time I've ever been skunked. Terrible pain in the backside to get set up. Water gets in at the folds unless you can get it flat by propping rocks beneath it but even that causes challenges and back flow issues at the feeder. Yep they are easy to transport not so easy to work with for me. It's mostly small flakes and fines in that particular spot that can easily slip between the folds back into the river. I'll hassle tying on the Keene next weekend.
    Regards Jeff

  2. JR, I just saw where it said you would be gone from July31-Aug.5th......Retirement party?? If so CONGRATS!! I hope you are doing something fun! Gary


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