A Timeline of Placer Gold Discoveries in the California Deserts (Conclusion)


In this post I'll be finishing up this timeline about placer gold discoveries in California's desert regions. There's still a lot of gold to be had in California and some desert placers have not been worked as hard as many people think. The problem is, however, that California has gone bat-shit crazy when it comes to allowing small-scale miners to do their thing efficiently and effectively. Go figure, huh?

Owens Valley Discoveries

In the late 1850s and early 1860s many California Miners who had become disillusioned with played out ground and small returns in the once-Golden State's Motherlode Region branched out to areas east of the Sierra Nevadas in their search for virgin gold ground. Some of these soon-to-be desert rats did, in fact, make some exceptional discoveries. In the period between late 1862 and early 1863 good placer ground was found at the eastern edge of the Owens Valley at Bend City, San Carlos, and Owensville. These placer discoveries were soon followed up by the discovery of the lode veins that were the source of those placers. Around this same time, a few hard-scrabble prospectors also found color in the El Paso Mountains to the south, but interestingly enough their finds dd not excite general interest at the time and it would take another 30 years before the El Pasos became big-time placer and lode gold producers.

 (Old mine workings near Bend City.)

La Paz Once Again

I've written about Captain Pauline Weaver and his gold discoveries in my series about Arizona gold. However it came about, Weaver had a nose for gold. In 1863 Weaver led a party of gold searchers to the region just east of modern-day Blythe, California on the Arizona side of the Colorado River. Here he discovered extremely rich dry placer ground. This new strike was characterized by the very large placer nuggets found at this location which became known as the La Paz placers. Although by rights this is an Arizona gold find, I include this placer as an early California discovery since La Paz was so close to the California line. Additionally, less spectacular placer ground was also worked on the California side of the Colorado as well, and these placers are connected to those at La Paz geologically. In my early days as a small-scale miner I worked the La Paz placers with my "puffer" dry washer on various occasions but never found anything near as spectacular as those large nuggets that Pauline Weaver and crew found in 1863.

(La Paz terrain.)

Oro Grande

In 1879 both placer and lode gold were found in the hills above Oro Grande in the eastern Mojave, not far from present day Barstow. There had long been rumors of gold deposits in the area but the richness of these placers and lodes was never brought to the forefront because most of the early gold discoveries in the area were the result of erratic panning and sampling by travelers heading east or west through the region. The placers here were not extensive, but some of the lode veins in the region turned out to be quite rich, carrying large amounts of free-milling gold and no small amount of silver as well. Some ore samples from the nearby McKinzie Mining District assayed out to $160.00 in gold and $18.00 in silver per troy ounce. Remember, this was when a troy ounce of gold was worth around $18.00-$22.00! So this was rich ground indeed.

(Old adit in the Orgo Grande District.)

Picacho Peak, the Cargo Muchachos, and the Chocolate Mountains.

In my previous post on this timeline I mentioned the "Potholes" District and its lengthy history as good placer gold ground. Well, lo and behold not that far west of the Potholes are the Picacho Peak and Cargo Muchacho Mountain areas. The Spanish, being as adept as they were when it came to precious metals, had found both placer and lode gold in the Cargo Muchachos and near Pichacho long before Anglo miners stepped onto the scene. For whatever unknown reason or reasons the Spanish failed to follow up on or develop these finds and they remained essentially dormant until 1888 when they were "discovered" once again. A mini-boom then occurred in the region with rapid development of hard-rock mines, especially in the Cargo Muchachos near Tumco. You may still be able to prospect or mine here...I'm not certain of that though. What I am certain of, however, is that you'll play hell doing any small-scale mining in what is now called the Picacho Peak Wilderness Area which lies at the southeastern edge of the Chocolate Mountains. Lest you are considering hitting areas in the Chocolates outside the Wilderness Area, think again. Much of this region was (and probably still is) used as a gunnery range for the Navy and Marines and is off limits unless you want to get bombed, strafed, or arrested.

 (A couple of small nuggets from the Cargo Muchachos.)

Randsburg and Goler

Once again, in the gold hullabaloo of late 1862 and early 1863 in the Owens Valley, the discovery of gold in the El Paso Mountains was pretty much ignored. It wasn't until 1893 that the El Pasos were seriously prospected and the true nature of the wealth they held realized. First on the list were the Randsburg and Goler Wash placer finds in the high desert east of Los Angeles. Both of these extensive dry placers were quite rich and the inevitable rush and boom followed. It didn't take long for the more astute prospectors and miners to discover the very rich gold veins that supported these placers and hard-rock mining development soon followed. The Yellow Aster mine at Randsburg proved to be exceptionally rich and was mined heavily for many years. I held two 20-acre placer claims in the alluvial plain below Randsburg in the 1980s and worked there many, many times so I know this region well. These placers have long been a staple of small-scale gold miners and prospecting club members, by the way. Any desert rat worth  his or her salt has worked Randsburg. When I passed through Randsburg on my way to my North Yuba River claim in 2010 I was shocked to see that the gold-bearing mountain above the small town of Randsburg where the famous Yellow Aster had once existed had been essentially leveled by large-scale or open-pit mining operations. I felt very sad seeing this...it seemed a poor end for such a historic site. Anyway, to brighten things up you may want to know that in 2009 a nugget shooter uncovered a 8.7 troy ounce whopper at Randsburg! So the gold is still out there.

(Old relic near Goler Wash.)

(Old timers near Randsburg way back when.)

Finally, in 1903 placer and lode gold were discovered in the Neenach area about 14 miles west of present-day Lancaster, California. The gold deposits here were small in size and not very rich, but gold is gold, right? If you want to try and find color here I suggest Pine Canyon or Balwin Grade Canyon. The lode gold found here was free-milling and undoubtedly the source of the limited placers at Neenach.

Be good to yourself!

(c) Jim Rocha 2017

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


  1. The folks in Crazyfornia should be busy protesting Trump for awhile.....if we hurry, we can mine unmolested for now! HA!

  2. An excellent point my friend...excellent indeed!

  3. Did you ever work the big Maria mountains area north of Blythe east of Black hill,when you were there?

  4. I poked around there Bill but not anything serious.

  5. I had fun exploring the Rand / Goler area...being new to gold prospecting I didn't find anything but I looked and got my hands dirty. I how that the Navy stations me out there again so I can continue the search before I get too gray.

  6. There's still good gold to be had in that area which I've worked many times in my mining career. Check with some of the guys or gals dry washing out there in the fall and spring.


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