Are Mining/Prospecting Clubs Worth Joining? (Part 1)
Now we return once more to that age-old question that many small-scale gold mining newbies ask: "Are mining/prospecting clubs worth joining?" Well, let me do my best to answer that question for you.
Way Back When
First off, the old salt here has to replay the usual "Well, when I first started out" routine. So...when I first started out in this small-scale gold prospecting/mining thing nearly 40 years ago, I was more green around the gills than you can imagine. Back then there was no internet, no Bedrock Dreams, no easy access to getting information (let alone experience), and not many gold prospecting/mining clubs around to join. Sure, the Gold Prospectors of America (GPAA) was around as well as a few localized clubs, but by and large the club thing was pretty slim pickings. So what did I do when I was first bitten by the gold bug? Why I joined a small club that's no longer in existence and that I'll refer to as "Club A." Now Club A was all right in general and I made every monthly prospecting outing they had early on in my membership. Mostly we hit areas like the southeastern California desert gold areas, the Kern River east of Bakersfield, and smaller placer locales scattered about here and there in Southern California. Some of these were wet placers, but most were dry as a bone. The latter locales are where I first honed my dry washing skills.
(Prospecting club members taking a break.)
Looking back over the veil of time, I have mixed feelings about my prospecting/mining club experiences. Some were quite good while others stunk to high heaven for reasons I'll soon get to. I will say this, however. Most of Club A's members were really good people, men and women of various levels of expertise who were always ready to lend a helping hand or show a greenhorn the ropes. Therein lies the true value of joining a gold prospecting/mining club. The fact that you'll have the chance to see a lot of different pieces of mining equipment at work and folks willing to teach you how they work and how to run them. I'm speaking specifically in terms of the old timers or very experienced miners that you'll find in any club, regardless of how few of those people really are in any given club. And typically, they are a minority. Most of the folks in clubs are well meaning but that said, most don't know their asses from a hole in the ground when it comes to all things mining. But hey! That's why they're in a club to begin with...to learn and enjoy a shared experience while doing so. I was greener than green at the time, so that's why I joined Club A.
(Club members dry washing.)
Let's talk about personalities for a minute because each and every prospecting/mining club is composed of various sorts of people...most good and some a royal pain in the ass. In Club A the gentleman who had formed the club designated one guy as the top dog in terms of directing the boots on the ground when it came to club outings. I'm sure the gentleman I speak of regrets it now, but he also set this dude up in a prospecting shop! Yep, you heard right. Well that might have been just fine had the top dog any common sense or any real mining experience...which he didn't, by the way. He was a posturing blowhard who had the amazing capacity to alienate the shit out of any man or woman of intellect and a strong sense of self-worth. In essence this dude was a loudmouth bully and bullshitter supreme who tended to take the joy out of what most of us in Club A were there for in the first place. I remember one time on an outing to the Kern River where this dick weed was wowing the late night audience of club members seated around the campfire with his tales of daring do in Cambodia or Laos where he was a Marine paratrooper (WTF??) sent by the CIA or some other hush-hush agency to battle the gooners all on his lonesome. You know the story, dropped secretly into the jungles, eating snakes raw, and wasting every Viet Cong or North Vietnamese soldier he came across. I was laying awake in my tent while this was going on but I let it slide, for God only knows what reason. Having served and survived two combat tours in Vietnam I knew what he was saying was total crap. He was a valor stealer, just like many of those parading around the streets today stealing the sacrifice of others. If this same thing had happened today, I would have lit his ass up in a heartbeat and called him out right then and there in no uncertain terms. The fact I didn't at the time still plagues me to this day. But I wasn't the hard case back then that I am now...that's my excuse anyway.
So here's point number one in a series of the bad points of joining a mining/prospecting club (don't worry, I'll list the good things too eventually):
1. You better be a social person, like being in a crowd or group, and be able to cope with the inevitable loudmouth, or posturing asshole or two who will show up on club outings. If your spirit is easily vexed in this regard (like mine is), you'd probably be better of going it alone as I did in short order.
2. Be prepared to work shit claims or open spots that have been beaten to death. Each and every mining/prospecting club has a claim or two or three and this means you have easy access at all times to those claims. The problem is, however, most club claims leave an awful lot to be desired from a small-scale mining standpoint. That's the truth even if the folks running those clubs don't want to admit it. Granted high-priced clubs like the New 49ers own some excellent gold ground, but most of it is set up for suction dredging which is a moot point in California these days. The pricey off-shoot of the GPAA known as the Lost Dutchman Mining Association (LDMA) also has some good ground, but be prepared to shell out some pretty stiff bucks for membership (or at least the last I heard).
3. Watch out for off-the-wall crap that some clubs do on outings like setting up a movie screen and generator to power movies like "The Hills Have Eyes" (original version) as Club A did on outings. Imagine, you seek solace out in the wild and find yourself listening to Hollywood mayhem on the little screen while other club members hoot and holler. What ever happened to real nature and real mining? Get my drift?
4. Make sure you like drunks shooting their mouths off all night or stumbling around at all hours. I can't think of one mining/prospecting club that has a no-alcohol (or drug?) policy. Club A didn't and even though I drank back in those days, I never drank on Club A outings. But a certain percentage of of others did and to excess, I might add. I don't drink any longer (sober for 22 years now) and one thing I couldn't abide then or now is a stupid-ass, loud-mouthed drunk. This is another reason I chose to go it alone.
With those niceties out of the way, next time I'll get to the good points about joining clubs.
Take care out there.
(c) Jim Rocha (J.R.) 2017
Questions? E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org