Vignettes From My Mining Past (Part 2)

 (There might be gold in that vein...)

I'm continuing in this vein (pun intended!) and relating some episodes, details, thoughts, and musings from nearly 40 years of small-scale gold prospecting and mining. Who knows? There may be a pearl or two of wisdom in these pages, so read on.

Gold on Top of Boulders

This header may throw you off a bit but be advised such occurrences do occur in certain situations, especially where large-scale flooding occurs. Back in the 1980s when I was actively trying to keep a suction dredging and highbanking effort alive in California's Northern Motherlode Region I was taught a very interesting lesson by Ma Nature. For a couple of seasons back in those days I had two erstwhile pards who were good guys but who fought and bickered continually between themselves. Why this was so I can't really say but I suspect there was a fundamental difference in their personalities or outlooks. One individual was very uptight and, I have to say it...negative in outlook. The other was a sort of free spirit who acted on impulse and threw caution to the winds. Both were good workers but fell far short of what I'd term miner's miners. I was the glue that held things together but in order to do so I often found myself haranguing one or both of these two and, at times, giving them a boot in the ass figuratively speaking. Still, despite all, we found and recovered good gold most of the time. One of the strangest spots we found gold at the time was on top of large boulders! Yep, you heard right. On top of...not behind.

 (Large boulders along the North Yuba.)

It Was All Good

This magical happening took place at a certain location along the North Yuba River (my favorite mining haunt back then). Back then you could dredge and highbank your ass off in California despite the Sierra Club's earnest and ongoing efforts to get all of us river polluters and trout killers off of the once-Golden State's streams and rivers. You see, even back then the environmentalist do-gooders and green crazies were after us, but they couldn't make their shit stick and often got it spattered right back in their own faces when things hit the fan. So it was all good. We just laughed at their antics and went right back to dredging. Dredging, like all aspects of small-scale mining is very hard work. It means countless hours of dipping your wet-suited butt in cold, cold water, often completely submerged, and breathing noxious air through a hookah rig when the winds shifted and blew fumes the wrong direction. Suction hose obstructions were a frequent occurrence when larger rocks jammed the works and engine breakdowns were not uncommon. Dredging requires lots of "futzing" around to get things right and keep your rig running efficiently. Like most things in mining it ain't for girly men, lazy asses, or shirkers.

 (Suction dredging ain't for girly men.)


But I digress as I'm wont to do. Each day when it grew close to noontime we'd take a break, eat a bit, perhaps nap on occasion, or just get away from the dredge for a while. The free spirit I mentioned earlier had a tendency to grab a gold pan and do a bit of crevicing and I must admit that I too couldn't sit still for very long when gold was all around us. I'd usally do a bit of exploring or sampling before going back to the dredging grind. Mr. Negative usually stayed close to camp grousing to himself about one thing or another, probably overjoyed deep in his heart of hearts that his nemesis wasn't bugging him. Imagine this scene. Noontime along one of the prettiest gold-bearing rivers in the Motherlode, working a fairly remote location with steep hillsides, a bright, warm day and a sky above so blue it hurt your eyes to look at it. The sound of the river rushing by and no one else around. You felt free and unencumbered. All those responsibilities and bills waiting for you at home were distant and to a certain extent...unreal.

Holy Bill of Rights!

Well, the free spirit had clambered atop a huge granite boulder (about five-six feet high) just upstream of the camp and dredge, and began rooting around atop it with his crevicing tools. I saw him and thought, "What the hell is that idiot doing?" I went about my own sampling and forgot about him until I heard a shout. Mr. Free Spirit was all excited. I walked over to see what all the hub bub was and there shining in the sun in his gold pan sat two small placer nuggets as well as numerous pieces of coarse gold chunkers and no small number of flakes and fines. Maybe a couple-three grams of gold total! I was flabbergasted. "Did you get all that on that boulder?" He nodded in assent. So here's the deal. Mr. Free Spirit had found a series of cracks on the top of that big boulder and proceeded to clean them out with anything he could work into those narrow cracks, including a length of iron coat hanger he'd flattened at one end. Gold atop a boulder! The North Yuba can get pretty high and vicious in full flood conditions so I figured that in the last big winter flood (or successive floods) all that gold became trapped in those narrow cracks running across the top of that big boulder. Holy Bill of Rights Batman! Well, the light bulb went off in my dim brain and Mr. Free Spirit and I found at least six other boulders like this of varying sizes (all big ones though) with cracks or deep seams in the granite. Every one of those cracks contained gold, including more small nuggets. This just goes to show you that you can't think inside a box when it comes to Ma Nature and where she puts the gold. The dirt the free spirit had removed from those cracks didn't amount to half a pan of material at most, but it sure was packed with gold.

(Gold ends up in strange places at times.)

I bet you'll look at big boulders in a different light after this. If you don't...well, that's on you.

(c) Jim Rocha 2017

Questions? E-mail me at


  1. I heard a similar story from my step-father. During the depression his group found a very large, flat boulder on the Kern River. Almost all of the Kern River gold is fine (flood) gold. They cleaned it off and did well that day. Only time it worked out for them as I recall.

  2. This sort of thing DOES happen, but not too often. That spot on the North Yuba is the only location I've come across it.

  3. Very interesting information. . nice info


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