Where to Hunt for Big Gold in California (Part 1)

 (This large California nugget is up for sale...or at least it was.)

Some spectacular gold specimens were recovered in California in days gone past, particularly during the Gold Rush years. In more recent times, a number of multi-ounce nuggets have been recovered from both wet and dry placers in the once-Golden State. What's the upshot of all this? If you want to find big gold go where the big gold was found.

Shitheads and Fanatics

First off and most importantly, understand that California has some of the most stringent rules and regulations governing small-scale placer activities in the entire United States. Therein lies the rub. Good gold (and big gold) can still be had in California but getting it may prove difficult. Suction dredging is a bygone placer method in the state these days and it's getting to the point that any sort of motorized mining gear is frowned upon and may draw heat from various and sundry state and Federal bureaucracies, especially if motorized gear is used in wet placer mining. Interestingly enough though, "desert rats" running motorized dry washers in California's dry placer areas are rarely hassled or hauled up short. I assume this is because there are no salmon, rainbows, or golden trout swimming their way through the desert sands. You see, all the restrictive mining hullaballoo in Califa is based on the harm that motorized mining equipment (with suction dredging being the main villain) supposedly does to fish habitat. Yep, and global warming is the biggest threat we face these days. Greater than ISIS and global terrorism. Uh huh. Right. Anyway, you can thank all the shitheads and fanatics in the so-called "Green Warrior Movement" for all this. They not only worship junk science but have made it a religion.

 (Want to keep junk science alive and well? Start programming the youth and get them to join the new green religion.)

Where to Look

But I'm not writing this series of posts to go on yet another rant about the once-Golden State and its legions of addled liberals, socialists, or New-Age crazies. It is what it is. What I DO want to do, however, is tune you in to where you might still find big gold in California. Again, where big gold was once found big gold can still be had if you:

1)  have a modicum of mining and prospecting experience;
2)  know where to go (and gain access);
3)  are willing to work hard and stay persistent;
4)  and can wield a gold detector, pan, highbanker, dry washer, or sluice box.

So here are some areas and locations you may want to focus on in this regard.

Carson Hill District

Carson is in the southwestern part of Calaveras County in the Southern Motherlode Region. It was here in 1854 that California's largest nugget was recovered. This was a 195-troy pound whopper! Can you imagine finding a chunk of gold weighing 2,340 troy ounces?? You'd be an instant millionaire twice over from the gold content alone and if sold as a specimen the Carson Hill gold mass (the term nugget doesn't do it justice) would make you a multi-millionaire. Sadly, this beautiful and historic specimen was melted down back in the day.

If you head for the Carson Hill area, Melones Creek was once the producer of many nuggets of varying sizes at and since those placer nuggets tended (for whatever reason) to be shaped like melon seeds the creek and the area surrounding it area became known as...yep, you guessed it...Melones.  Spanish for melons. Here's the bugaboo though. The New Melones Dam and Lake has covered up much good gold ground that used to be available.

 (They call it reclamation.)

I've known miners who in past decades worked certain feeder creeks in this district that weren't swallowed up by Melones Lake who did exceptionally well recovering small and medium-sized nuggets using a snipe tube or shallow water sniping techniques with wet suit and snorkel. That's a hint by the way...if you can find a creek in the area not impacted by the dam and lake.

Sonora District

This district also sits in the Southern Motherlode Region. Sonora is the county seat of Tuolumne County, California and rich placers were discovered here in 1848-1849. A 75-troy pounder (900 troy ounces) was recovered here in the old days at Wood's Creek and a 336-troy ounce nugget was recovered from a garden within the Sonora town limits as well! The Sonora District continued to produce nuggets and large gold right up till World War II when most mining operations were shut down by government decree (thanks FDR).

(Beautiful gold specimen from the Motherlode Region.)

Most of the attention in and around Sonora has been focused on wet placer areas, but there are numerous small gullies and washes in the area that are typically bone dry during the summer months. If I was up in the area right now, well I'd be focusing my attention on some of these dry spots and their nearby benches. A dry washer or a good gold detector (or both) might be just the ticket here. That's another hint.

Magalia District

In north-central Butte County you'll come across the Magalia District which lies about 17 miles northeast of Chico, California. Ostensibly, Magalia (in the old days it was known as "Dogtown") is part of the Northern Motherlode Region where the Feather River is the main attraction. It was here in 1859 that the 59-troy pound (708 troy ounces) Willard Nugget was found. One problem you may encounter here is that some of the old mining grounds were converted into housing subdivisions as California real estate boomed in the 1980s and beyond. That said, this area still holds very good potential for large gold where the land developers haven't asphalted over everything. The Magalia District is definitely worth checking out but I'll add a qualifier to that...it wouldn't be my first pick. Enough said.

There's more to come so stay tuned.

(c) Jim Rocha 2017

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


  1. JR, wow. I didn't know so many had been found weighing pounds, not ounces. Could you imagine what finding one like that would feel like!
    To bad it's in the Communist Country or Krazyfornia....
    Do you realize, that is the only state that had boarder guards against the rest of the United States? Mainly, they just steal your melons.

  2. Yep Gary, they found some really big ones in the old days. Some large nuggets still show up occasionally.


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