Iron Oxides and Gold Pockets (Part 2)

It's time to continue on the path to gold pockets using iron oxides as our guiding light. In this post I want to get down to some specifics that may help you find a nice gold pocket this way. So let's move forward.


Since the majority of you out there are placer miners these types of gold pockets are probably going to fall under your highest level of interest. As I said before, gold pockets come in all shapes and sizes but one thing they have in common is lots of yellow...and, more often than not, coarse gold with some nuggets thrown into the mix. Who couldn't stand a little of that action, right? Well, if you're on the ball and have sharp eyes, the presence of iron oxides (natural or man-made) may very well lead you to the pot at the end of the rainbow. I'd like to digress a bit here and use a non-mining example that will prove to you the importance of iron oxides in finding gold and perhaps other "goodies" as well. This example has a direct application to placer gold mining since the principles at work are exactly the same. Only the recovered "product" is different. So here goes.

A Profitable Enterprise

I lived in the San Diego area all through the 1970s (minus two years for graduate school to earn my Master's Degree in Virginia) and the 1980s until I pulled up stakes and dragged the family off to Northern New Mexico in 1991 where we've resided ever since. During most of this non-New Mexico period I lived in the northern coastal part of the county in the nifty little beach community of Encinitas where the beaches are backed by cliffs and the sandy overburden is many, many feet thick. But underneath all that sand is a false bedrock which is clayish in nature and provides a natural barrier to heavy items like gold and silver jewelry, old and newer coins, brass ship fittings, and lots and lots of oxidized iron junk like nails, railroad spikes, name it. My M.O. back then was to dry wash out in the southeastern California deserts in the spring and early fall and dredge and highbank in the Northern Motherlode Region during the summer. During the late fall and through the winter I worked the beaches for lost jewelry and coins with a detector and with a handy little item known as a "Merkitch sifter," named after Warren Merkitch who at one time was the "King" of beach recoveries in the Los Angeles area where he recovered huge amounts of gold and silver in the form of lost jewelry. Lest some of you hard-core miners turn your noses up at this sort of thing, a single 10-karat gold school ring can contain more gold than a weekend small-scale guy or gal can recover in a day. Add dozens of gold rings (10k, 14k, 18k) to that picture (not to mention silver jewelry and coins) as well as gold chains, bracelets, and earrings and the cash register really starts cha-chinging! In other words, beach hunting was a profitable enterprise for people like Merkitch and others who knew the score. And my mining knowledge made it even more profitable for me. Just saying...

(Merkitch sifter.)

Here's the Giveaway

Those of you who have spent some time metal detecting sandy beaches know how problematic gold (and silver) recovery in the form of jewelry can be in those conditions. Like recently carried or deposited placer gold, heavy "goodie" items lost in sand quickly begin their journey ever downward, becoming entrained at various levels as they make their transit to bedrock or false bedrock. Although some gold rings and other jewelry items can be found in these conditions, most jewelry recoveries are spotty and dependent upon how recently they were lost and how good you are with a detector. From my own experience, these sandy overburden beach conditions are better suited to a Merkitch-type sifter than a detector, simply because more ground can be covered more quickly with a sifter. But in the late fall and winter of 1982-1983 huge pacific storms surged into Southern California along with very high tidal surges. These storms slammed the coast in rapid succession and stripped anywhere from 10-30 feet of sandy overburden off many San Diego area beaches and even eroded portions of the Pacific Coast Highway! What was left? That clayish false bedrock I spoke of, covered with cobbled rock and large amounts of heavy black sands. The end result. A treasure trove of gold and silver jewelry, old and newer coins, and artifacts of days gone past. So I put my detector away and started applying my placer gold mining experience to these conditions. The giveaway? The presence of iron oxide staining or the actual visual detection of oxidized iron in clumps and piles marking "beach pockets." I used a short handled hoe and a small shovel to scrape out these oxide pockets and they were chock full of "goodies" like gold bracelets, necklaces, rings, coins, brass fittings, piles of rusty nails, old scrap name it! From early December 1982 until the sands starting recovering the beaches in the late spring of 1983 I recovered nearly $12,000 worth of gold, silver, and other "goodies." It was the best beach hunting (and most profitable) I've ever experienced and my miner's knowledge of gold deposition, bedrock, and oxides gave me the edge over many other beach hunters at the time who got their fair shares, but not to the extent that I did.

Keep Your Eyes Peeled

So it doesn't take a rocket scientist to make the connection to placer gold pockets here...or it shouldn't, anyway. Anytime you see oxide staining in a localized or very small area, or start digging or dredging up lots of oxidized iron junk you're probably gonna hit a pocket. And just like those beach pockets I just spoke of, the gold will be there as long as you're working just above or on false or real bedrock. Placer pockets can (and do) exist above bedrock or even in bench gravels occasionally, but the best pockets you'll find will be those marked by oxide junk or staining just above or at bedrock. That rusty, reddish-orange or yellow-orange oxide color is a signpost to gold, and perhaps a really good pocket. File that tip away in your brain and the next time you're out and about prospecting, keep your eyes peeled.

There's more to come. Keep smiling!

(c) Jim Rocha 2018

Questions? E-mail me at


  1. Well that's interesting about the Merkitch sifter. Never heard of that and I was prompted to get a copy of his Beachcombers Handbook but I don't think that I want to pay $30 or $40 bucks for that book.
    Did you ever use one of those sifters Jim?
    They look like basically surface skimmers, and they look like a ton of manual labor.
    If I had the means to do that, and however I wanted, I would think about making a sifter 6 or 7 feet wide that was horse drawn, and that would sift down about 2 feet.
    The deeper the better!
    (she said that and a lot of other things)

  2. JR, after reading this twice, it gives me a few thoughts from places I have seen in the past......hopefully I can find those spots again.
    I like that beach sand sifter idea. It wouldn't work here, but on a nice long, sandy beach, I could see how that would work great.


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