It's Time for Desert Gold Again

It's getting to be that time again. Time for you desert rats to be hitting those dry or desert placers that any sane man or woman won't touch in the summer months. With this in mind, I thought it would be a good idea to address the ups and downs of going for dry or desert gold.

A Tip of the Hat

Although I've probably said it a hundred times over the past decade here in Bedrock Dreams, I'll say it again anyway. When I first started out in this small-scale gold mining thing as green as they come, my first forays for gold were in various southeastern California desert areas. Some of these will be readily familiar to any desert rat worth his or her salt...the Potholes, Randsburg, Goler Canyon, etc., but other desert gold areas I eventually prospected and mined aren't very well known or simply aren't known at all. As I grew more experienced and adept in my mining skills, I expanded my searches for desert gold into Arizona, New Mexico, and Baja California and Old Mexico itself. I've also worked for gold near rivers with plenty of water running in them by targeting dry gullies, gulches, and benches some distance away from all that H20. Although the latter activities weren't typical of most desert rat gold miners, the equipment and approaches to getting the gold out of those dry placers is essentially the same...for the most part, anyway. I suspect this is something a good number of you full-fledged or aspiring desert rats already know, including "Curtin" and "Dobbsie" who check in with me from time-to-time. While I'm at it, let me send out a tip of my hat and much respect to Jim Straight who has done more to advance our knowledge of desert nugget hunting, dry washing, and hard rock gold that any other miner and author I've had the pleasure to come into contact with. I know his health was poor the last time I heard, but I hope he's still on this side of the Great Divide and going at it. Jim's a sterling example of the type of person and miner we should all strive to be.

Just Stating the Facts

Getting back on point, I have to say this to all you folks out there who've never worked desert or dry are missing out on another form of small-scale gold mining that's both unique and rewarding, and that could add to your overall mining and prospecting knowledge. That said, I understand many of you don't live (or prospect or mine) near any deserts. However, I'll bet dollars to donuts that there are dry gold-bearing locations in your area, no matter how much water flows nearby. Yes, you can always work those spots using water by hauling dirt elsewhere, or pumping water to them. But sooner or later you'll run into a dry location where the water is too far away to make these two approaches viable and that's where some desert mining experience can come in handy. In fact, I'll go out on the proverbial limb here and say that you SHOULD know how to prospect and mine for dry or desert gold anyway. Oh, and know how to use the principle mining tool of desert rats...the dry washer. That's my opinion and I do practice what I preach. I have the knowledge and experience to successfully work (as a small-scale guy) any wet or dry placer environment thrown my way. Idle boast, you say? Nope. Been there and done that with just about any approach or gear you can come up with, minus the big Tonka Toy commercial thing. I'm a well-rounded prospector and miner, and so should you be. No implied criticism here...just stating the facts as I see them.

No Debate

As I've stated before, the most versatile and appropriate piece of mining equipment to work dry or desert placers is the venerable old dry washer in all its forms and configurations. Yes, I know some of you choose to run recyclable water systems in desert placers, but I have to tell you I think that's a waste of time and effort. In fact, it just doesn't make sense to me at all. It's hard enough to haul water for drinking, cooking, and concentrate panning to your dry or desert location let alone haul additional large amounts of water for running "wet" gear in a totally "dry" area. And if you're recycling water used in dry placer mining operations, it won't take long before that water turns to muddy or slimy goo and there goes your efficiency as well as your means of recovering your desert gold. Yes, you're right. Running gold-bearing material with clean (or nearly clean) water is your best bet in most environments. It's a gold-grabbing efficiency thing, after all. But unless you have unlimited water near your dry gold mining spot (or a well?) you might as well save yourself boo-coo hassles and run a dry washer. Sure, they can lose some gold since no water is used in their operations, but if you know what you're doing you'll be checking or re-running your tailings to see exactly what's what, right? And here's another point. I've seen some would-be miners lose just as much gold running their highbankers or sluice boxes because they didn't have those pieces of gear set up or running properly. So here's the deal. If you want to work dry or desert areas for gold use a dry washer (hopefully a motorized unit) and save your clean water for panning concentrates and other necessities. And NO...I'm not got going to debate you on this point. It is what it is.

Gold is Gold

As far as I'm concerned, I've always enjoyed the challenges of prospecting, sampling, and working dry or desert placer areas. They are unique. This doesn't mean I don't love working wet placers...after all, water is a very good thing when it comes to making things happen out in the field. But dry placers are a different beast in many ways. One reason for this is that the standard gold deposition factors we rely on so heavily in wet placers often go right out the window in a dry or desert location. Not always, but most of the time. In some dry placers I've worked I've found good gold (including nuggets and chunkers) right near the surface as well as on bedrock and every step in between those two levels. Try doing that on most river and stream placers where constant "sorting" is going on due to hydrological factors and the heavier placer gold keeps sinking deeper and deeper. It's an apples and oranges sort of deal, ya know? Although a typical desert terrain will be a bit shocking for most folks who've spent their mining careers in the mountains or foothills, the desert has its own beauty despite its inherent harshness. And gold is gold no matter where you get it.

A Sense of Confidence

Yes, I started out as a desert rat and remain one at heart despite the passage of all these years. You tried and true desert rats out there know what I'm talking about. And you folks who've never tried your hand at dry diggings ought to give it a go sometime...that is, if that's feasible or reasonable. As a miner you should be able to approach any area, wet or dry, with a sense of confidence that you can make things happen. And this includes any desert rats who've never done any wet mining of any consequence. The upshot? You should be well-rounded as a person and as a miner.

Doors open for you this way.

(c) Jim Rocha 2018

Questions? E-mail me at


  1. Hi Howard,
    As always you are spot on in this post. Trying to recycle water never works. Curtin and I have watched other people try it at The Potholes and your water turns into a slimy goo real quick. On our last 8 day trip into The Bradshaw Mountains I hauled a 55 gallon drum of water out with our gear. But that was for 3 men for cooking, doing dishes and quick wash up's so we wouldn't smell like miner's everyday. If the water isn't there try a different approach.

    Remember in the movie Howard said, "Ask me next time before you go splashing around water. In the desert water is precious. Sometimes more precious than gold."

    The weather is finally starting to cool down here in Arizona so I will be out swinging the old Gold Bug again. I will keep you posted if I stumble across anything. And I do mean Stumble!

    Best to you Howard,

    Fred C. Dobbs

    1. Dobbsie, I'm always glad to hear from you and Curtin. And Howard was the desert water can be more precious than gold. You boys ain't stumbling're on your way to becoming old salts methinks! Take care out there and keep checking in.

  2. Interesting Jim. I grew up in Southern Nevada between Las Vegas and Henderson back when it was still just desert. We had no neighbors the first few years, but were soon surrounded. We left there in 1979 after living there about 7 years or so. Except for the heat, I liked the desert. I hadn't gotten interested in prospecting yet back then, but I do recall on a Boy Scout trip once, trying to dry pan for gold. We didn't find any, but I know it can work. Is it common any more? I have often thought a small vibrator like a back massager against a gold pan would shake any gold to the bottom. Kind of like a dry washer works. How efficient is dry panning for someone who just wants to try this? Anyway, good one here once again.

    1. Dry panning takes a lot of patience and skill to do it successfully. That's an issue when it comes to sampling dry placers. That's one reason I opt for a mini-dry washer with a "slap" handle. You can sample easier that way and more efficiently. Ultimately, a motorized dry washer is what you want to work with when it gets down to moving dirt. Dry panning has its issues and maybe I'll talk about that in a post. Good job on Muskrat Outdoors and your videos!

    2. Thank you very much!! ......for everything!

    3. It's a pleasure working with you Gary.


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