On Culvert Gold and Other Wishful Thinking

If you're a veteran small-scale gold miner with some decent time under your belt you've probably heard it all by now. As an old timer I think I have, including some of those suggestions and "tips" on finding gold I think are just so much wishful thinking. So let's take a look at a few of these.

Let me preface this post by saying the following:

If you look hard and long enough you can find some gold just about anywhere gold has already been found. Even in some odd or unusual places.

So as you read this post please understand I'm not trying to say that you can't or won't find gold in the following locations or contexts. What I am saying, however, is that as far as gold recovery is concerned, the following locations (or contexts) are based more on wishful thinking than they are on proven results. That's my take and it's based on long experience.


There are a lot of folks who are led to believe that those large, ribbed metal culverts that allow water to pass underneath roads (paved or otherwise) in both wet and dry placer areas make for good prospecting spots. In fact, there are a number of YouTubers out there who have created enthusiastic videos on their channels with this topic in mind (sigh...). Back in the days before desktop computers, the Internet, Google, or YouTube this same theme was tossed into the mix in various books and videos that I came across when I was a younger pup with a burning desire to learn more about gold and gold mining. Anyway, the idea behind "culvert gold" is that the ribbed structure of large, metal road culverts acts like the riffles of a sluice box in terms of stopping and trapping gold being carried downstream in gravels that are known to be gold bearing. On the surface this theory sounds pretty good. Okie-dokie pokie.

But here's the deal. In every culvert I've ever come across those interior "riffle bars" are typically gently curved...not the best design for riffles. Just check your own sluice box, dry washer, or dredge or highbanker for a good contrast in riffle design. In wet placer areas where reasonably heavy or constant water flows are the case, most gold (even fine gold) is going to be carried over those sloping culvert riffles and out the far end of the pipe. (Hmmm...if this is the case maybe the best spot to look for culvert gold is just downstream of the emptying end of that culvert.) In dry placer areas culverts may be better at stopping gold because water flows are intermittent (flash flooding) and tend to come to an abrupt stop leaving rocks, gravel, dirt and perhaps a bit of gold suddenly fixed in place. I myself have checked a few culverts (in the Northern Motherlode and in some well-known dry placer districts) back in the day just to see how true this bit of wishful thinking was or is. As far as my memory will take me through 40 years of prospecting and mining I don't EVER recall finding any gold worth a poot in culverts. In fact, I don't remember finding ANY gold at all in culverts. Yes I know, someone out there is gonna respond heatedly by stating they have found boo-coo gold in culverts. Maybe even hit the "big one" in culverts. If that's the case, then good on ya pard. But I seriously doubt it.

Here's my last word on culvert gold (or any other location) based more on wishful thinking than on reality. If you want to check culverts for gold have at it. Be my guest. Me? I'd rather focus my attention on doing some real prospecting and sampling in stream and wash locations where I KNOW I've found good gold consistently over time. But hey, that's me. And just what sort of gold "wisdom" can a broken-down old timer like me impart to you in this regard?

River Moss

Compared to culverts, river or stream moss is a better bet as far as the wishful thinking/reality balance thing is concerned. You see, moss can actually trap small flakes and fine gold in certain (but not all) instances. And yes, I myself have found small amounts of gold trapped in river moss at times, but it was never anything to write home about. Plus the moss gold I found was always very fine. Searching river moss for gold may not be 100% wishful thinking when it comes to gold recovery but it sure as hell ain't in my current mining scheme and hasn't been except for in my earliest and greenest days as a mining newb. I'm after the bigger and better stuff, and have been for quite a while now. Interestingly enough, some months back I watched a YouTube video wherein the miners (???) involved therein were really hyping the river moss thing by showing all the coarse gold and small nuggets they were recovering from moss along a creek way up north (and I mean wayyyy up north from here in New Mexico where I live). Yep, coarse gold and small nuggets a' plenty brothers and sisters. I shit you not. But I think this dubious duo was up to no good in case you greenhorns out there start salivating like crazy and want to rip up all the moss along your local creek. They were up to NO good at all. In fact I'll be blunt...I suspect these guys were blowing smoke up some asses big time. There just ain't gold like that to be found in river moss anywhere based on my own experience. But I digress yet again. Mining river moss is OK if that's your thing and yes...I've even written about it here in Bedrock Dreams. As far as wishful thinking goes it's not the worst avenue out there but it shouldn't be your primary focus methinks. Checking river moss for gold is OK though. In fact, it may indicate areas where better gold deposition is taking place. But overall, gold in river moss is, again, more wishful thinking than something you can really sink your mining teeth into.

 (Folks in the New 49ers mining/prospecting club working dried river moss along Northern California's Klamath River.)


Oooh boy, this one really gets my goat. So much so I've written about it here in Bedrock Dreams and commented on it more than once. One of the main culprits in "popularizing" this bit of wishful thinking as far as gold recovery is concerned was a certain reality TV "star" some years ago. Without naming names, this dude is as old as me (if not older) with a snow white beard and a whiny, nasally voice. When he speaks or begins making proclamations about where to find placer gold it's like listening to fingernails being scraped against a blackboard. Ouch! He was the same old guy who once stated with religious-like fervor that, "You're all millionaires! All you gotta do is get it out of the ground." Anyway, a number of early episodes of this TV gold series were devoted to this gentleman's firm belief there was a shit pot full of placer gold awaiting him and his bumbling fellow miners (I use the term loosely here) directly beneath a large waterfall. So after many issues, much angst, and God only knows knows how many dollars spent, this guy and his supporting cast found virtually nada beneath that waterfall. This, in my book, was one of the biggest cases of wishful thinking I've ever come across. And please understand I'm not blaming this older gentleman for all the wishful thinking that's come down the pike concerning waterfall gold. There are others who have bought into this bit of mining myth and have promulgated it in their books, vids, etc. So if you come across this waterfall gold idea out there in any form please take that "advice" with a grain of salt.

You newbies and greenhorns take note. Waterfalls (even smaller ones) create a lot of turbulence directly beneath that heavy stream of water and most gold (if not all of it) is NOT going to be deposited directly beneath those waterfalls because of that turbulent hydrology. However, the yellow probably will be deposited just downstream of a waterfall where the water flow slows down allowing the gold to drop. Now here's something else for you newbs or inexperienced types to consider. Smaller "drop offs" can be very good spots to recover gold. What's a drop off? Any area of a stream or wash that is higher up (usually no more than three feet vertically) than the section below it. Even very small drop offs of a few inches can be good gold collectors. I know. I've found gold in drop offs many times in my mining career. Why are drops offs good and waterfalls bad, you ask? Two words my friends...turbulence and hydrology. You see, small-scale gold mining isn't just about luck and happenstance. There's a science to it as well.

(Wishful thinking won't put this gold in your poke.)

Anyhoo, forget about waterfall gold. As I've already said, it's one of the biggest pieces of wishful thinking out there and going for it pegs you as an inexperienced miner. I'm reminded here of one of the most persistent treasure legends in the American West, the "Lost Adams Diggings." Nuggets the size of turkey eggs and placer gold galore are at the core of this legend if you're not familiar with it. And it revolves around a hidden stream either here in New Mexico (or less likely, in Arizona) with a big waterfall upstream. (Note: the waterfall disappears in some accounts, however. It depends on who is telling this tall tale!) Does this all sound familiar? Yup! But even in this enduring treasure myth the gold wasn't found directly beneath that waterfall, but downstream of it. See? There's always an element of truth in all lost treasure tales. And if a treasure myth got it right in certain telllings, why would you listen to some screeching, fanatical Jeremiah preaching about the certainty of finding gold beneath waterfalls?

I'm just asking...

(c) Jim Rocha 2019

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


  1. Hello JR, The waterfall idea seems at first to make sense. Under a waterfall is always a big deep hole that must be loaded with gold! Really though, after you ask yourself why there is a deep hole there, it doesn't seem so likely anymore. Yet, like you say, thanks to that fella, everyone believes it!.
    I've found some culverts that have 6 inches or more gravel, dirt and rocks in them. I've wondered about those, since it's kind of an artificial bedrock. I haven't tried any since you can't stand up in them and there is water flowing through them. They would be very hard to clean out. Still, I could see them having at least some gold in them. The swept clean, mostly clean, ones, I don't think so.
    I have found a few specks in the dirt at the roots of moss, but as you say, very, very fine flour type gold. Mostly when I'm digging out behind a big rock, I take the time to wash the moss on the rock, but that's about all.

    It kind of seems like the best place to find gold is where I'm not! Someone, someplace else, usually far away, is always finding lots of it.

    Anyway, Happy New Year Jim. I hope this one see's a lot of "Gold" for both of us! I know I'm going to try to get out more often this summer!

    1. Your experiences with moss are mine too Gary. As far as culverts go I guess it's always worth a few minutes to check.

  2. Culverts are a great place to find a critter that aint going to be happy to meet you!! But you might get to find out how fast you can crawl in reverse . Lol


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