Greener Than the Jolly Green Giant

In this post I'll be talking about myself. No, not some ego-oriented "Me, Me Me!" thing, but relating to you just how green I was when I first started out in this small-scale gold mining and prospecting deal. This may give some of you newbies or greenhorns a bit of hope and perhaps provide a laugh or two for you veteran miners and old timers.

Green Giants and Other Jollies

Those readers who are younger (and just about anyone is younger than me these days!) may not know who the Jolly Green Giant is or was. He was an advertising mascot or icon for B&G Foods, producers of canned and frozen veggies like peas, green beans, and so on. At least he was their mascot when I was growing up and in the days of my wasted youth. I'll post a photo of the Jolly Green Giant below...that'd be much easier than describing him methinks. As an aside, when I was serving in Vietnam we called certain large search and rescue helicopters "Jolly Green Giants" or "Jolly Greens." These were primarily Sikorsky HH-3Es that were flown and crewed by Air Force personnel who plucked downed aircraft and helo pilots (or anyone else in bad trouble) from the mountains and jungles of Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, and God only knows where else. It was extremely dangerous work for these aircrews and my hat's off to them all, living and dead. Anyhoo, that's a bit of trivia you can file away as part of my "verbal" history of that time and place. But the real takeaway here is that the Jolly Green Giant was green, green, green. And when I started out in this small-scale gold thing I was...well...greener than the Jolly Green Giant. That takes some doing my friend!

(The Jolly Green Giant.)

("Jolly Greens" over Vietnam. Note the door gunner's minigun used for suppression during rescues.)

No Turning Back

We all get "hooked" on gold prospecting, panning, and mining in various ways. For me it was watching some very unfriendly dude haul a bucket of gravel out of the back of his pick up truck and start panning it in the waters of a local lake since the area we were in didn't have much in the way of running water around. Although this guy was very close-mouthed I did manage to peek over his shoulder a bit and when he finished doing his thing I was awe-struck when I saw a small crescent of gold magically appear in his pan. No more lures or bait were needed for me after that. I had the hook so deep in me that nothing was gonna remove it. In other words, I was off and running and have been that way ever since that day nearly 40 years ago. I didn't know diddly squat about gold, gold prospecting, or gold mining but the very next day I bought my first old-timer's metal gold pan at a local mom-n'-pop hardware store (there were no Lowes or Home Depots back then, by the way). Yep, I was hot to trot, rarin' to go, and by golly no man (or woman) was gonna get in my way! That's one thing about me you all should know, if you don't know it already. When I sink my teeth into something I'm like an English bulldog...I just don't let go of it. But with the gold mining thing it wasn't only a bone I had between my teeth, I suddenly felt the surge of color running through my veins as well. Most (if not all) of you know exactly what I'm talking about here. There's no turning back, right?


Well, my first quandary with my new-found love was where to go to find some gold. I was living at the beach in North San Diego County at the time and the only gold available there were the limitless pieces of jewelry lost in the sands and just offshore by surfers, swimmers, and beach goers. Don't get me is gold no matter where you find it but I was now after the source of that gold. You know, the pure stuff, the yellow that Ma Nature provides so people can sport the golden baubles that I was so keen to recover. And even though I hadn't panned a single grain of gold yet, my treasure hunting activities suddenly took a back seat to finding the "real" thing. I was like the characters Dobbs and Curtin in the classic movie Treasure of the Sierra Madre, greener than green, and full of high expectations and unrestrained enthusiasm. The real-life "Dobbsie" and "Curtin" know what I'm saying here, even though these days I'm Howard, the grizzled old prospector, and I suspect they are well on the way to becoming veteran miners and are no longer greenhorns. (By the way, a tip of the hat to the "Boys" if they're reading this.)

Fanning the Flames

Back in the days I'm describing here (1979-early 1980s), there was no internet, no instant pull ups of gold locations, no YouTube tutorials on gold panning or mining, and certainly no digital info on gold mining in general. But I was hungry for the yellow and wanted to get out there and find some. To add to the general confusion, my newly acquired "addiction" just happened to coincide with rising spot prices for gold in the daily markets. Obviously, this only fanned the flames burning within me. So what did I do? Well, pards and pardettes, I joined a gold prospecting club. Yep, you heard right. Yours truly, the cantankerous old burnout who doesn't like crowds or someone else telling him what to do joined a club. As I search my increasingly unreliable memory I don't know how or where I got a line on that club. In fact, right now I'm racking my brain to remember. I just don't know. Truly. But I "jined" up anyway. I'm not going to name names here in terms of that club, but suffice it to say they held monthly outings to various gold locations scattered around Southern and Southeastern California.

The Baby Food Jar

The very first outing I attended with that club was at the "Potholes" District in the Colorado Desert near the town of Winterhaven, California. (I bet dollars to donuts that "Dobbsie" and "Curtin" are having a good chuckle here because at least one of their early mining forays was to the "Potholes" and I gave them a few tips about working there.) Anyway, to set the stage here Yuma, Arizona is just across the Colorado River from Winterhaven and to get to the gold at the "Potholes" you pass by another gold area in the Cargo Muchacho Mountains and the countless dune buggies roaring up and down the Algodones Dunes if you're driving in from the west. The desert here is hardcore and once you're in the "Potholes" area you feel like you may have just landed on the moon. The only saving grace about the "Potholes" is the fact that the Colorado River and numerous canals are not far off. But when you're in the gold area itself there is no water, little in the way of vegetation, and nasty little critters like scorpions and rattlesnakes to contend with. In other words, as a full-on greenhorn armed only with a old-timer gold pan and few small digging tools, I was getting my gold mining initiation in some of the worst conditions possible. I didn't know that at the time, but I would get the message eventually. I'm embarrassed to say that when I packed my gear for this club outing, I not only included my tent, sleeping bag, camp stove, and food and water, but I also included one of those small baby food jars...empty of strained carrots or smashed pears. What was that baby jar for, you ask? Why hell's bells pard! It was for all the gold I was going to get during my weekend outing at the "Potholes." Duh.

 (Greener than green and high expectations.)

Taken in Tow

Yep, greener than the Jolly Green Giant I was back then. Like any other newbie or greenhorn I was full of piss and vinegar and damn sure I was gonna strike 'er rich. I was absolutely, 100% certain I'd fill up that baby jar with placer gold or close to it, anyway. You know, pulling ounces of gold out of that desert hard pan and letting those nuggets and coarse pieces thunk and clink as I dropped them into that empty baby food jar. My oh my, brothers and sisters. What mysterious webs we weave when we're new to this gold mining thing. I probably raised more than one smile and a bit of laughter when I broke out that iron gold pan and stood there not knowing what do do while other club members were setting up their dry washers. Yep, greener than the forest green color of a Garrett Gravity Trap plastic gold pan. But I was taken in tow by a couple of old timers who set me to work crevicing a bit of narrow bedrock coming off a small hillside and dumping my scrapings into a five-gallon bucket they provided me. Taking that metal pan from me, they shoved a Gravity Trap in my hand and showed me how to pan out my dirt in a wash tub. And you know what? I found my first gold! No, not enough to fill that empty baby food jar by any stretch of the imagination. But a few glowing pieces of small desert gold that I carefully dropped into a plastic gold vial one of them gave me.

 (Terrain in the "Potholes" District. Photo courtesy of the "Boys.")

A Big Lesson

Yep, I'd found my very first gold. I was elated but I had also learned a very big lesson that got my brain to spinning. I realized that there was a lot more to this gold mining thing than I had imagined, and the realization that I wasn't going to strike it rich in a day or two yanked me back a bit. But I wasn't about to give it up. No way no how. Even though that baby food jar remained empty for the time being I was determined I WOULD fill it up one day. Sure, I was green back then, greener than the Jolly Green Giant himself. But despite my outrageous expectations and lack of skill or knowledge, I planted my feet and told myself I would see things through and fill that baby jar with placer gold one day. 

And eventually I did just that...

(c) Jim Rocha 2019

Questions? E-mail me at


  1. I'm just starting out and I only have a small vial I want to fill. lol Does it seem like the most sense these days is to join a club that prospects in the area you want to collect? I've been on the BLM sites (mylandmatters...) and it seems most areas already have claims staked on them. Any suggestions for an East coast vacationer that wants to come West to pan/prospect?

    1. There are very few "open" or public areas to prospect, pan, or mine out West these days. Joining a club may be the way to go in that regard. But, as always, it's a judgement call on your part.


      How about these links for the guy on the east coast?
      I don't recall him saying which state he was headed to.

    3. Hi Howard,

      You literally had me laughing my ass off reading this post. No two bigger Greenhorns have you ever Schooled than Curtain and myself! I remember on our very first real gold mining trip in The Bradshaw Mountains of Arizona armed with our new Power Sluice. We brought a large mayonnaise jar to hold our Finds. Our finds were one really nice flake of the beautiful yellow metal. 8 days of digging in the ground like a gopher and one flake! Did we get discouraged? No. Humbled? Yes. It's fun to look back and remember your first outings and laugh at yourself.

      This year Curtain and I will be near The Mesa Mine in The Bradshaw's working the streams and bedrock with our Fisher M-Scope Gold Bug detectors. Wish us Luck!

      Fred C. Dobbs

    4. We all start as turnips right off the truck Dobbsie. Good to hear from you boys. Best of luck in the Bradshaws!

  2. JR,
    Your last paragraph sums it all's always harder than expected, doesn't matter what "it" is. Congrats on finally filling that jar! Great goal!
    I bet those tiny specks looked huge magnified through a baby food jar though!
    My first "ounce vial" I remember thinking "That's all it takes to make an ounce? That shouldn't take long" I bought two! HA! One of those half ounce bottles would have been, and still is huge compared to what's inside! It's still fun, but I realize now that I ain't gunna git rich!
    Gary / Muskrat

    1. Yep Gary, seems easy to fill those jars and vials up on the front end! Not so easy down the road though...


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