In the movies, the old Gold Rush prospector was a colorful character, who lived alone out in the hills (with maybe a single mule for company) in his Quixote-like search for riches. Unfortunately, he usually got shot just as soon as he finally struck gold.
History has always fascinated me and the sagas of the various gold rushes that spurred Westward expansion in the United States is more than mere footnotes in the history books. California and Alaska both became magnets for settlers as a result of the discovery of gold.
But if you think the days of prospectors are long gone, you are in for a surprise. Even today, you and your family can experience the thrills and excitement of finding gold in the very places where claim jumpers, back shooters, Indians and assorted villains made life tough for the old prospector (and his mule).
In North America, you can pan for gold in California, Alaska, the Yukon Territory and even Vermont, and relive the actual experiences of the old prospectors (minus, I hope, the claim jumpers, back shooters and Indians).
First, let’s talk about how to pan for gold. Below is a set of instructions I found on explorenorth.com/library/howto/ht-pan.htm
How To Pan For Gold:
1. Find a pan – anything with sloping sides will work, or see a list of gold pan dealers below.
2. Choose a likely location – see tips and links below for ideas.
3. Fill your pan with sand and/or gravel.
4. Dip your pan into the creek, or pour water into the pan.
5. Shake the pan in a sideways, back-and-forth manner. The gold will now start to settle to the bottom of the pan.
6. After a couple of minutes of shaking, pick out the bigger rocks that are getting separated (make sure than you don’t throw away any nuggets!)
7. Tilt your pan away from you a bit and start letting gravel fall out. Remember, the gold is rapidly settling to the bottom of the pan now.
8. Add water as necessary to keep a good “soupy” gravel mixture – it helps the gold settle.
9. Keep tilting the pan more and more, and letting the gravel on top fall over the side. The bottom of the pan should always be lower than the lip of the pan, though, or the gold will fall out.
10. As you get to the last bit of sand in your pan, adding a circular motion to your shaking will make the gold separation more obvious – not more effective, but more fun to watch.
11. The last bit of sand takes care, and is the slowest part – as long as you don’t tip your pan too far, though, the gold will stay in the pan. The traditional declaration of success is “Bonanza!”
12. Get a small glass container.
13. Put your gold into the container – it will stick to your finger in the pan, then wash it off into the container.
14. Display the container on your mantel to impress the neighbors!
15. Repeat as needed.
1. Don’t use a teflon-coated pan – the gravel will wreck it, and you will lose a lot of your gold.
2. You can try panning anywhere. The best places are along creeks, particularly behind boulders where eddies form.
3. Although “black sand” (magnetite) is difficult to separate from the gold, it’s a great indication that you’re in the right spot.
There are several places listed on the web that offer wilderness tours involving panning for gold. All of them (that I found) will teach you how to pan and will let you keep the gold you find. The general impression I gathered was that finding gold is a sure thing, albeit seldom in large quantities.
Here are places you can find information and locations to get started in your new life as a prospector (and you don’t even need a mule):
- Pan for gold in the Klondike with Eureka Gold Panning Adventures near Dawson City, Yukon. eurekagoldpanning.com, offers an adventure vacation in the old Yukon gold rush country. They promise that most people find gold in their first one or two pans, and you can keep all the gold you pan.
- Nevada County, CA also offers a number of excursions involving panning for gold. Visit ncgold.com/Recreation/GoldPanning for information.
- Gold Miners Headquarters is sort of a directory of gold prospecting information. Check this site out at goldminershq.com.
- I also found site, by a couple who spent a weekend in Vermont panning with a group. Did you know that before the California Gold Rush, Vermont was considered the place for prospectors to search for gold? I didn’t either, but apparently they all left when the bigger, richer gold fields of California were discovered, leaving a substantial amount of gold left in the Vermont ground.
Well all these sources should be enough to get you started and plan a really fun vacation for you and your family.
COPYRIGHT © 2006, Charles Brown. All rights reserved.