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Uncommon Places I Have Found Gold

Updated on July 29, 2017
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John prospected for gold in Arizona 5 years. His experience taught him to deal with the terrain, heat, and gold fever. He makes his tools.

Notice the dark material in the culvert. Many times the material consists of "black sand", hematite, magnetite, lead and other heavier metals that collect along with gold.
Notice the dark material in the culvert. Many times the material consists of "black sand", hematite, magnetite, lead and other heavier metals that collect along with gold. | Source

One of my favorite places to find gold is a culvert. Just in case you are not familiar, a culvert is a metal tube running under the road or used to divert water. I try to select culverts that may contain placer gold by considering their location. A good spot would be a place near the mountains, especially rocky mineralized mountains containing iron oxide and quartz. Iron oxide is just rust, and it shows up in rock as reddish. Why this combination? Iron and quartz have a similar melting point. Ironic that when looking for gold, you may also be looking for something usually considered less than worthless.

Culverts typically have ripples inside which help to slow down water. These ripples are similar to riffles on a sluice. The valleys are where the heavier material like gold will settle.

I outfit myself with a brush (in my case, a car-wash brush), bucket, and a narrow trowel. Don't forget to bring water. And while I'm at it, be careful. Critters have been known to take up residence in these culverts. Inspect them before you leap. Centipedes and scorpions enjoy residence in them, too. In my situation living in Arizona, I have crawled into culverts and begun to clean only to find a spider crawling on the back of my neck. On inspection there were quite a few web's suspended at the very top. So look above you. Rodents have also been known to take up residence. For this reason it is recommended that you wear a mask. In some situations, rodent waste can be stirred up, aerosolized, and inhaled resulting in a very nasty infection, possibly even death. In the Four Corners area of Arizona, the presence of hantavirus is publicly advertised when in "season". This virus is not as common in other Arizona areas.

Another tip that can make your prospecting enjoyable is to bring a kneeling pad or board to rest your knees on. Those steel ripples are rough on your body, especially your knees. The riffles are narrow, so your body weight exerting force down on that small raised metal edge can get old in a hurry. Without a pad, you probably aren't going to want to clean out more than one short culvert.

Don't Miss the Cracks

My all time favorite place to find gold is in crevices. I love to go to a club claim where there is bedrock in a stream bed and start to crack open those fissures. A 3 foot post hole digging bar is satisfactory for opening most cracks. Some people prefer a 6 foot bar, but that is a lot of iron to wield all day. I had a big one and cut it in half. Now I have two diggers. Perhaps I will break one and then have a replacement. But those diggers are tough to break. At the time of publication, you could get a post hole digging bar with a tamper at Harbor Freight for around $30, which is half the price of most stores. If I find wide cracks in the bedrock, I usually work those first. Since they are wider, they have a better chance to collect more gold during seasonal storms.

Once you have cracked the crack, take a trowel and dig out as much material as possible. Sometimes using a thin steel rod with a bend at the end for a bit of a hook can make flipping the material out a bit easier. I make them out of television antenna elements, but you can buy them on the Internet. All of this material should be placed in a miner's pan and set aside. Your goal is to fill the pan with material. You can also use a bucket to store your dirty treasure, but usually I am too eager to see what is in it. I wash and pan the material when the pan is pretty full. You should do this in the beginning to make sure there is gold in the crevice. If you're working the crack for quite a while and you don't see any gold it might be time to move to a new crack. If you find gold, you can fill a bucket with material. I know people who fill buckets of material and go home to pan it. Like I've said, I get a little impatient. Remember as a kid waiting for Christmas and the presents to be opened? Well meet Mr. Antsypants. Upon discovering the color, I have even been known to shout, "Eureka". Actually, I usually shout something else, but it isn't appropriate for present company.

My experience has actually led me to abandon digging holes in dirt and sand to try and find gold. That doesn't mean you can't find it there, but I have had so much success lately finding placer gold in the crevices that I would rather spend my time doing that.

Apache leap near Superior, Arizona. Revel in the outdoors. Never forget to bring a camera!
Apache leap near Superior, Arizona. Revel in the outdoors. Never forget to bring a camera! | Source

Thar's Riches in That Bank!

Here is another tip to finding gold that I have had some success at. Bank work can be profitable when prospecting for placer gold. Most folks know that grass grows on the banks of waterways. When in an area known to contain the gold, look for grass. Bring a bucket, dig up the grass and wash it. Grass roots can make a fine barrier for trapping gold, especially small flood gold. I was once at an outing of gold club prospectors, and some members complained that the claim had been worked over and there was no more gold. I went up on the bank where there was grass, started digging and washing, all the while gently chided for wasting my time. Guess who found a little gold when there was enough material to pan? Let's be realistic. If you are in this because you think you are going to get rich, you're in the wrong business. Enjoy the activity. Enjoy the outdoors. Enjoy the travel. Food always tastes better outside! Enjoy the, camaraderie. Finding color is the cherry on the float.

Abandoned gold mine. Already you can see no shoring.
Abandoned gold mine. Already you can see no shoring. | Source
Entrance to an area with multiple shafts
Entrance to an area with multiple shafts | Source

Check Out Old Gold Mines

One of the most exciting times I ever had was investigating around an old mine near where I live. I do not advocate going in the mines. In the 30's, a lot of mom and pop operations where one or two men (maybe mom) worked a small vein of gold a couple hundred feet into a rock formation and played out. The Great Depression saw many men travel west to try to find gold for their families. Arizona is pock marked by such small operations. Most of the time there is little shoring or none! At times there is old dynamite that has been left behind. It is enticing, but don't. Some will call me chicken (cheep cheep), but if you wind up in a collapse, nobody will find you. It is estimated that there are somewhere near 100,000 mines in Arizona that have not been sealed off. I am sure other states have mines in similar condition. When owning gold was outlawed by Franklin Roosevelt in 1933, many of these smaller mines were abandoned.

Abandoned gold mine
Abandoned gold mine | Source
Another abandoned gold mine. This one has one piece of old shoring left behind.
Another abandoned gold mine. This one has one piece of old shoring left behind. | Source

So where am I heading with this? Outside the mine you will often find an ore pile. For me it came in the form of a highly mineralized red, black, and quartz colored ore piled up. Pick up the quartz-containing ore and bring it home. Crush it up and pan it.

A cutout - this could be natural erosion, but I think from the look of the rock that someone was digging out a quartz stringer.
A cutout - this could be natural erosion, but I think from the look of the rock that someone was digging out a quartz stringer. | Source
A concentration of oat gold - it looks like glitter.
A concentration of oat gold - it looks like glitter. | Source

Here is another tip. Bring a magnifying glass with you. Inspect any rock walls you are near for speckles of glistening gold. Even if there isn't any gold, looking at the surface of possible gold ore is an adventure in itself. The amplified surface of many rocks is absolutely beautiful. How such intricate material surfaces could be created is a humbling thing to ponder.

An old ore pile outside an old gold mine. On the left is the material at the top that I search. Notice the reddish tint.
An old ore pile outside an old gold mine. On the left is the material at the top that I search. Notice the reddish tint. | Source

Don't forget that many of the older gold mines are 80 or more years old. Those ore piles have been sitting there through wind, rain, and dirty sand storms which degrade the ore. If a vein was missed, some small bits of gold could've washed out and down to the bottom of the pile. I sometimes dig dirt at the very bottom just to see if I can find oat gold. That is, gold that is in its smallest natural form. In this form it frequently looks white and can even float in a pan. Some old timers I have listened to refer to it as "sugar". When you have enough it starts to look yellow. I take a small LED high intensity light and shine it on the suspect - oat gold shows up golden under flashlight.

Remnants of a 12 foot by 12 foot ore pile
Remnants of a 12 foot by 12 foot ore pile | Source

I understand that someone who was knowledgeable about gold ore would sit on a stool and look through the ore. Ore with gold would be tossed into one pile, tailings went into another. If that is true, they picked through it well. You can find gold in the tailings - I have - but it's limited. Even so, when you crush some quartz and yellow pops out, it is exciting.

When I first encountered my favorite ore pile, it was about 12 feet high and probably the same in diameter. An old 30's era rusted out pickup truck was in a ravine where it had fallen. There was also a big braided steel cable leading from the mine down a hill, no doubt for running stuff. A year later when I returned, the ore pile had been taken away except for bits at the bottom. The truck had been hauled out of the ravine, and the cable was gone. Between the junk truck, steel recycle, and any gold found, whoever they were, they made some money.

A Final Place

No, not a cemetery. When you are roaming the hills, if you find an area with rock cut outs in a descending water way, those cutouts can act as riffles. The material on the downside of the steps is a prime contender for harboring gold. As the water slows and creates an eddy after falling over the step, gold can settle out.

Succeeding cutouts stepping down a wash
Succeeding cutouts stepping down a wash | Source

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© 2015 John R Wilsdon

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