July 2013 by Joe ChmielYou couldn’t ask more from a late winter’s day in February in the Mojave Desert: clear sky, 70-degree temperatures, the gentlest of breezes and...GOLD!
I like to hunt club claims, and I find that by maneuvering my coil between rocks and bushes I can sometimes pick out a nugget—or five or six—that others have missed. On this particular day, I was doing my usual thing, picking off nuggets up to 1/2-gram in size. However, my prospecting partner, instead of skimming along the surface, seemed to be lingering extra long in just one place. In fact, he was practically camped on this single spot, digging, detecting, recovering, and repeating the process.
It occurred to me that he might have found a cluster of extra tiny nuggets, the type that only his VLF (very low frequency) detector can pick up. Or maybe he was having trouble pinpointing the responses his detector was giving him. Whatever it was, I knew I had better stay busy if I were to keep up.
Of course I became so engrossed in what I was doing that I failed to notice that for a full two hours my partner had been trying to get my attention to come join him, and he was in a bit of a dilemma about this. On the one hand, he could leave his spot and come get me (running the risk of other nearby nuggetshooters jumping his hole) or he could yell to me to come over (thereby signalling to everyone around that there was something worthwhile to be had). Well, he did neither—he chose to wait until I finally noticed his subtle gesturing and walked over to see what was up.
I was surprised to see that he had a two-foot deep hole going and had already collected about 15 grams worth of nuggets. As for me, I was barely over one gram for my day’s efforts.
Seeing as I was swinging a different VLF detector that wouldn’t interfere with his, he suggested that I dig a hole about 10 feet away from him to see if I might find a similar pocket. It was late in the day and I was already a bit worn out, so I was not looking forward to digging in the blind hope of hitting a pay streak.
But dig I did—and without the benefit of a detector signal, mind you. Picking my way through the bedrock, my hope of hitting a gold-bearing pocket was fading with the late afternoon sun. As soon as I got under the bedrock and into a soft layer I stuck the coil of my detector into the hole. Wham! A solid “zeet-zeet” from the side of the hole greeted my ears, and turning the discriminator function on yielded a solid indication for gold on the detector’s readout.
I furiously started pulling material out of the side wall and putting it in my scoop. It didn’t take long to discover that the source of the scream was from a one-ounce chunk of rock. Almost no gold was immediately visible due the rock being encased in a hardened caliche crust, but one corner gave away its secret. An exposed area of yellow metal indicated that this was indeed a temporary treatment for my gold fever!
I wanted to jump up and down, but because of the other detectorists in the area, I had to play it cool. The prize was slipped quietly into my pouch with no celebration. It was only upon later inspection that I could see this rock was ribboned with gold!
The total weight was just over an ounce, and with some cleaning it will end up under an ounce. But still, finding a specimen piece of this size was a real treat. Oh yeah—the hole held a couple more tiny nuggets and nothing else.
So I guess this was sort of a backwards find. Instead of beeping a target and digging a hole, I dug a hole and then beeped the target. Gold is indeed where you find it!
To get to the gold, the miners had to remove the shale pieces and stack them on the sides while sluicing the remaining material through their boxes.
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Sampling other people's stockpiles or dumps has some inherent risks that sampling undisturbed ground does not have.
This was “pocket” country. All around were “pockets” that had been hand dug by old and new miners.
I metal detected a number of years before I saw my first nugget peeking out from the dirt before I had scraped or dug for it. This one was in the steep sidewall of a narrow, but deep drywash.
A very good baseball hitter might get a hit roughly one time out of every three at-bats, but for prospectors often the results are much sparser and it may take many trips before the prospector hits a home run.
A while back I was given a very special opportunity to take my metal detector to one of the most famous gold mines in all of California, the Original Sixteen to One mine in Alleghany.
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