Bigger and Better—Gold Prospecting & Mining Summit Recap
June 2012 by Chris Ralph
Well, I’m back at my desk, just freshly returned from our Gold Prospecting and Mining Summit in Placerville, California, and the hands-on classes we do as a part of the event. Our second year’s Summit, held over five days in mid-May, was even bigger and better than last year’s gathering. We had more vendors, more hands-on classes and a very full slate of lectures and presentations. Over 2,300 prospectors attended the two days of vendor exhibits and lectures, coming from all over the US and even Canada. I have to admit that after five full days of instruction, teaching, lectures and the very best gold show in the West, I am a little bit tired. However, those who participated got to hear from and talk over the details of their own prospecting situations with some of the most knowledgeable and experienced prospectors out there.
We had a full range of folks from those who had never washed a single pan of gravel before, to those with years of experience who had some specific, detailed questions they needed answered. Many hours of instruction in both classroom settings as well as in a one-on-one environment meant that lots of people got a serious “upgrade” to their prospecting skills.
We expanded to two placer mining hands-on sessions on Friday and Monday this year because there was such a huge demand last year. By holding two sessions, we were able to accommodate over 330 prospectors who were looking for some hands-on instruction in the field. Some brought their own equipment, while others took advantage of the power sluicing stations and hand tools we provided with assistance of the Mother Lode Goldhounds. A few of the vendors also allowed students to try out their equipment.
With the help of Brian Bartholemew, we were able to hold our placer mining classes at a historic hydraulic mine in the heart of the California gold country. At the old mining site there were exposures of virgin gold-bearing gravels, and just about everyone who dug in the previously undisturbed gravels got some decent gold. A number of prospectors brought their metal detectors and got expert instruction on how to use them. There were also trommel demonstrations, which included various sizes from those fed by a bucket or shovel up to a larger unit fed with a front end loader. Many individuals used power sluices as there was pond water available to help the operators process gravel. Though most of the gold at this location is small, a couple of detector users recovered nuggets of a pennyweight or more by detecting the bedrock crevices.
Something new to the Summit event this year was a training session titled “Introduction to Underground Mining,” which took place on Monday and Tuesday. We took two groups out to a small mining operation and held a discussion of the basics of underground mining, including explosives, mining methods, safety, hard rock ore processing and timbering. Participants got to tour the property and ask questions about the operation and how it was done.
On Saturday and Sunday, lectures covering a variety of topics were given on how to make your prospecting efforts more productive. Mother Lode Goldhounds president and long-time author for the Journal, Don Robinson, spoke about how to conduct research to find promising prospecting locations. Charles Watson spoke about regulations and all the work involved in permitting for small mining operations. Leonard Melman spoke about the effects of unbridled fiat money issuance on inflation, gold, and the precious metals markets. George Wheeldon spoke about the hard rock mines of the Mother Lode country. Jim Holloran spoke on prospecting for gold in Alaska, and especially on the effects of glaciers on placer formation.
I also spoke on several topics, including staking and holding mining claims, basic prospecting, gold prospects in Wyoming, setting up a placer operation and using a detector to find gold. The lectures were well-attended, and we even had to use our overflow seating area fed by a video feed a few times when all 300+ seats were taken inside the lecture hall.
We had a much increased number of vendors at the show and they were all displaying and demonstrating the very best and latest prospecting equipment. Mining equipment and technology for all scales of operations were available, from the individual prospector all the way to the commercial level operator using heavy equipment like bull dozers and trommels—it was there and offered for sale.
Fox40 News out of Sacramento got in on the act as well, showing off the event on the local news. They highlighted the fact that there is still gold out there to be found, and that local prospectors are out there finding some valuable nuggets.
One of the things that only a few people got to see was the recovery of a few stray gold nuggets out at the hands-on placer training site. Editor Scott Harn had planted a number of small nuggets at certain depths and marked their locations with a wooden stake. This was done so detector operators could try out their detectors and see what a real gold nugget would sound like under actual field conditions.
As it turned out, the sites were not checked for hot rocks or iron trash before the gold was buried, so the locations were extremely realistic, including the difficulties of fighting both ground mineralization and trash to hear the gold. Most of these nuggets were on the small side and were without any container nor were they attached to anything to keep them from getting lost. The recovery of these small nuggets at the end of the training turned out to be quite a humorous affair, attracting a number of the last diehard prospectors who were still out trying to find gold at the end of the Monday session. One would think that a nugget placed in a known location at a known depth would be quickly and easily recovered; however, that’s not always the case. Because they were small, and hot rocks plentiful, they took a lot longer than would be expected, providing laughs to a number of onlookers. With one exception, they were eventually all recovered. The final nugget, supposedly buried at only 2 inches, was attacked by a number of people with many different detectors and it eluded all of us!
One of the best things about the Summit event is the pleasure of talking face-to-face with our subscribers about all things related to mining, prospecting and recovering gold, silver, gems and other valuable commodities. We have a great group of individuals who subscribe to the magazine and spending time with them is always very enjoyable. Mining has always been an effort that builds up the economy, done by folks who are active and hard working—it’s a great experience to just spend some time with good people who contribute actively to the building of our society. The Gold Prospecting and Mining Summit is getting bigger and better, and this year’s participants had a great time. I hope you can make it to join us next year!
First, we want to thank Don Robinson and the Mother Lode Goldhounds (Ron, Steve, Bill, Gary, J.P., Mike, Jerry, Jim and the rest of the crew), and Ed & Tom and the Gold Country Treasure Seekers for their help in putting this entire event together. We couldn’t have done it without all of you.
Brian Bartholomew, owner of the property where our placer classes were held, did an outstanding job of preparing the property for our students and bent over backwards to accommodate students during the classes. Thanks Brian and crew!
We also want to thank Dan and Sandi for their help throughout our events, the thirteen members of the Harn family and two of the Ralph family who came out to help, and all of the instructors who gave presentations at the Placerville Fairgrounds and at the hands-on classes.
There is no way to pull off an event like this without some dedicated volunteers who enjoy teaching and seeing others succeed. We have learned over the years that surrounding yourself with good people makes you look good—that’s exactly what took place.
Additional photos from the Summit are available on our website. Please feel free to leave comments about the show and the hands-on training.
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A number of crevices were still waiting to be cleaned out. A lot of the gold remaining in the pit was very fine sized, but a few small nuggets were also recovered.
We continue to seek out a patented mining property with an owner who is willing to host such an event with a water supply and enough remaining gold to make it worthwhile for the students.
I really learned a lot from your step-by-step presentation and our "hands-on" observation of all the steps involved in mining...
Brian...had cleared off some virgin, gold-bearing bedrock areas prior to our arrival, so everyone had ample opportunity to find and take home some gold.
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