Panning for Gold, California

I thought all the gold in California was gone… that mining companies and individuals had found some way to chemically extract every last ounce of gold in California and there was simply nothing left.

Apparently, I’m wrong. Some experts estimate that there’s still 70% of what originally existed in California before the Gold Rush; this is why prospectors still head to California in hopes of striking it big.

As part of our daring adventures (now known as the Outdoor Adventures), we headed to Coloma where gold was first discovered in 1848. The plan was to try panning in the same river where thousands of men stood during the Gold Rush.

We started our adventure with gold panning lessons. They’re available for a small fee in most parks in Gold Country. Our class was incredibly informative and we learned about the equipment, how to season our pan, panning techniques, how to tell the difference between gold and iron pyrite, and where to look for gold in the river. After the quick lesson, we got to practice techniques with the help of a guide. During our practice session, we found gold, pyrite, and garnets. I suspect they were all planted (especially the garnets which are not a local gem).

45-minutes later we took our newly acquired skills and pan down to the South Fork American River near the spot where gold was first discovered by James Marshall. I have to say that it’s pretty hard to not find gold here. The river is full of gold flakes and nearly every scoop produced something for us. If we could manage to fill the little plastic vial in photo #5 with gold flakes, that’s roughly an ounce and we’d earn a cool $1200.

That being said, the flakes are small and it would take a lot of time and effort to fill one vial. You’re free to take home whatever you find in the National Parks. However, the only tool you can use is a pan and your hands. Shovels, pickaxes, dredges, and metal detectors are all prohibited. You also cannot destroy the landscape by scraping dirt off the river banks.

In all, the adventure was fun and splashing about in the icy river was a great way to spend a super hot day.

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