“Ever prospected? Ever hit pay dirt? I’ve dug for gold, silver, lead, mercury. I’ve dug more holes than a whole regiment of gophers. I ain’t never dug a decent day’s wages yet.” – Bite the Bullet
How can you not find the river???
Mankind has been chasing gold forever (Gold, Relativity, Black Holes, Niburu, and Warren Buffett). Probably the most iconic image associated with prospectors is the gold pan. Oh, and the whiskey. But gold panning has been documented to exist at least since the Romans did it, and gold panning exists across cultures – the Japanese gold pan is called the Yuri-ita, and gets much better mileage than one made in Detroit.
The Boy, Pugsley and I headed towards a small river, intent on prospecting. The Mrs. came with us, intent on trout fishing.
This, of course, is where the trouble started. I had fished this river as a young boy, but it had been many presidents since I had hiked down there, since the only reason that I had gone fishing was for the adventure. I had never had, not one time, even one fish bite on any lure or worm or fly I’d ever put in the water. Half the time I went fishing with my friend, C.R. (you would use initials too if your first name was Clyde) we’d end up just playing in the ice cold river. Because? Because we were 11.
As I said, I’d hiked down there dozens, if not hundreds of times, that had been long ago. The walk to the river started as a nice walk along a sage brush plain. Then there was steep gravel drop off – as steep as a gravel slope could be. As an 11 year old, I’d have half jumped down the slope. Now? Not so much. Plus there was the factor of the gear we were carrying:
- Two five gallon pails
- Metal detector
- Sluice box (only about 36” long, and more about this later)
- Waders for The Boy and Pugsley
- Gold pans
- Snuffer bottle (sucks up itsy bitsy pieces of gold)
- Fishing pole
- Folding chair
- Two small dogs on leads
- Bug spray
- A drone (that’s what took I took the pictures on)
So, we were carrying nearly everything we own. But the drone allowed me to take videos like this:
The Mrs. was carrying her folding chair, fishing pole, and previously listed two idiot dogs. The dogs, relatively unused to being on leashes, would constantly attempt to kill The Mrs. as she walked down the steep gravel slope by wrapping the leashes around each other and her legs. As we stepped into the thick forest, it got worse, since now, in addition to trying to kill The Mrs., the dogs now had the option of trying to kill themselves by wrapping their leashes around trees.
To top it off, the smaller of the two dogs had to be carried over some of the fallen timber, being, apparently afraid in its dog brain of falling down a cliff on the other side of the dead tree. To top it off, there had been record snowpack, so areas that had never been wet when I was a child were swampy.
Everyone who has a wife recognizes “that” tone, when they’ve nearly reached the end of their rope, and the emotion will be jumping out full force. “That” tone showed up.
“Okay, everybody put the stuff down. I’ll go ahead and find the easiest way.”
I dropped the things I was carrying and headed toward the forest, and, I hoped, the river.
I could hear the river, and started that way. I wove around trees and over fallen trees, and through at least one (small) swamp. Right next to the river, however, I was faced with a relatively impenetrable wall of willows. I could have made it through, but would have needed a machete.
So, falling the wall of willows, I made my way back around and found . . . the steep gravel slope. I had come in a full circle. Fortunately, I found both the way to the river, and an easy way for our stupid, frightened dog to walk. The big plus? An easy path back out for when we left. And right there was the fishing hole I hadn’t seen since the Soviets were a thing.
The Boy, Pugsley and I got to work. We used the metal detector in the water (it’s waterproof) and then The Boy and I began to dig up the area.
Now, I had panned for gold before, but only in a half-hearted way. This time? I wanted to get serious and really understand it.
The gold pan kit that I’d bought (LINK) came with a screen that we used to get rid of the bigger rocks. I figured that if we started getting gold nuggets the size of my fist that I might be able to recognize them, and screening out the bigger rocks allowed us to fill the bucket with smaller material so we could go to step two . . . the sluice box.
A sluice box is a device that uses the current from the flowing river to wash most of the smaller material away. The idea is that gold is quite heavy, and will fall down in the water faster than the surrounding soil and will get caught in the carpet, riffles, and parts of the sluice box. A good picture of the sluice box we used is here (LINK).
After you wash the sluice box, then it’s time to pan.
And one thing I will say – the biggest mistake I made was being too gentle with my initial panning. Again, gold is heavy. Gold is ten times denser than sand. It is four times denser than magnetite sand (also called “black sand”), which is what is left over after you’ve panned out the regular sand, and are getting to the point where you’ve eliminated most of the material. And you won’t just swish the magnetite out of the bottom of your five gallon pail – it, like gold, drops out fast.
So, as we panned, we got down to the black sand, and I’d use the snuffer bottle (it came with the gold pans) to pick out the very, very small flecks of gold – nearly gold dust – that would appear in the bottom of the pan.
I still have about five pounds of black sand to go through to find all the gold dust – I imagine that by the time I’ve gotten through it we’ll have gotten $10 or $20 worth of gold, which is the product of three people working eight hours.
Pretty quickly I realized that gold panning was like life and opportunity.
- If you don’t pan, you won’t get any gold. This is true of opportunity. You might have a wonderful idea for a novel. You might have a great business idea. If you don’t get up and get going? You’ll never know.
- The more material we processed, the more black sand, and thus, the more gold we’d get. If we had stopped after the first bucket, we’d only have had 1/6 of the gold. And opportunity is like that – the harder you work, the more opportunity you’ll have in life.
- Most of the gold is very, very small. Most opportunities are small.
- There’s gold everywhere, but in most of those places it’s not worth getting because it’s too diffuse. There’s 20 million tons of gold in the world’s oceans, but only a 13 billionths of a gram in each liter. Nuggets are rare everywhere. Most huge opportunities are rare, too. That doesn’t mean that you should stop looking, but you should look in the right places (LINK).
- The better I get at panning, the more gold I’ll find. The better I get at reviewing places that might hold opportunity, the more of them I’ll find.
- More experience will tell me what’s worth panning, and what I should ignore. Many opportunities (most!) aren’t worth your time. Experience tells you which ones to focus on.
- Most people who strike it rich in gold spend every bit of what they found . . . looking for more gold. I’ve seen this in life, too. How many people look for that same set of conditions to arrive again and again and fail as the moment has past?
- Everything goes better with big, heavy equipment. Huge pumps! Water cannons! Now we’re talking! If you have a business with tax lawyers and accountants and experts? The size of the opportunity you can jump on increases.
Oh, and The Mrs. and her fishing? A nice trout hit her lure on her second cast. But she didn’t get that one reeled in. But still that was a better fishing day than any I’d ever had there, but I did get another insight on life, and got to play in the rivers of my youth one more time.
Fortunately, my fishing streak is still unbroken!