Pan For Gold
Land ~ Sea Discovery Group Staff
to me is one of life's great lessons in patience. If all you have
is a weekend to prospect then you must have even more patience.
First you'll spend hours using topographical maps searching for
a reachable gold bearing area. Maybe you can get lucky and visit
a prospecting supply store in your area and they will point you
in the right direction. The United States has many gold bearing
areas from the west to the east coasts many of which are open
to public use or are available to clubs for a small membership
have been sent into a gold bearing area where do you start to
look? Hopefully you have read some books about what to look for
but if not, the most fun and relaxing place will be down by the
river. Most gold will start out in a lode and through erosion
work its way down the sides of the mountain to benches and eventually
to the rivers. Look to see if there are other people prospecting
the area. You'll be surprised how friendly prospectors can be.
When I work the waters around the San Gabriel River in Southern
California I always take the time to help a beginner to learn.
The fun of
prospecting is finding the strongest source of gold in an area
by taking samples and then panning them out. Most of all of the
large strikes in this country were made by prospectors who tested
and sampled until they hit a good spot. Usually they would sell
their claim, get a pile of money for it, and then go to town and
blow it all on booze and women. When the money was all gone they
would find someone to grubstake them and head out to find more
gold. Many prospectors simply love to roam the desert or mountains
on their quest for the elusive gold that man has so loved since
the dawn of time.
ready to pan for gold I suggest finding first a shady spot with
running water deep enough to fit your pan in the water and still
have room to submerge it a bit. Get comfortable with a large rock.
You need very little in the way of equipment. A pan, a shovel,
a classifier, and tweezers will do. You can pan for gold with
these items more or less as your pack will allow. Actually all
you need is a pan, but the other items will make life more simple
and they don't weigh that much.
your material to remove the larger rocks and twigs. Be sure
to check for nuggets before you discard.
found some ground or gravel's you would like to try, settle in
by the river and put the classifier into your gold pan. The classifier
will keep the larger rocks, twigs, and roots from getting into
the gold pan. Then take your shovel or sampling bag and dump the
contents into the classifier and gold pan.
the pan and submerge it into the water completely covering the
pan and its contents. Vigorously shake the pan. Shake it from
side to side. This action will force the smaller and finer material
to settle through the classifier into the bottom of the pan.
classifier from the pan and before discarding the contents insect
the remains for large nuggets of clumps of clay that should be
After stratifying the
material it is washed. Always keep the contents in a liquid
state and in motion.
gold pan completely under water reach your hands into the material
and mix it into a freely moving mass with no clumps. Shake the
pan back and forth and from side to side. This is called stratification.
This process moves the heavier minerals to the bottom of the pan
and causes the lighter materials to come to the top. Gold and
black sands will settle to the bottom of the pan and be known
as "heavies." After stratifying the material you can
rake or flick off the larger pebbles.
step is known as washing. While keeping the pan mostly submerged,
tip the pan downwards and start a circular clockwise or counter
clockwise movement. It is important that the contents of the pan
are always kept in a liquid state and in motion. This action will
cause the lighter materials known as overburden to wash off the
end of the tilted pan.
In the cleaning phase
the lighter material will be washed off leaving the "heavies"
Now we go
to the cleaning phase. Instead of the circular motion you will
use a dipping movement. First resettle or stratify the material
to get the "heavies" back down to the bottom of the
pan. Then tip the pan into the water with a forward and backward
motion rising the pan as it comes out of the water. The lighter
"blonde" material will slowly be washed off. Continue
this motion being careful not to wash off the black sands. You
should stratify the material quite often.
Once you have the material cleaned all that should remain are
the black sands and hopefully some gold. Our next step is called
inspection. First put a small amount of clear water into the gold
pan. Tap the side of the pan while at a tilt to resettle the gold
along the edge where the sides meet the bottom. Hold the pan almost
level out of the water and gently swirl the water in the pan in
a circular motion fanning the material around the bottom of the
pan. If done properly you should see your gold "colors"
around the rim of the pan.
You can now
remove your finds with tweezers, match, or for really fine pieces
I recommend a watercolor paintbrush. Many people use a snifter
panning process may take 3 to 10 minutes depending on the material.
Most important to me is stratifying the material constantly so
that gold is not carelessly lost over the edge. Beginners and
even experts often use a backup pan under the discards just in
case something goes over.
A profitable day prospecting!
many different styles of gold panning and as you begin to understand
the principals of each step you will probably develop your own
gold many different methods are used. One method is dry washing
by which gold and other minerals are extracted from dry sand and
gravel's by means of a machine that uses air or vibration as a
separating device. Another method is known as dredging. In dredging,
gravel's and gold bearing materials are excavated and elevated
from the river bottom by means of a suction pump to a separating
device usually mounted on floating pontoons. One of the most affordable
ways to move a lot of material and get more gold is the sluice
box. A sluice box is a long wooden or metal trough like box that
has riffles in it through which gold bearing materials are run
with a stream of water, all of which separates the "heavies"
for you in bigger quantities. Some miners do what is called sniping.
Using crevice tools they pry into the cracks and seams of rocks
along the river and pull out material wedged in between.
large scale mining with a bucket line dredge, or the old timers
that used hydraulic mining to get to the gravel's, in the end
they all sat down and had the pleasure of panning for gold to
get the end result.
1. U.S. Department
of the Interior Technical Bulletin 4. PLACER EXAMINATION.
2. Joseph F. Petralia, Gold! Gold!, Sierra Trading Post, 1980.
3. Personal experiences of the author.