Sarah Graham Metalsmithing

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Denise's Auriferous Adventures

(written by Denise Long, Business Manager at Sarah Graham Metalsmithing)

New adventure and discovery began when I bought my husband a metal detector last year. I envisioned him with the detector, leisurely looking for hidden treasures on the beach, at a park, in a stream, or on a hike while I sat comfortably in a chair reading a book. Little did I know something very different was in store for us.

The owner of the prospecting store where I bought the detector in Joshua Tree, California, informed me that there were classes at Copper Mountain College on placer mining and gold detecting. With a new metal detector in hand, I knew this would be right up my husband’s alley and signed him up. When he encouraged me to come along, I thought what the heck could be out there in the middle of the desert between Joshua Tree and 29 Palms?

But what I discovered was amazing and so interesting! I had no idea that this area had been an active gold mining district as early as 1881. Nor did I know that there had ever been as many as 3,000 miners in the area at any one time. These towns were near the two largest producing mines—the Supply and the OK, both of which were closed in 1917, resulting in the abandonment of the small towns. Though some mining continued through the depression, all the mines were closed by executive order at the beginning of World War II.

Aside from the history of the place, there was much more waiting to be discovered. We used a mining technique called placer mining that involves (as we learned it) digging, classifying, dry dredging and panning for gold—exactly in that order. We began our search for gold at a sand bank close to the hills where there is quartz and black sand. The water trail running through these hills encourages great gold deposits.

For the next five weeks we explored different claims around the area of 29 Palms and the back side of Big Bear, California, with twenty people sometimes moving about a ton of dirt at a time! The hard work paid off. Many times we found “pickers”—gold that is large enough to pick up with your fingers (as opposed to gold flakes). One day, though, our search came to nil when our instructor took us to a potential new find area. (No new finds there!) Another miner stopped by our site, pointed off into the distance where he had been mining, and showed us his finds for the day—seven nicely sized pickers and nuggets! After his find that area was known as the Lucky Nugget.

On our very last day we all went out to the Lucky Nugget to see what we would strike up. This area in the Pinto Mountains was absolutely beautiful—expansive hills with water-carved paths, and plentiful large quartz rocks (always a good indication of gold deposits). We dug quite a large area and started with the usual: dig, sift, classify, dry dredge and pan. My husband got bored with the panning and decided to go play with the metal detector. He went down to the wash were we had classified and piled all the rocks (which usually someone does if they have a detector because sometimes the rocks are so covered with dirt they all look the same, and you wouldn’t know if there was gold within unless you washed all the rocks off). As he was metal detecting, we heard quite a stir. My husband’s first words were, “ I won!” Then we heard people going down to the wash and saying “I can’t believe it!” I went down to find out what the commotion was—he had found a 2.5 ounce gold nugget! It was beautiful, quite oddly shaped, and truly amazing to see in its natural form. It was a great ending to our class, but a great beginning to more adventure. After that tremendous find, there is a new claim in that area. I think the name Lucky Nugget suits it perfectly!

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