The mid-1800s saw a series of gold rushes across the country, from Alabama to Alaska. While much of the remaining gold-rich land is inaccessible because of mining claims, areas open to the public still allow you to seek your fortune. Look for federally managed lands as well as privately owned campgrounds and gold panning businesses. Once you find a likely spot, all you'll need is a little equipment and a bit of practice to come home with a bit of shine.
Pan for It
Panning for gold is the least expensive and one of the easiest ways to find gold flakes. Gold is heavier than most other minerals, and it will sink to the bottom of a prospecting pan. Swirling water, gravel and sand around in a swishing movement washes the gold to the bottom, while lighter rocks and minerals rise to the top. Shake and swirl to gradually wash these out of the pan, leaving only the gold flakes in the bottom. Look for gold-bearing sand in the bends or eddies of a river as well as areas where it could get stuck in wood piles or rocks. Public land management agencies consider gold panning casual or recreational use, and permits are not usually required.
Sluice for It
A sluice box is a long, narrow box with ridges on the bottom that allow gold to settle. A steady flow of water through the box makes lighter materials keep tumbling along and out the bottom. The box should rise one inch for every foot of length to create the perfect angle for the water to run. Remove large rocks before slowly placing a trowel-full of pay dirt onto the top of your sluice. Let it wash through completely before adding more. Sluice boxes range from wooden troughs with raised slats to metal contraptions with several kinds of riffles and fabrics to catch the gold. Public land management agencies recognize non-motorized sluice boxes as casual use and do not usually require permits.
Dredging and High-Banking
Suction dredging is an ideal way to suck up gold wedged in crevices or other hard-to-reach places. Suction-dredging hoses used to suck up materials and drive them over a sluice box range in size from 1.5 inches to 10 inches in diameter. High-bankers use suction to bring both gravel and water to an elevated sluice box on the shoreline. As these styles of dredging use motors to create the suction, disturbing more of the river bottom, they are prohibited on some public lands and require permits on others. Private gold mining facilities -- such as Alabama Gold Camp -- charge a daily fee to suction dredge based on the size of your hose. You can also rent suction-dredging and high-banking equipment on-site at many private facilities that allow suction dredging.
Be a Detective
Not all metal detectors are equal when in comes to detecting gold. Models designed to uncover gold nuggets have a higher frequency and controls that let the detector adapt to different soil conditions. Calibrated discrimination allows you to set the detector to filter out pyrites and other metal alloys. Gold detectors can detect flakes as small as half a grain near the earth's surface or larger nuggets up to a depth of 11 inches. Gold detectors qualify as casual use and you won't need need a permit to use them on public lands. However, you are not allowed to remove any artifacts you may discover.
- The New 49'ers: Gold Panning Instructions
- Black Cat Mining: Sluice Box Use and Set-Up
- U.S. Department of the Interior Bureau of Land Management: Recreational Gold Prospecting
- Alaska Department of Natural Resources: Suction Dredging Fact Sheet
- Alabama Gold Camp: Activities
- Detector Electronics Group
- The New 49ers: Suction Dredging for Gold
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