“So much ground to detect, and so little time…” Words I have muttered to myself many times when standing atop a mountain looking down at the valleys below. Ironic that having so many places to prospect could be both a blessing and a curse at the same time. The biggest challenge for many gold seekers is not choosing the right prospecting equipment, or even learning how to use it, but rather WHERE to use it. With thousands upon thousands of gold-bearing acres within the borders of the United States, narrowing down a persons “search area” can often be a daunting task. The purpose of this article is to help you, the gold prospector, refine or expand the methods you currently use to conduct your research. In the paragraphs to follow I will outline the process I use when seeking out new ground to prospect in a step-by-step manner. Hopefully by the time you are finished reading you will have a better idea as to where your time is best spent in pursuit of the yellow metal.
Aside from good old fashioned hard work, nothing is more crucial to your success than proper research. The dictionary defines research as: a studious inquiry or examination aimed at the discovery and interpretation of new knowledge. The amount of time and energy you expend conducting this research is a personal call, just keep in mind, the more you do, the more you increase your chances of success.
When I begin researching a new site to metal detect there are several resources I utilize, which include: books, maps, the Internet, magazine and newspaper articles, and something I’ll call word of mouth. Books are one of the most readily available sources of information for the modern gold prospector. I’ve been called a book junkie more than once simply because I can’t stop myself from buying any publication I see written about mining. In the past ten years I have amassed a considerable library; some in my collection are simple guides covering basic panning methods; others are more specific describing a particular mining district and its production history. If your budget won’t allow the purchase of books for your own private cache, I would recommend a visit to the local public or university libraries.
Maps are another important tool for any prospector or outdoorsman. They are fairly inexpensive and offer valuable information at a quick glance. There are many different types of maps available; some of those I find most useful are the standard 7.5 minute Topographical maps offered for sale by the USGS, or any map shop. They are highly detailed showing old mines, town sites, highways, trails, springs, windmills, mountain peaks, and other features that can be used for establishing a location. Other types of maps are color coded to show the geology of a region, the land status (or ownership); some even outline the general location of where gold has been found in the past. If you prefer the use of a computer over traditional paper maps, there are several companies such as National Geographic, Delorme, and iGage, which make excellent mapping software that can be used on a laptop in the field.
The advent of the Internet has also radically changed the way in which people prospect for minerals. A few clicks of the mouse and within seconds a person can have access to satellite images, information about all the active and closed mining claims in a particular area, type of commodity mined, and in some cases, the production records. There are also hundreds of sites out there built by recreational prospectors to showcase their finds and share their personal stories. Next time you’re online do a search for “gold mining”; you’ll probably be surprised by the sheer number of sites available for you to peruse.
Most newspapers and magazines not specifically geared towards mining offer very little information about where to find gold, however every now and then a person can get lucky. I remember reading a local interest article in the Arizona Republic a few years back that made mention of a gentleman finding gold in a spot not far from the heart of downtown Phoenix. Although I searched my books and found no reference to this area I decided it was worth investigating. Once there, I did see where someone had been shoveling and classifying dirt from a dry, desert wash. I didn’t stumble across my long sought after retirement nugget, but did add a few small flakes to my poke and open up a new area for future prospecting.
Some of the best information I have ever gotten hasn’t come from books or the Internet, but from the mouths of prospectors themselves. As a young man I would sit for hours at the local coffee shop listening to the “old boys” spin yarns about their adventures and mishaps in the desert. These were good times, and I always loved hearing their colorful stories, even if a few of them did sound, well…slightly exaggerated. By nature, prospectors are a tight lipped group of folks, but I soon learned that most would gladly share their knowledge if a person showed genuine interest and offered to reciprocate the favor someday. If other prospectors are willing to talk I’m always willing to listen; you should too.
Now that we have an idea of the research tools available we must discuss how to actually put them to use. STEP 1) First and foremost, I must decide which state I will be prospecting in. Since I am from Arizona, let’s use that as our example. Now that I have a state picked out, I must decide what portion of it I plan to visit. STEP 2) At this point I would most likely grab a fairly detailed Atlas and scan it for any symbols which represent mines (these are usually represented as a small pick & shovel). I notice a cluster of mine symbols in the central part of the state about 100 miles northwest of Phoenix. A closer look reveals that this mining area falls within the boundaries of Yavapai County. Now that I know the county and what portion of it I am interested in I can refer to a topographical map for a more detailed close-up of the region. A quick examination shows there is definitely no shortage of prospects here, but something else catches my eye; a mountain named Rich Hill. Names are often a good clue, especially those with words like “rich” or “gold”.
STEP 3) From here I am off to my personal library to track down any books on the shelves about Arizona mining districts. I come across one titled, Placer Gold Deposits of Arizona, with a chapter on the Weaver (Rich Hill) District. About half way down the page I read the following, “Within 3 months, $108,000 in gold ranging in size from a pinhead to large nuggets worth hundreds of dollars was recovered, and within 5 years, $500,000 in placer gold was recovered. By 1863, about $1 million in placer gold was recovered.” From these two sentences alone I now know that not only does this region definitely carry gold, but the diggings there were incredibly rich. Better yet, it tells me that the gold will be large enough to be sensed by my metal detector.
STEP 4) Next, I dig through my box of maps looking for those showing both the geology and the land status. Luckily I manage to find both. I am not a professional geologist, but from my years spent in the field I have come to recognize certain rock types as favorable indicators for producing gold. My Geological Map of Yavapai County, Arizona shows that in the Rich Hill area there is a mixture of granites, schists, and basalt; all conducive for the formation of gold, copper, and silver deposits. I also see that these rock types are not limited only to Rich Hill itself, but extend for several miles in either direction, leading me to believe that gold may exist a considerable distance away from the main diggings.
The Surface Management Status map I pulled does not tell me about the geology, or the location of roads and mines, but it does tell me land ownership in the area. A few moments of searching confirms that the ground is a patchwork of Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Private, and State Land. I knew the private property and State Lands would be off limits, but the sections of BLM had me hopeful. In most cases, State Lands are open to mineral exploration but a plan of operation must first be filled along with posting a bond. STEP 5) At this point it would usually mean a trip down to the BLM field office to sift through a mountain of paperwork to determine active claim status. However, in this case I opted to contact several local prospecting clubs first to find out if they owned any ground in the area. As it turned out all three of them did, and after weighing the pros and cons of each, I decided to join the organization with the most acreage near Rich Hill. After paying my dues I was sent a Claims Guide book outlining the location of their claims along with a membership badge. After reviewing the paperwork I had everything planned out, and the following weekend was out chasing gold on the claims.
Anyone that does not own claims of their own would greatly benefit from joining a prospecting club. Not only will you have the opportunity to meet with others that share your passion for the outdoors, but it also gives you access to proven gold-bearing locations without the threat of being hassled or run off. Currently the Gold Prospectors Association of America (GPAA) is one of the largest organizations in the US with claims all across the nation.
The process above is the very same I use whenever I am looking for new ground to prospect on. If I decide upon an area and cannot gain access through a club, I will pay a visit to the necessary agency. Often the ground will be entirely claimed up, other times it will be wide open. Private property is generally off limits, unless you can strike a deal with the owner. Some people will not allow any type of mining on their property; others may be willing to grant access for a percentage of the gold you find. Arrangements such as this can and do work, providing both parties are up front and honest with one another. In any case, you should always contact the owner before crossing onto their land to avoid any unpleasant confrontations. As a side note, Indian Reservations, Military Proving Grounds/Bases, State Parks, and Wilderness Areas are generally not open to prospecting or metal detecting.
There are plenty of opportunities left for the modern gold or treasure hunter, especially for those that do their homework. Good fortune favors the prepared; and by taking the time to do your research in the beginning you are doing just that. Before heading out on your next expedition study books and maps, browse the Internet, and speak with other prospectors, I think you may be pleasantly surprised at how far a little detective work will go. I wish all of you the very best of luck!
For additional information on prospecting for gold, please visit the author’s website at: www.ArizonaOutback.com.
Johnson, Maureen G. Placer Gold Deposits of Arizona. Gem Guides Book Company, 1987.
Merriam-Webster, Inc. The Merriam Webster Dictionary. Springfield, Massachusetts, 1994.