and Spring is the best time to look. Heavy rains and snow melt wash gold down from the hills to settle in swollen streambeds and rivers.

According to the California State Mining and Mineral Museum in Mariposa, gold was present in hard rock when the earth was formed 4.5 billion years ago. Molten rock and hot water solutions carry gold up through cracks in the earth’s crust. Geologists believe more gold remains deep down in bedrock than all of the gold previously mined in California.

The most popular and productive surface gold mining areas in California are the rivers and tributaries on the western slope of the Sierra Nevada below 5,000-feet elevation: especially theYuba, Feather and American rivers. In northern California, the Klamath, Salmon and Trinity rivers have been productive along with the Kern River, Placerita and San Gabriel Canyons in southern California.

Ask at gold country visitor centers, museums, and rock shops for directions to local recreation areas that allow gold panning either for free or a fee. Do not trespass or prospect on private property.

We knew they were mining gold and earning a good living where property is fenced so no one can see in or over the fence, and every few feet are signs “Private Property”, “Keep Out”, “This Means You”, and “Trespassers Will Be Shot”. As the road ascended, we looked down to the Klamath River and watched wet-suited dredgers at work.

We inquired at a southern California lodge about the location of a historical plaque on their property. It was in the area where member visitors paid to camp and pan for gold. They denied us admittance so we knew they were accumulating gold.

One small mountain community in Sierra County posted no signs. We saw no one and heard no activity, but we felt eyes watching us as we turned around at the dead end of town. Cabins dotted the hillside. Each served as an entrance tunnel to a mine dug behind it. I’d like to be a fly on the wall when those townsfolk gather ‘round the pot-bellied stove in the general store and swap tales.


About Lynne Schaefer

Lynne Schaefer has written two newspaper columns ("The Schussboomer" about skiing in California, and "Notes from Lynne's Journal" about Oregon wildlife); travel and garden articles for regional magazines copy for DVD tours of the High Desert Museum and the Newberry National Volcanic Monument, both in Bend, Oregon. She has published three non-fiction books, A Traveler's Guide to Historic California, Christmas Trivia Quiz, and His Daughter's Remembrance.
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