In Colorado, placer gold is found in gold bearing regions wherever rivers or glaciers are, or have been in ancient times. The water from rivers and/or glaciers have carried gold deposits far away from the sources, or weathered gold and other minerals from the rock where it was placed millennia ago. Mountainous areas are usually the sources, as they have brought to the earth’s surface, gold deposits from volcanic or super-heated steam and hot water systems. Stream action carries eroded material from the mountain tops to the seas until they are flattened and the upheaval begins again in the never ending cycle of building up and breaking down.
While these cycles bring about the inevitable results, it is the formation of the glaciers during ice ages that wears away the most material and brings the most gold down out of the mountains with the grinding of earth under ice. The magnitude of the ice events is astounding! The volume of water that the ice produced boggles the mind, and the force of the water that sometimes broke out of ice, rock or moraine dams during the melting process of the ice, literally moved and gouged mountains in its rush to the sea, sorting and depositing lighter and heavier materials in predictable places on its downward plunge. To find those predictable places sometimes takes the mind of a visionary to imagine the volume of water and how it would have spread over a given area. Placer miners are very grateful to Mother Nature for having done so much of the heavy work and making it easier to find gold.
The newer stream cuts through the mountains are easier to read, and every prospector should take his or her gold pan out every once in a while to test a theory. You might be pleasantly surprised to find gold where you least expected it to be. At the least you will find where it is not, and that is valuable to learn, as well. Check areas where stream water would or does slow down. The inside bend of a river, the backside of a rock, a natural drop in the river, or eddies are all good places to look for gold. We also like to look where fish swim. Fish do not work harder than they have to, and will stay to the calmer spots in the river. Gold will settle out here, too.
Some areas will be better, where larger rocks drop out, and others will scour well enough that bigger rocks will not be evident. Smaller streams will, naturally, show smaller rock. The farther you are from the source the more rounded the rocks will be and usually the smaller the gold will be. The exception to this is in areas where glacial activity has been. The grinding of the glacier would have rounded the rocks even close to the source. You will need to research the area where you are going to look to know how the gold was placed in the placer area.
Knowledge from someone familiar with the area is the fastest way to determine this, and you can find a lot of those folks active in local prospecting clubs or running local prospecting stores. We all first look where it has been found before, but to find the mother lode, you may have to look beyond what is readily known about an area.
Even lode miners start with what is shown on the surface, and there are vast amounts of gold hidden, maybe a couple of feet where it had been found, that is missed. Every year more is brought to the surface and carried away. Every year someone spots a rock that has been walked over many times, (us included) but not turned over, that has moved in its spot just enough to reveal the gold that encrusts its underside. Even the best metal detectorists miss those big nuggets.
Where do you look to find gold? Rivers that drain gold bearing areas, to be sure. Their bottoms and banks can contain the rich substance, but look also for bedrock, which traps the gold along its bottom and in crevices, and old river channels above the present ones for ancient deposits left when the river changed course. Changing course can happen many times, so you need to look also in other areas where the river has coursed in the past. Sometimes, as with the Arkansas River, a mountain range has risen up to block the original path, or a moraine has pushed a river to another side of a valley. All of these will help you to find gold, but do make sure you know where you are, and respect active claims and private property.
Tailings piles from old mines can also be a place to find gold that was overlooked in days of old. Mining techniques were not anything like what we do today, and were inefficient. All types of mining done 100 years ago went after what was easy, visible and plentiful. A word of caution about old mines, here. FIRST, most of them are still active claims and private property. Make sure you have permission to be there. Second, they are EXTREMELY dangerous, so be extra careful around them. A 1,000 foot fall would definitely hurt, and the bad air and water that plagues a lot of them isn’t worth your life. Many of them are owned and have no trespassing signs on them and you need permission, as well as with placer claims, already in place, so do your homework. Belonging to a club can be a real boost in your ability to gather information about an area and which places are best for a week long excursion for your vacation, as well as dangers, and permits required.
Desert areas are of great interest to the prospector. Vast areas can hold gold that has simply weathered away from the existing rock or mountain ranges, or may have been carried from far away to be left deposited on the hot, dry ground. Finding gold with a metal detecting in these areas can produce large nuggets as well as small, and is, at the least, cleaner than the dry washer. The draw back to metal detecting is that most only reach a few inches accurately, and several feet for very large targets. That leaves an awful lot of ground beneath a metal detectors’ reach possibly holding gold. To be sure, even the desert erodes and more nuggets are brought out of areas previously detected, but no one, no matter how good, can get ALL the gold out of an area with a detector. If you know of a place that is open for metal detecting where gold has been found before, finding gold there again is a good bet.
Dry washers can sometimes find gold in a productive area faster than the detector, and certainly is more effective with smaller gold the detector misses. However, be prepared to wear a dust mask. The work is strenuous, as well, so use those dumbbells in the off season! I never choked on so much dust in my life as the day I spent (or half day) throwing dirt onto and classifying rocks off of one of the big dry washers at Stanton. I spit grit out of my teeth for a whole day later, and blew dirt out of my nose for three! Sure was fun, though. Now, why is that?
Finding gold is an interesting way to spend your time. You will learn much about the earth and many earth sciences as your quest increases. When someone asks you what you do, you can include prospecting in your answer. Now there is an activity that perks up a lot of ears!
COMMENTS ON FILING A CLAIM
There has been such a problem with new claim owners that some comment on filing a claim and whether it is accepted by the BLM or Forest Service needs to be addressed. People who file claims seem to assume that, simply because they file, their claim is valid. The claimants seem to feel they can ignore the letter sent by the BLM disallowing the claim, and continue to say they have the rights to the claims. People. Just because you FILE a claim, does NOT mean your claim is valid. You MUST check with BLM to see if it has been allowed, and if you get a REGISTERED letter disallowing it, it becomes public record and anyone can verify that you do or do not have claim to the minerals. Sometimes they take three months to decide, so be sure and check back with them to make sure you have a valid claim. Land purchased by the BLM with conservation money (like at Cache Creek) CANNOT BE CLAIMED. Alternate Power sites also CANNOT BE CLAIMED. When you file you must check these things out. Just because the BLM or Forest Service has open areas does not mean they are claimable. Sometimes they do not own the mineral rights and some of these issues go back to the late 1800’s. If you file on these sites and they are disallowed, you will lose your filing fee.
NEW regulations and fee requirements will be put into effect for the Cache Creek high banking area.
For those of you who would like to do some research on the different areas of Colorado, here are a couple of resource links to the BLM that you might need. The first is the home page of the BLM. When you get there, you will need to click on the state you are interesting in getting information on. www.blm.gov . The website address for the LR200 is www.blm.gov/lr2000 where you can look up claim information using the claim name and range township and section, and the geo-communicator can be found at www.blm.gov/geocommunicator where you can look up the maps. These two sites can be hard to get around on the first time through, so be prepared to spend some time and more than once to figure out how to access the various sections.
A word about High Altitudes
Many of the gold bearing areas in Colorado are at altitudes above 9,000 feet and some precautions should be adhered to when venturing up that high if you are from an area of the country below 5,000 feet in elevation.
First, you must see to it that you keep hydrated in the Rocky Mountains. Dehydration occurs very quickly in the hot dry air here, and that, coupled with many other circumstances, can cause stress on your whole body. Hydration means WATER, not caffeinated drinks, coffee or alcohol, which can make the problem worse. You will usually need one to three days to acclimate, so go slowly and try not to overdo. Sleeping can be a problem for some people until they get used to the altitude. If at all possible, sleep at a lower altitude than you are in all day long.
This is by no means a medical recommendation for anyone, however, over the years some of the problems people can have with the altitude, I have seen and so, I am compelled to offer these words of caution to those of you who may never have been in Colorado before. Denver, The Mile High City is a great place to begin your adventure and also to begin getting used to the change in altitude. Enjoy your stay!