For those of you that haven’t had the pleasure of experiencing gold fever, let me tell you it is for real. If you get it, it is damn difficult to get rid of it. When I experienced it, took me three years of gold mining every weekend to break it.
Gold is found in two places, in a river/stream/creek or in a hole in the ground.
Placer gold is found in the river/stream/creek. This is the gold you’re familiar with and the gold you mostly find in rings, pendants, earrings, etc.
Gold found in “hard rock” mines is usually crystalline and imbedded in quartz.
Gold has been around for Eon’s. For you geezers out there, that’s even longer than you’ve been alive, although you feel you’ve been around for Eon’s too. Gold is the heaviest metal around and in the case of Placer Gold, is on the bottom (way below any sand or rocks) in a river/stream/creek. Gold will sift through sand and rocks all the way to bedrock and that’s where it will sit until found. That’s the short version.
Mother lode is a principal vein or zone of veins of gold or silver ore. The term probably came from a literal translation of the Spanish veta madre, a term common in old Mexican mining. The Motherlode stretches from about Auburn, California in the north to a place called Mormon Bar in Mariposa County to the south, a distance of about 182 miles.
Enter winter in the Motherlode. You might look at the American River, Mokelumne, Cosumnes, or many of the other un-named streams or creeks in the area. Winter snows accumulate on the Sierra Nevada Mountains to the depth of 20, 30, maybe 40 feet, anyway a hell of a lot of snow. Then the spring thaw comes and all that snow turns into a lot of water running down the rivers and creeks I mentioned above. As all this water gouges out the hillsides, any gold (usually crystalline) will drop into said rushing water and be beaten into the nuggets you now know as placer gold.
I’m not talking about the current day and time, but this has been happening for Eon’s. Here you have all this gold dropping into rivers, being beaten into nifty nuggets, and sitting there awaiting James Marshall to discover the first nugget at the saw mill in the little town of Coloma, just outside of Sacramento. Maybe you’re not aware of the full story, but the short version is that James Marshall couldn’t keep quiet, went to San Francisco, and told Sam Brannan who subsequently blabbed to the whole world (to his financial benefit I might add, but that’s another story) starting the California gold rush.
So you have all these guys panning and sluicing every river/stream/creek in that 182 miles of Motherlode and pretty much cleaning out the joint. The next winter, more water, and more panning, more sluicing and so forth and so on. You get the picture.
Then you have the hard rock miners, the guys that tunnel into the mountain looking for the vein. In my wanderings I’ve been in several, but I have to be honest, not very far as I’m a bit claustrophobic. I did manage to go about 50 feet into the Derby mine, up the hill out of Auburn (all these places are obviously in California so I’m going to stop adding that). This mine was dug by the Chinese (another whole story) and was only five feet high and five feet wide, so you can see how it would affect someone with claustrophobia.
Some of these hard rock mines went miles into the hill or miles down into the ground. My oldest son worked for a mine called the “Original 16 to 1” in Allegany. This mine descends to a depth of 3000 feet. A miner by the name of Mark Fussell, 36, was killed Nov. 6, 2000, when his head hit a protruding ore chute, breaking his neck. My son was sitting in the chair next to him when it happened.
Eon’s ago when the earth was in its upheaval stage, a lot of the rivers filled with gold, were “tossed” up with the ground and are now known as “Ancient Riverbeds”. Sometimes these can be accessed from the surface; sometimes it takes hard rock mining to find them.
Another way of finding gold is open pit mining. There is a mine (I believe it was called the Goldstrike Mine) out in Nevada that processes thousands of cubic yards of dirt to retrieve the, almost microscopic, gold in the ground. Years ago I worked for an oil company and we made deliveries to the mine. You wouldn’t believe the security around that big hole in the ground.
One last way of retrieving gold and it’s just a side benefit, is gravel processing. When river gravel is run through the “separator”, the biggest rocks fall, then the smaller, and smaller until all that’s left is basically dirt. This dirt is run through a sluice box and any gold is captured. I won’t name names, but there are a couple of them locally and rumor has it that there is a bunch of gold in the company vault.
According to Gold Fields Mineral Services, as of 2012, there has been 5.6 Billion Troy Ounces (174,100 tons) of gold mined in human history. 50% is used for jewelry, 40% for investments, and 10% used in industry. Most claim that 80% of the world’s gold is still in the ground.
So hopefully you have a little idea what this crazy gold mining thing is about. Our next stop on the tour is Chili Gulch. See you then.