Tag Archives: lake havasu

4 for a Tenth!

Although the Lake Havasu weather has continued to be unseasonably warm (70′s – 80′s), the gold has been hiding!  As the title suggests, the last four outings to the local Bison area, has yielded a measly 1/10 of a gram!  During those 4 outings I must have moved over 3 yards of dirt for what comes out to be about $4.00 for my efforts!  After all is said and done, I got out of the house and did some serious exercising, which I really needed!  Because of the gorgeous sunny days, I’m starting to get a bit of tan on my face too!

Today began with some metal detecting in an area significantly outside the gold-bearing 1 mile radius in the Bison wash area.  On previous tips, I had noticed an old claim marker and the telltale cobblestones, exposed bedrock and scattered quartz on the hillside, all prompting this prospecting effort.  After just minutes, 12 guage buckshot shells were blasting off on the other side of a ridge, so I knew I was safe, but definitely shortened my detecting efforts!  After digging up several bullet fragments, it was time to head back to my most bountiful location in Bison, The Big Hill.

gold prospecting in lake havasu

Samurai parked on Big Hill

Since I had the metal detector with me, I figured I’d go over my previous tailings from the last couple trips at the base of Big Hill, to see if I missed anything.  After all, my buddy Chad found his biggest picker to date by doing this.  By the way, he found a 3 gram nugget in his tailings by swiping my Goldbug2 over his tailings.  I did not have very good luck, as all I found was more ammunition!  I put the Samurai in 4WD and headed up the steep, jagged trail to my most fruitful digging spot from the past.  I unloaded, setup my drywasher on one of my old giant tailings piles and began digging and digging and digging.  All-in-all, I dug 4 different locations, totalling 30 5 gallon buckets, and found flour gold in 2 of them.  Today’s efforts netted me only half a tenth, combined with that same amount, still in the vial, from my last 3 subpar outings, to account for today’s monumental cleanup 1/10 of a gram!   Once again, it was a beautiful, sunny, upper 70′s day and I got some great excersise!  Beats the hell out of the day my Chicago area friends witnessed today!

Hot Prospecting

I had no work booked for the day, so I planned to wake up early and head out to my new spot and see what happened.  But first I had to replace my home made drywasher’s fan bearing, despite it being a “sealed bearing”!  I also had to service some of the hardware on the riffle box, due to all the shakin’, rattlin’ & rollin’ it has been doing this year.

Because we in Lake Havasu are now in the 100′s from now until late September, one needs to start digging around 6 am to have enough time to dig before it gets too hot.  This time of year, the early morning temps are still in the upper 70′s, so until that changes, (morning temps will eventually only get down into the 90′s), I’ll keep digging.

desert prospecting is hot and dusty

Dusty and hot!

The only issue I have in my current new spot, which is atop a series of gullies, fully exposed to gusty wind, is when the wind does start blowing from random directions, the dust from my drywasher sometimes blows right in my direction.  When I’m digging and sweating, the windblown dust sticks to any exposed skin.  In a matter of minutes, you have a caked-on layer of dirt!  So far this new spot has yielded over 2 grams of placer gold and even a few nice pickers, which have been pretty scarce this season.  So the price I pay (hot, sweaty, dusty, etc) is almost worth it…almost.  Spending on average 4-5 hours digging gold and coming back with an average of 2-3 tenths of a gram really does not constitute being worthwhile, but, as any placer gold prospector can attest, you never know when you’re going to find a nugget.

Sweaty and dusty placer gold prospecting

Sweaty and dusty

Maybe today will be that day?

As the morning  progressed, I did my usual routine, which entails processing about 8 – 10 buckets of dirt from more than location in my current gully, then walking the bucket of concentrates down the hill to my little base-camp, where my ice-filled cooler of Powerade, and water await, as well as my pan and tub of water. After digging and drywashing for an hour stretch up in the gully, in the hot desert sun, I like to turn on the stereo in my Samurai and pan to the music!  The first couple washouts yielded the normal multiple bits of flour gold per pan, which isn’t a bad thing, but you always think that the next pan will have one of those elusive little pickers that we all desire!

Since I’ve visited this new spot about half a dozen times so far, I had only found one nice picker amongst the normal bunch of fines, so I realized that finding more would be rare.   These trips are really noting more than filler trips, where I intend only to add to my total of gold.  During the third washout round, there it was, voila, a nice picker poked its head out of the black sand in the pan.

Another nice picker

Another nice picker

Finally!  Finding this new picker was a good boost to my ego as well as my motivation to continue on as the morning advanced near the noon hour, in which the sun is at its peak, bringing with it 100+ degree temperatures!  I had one bottle of Powerade left and with renewed motivation, I trudged back up the hill for the 5th and final time of the morning, in search of another picker.  I convinced myself to dig up more buckets of pay dirt than usual to finish off a productive day with hopefully more pickers.  The effort did indeed payoff, rewarding me with two more pickers!  Not as large as the first one, but they made my sweaty, dust-caked face smile.  the day ended up producing 3+ tenths of a gram.  With the price of gold falling below $1400.00 per ounce, not many reasonable humans would consider that total worth the extreme effort, but to anyone bitten by the Gold Bug, such as I have been, this is a good day!

Today as I write this, our temps topped 110 degrees in Lake Havasu, AZ, and my boat lettering business, Don Burda Design has increased, so I’m not sure how many more posts I’ll be able to write until things cool off a bit.  I can guarantee that in the last few outings of the season, I find something to brag about, you’ll see it posted here!

Divining Intervention

It’s now springtime, 2013, and I have re-visited many of my old dig sites.  The “Big Hill” has yielded close to another two grams and the old “Swimming Pool” location has accounted for close to another gram, while “Black Rock Canyon” gave up only a few tenths of a gram.  While digging at the Swimming Pool location, I often encountered a couple “snow birds” (retired, winter visitors to Lake Havasu),

tom and tom the dowser

Tom and Tom

Tom and Tom.  I had met the first Tom last season, but had not been acquainted with his new partner, Tom.  Tom #1 had told me about his friend and how he was a “dowser” .  I am, generally speaking, pretty open-minded and had heard about dowsers being able to locate buried gold, but had never encountered anyone who claimed to have this capability.  A dowser uses divining rods and a lot of faith and / or focus to accomplish the feat of locating gold.  Kind of a mind over matter situation.  I had asked Tom #1 about the success rate of Tom the dowser and he stated he was about 60% accurate.  When encountering other prospector friends in the desert, I had asked them what they thought their success rate was (success of finding gold, regardless of quantity), without the aid of dowsing and the consensus was, including my own experiences, the same 60%, plus or minus a few percentage points.  One day, I actually tested Tom the dowser, by asking him to work his divining rods over a pan of concentrates I was getting ready to wash out, as well as a small bucket of concentrates.  He said there would not be any gold in the pan, but there was gold in the bucket of concentrates.  I panned out the concentrates in the pan and there was gold in it.  I figured I’d try it again and dumped another pan full of concentrate from the bucket and asked him to dowse the pan and bucket again.  He predicted the pan would have gold and that there was still some gold left in the bucket of concentrates.  This time he was correct on both accounts.  So there you have it, in my test, Tom was correct 66% of the time.  In conclusion, myself and all my prospecting buddies figured to be about 60-something % accurate locating gold without dowsing and Tom the dowser had an accuracy rate that was about the same.  Although Tom did illustrate an ability to be a dowser, the results were no greater than the rest of us, who did not dowse.  Despite that, I was still impressed by Tom’s dowsing ability!

Season #1 Draws to a Close. Time to Sell.

Since my dad’s visit in April, 2012, I had several more outings and found a few nice new pickers and a decent amount of fines. They came from locations previously visited, like The Big Hill, Black Rock Canyon and the Swimming Pool. Many new areas were explored and none of them turned out to be mainstays, like the one’s just referenced. That shows just how difficult it is to find good, reliable spots to dig in Lake Havasu’s Bison area washes. The snowbirds (retired winter visitors to Havasu) had already headed home and the weather pattern was changing.

Warm weather is becoming the norm, not the exception this time of year (April / May) and that means a steady dose of 100+ degree temps is just around the corner. Time to take stock of season one gold totals and decide what to keep and what to sell. I decided that I’d keep my pickers and sell my “fines”. I later discovered this to be pretty normal among amateur prospectors. Now I needed to find a place to buy my fines. I polled the online gold prospecting community at Treasurenet and the consensus was to package it up and send it to Midwest Refineries in Michigan. I first spoke with a guy there who informed me they had been in the biz for over 60 years. That made me feel more comfortable about a scenario in which I had to trust someone and not have the opportunity to take my gold and walk out the door if I did not like their assessment. I was also happy to learn they pay 95% of spot. This means 95% of current market value, based on their assessment of the gold’s purity. I had 7.5 grams of fines

7.5 grams of lake havasu gold

7.5 grams of gold to sell

to sell and asked local longtime prospector, Rick, his estimation regarding Lake Havasu’s gold purity.  He told me that I could expect somewhere around 85% to 90%. When speaking to the guy at Midwest Refineries, he explained they have a minimum quantity before they would assay gold and it was 3 ounces! He explained that in cases like mine, they melt down the gold into a button shape, then x-ray it, to reveal impurities, then, and this is the part I did not like, guesstimate what they believe the purity to be. Because of what Rick told me, I was prepared to hear something in the 80% – 90% range, so when the refinery guy’s report came back to be only 72%, I was not happy! That, combined with the current price of gold at the lowest it’s been for over a year, $1533.00 per troy ounce, I ended up with a check for just under $250.00! Not nearly what I was expecting! So…what I ended up with was only 67% of spot! All this effort and only $250.00 to show for it, well…that plus my retained pickers and a season’s worth of prospecting knowledge under my belt. That’s amateur prospecting for you! Sometimes you get lucky, most of the time you come home with a couple tenths of a gram and a sore body!

The “Swimming Pool”

After many months had passed, I thought I’d visit Rick and pick his brain a bit more.  He informed me there was a place that had produced around 1/4 ounce for him and his crew and it was fairly close.  Since the only vehicle I had to make the trips to the desert was my 1975 GMC 3/4 ton van, anything nearby was a blessing!  Upon arriving to the “Swimming “Pool” basin, I saw where Rick and his boys had dug previously, but there was a lot of ground that was not dug.  I located what I though would be the bottom of the bowl-shaped basin and began to dig.  After diggin out a couple feet of overburden, I thought it best to start drywashing some of the dirt.  Very little gold was present all the way down to a thick layer of dense, crumbly, pink clay, which unfortunately, was about 4.5 feet down!  At this point I had drywashed over a ton of dirt and had very little gold to show for it.  I expanded the hole outward, with hopes of finding something more significant, but nothing had changed.  By now, it was getting dark and I had to pack up and head home.  I reviewed in my head what I had dug this day and what was remaining…a layer of crumbly pink clay.  Very recently I learned that after digging all the way down, some areas did not go right to bedrock.  Some areas had a layer of clay or caliche sitting on top of the bedrock.  If it does exist, there is a chance gold was trapped in it, not making it down to the bedrock.  I had a feeling there might be gold trapped in this pink clay, so next trip to the desert, I jumped in my now 5 ft. deep hole and began to chip away at the pink clay.  I had recently garage-rigged my leaf blower-vac to fit onto an old 6 gallon shop vac and created a functional dirt vac!  This is extremelyuseful when chipping away at clay or crevaces in bedrock, where gold can somethimes get trapped.  After filling a few cannisters of vacuumed crumbly pink clay, I ran it all through my drywasher, then brought it to my washout station.  Eureka!  There was nice, chunky gold in the pink clay! 

placer gold in lake havasu
swimming pool sized hole

I was bringing home nearly half a gram each outing here, so I continued to expand the hole.  Eventually, it became the size of a small swimming pool, thus the name that became the norm for this location.  The photo is from the “Swimming Pool” area, but was not the original.  this hole was dug next to the swimming pool I dug and its contents were dumped into the giant hole I dug.  After all was said and done, I had found about 4 grams of gold here.  During one of the several trips here, I tried to park my van in a different location, one closer to where I was digging.  I did this to avoid making three trips back and forth, to get my gear in place.  I was able to find a new spot to park the van, but it was questionable I would be able to get it out after a day of digging.  I proceded to go about my business and after having a good day of digging, my worst fear was realized…the van was stuck in loose sand and I was alone in a remote location in the desert!  Fortunately, my buddy Chad happened to cruise by after he was done digging for the day and had a tow strap.  However, he only had his Samurai to provide the pull!  Remember, I had a 3/4 ton van, stuck deep in loose sand.  All of a sudden, Wade happend to see what was going on and came in to investigate.  They both hooked up to the tow strap and with a lot of effort, including me digging a ditch arouond the van in an effort to make a path for it, finally un-stuck my van!  This trench is still there today!  By this time it was almosrt dark and time to head home for the day.  On the drive home, I was wishing I had a Samurai, so this would not happen again!

gold nugget, havasu

heart-shaped little nugget

Once I arrived home from that ordeal, I emptied my little vial of gold from the day and let it dry.  Once it dried, I started to have a sort through it and look what I had…a tiny heart-shaped nugget!  this is the only one I have ever found…so far.  Who knows, it could end up in a piece of custom made jewelry someday?  I made a handful more trips to the Swimming Pool and even dug areas around it, finding another half gram of gold, but this was a lot of digging (isn’t it always?) for the amount of gold actually found and I decided to abandon this site and move back to the “Big Hill”.

Black Rock Canyon

After many months of prospecting around the Bison area wash, where to date, all my gold has been found, a new hotspot, I refer to as “Black Rock Canyon”, is discovered.  Once entering this canyon, it’s apparent I’m not the first one to discover this area, as evidence of previous digging is very clear to see.  To be honest, just about every good prospecting spot in Lake Havasu has been dug before…weather it be during the gold rush days or in the last few years.  I’m sure this applies to most every place prospectors look for gold.   This canyon is lined with black colored rock walls and has few telltale signs that gold would be present.  Telltale signs include: ”cobblestones” (smooth, river-washed grey-ish stones, ranging in size from common “skipping stones”, to cobblestones used to pave roads, to boulders, lining the hillsides), an abundance of red rock and of course, exposed bedrock.  Many prospectors I’ve encountered have stated: “the redder the better“.  This location is further proof that: “gold is where you find it“.  Ounces of gold have been found in this canyon!


In addition to finding a new area with gold, I encounter the first of a regular cast of characters who like to dig in the Bison wash area of Lake Havasu…Wade.  Wade can commonly be seen sporting a pistol at his side and like my buddy Chad, drives a Suzuki Samurai.  More about this later.   At first, seeing a pistol at his side was a bit offsetting, but it is the Wild West, right?  He entered the canyon as I was in full-swing, digging and running the dirt through my recently upgraded puffer drywasher.  Upgraded by means of rigging up a leaf blower, with a weighted fan blade, resulting in my own vibrating, powered drywasher.  No more hand powered puffing!  Wade seemed a bit upset that I had discovered an area that had produced a nice amount of gold for him and numerous others before him in the past.  Since this is BLM land and no claims are present in this spot, all anyone can do is hope no one finds their new find.  There is an unwritten desert courtesy law, where if someone leaves a spot they are currently digging and leaves behind a bucket in the hole, others are supposed to leave it alone until the bucket is removed.   After breaking the ice, he tells me he has been prospecting this area for over a decade.  I asked him if he knew Rick, the rock mine owner, and he said he had met him.   Seems like everyone who digs here has, at one time or another, ran into each other and have been acquainted.  It’s kind of fun swapping stories with other prospectors.  If you pay attention, you just might learn from their experiences!


placer gold, lake havasu

gold found in Black Rock Canyon

The Black Rock Canyon became my focus for a few weeks.  My pal Chad was also finding gold here.  The next bit illustrates the main factor that, in my opinion, motivates all prospectors.  While I opened up a hole adjacent to the area where we were all finding gold, Wade decided to jump in just a few feet from my current hole.  Upon returning the next day, I learned he pulled out a nice 3 gram nugget, literally a few feet from where I was digging!  My spot yeilded mainly flour gold, with a small picker or two.  Then, the following week, just over a rise from where we were all digging, an old-timer in his 80′s unearthed a one ounce nugget!  This goes to prove that you just never know what you might find and that it is still, after decades of extensive prospecting, possible to find nice nuggets!  This, to me, is what drives us all to work like sled dogs for what usually results in small gold finds.  If I come home with 2 or 3 tenths of a gram per outing, I feel I’ve accomplished something!  Perhaps, with time and experience, this number will increase?

Spread The Fever

After a few months of prospecting and now, actually finding gold, my buddy Chad started asking quesions.  At this juncture, I had not found much gold to brag about…maybe 1 gram.

placer gold

1 gram of gold

He asked to come along on my next outing and I agreed.  At that time, I was in an area that was producing gold, but very little.  It was enough to justify digging again, so I decided this is where I’d introduce Chad to gold prospecting 101.  After a few hours of digging holes along a little valley between to outcroppings of bedrock, we managed to find only a few specs of gold. I could sense he was somewhat discouraged when he told me to keep the specs for myself, without having to share with him.  I continued on with this spot until it had run dry, then ventured off to a new area, which I referred to as “The Big Hill”.  This was a small mountain peak, with a steep, rocky 1/4 mile trail leading to a landing, where it made sense to setup camp and begin prospecting.  Keep in mind, the only vehicle I had for these excursions was a two wheel drive, 1975 GMC 3/4 ton van…not exactly what one would call an off road vehicle!  Knowing the extreme nature of the trail leading up to the landing, I had no choice but to lug all my gear up the 1/4 mile trail by hand.  This included drywasher, 5 gallons of water, shovel, pick and plastic panning bin.  Eventually I decided to bring along a hand truck, which eliminated the need to make two trips!  


All this effort paid off, because I began to find gold in most every pan…and nice gold!  In fact, I found my first “picker” here!  After a couple more fruitful outings at the Big Hill, I showed Chad my increasing amount of gold and asked if he’d like to come along one more time.  Now that I was 

gold panning

nice gold

actually finding a nice amount of gold, he was more eager to come along.  After all the hard work involved with finding a nice deposit of gold, I had mixed feelings about sharing my find with someone, but ultimately had a partner for the next Big Hill trip.  That next trip produced the best day to date, just under 1/2 a gram!  It turned out to be twice the amount I had found on my own, so it seemed like a good plan.  Soon after, Chad was bitten by the Gold Bug, bought his own drywasher and began prospecting on his own.

First Gold

I think my initial introduction to placer gold prospecting came from viewing the first episodes of Gold Rush Alaska.  In September of 2011 I happened to make a decision that would affect my life from that point forward.  I called an acquaintance of mine, Bob, who was a partner in a local rock mine.  I was informed by his sister that they initially acquired the lease in the 1980′s because of the gold potential, but had no details beyond that.  After having a chat with Bob, he confirmed that the impetus for acquiring the lease and all the equipment necessary for their operation, was to mine for gold.   They did this successfully until the building boom began here in the 1990′s, where they decided to go with more of a sure thing and use their equipment to make landscaping gravel for the growing local housing market.  Bob gave me the number of his partner, Rick, who ran the mine, and after a short chat, agreed to share his knowledge of gold prospecting with me. 


Before my meeting with Rick, I had made an uninformed, impulse buy of a Gold Bug 2 metal detector, thinking that would be the way to find gold in our desert.  Rick’s first comment to me was along the lines of: “you have a nice metal detector there, but you won’t find much use for it here”.  He explained that  this part of the desert was popular for those who like to shoot their guns, resulting in lots of buckshot, bullet fragments, shell casings, beer bottle tops, etc, all of which will set off a metal detector, even those that use discrimination.  Yeah, I was disappointed, but knew this Gold Bug 2 could come in handy somewhere down the line.  And trust me, it did!


The foundation of placer gold prospecting in Lake Havasu, was understanding how it got here and the affect time and nature had on it.  Once I had a general understanding of this, I decided to make my next purchase, a small puffer-style drywasher.  This is the best way to be introduced to processing  the tons of desert dirt I will shovel in the coming months.  This little hand-powered drywasher was the first step in the right direction for me and now…it was game on!


My first several outings into the desert, armed with pick, shovel, 5 gallons of water, pan and hand-operated drywasher, resulted in nothing more than a sore back and literally no gold!    I bugged Rick for more information and guidance about placer gold prospecting in the desert and one day in November, 2011, it all started to make sense.  Armed with some of his knowledge, combined with an endless supply of information on the internet,  I began to look for exposed bedrock along the trail of past riverbeds or washes and their tributaries, especially where they made turns.   These turns or  “elbows” in the terrain create eddys or vortexes that effectively suck down anything in it’s path, including gold, which is the 3rd heaviest element on the planet.  I began to dig into one of these and started to fill the drywasher.  After collecting a bucket of concentrates (material that collects in the riffles of the drywasher), I filled up my little plastic bin with water from my 5 gallon bucket and began to pan the concentrates.  After all the trial and error of the first month and a half, I finally found my first gold!

placer gold, gold panning

First Gold!

What’s This?

My name is Don Burda and in 2011, I discovered there is gold to be found in my own town, Lake Havasu City, Arizona!  This blog is here to:

  1. document my gold prospecting adventures in Lake Havasu and surrounding areas
  2. share my knowledge of placer gold prospecting in the desert
  3. share my knowledge of equipment used in the process, whether it be store-bought or made in my garage
  4. share my experiences selling gold and where you’ll get the best price
  5. reveal the reality of what it is to be an individual prospector