Tag Archives: placer

New pickers!

Still very warm (98 degrees) in the desert, so yesterday I got off to another early start to my new location that has so far, produced 7/10 of a gram in 3 trips.  Instead of hauling my gear up to the gullies origin, where the source quartz veins are exposed, I decided to carry on digging in the very bottom gully that had about a foot of flood overburden on it.  I could see where it narrowed into an impasse, right before it dumped out into a wash tributary.  There was only about 6 feet left to dig before that point, so I had at it.  During my first wash-out, I looked in the distance to see another Samurai that looked exactly like mine.  Even had black custom tubular bumpers!  The guy and his little chihuahua came over for a visit and it turns out he was just getting into desert prospecting.  He said he was from UT and he had some experience with dredging the rivers there, but still had not picked up a dry washer for proper desert prospecting.  As I panned out my concentrates, a few specks of gold appeared.  The next pan revealed the same.  I could see in his eyes that the gold bug was about to bite him.

He followed me into where I was dry washing and continued to watch.  After a couple hopper loads, he had had enough of the desert blowing off my riffle tray and into his face and took off, stating how he just had to buy a dry washer!  I believed him!  Had he stuck around, he would have seen the results of my second washout, which included two new pickers,

pickers in the pan!

pickers in the pan!

one of which must have weighed 1/10 of a gram!  If he hadn’t already been driven to buy a dry washer, this surely would have pushed him over the top!  I shoveled out & panned a few more hopper’s full of gully pay-dirt, all producing some flour gold, then proceeded to vacuum out the remains down to bedrock.  I even vacuumed up the sides of the gullies, because I knew much of the gold had fallen from the source quartz vein above.  Logically, I thought, some gold should have been trapped along the way down, right?  If it did, it must have been dug up in years past, because not a single speck of gold was there!  Since I had exhausted the pay dirt in the bottom of this gully and it was now past noon and 98 degrees, with one bottle of Powerade remaining, I decided to haul my gear back up near the source quartz veins, to continue digging down to where I just was.  This leaves nearly 25 yards of gully to excavate, but I was hopeful to add to my gold take for the day, before I had to leave.

My last trip up there had yeilded 2/10 of a gram, but I discovered an interesting clue relating to where the gold was most likely to be found.  This gully has about a foot of overburden lying on top of it, plenty of cobblestones AND…the source quartz vein was only about 20 yards from where I was digging.  Pretty good odds!  I had dug along the side walls, thinking that before water flow had carved this gully, it must have scattered placer gold somewhere along the way.  However, the only side wall that had any gold in it was where it made an elbow.  So I started to dig in the gully, down to the caliche and through to the bedrock.  I dug up 4 rounds of of pay dirt, creating 4 riffle trays full of concentrate, then closed up shop for the day.  It was already too hot and I was almost out of hydration

3-10-13 gold prospecting outing

new pickers!

.  This last round from up in the gully did produce more gold.  Albeit, only flour gold, but it topped off the day’s totals nicely, ultimately amounting to 3/10 of a gram, which, by my standards, was a nice day, even nicer, because I had a few new pickers, including one very nicer picker, to add to my collection!  To date, this new spot has yielded another gram to add to my total, which is now 21 grams, as you can see by the nifty bar graph, off in the right margin.  I left my bucket in the gully and hope the new guy with a matching Samurai, doesn’t end up exploiting my new find!

A New Season Has Arrived!

new suzuki samurai

new suzuki samurai

After another torturous summer in Lake Havasu, September 2012 offered more opportunity to wake up at sunrise and dig until around noon, when the temps still climbed into the 100′s!  This season will be different because I was able to pickup a Suzuki Samurai!  No more restrictions on where I was able to prospect, due to the limitations of driving a 3/4 ton GMC van.  Now the Bison Wash playing field was leveled! 

My first destination in the new Samurai was a new spot on a very steep incline with lots of loose gravel, crumbly, exposed bedrock, and…unbeknownst to me, camouflaged broken palo verde stumps…just jagged enough to puncture the all-terrain tire of my Samurai!  Yes…that’s exactly what happened!  My very first prospecting trip with the Samurai resulted in my having to make a mad dash to the place I bought its new tires and hope the punctured tire did not deflate enough to cause problems on the way.  Keep in mind, at this juncture, I’m miles deep into the desert and the trails are anything but level!  The dash is on!  I arrived at Discount Tire with the new tire completely deflated.  I was riding on the rim at this point and somewhat frazzled thinking that because I drove on a flat tire for several miles, the outcome could have been much different!  One might ask: “where was your spare tire?”.  It was sitting in my garage, because the newly purchased Samurai did not have a jack, so having a spare would have been useless.  To this day, I’ve been rolling the dice, because I still do not have that jack!

After a few more trips to this new location, that had produced too little gold to warrant further trips, I moved on to another new spot, one that had all the signs of bearing placer gold:  a basin-shaped little outcropping, exposed bedrock and plenty of cobblestones covering the hillsides surrounding it.  I began to dig…and dig…and dig, until the hole was about chest deep and 6 feet in diameter. 

placer gold, prospecting, lake havasu city, az

prospecting a new big hole

Every couple feet I ran a few loads of dirt through the dry washer, then panned out the concentrates, all to find absolutely no gold!  I still had not reached the bottom, where the bedrock was still hiding, but just could not go on any further.  I was discouraged and needed to put more gold into my vial.  So I decided to head back to an area that had had produced a nice amount of gold in the past, to see if I had missed some:  The Big Hill.  I was eager to start digging here again, first, because of my new Samurai, I no longer had to haul all my gear up the steep, jagged, 1/4 mile trail to the landing and secondly, because I felt confident there would be more gold.  I was right, there was more gold!  My first trip yeilded 1/2 a gram, a very good day for amateur propspectors in Lake Havasu!

placer gold prospecting, lake havasu, az

view from the big hill

The next day it rained!  This means that every time it does rain (yes, it does rain in the desert from time to time), prospectors have to wait until the ground dries out.  this is necessary because we dry wash dirt and when dirt is wet, it simply does not cascade down the riffle tray on the dry washer.  The dry time is much longer in the winter months, because the temps only average in the 60′s.  After a rain, it can take up to two weeks before one can successfully begin desert prospecting again.

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!

Return to “Big Hill”.

After abandoning the “Swimming Pool”, rather than begin prospecting for a new spot, I decided to go back to an area that had produced a decent amount of gold, the “Big Hill”.  This is the spot that required me to carry all my gear on a hand truck, up a steep, 1/4 mile rocky trail, to a landing, that always left me gasping for air!  Why all this work?  Because I might find that elusive nugget!


During my second washout of the drywasher’s concentrates, I found a nice picker!

gold nugget

Big Hill picker

You can see there was also a few little specks of “flour gold” present in this pan.  Believe it or not, this is reward enough for all the digging I did, all in a little wash, on a 60 degree incline.  As if all this digging was not enough, I encountered this gnarly desert-dwelling spider.  Being from the Chicago area, even after 13+ years living in Arizona, I am still fascinated with indigenous critters.  So much so, that I still have to pull out the camera and snap off a few pics each time I encounter something new.  You never know what you’ll see in the desert, or…in your own backyard, for that matter.  You will notice that the spider is on a shop vac hose that was used to vacuum up cracks and crevices in the exposed bedrock along the walls of the Big Hill. 

desert spider

Cool desert spider

These results warranted another few visits to the Big Hill.  Visits that all produced gold.  There were many many more unexplored areas at Bison and it was time to roll the dice and have a look around.  Note:  on average, during the season (months where the temps are not in the 100′s, which is essentially, Sept. – May), I get to the desert a couple times per week.  In the beginning, there might be more than one trip where I found absolutely nothing.  As time moved forward, I was able to inventory numerous spots that had produced gold and as a result, became “fallback” areas.  These are valuable, because even though you had left because of lack of production, there is a real chance gold could be found just a few feet from where you were digging.  On to a new spot!

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?