Expanding your knowledge base.

A lot of the bedrock is down in the gullies and not so much on the hills.

I have a funny little story to tell about how naive a novice gold hunter can be. Many years ago, when I first got interested in the hunt for gold, I turned to the internet to do some gold research. I found a website that had some interesting information about desert placer gold locations where I might be able to find some of the color. One of the spots it detailed was the Little San Domingo Placer near Castle Hot Springs road. It spoke of side roads heading off into the desert where gold nuggets could be found on exposed bedrock.

Immediately, I was hooked on the idea of heading out to the spot. I visualized walking out into the desert in search of this bedrock. I pictured it on top of a little hill, exposed to the elements for centuries and I, being the first one to find the outcropping would crouch down and spec the gold nuggets with my only tools being my eyes and fingers.

I’m sure quite a few of you are laughing at this point but it gets even better. I further visualized myself walking back out of the desert with my poke full of nugs, staring out over beautiful Lake Pleasant! I remember driving out near the lake with my wife in the beginning and saying, “Yep, just out there on those hills a guy can find gold nuggets on bedrock!”

“Really?”, she said. ,

“Yeah, you can just pick ‘em up off the ground!”

Talk about total ignorance. We all suffer from a degree of it as there is always something new to learn in the search for gold but as a novice, it can be a complete handicap. Luckily, the acquisition of knowledge rarely stops at the beginning of an endeavor. Expanding the knowledge base is a never ending process in the search for gold nuggets. We research deeper, learn GPS, find friends, read maps, search archives, take notes, learn to use a gold pan and other equipment, read the gold prospecting forums and never stop learning. I eventually figured out the Castle Hot Springs is a loop road and while there is plenty of fine gold around Lake Pleasant, it’s just not a nugget hunting area, at least not in the same way as around Morristown, AZ.  With the help of maps, research tools and especially good friends and a never ending desire to expand my knowledge, I was able to find the San Domingo and that first gold nugget. Once, I even found one on bedrock just baking in the sun. I did have a metal detector when I found it though, and had learned a lot about gold indicators and how to read ground.

Look for more tips on how to read placer gold ground soon. It’s important to learn about gold indicators because the vast majority of gold out there is not just sitting out in the open, exposed to the elements and waiting for some idiot to come along and pick it up with little or no knowledge or effort.

Don’t Leave all the fine gold behind!

Desert Gold Mine  After you have found gold with your detector, placered the wash to the best of your ability and are convinced that there are no more nuggets in a wash, it’s time to go look for a new place right? That’s just what a lot of guys do. They move from one area or wash to the next, picking up as many nuggets as they can with their Minelabs and moving on to the next patch, ever in search of new nugget gold. There is nothing wrong with this approach per se. After all, we all love to find gold nuggets and one of the most enjoyable ways to do so is by recovering the big pieces quickly with metal detectors. Still, it bothers me to think how few actually take the time to drywash the areas where they find nuggets.

We already know that if your doing it right, your doing a fair amount of digging to get all the nuggets. Heck, that’s half the work done already. Why not  start throwing that dug up dirt into a drywasher to see what comes of it. It’s almost certain that in the majority of cases there is more fine gold by weight in a wash than there is nugget gold. A lot of detectorists are leaving pounds of fine gold behind in the washes that they detect (not to mention gold nuggets). Testing and sampling for fine placer gold is the key.

Normally, I’ll carry a pan into a spot at least once to test the bedrock for fine gold. If there is water nearby then that is great for testing but if not, I’ll usually just use dry panning and then when I have a pan full of material winnowed down to a small amount, I’ll just use my water bottle to take a look at the concentrates and check for gold dust. This panning is just a nice precursor to heavier equipment. If enough fine gold is found in the pan, a trip in with the dry washer or mini highbanker is in order. In some cases, finding the fine gold streak may even be the key to finding more nuggets. A lot of detectorists stick with the wash and either spend little time on the hills or not enough time to sniff out a pocket where all that gold which ends up in the wash comes from. The hunter goes to a spot, finds nuggets in the wash, checks the upper banks and cleans it out as best as possible. Checking the hillsides, they quickly become frustrated and leave for greener pastures leaving behind the fine gold AND the nugget patch. Then you come along, unaware of the previous activity and either because you have a different coil, a different metal detector or a different mindset you get a couple of nuggets that the previous guys missed. Then suddenly, there is nothing. Well, check for fine gold. If you find some, follow it upstream. Watch how coarse the gold is. If it’s getting more copious or more coarse or both, you are headed in the right direction. If it runs out, back up and start up the sides. Tiny rivulets and guts on the side of a wash that is producing a lot of coarse fine gold will be a good place to check. Perhaps you’ll find the hillside nugget patch of your predecessors, or maybe you’ll even find the one they left behind.

Whatever your attitude toward fine gold vs. gold nuggets, it’s worth it to take along a gold pan and just see what you might be missing by just sticking with the metal detector. 

Placering for gold

So, you’ve found a wash that had a few nuggets in it. You pounded it to death with all your coils and machines. You’ve even hit the hillsides and perhaps you even found a nice patch in the vicinity of where the current or previous source of the gold was. Now what?

Well, if you’ve done the job correctly it should be time to move on and find a new spot. Have you done the job correctly?

One time I was taken to a “patch” one time that was purported to have yeilded in excess of 40 troy ounces of nugget gold. When I got there, it was obvious that very little if any gold had come from the spot. For one thing, when I started detecting in what was said to be the center of the nugget patch I began to find all these little rusted tin targets. Well, I don’t know about you but if I found a place that yeilded that much placer gold, I’d dig every single target. The other obvious indicator was that under the trees and cactus, there was remaining all manner of dead brush and detritus and no stones had been moved. If there was 40 ounces of gold found there (which there wasn’t), I’d say that most of the gold was left behind under rocks and brush.

Giving the benefit of the doubt for a moment, the guy that found this patch didn’t know the secret of successful patch cleaning. The secret lies in one word: Placer.

As in the verb.


“Me and Christopher found a bunch a gold nuggets and we are going back to placer the wash,” said Robert.

“Oh, you mean your going to drywash for fines?”, asked Earl

Robert said, “Heck no! What I MEANT was that we are going to process all the rich material in the wash by removing all the overburden so we can get into all the nuggets in the bedrock cracks covered by a foot or more of material. There are a lot of small nuggets under that overburden and trapped deep in the cracks of the bedrock and our GPX4500’s won’t reach down that far on those really small but copious nuggets that are literally EVERYWHERE in the wash but because no one ever digs down to them, they are still there, even though the wash is right next to the fricken road!”

“Oh.” groused Earl.

The point here is this: If you find gold nuggets in a location and you remove all the targets and use all the coils and machines in your arsenal but fail to move dead branches, large rocks, scrape areas and dig down bedrock in all feasable spots in a wash, you are leaving gold behind. Period.

Gold Nuggets Placered from a virgin nugget patchJust to give an idea of how this works in real life I’ll tell a little story. Rod, Laszlo and I were combing an area which seemeda good bet for a virgin placer gold patch. After splitting up for awhile, we reconvened at a small wash where Laszlo had scored a couple of nice gold nuggets out of the wash. Needless to say we were all totally stoked. This spot was remote as hell and there was no sign of any detectors. The wash had been hit in the very distant past as indicated by the small handstacks and drywash header piles but how exciting! A new spot in a remote area untouched by modern detectors. That’s the brass ring boys.

We set to work and I think Laszlo got one more using his GP Extreme and Nuggetfinder 20″ SL. Rod and I got nothing for our efforts at pounding with our 14″ mono’s. The next trip also yeilded nothing for me and only one teensie little match head for Rod. I think a third trip yeilded nothing. Well, two significant events happened after that. Rod found a hillside piece and Laszlo’s detector broke in the field and he had no option but to dig. The hillside yeilded a lot of gold but some of the best gold came out of that wash after the digging began. Once that overburden was removed, the nuggets just kept coming and coming. Eventually, with expansion, the patch yeilded over 60 nuggets and a lot of those came from placering the wash by removing the overburden. I can assure you we expanded the handstacks and did a lot more work than the oldtimers did. No harm, no foul, the holes were covered and except for the extra rocks on the stacks, the place looks much like it did when we first arrived there. Placering was not the only key to finding gold in this spot but without it we would have left many nuggets behind. The hillside took dilligence and the digging was hard work but it turned a 4 nugget patch into a 60 nugget patch really quick.

Keep in mind I’m not suggesting you dig every square inch of every wash this way. You have to think. I’ve heard stories of guys detecting in major washes that have several feet of overburden and that is not what I’m talking about. You have to choose your battles and that is work best left to the trommels and backhoes. As metal detectorists we are looking for a reasonable compromise of exposed bedrock and areas where a foot or two of overburden can be dug to access the bedrock. Don’t waste your time in areas where it’s not reasonable to use a detector.

Another good example of a well worked patch is the famous Prescott nugget patch which to the best of my knowledge is under current lode claim. The oldtimers sunk a couple of adits here and, as I heard the tale, on one occasion they blasted and hit a really rich pocket of gold. When the blast went off, it sent a ton of matrix into the air which scattered down the hill and left it littered with nice specimens. The pocket was so rich that nobody bothered to go grab the species that now laid scattered. In the olden days folk used to go up and grab a few by eye if they wanted to go to the movie house or fetch some grub. Time passed and most of the easy stuff was picked up until someone researched the matter at the Sharlot hall, found out about the wayward blast of matrix and went up there with a Minelabs. This was several years ago and the results of their efforts, which apparently yeilded about 10 troy pounds of specimen gold, are still evident. There are no loose rocks in the area of the patch except those scraped into piles up under trees . There was a lot of scraping that occured there and it is a truely difficult area to score a nugget in. Another placer patch nearby shows similar efforts with a 25×25 area scraped clean with piles of rocks and totally devoid of targets. Now that’s patch cleaning.

Have you left gold behind somewhere? Better go back and get it!

Methodically Detecting a Desert Wash

Metal Detecting Technique There is a lot of discussion, theory and “gospel” about where to find gold in a desert wash. Most people have heard about the usual suspects such as finding gold on an inside bend, downstream from a boulder, gold nuggets settling within 1 foot of the gut of the creek, looking for the flat dropouts and so on. All these general rules can and do often apply to a given location where we might suspect to find placer gold. Learning to recognize and “cherry pick” these hot spots in a wash can lead to quick discovery of previously uncovered ground or ground previously covered by less experienced nugget hunters. However, there are a few situations where this cherry picking method of detecting is best left behind.

Awhile back when I was new to nugget hunting, I received a powerful lesson while out detecting with Travis Brown of Pro-Gold Prospecting in Youngtown. We were out testing some claims that Kevin Hoagland had acquired in the eastern Bradshaws near Bumblebee and Cleator. A lot of really nice nuggets had come off of these claims in the past and I got chance to see a collection of several ounces in the possesion of the former owner which had been found with a Fisher Gold Bug. Of course these claims had also been hit heavily with Minelab’s as well. Travis, who is a great detectorist and teacher, agreed to let me tag along with him and we went for a hike. Both of us had Minelab detectors. I was using my SD2100 with a stock 11″ DD and Travis had a nice new (at the time) GP3000 with a Coiltek 11″ DD Pro. After trying several areas we dropped down into a wash on the far corner of the claims which looked really nice. The wash was not to wide, and had lots of exposed bedrock. It wasn’t devoid of trash targets either and so seemed to have a good potential for gold. Travis kept preaching to me to be methodical and slow in my approach. We were leap frogging and I was in a rush. This was definitely a case of the tortise beating the hare because in the end, he got 2 gold nuggets and I got none. Travis later recovered at least 3 more and one of them was, humiliatingly recovered out of one of my dig holes.

Here’s how he did it.Detecting Gold Nuggets on a Schist Bank

With beginners, there is a tendency to rush. This applies most especially when the novice has not yet found a gold nugget with his or her detector. It’s really a mindset problem. Because the novice nugget hunter has so many challenging hurdles to overcome, coupled with the intense drive to find that first elusive piece of gold, missteps can occur when trying to follow the general rules. The novice might tend to try and use the cherry picking method before they really know where the cherry spots are. Being in a rush, they actually tend to not only skip over really good places to find gold in the wash, they also don’t detect the areas they do decide to scan very effectively. New detectorists also tend to gravitate towards the old spots. They might spend their first few times out or even longer detecting club claims or open ground in the more known placer gold areas. The thing about these places is that all the usual spots have already been detected thoroughly, sometimes 100’s of times. Not that there aren’t gold nuggets left to be found in choice spots, it’s just that thinking outside of the normal mode of operation is necessary to find gold more frequently.

Detecting Between the Schist for Gold NuggetsIf you are new to nugget hunting, try this excercise next time you go out. Choose a wash where gold has been found in the past. Perhaps it’s that really nice looking wash on a club claim which you’ve never found a target in. Or, maybe it’s the trash filled wash that nobody seems to want to deal with for more than 2 minutes. Pick your starting point and fire up your detector. Take your time because this is not rush work. Make sure your detector is well tuned and ground balanced. Set your threshold just right. If you don’t know how to do this, fake it like you are an expert and just trust that it is the best it will be. Look at the wash ahead of you and just breathe. You know there is gold left in this wash. Now, look down at your coil and begin to scan, slowly. Start on one side of the wash and make sure you overlap your swings. Detect up the banks as far as your detector will go. Shove the coil up under that brush. Turn the coil on edge and pinpoint in between any bedrock cracks. Move into and across the wash, slowly overlapping as you go. Check every thing you hear. If it sounds like it might be a target, boot scrape the sand and check it again. If there is a rock in the way, kick it out of the way and detect again. Dont just detect around the obstructions, get rid of Gold Nugget from the Eastern Bradshawsthem! Move all the way to the other bank and detect up the side and then move forward. Zigzag up the wash slowly, digging every target and detecting every inch of ground between your starting point and the headwaters.

If you are methodical, you will find out how much gold is left in the wash. At least for the coil and machine that you are using. Move forward in this way over many washes in the usual placer areas and you will find gold. It should go without saying that if you do find gold in a wash that it should be thoroughly pounded with whatever coils or detectors you might have at your disposal.