John has prospected for gold in Arizona 10 years. His experience taught him to deal with the terrain, heat, and gold fever. He makes tools.
Gold Is Wonderful to See
Looking Forward to Floods?
For years, most people have heard of the drought in California. While hugely significant, particularly with respect to our bread basket struggling for water, Arizona has also experienced a very dry period.
For gold prospectors, the occurrence of rain is a welcome sight as well. When the rains come, gold flakes that have sunk into difficult places for extraction, large and small, move downstream. Out of the mountains through the alluvium and into the washes of Arizona the flood gold comes.
Amateur prospectors enjoy heading to the mountainous areas when the rains clear out in anticipation of big placer finds. In truth, I find small amounts on my trips to club claims, but nothing resembling huge finds.The rain and flood waters in the desert serve to wet the gold appetite.
The higher the flood waters, the greater the chance that high benches are the recipient of flood gold. So you have a twofer - flood gold that descends to cracks in arroyo hard pack and glittery stuff that might settle on a bench.
It's A Ritual
My routine, as well as that of many gold prospecting hobbyists, is to get to the claim early. Time is of the essence. This is particularly important in the Arizona spring because later in the day it can get pretty hot. I find that a few hours in the early morning in summer is all I can take - the heat can be treacherous. Some quit and don't come back until fall.
Early in the morning I pack 7 gallons of water, trowel, miner's pick, trenching tool, and an aluminum crevicing tool, in my trusty back pack. I throw a small pry bar and a shovel in the truck for good measure. A couple 5 gallon buckets are good to have to pan into and save the dirty water. One can run through a lot of water on site. Not too many streams are running. In fact, if you can find a puddle you are lucky. Then I go in and make sandwiches for lunch.
On this occasion my wife had told me to not forget the hamburger pickles; two times in fact - once during the day before and when I hit the sack.
"Don't worry, I won't forget," I sanguinely replied. The significance here is important. Ham and Swiss cheese are not the same for her without the pickles.
A study at William and Mary in Virginia reveals that naturally fermented foods such as dilled pickles can provide you with a huge boost of serotonin which is a chemical responsible for managing our moods. Surprisingly, it is hoped that dill pickles are just what a depressed individual might need instead of an antidepressant.
I was soon to understand the connection with mood and my wife's disposition.
How Could I Forget?
The trip to my club claim takes about 2 1/2 hours. At about the 6 mile mark, my wife asked me if I put the hamburger pickles on her sandwich.
I was mortified! How could I have forgotten? She reminded me twice, and I had acknowledged the reminder twice too. Organization and memory are things I pride myself in. She hadn't asked for too much. How could I pack the sandwiches and not realize the pickles were absent?
At about mile seven I was feeling really badly. Her tone was decidedly disappointed and this was supposed to be an uplifting day. I had managed to get things started on a sour note because I was inattentive. I tried to break the tension when I saw some wild burros, common to the area.
I said, "Well, I'm not the only ass around here." Nothing.
For the rest of our truck ride I was uncomfortable wondering how in the world I hadn't cared enough.
Saving the Day
We arrived at the claim and I just headed mindlessly straight to a section of the wash I wanted to explore.
One of the first things you learn is to look at the inside bends of waterways for gold. The bend slows the water and gold is more likely to fall out there. It isn't guaranteed, but prospectors play the probabilities. Behind and under big rocks, especially where there is black sand, and near any other obstruction like an uprooted tree.
But today I was not thinking logically. My mind had drifted far away. I just bent over in the middle of the wash without regard to the terrain. I dug and dug until I hit hard pack and swept up the sand there, then I scraped out cracks between rocks. I had ample material to work in my trusty black testing pan.
When there was nothing left but black sand I washed slowly and carefully from side to side. It was kinda shocking. There were a number of micro gold flakes shining. At that moment I realized that I rarely found anything on a first pan, and on top of that, it was becoming clear that I found this without any forethought. The sparkly made me happy.
“Truth, like gold, is to be obtained not by its growth, but by washing away from it all that is not gold.”
- Leo Tolstoy
Throw It in Reverse
When I scampered to show my wife, her eyes lit up. She worked the pan and snuffed up the yellow particles with a marked improvement in her attitude.
This is when I retreated to an old experience prospecting. The first time we had gone on a club trip when we were newbies we were paired with a guy who had a lot of experience finding placer gold. He told us the most profitable places to search in an arroyo. I had said, "How about over there on the bank by that tree?" I was thinking it was a barrier that might attract gold. He countered with, "Well, if you want flood gold, go ahead and look there. He seemed to associate flood gold with stuff so small it was not worth the effort, and I took this to heart.
Now I had found flood gold, though very small, in an area without thinking twice about where it probably would be. It shouldn't have been there.
At which point I started thinking in reverse.
Somewhat Backwards and Ironic
When gold comes flooding down in a torrent, it can slow at an inside bend. Some heavier material settles there and the lighter stuff is spread out as the water rounds the bend - centrifugal force.
I found the lighter material by accident, so I headed for the nearest bend. Frequently you can see large rocks and stones deposited there too. I burrowed around there and soon I had uncovered material containing some even larger placer flakes. My wife was digging also and she managed to uncover material that contained a couple nice flakes. Was she excited! The curse of the hamburger pickles had abated.
It was the "flood gold" that had guided us to the bigger flake.
To Home Again
My earlier, slightly despondent attitude had led to my distraction in the gold field. Psychologists sometimes describe distraction as an addiction - a pleasurable drug- a terrific escape. While this advice is given to folks who are trying to become more productive, my experience of distraction during the pickle issue actually resulted in super productivity.
The lesson was this. Don't take practicality too seriously all the time. Lots of pleasant discoveries can take place.
One Swiss and ham sandwich wasn't holding us, so on the way home we decided to stop at a Subway in New River, AZ for a hoagie. Half a six incher would satisfy each of us.
We were standing in line behind a customer whose order was being filled by an associate when he said in an assertive tone, "Heavy on the pickles!"
Whitson Gordon, Top Ten Ways to Defeat Distraction and Get More Done, May 24, 2014.
Lim Kairen, When You Eat Pickles Often, something Surprising Will Happen to Your Brain, No Date.
Brad Jones, Flood gold! Auspicious Prospects, March 15, 2017.
No Author (rare Gold Nuggets.com), What Is Placer Gold and How Do You Find It?September 12, 2018.
© 2020 John R Wilsdon