OverviewThe historic town of Coarsegold, located on the lower slopes of the Sierra Mountains along Yosemite Highway 41, offers a glimpse into the 1849 California Gold Rush. The first gold nuggets were found here in 1852, and even today visitors and gold prospectors find the valuable mineral in the area's streams and mines. While much of the area is claimed and inaccessible to the casual gold-panning enthusiast, you may find a bit of the yellow stuff in the local river or in the village.Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty ImagesJupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images400267
HistoryThe small town of Coarsegold got its name from the coarse chunks of gold found in the area's streams and rivers in the mid-1800s. The possibility of more gold helped the town spring to life, harboring miners who worked the area known to be the southernmost tip of the Mother Lode. By 1851, the population of Coarsegold reached 10,000, but once the gold became more difficult to find, the small town became better known as a stop for travelers heading to Yosemite National Park.
AttractionsA good place to start your gold-panning adventure is at the Coarsegold Historic Village (coarsegoldhistoricvillage.com). Rattle Snake Rick, a local gold-panning expert, helps you get your hands wet in a special area set up for panning. You get to keep any gold flakes you find. When you tire of gold panning, take a look at the village's other offerings. You'll find a variety of artists offering crafts and fine art, along with shops selling collectibles and antiques. You'll also find a restaurant on the premises. The village hosts several special events, including the World Famous Peddler Fairs. The fairs feature an eclectic mix of booths selling antiques, collectibles and treasures.
EventsThe Coarsegold Gold Prospectors (coarsegoldprospectors.com), a nonprofit organization established in 1997, offers monthly events for gold-prospecting enthusiasts. To look for gold at the organization's current mining claims, you must fill out and submit a short online application. Once approved, you'll be invited to participate at events that take place at several local claims, including Smith, Bonnel Gulch, Big Creek and Willow Creek.
PanningIf you prefer to try your hand at gold panning in one of Coarsegold's streams or in the Fresno River, make sure you confirm the spot is not restricted or considered a private claim or mine. If you're allowed to pan for gold, buy a 12- or 15-inch steel pan before you head to the water. A good place to look for gold is in mid-stream gravel bars. Once you gather a pan full of gravel, keep rotating the pan to get rid of the large gravel, allowing the heavier gold to settle to the bottom of your pan. Once your pan contains only black sand, look through it carefully to find any gold flakes.
And it seems there’s still plenty of gold to be found around the sites of the rush that led thousands to seek their fortune in the Golden State more than a century ago. Witness the sale Wednesday of one of the biggest chunks of gold yet to be found in the region.
The gold nugget, weighing in at 8.2 pounds, sold at auction in Sacramento for $460,000, and was discovered last year by a prospector using a metal detector, reportedly in his own backyard. Both the name of the prospector and that of the buyer are secret, and the price of the intact nugget was higher than the roughly $137,000 the gold would have fetched had it been melted down.
The San Francisco Chronicle reports that the nugget was found on land in Washington, California, in Nevada County, in the heart of the old gold-mining country.
The prospector was out in the yard with his metal detector when he pinged on the monster nugget back in March 2010. After digging it up with a pick, he proceeded to find two smaller nuggets, weighing four ounces and eight ounces respectively. Those nuggets sold for $7,000 and $17,000, respectively, Wednesday to a separate bidder.
Such a find, which fetched nearly half a million dollars, really is enough to set a glitter in the eye. But the anonymous Washington, California, miner is far from the only one heading to the hills and streams of California in search of gold. As the price of the precious metal has held above $1,000 an ounce (it was trading at $1,386.65 an ounce this morning), a new rush has begun.
That’s because the price of gold makes it worth it to go after the gold left in the hills, even if it’s often more expensive to find than it was back in the old days of mining camps and six-guns.
The rush includes individual entrepreneurs going about the gold hunt the old-fashioned way by panning the ice-cold streams of the Sierra foothills. And it includes companies looking to reopen old mines.
For instance, the New York Times reports, the Briggs mine on the border of Death Valley National Park reopened in 2009 and produced some $30 million worth of gold ore for its owner, Atna Resources.
Another mining company, Sutter Gold Mining Inc., estimates there’s $800 million worth of gold under the 3.6 miles it owns in the Mother Lode.
“People say the Mother Lode’s mined out,” David Cochrane, a vice president with Colorado-based Sutter, told the Times. “But that’s not the case.”
So, for those California entrepreneurs whose hot tech idea doesn’t exactly pan out, there’s always the option of seeing whether they can get their gold by literally panning for it.