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Adi panning for gold

My friend Adi on her first gold panning trip.

While gold panning may be easy to learn, finding the gold is not so easy. Most of the gold you find today came to the earth’s surface long ago. If you are going to pan for gold, the best place to look is in placer, or creek deposits. The gold has been separated from its parent rock, often quartz, and can be found in the gravel of the creek.

Step 1: Find a creek where you think there might be gold. Make sure you are not on someone else’s land, or if you are, that you have their permission to pan for gold. Many states that are known for gold mining have recreational mining areas. Check with your local Bureau of Land Management office, your local Department of Natural Resources office, or the Gold Prospectors of Association of America to locate recreational gold panning sites.

Step 2: Find dirt and gravel to fill your pan. I like to find places where you can find quartz. Quartz is a white rock and gold likes to travel with it.

Pro Tip: Don't take dirt directly from a creek. The best places to start looking are near a bend in the creek or around big rocks and boulders. Both of these slow the water down and that allows gold to settle and collect.

Panning at modern day Pedro Creek, Discovery Claim
Panning Pedro Creek

Step 3: Find a calm place in the creek or a pool (not the swimming kind!) to submerge your gold pan full of gravel into the water. Be aware of deep and swift moving water; it is often cold and you don't want to fall in!

 Shake the pan vigorously from side to side. This will help the heavy gold settle to the bottom of the pan. Pull out any bigger rocks and make sure you wash them off. If you are using a screen (sometimes called a classifier) to sift the gravel, make sure you check for nuggets when you dump it out!

I also like to inspect any quartz. Quartz is often a parent rock that gold forms in and you can find veins or chunks of gold in them.

Step 4: Now that you have smaller gravel in the pan, shake it down again while submerged to help the gold settle. Gold is over nineteen times heavier than water. What does that mean? A gallon of water weighs about 8 pounds. A gallon of gold weighs nearly 160 pounds! That is like comparing your pet cat to a mountain lion!

Matthew Lasley panning Pedro Creek

Step 5: Tilt the gold pan so it is at about a 45-degree angle with the water. That means the outside edge of your pan is about parallel to the water. Swish water over the gravel and let the lighter dirt be carried out of the pan. It should look like waves lapping a beach.

This is most easily accomplished with a dipping motion both up and down as well as forward and back. Imagine creating a small oval with your motion.

Step 6: After you have removed about a quarter of the top material, level the pan and settle the material back in the bottom by shaking it. Remove any larger rocks left. Tilt the pan back to a 45-degree angle and tap the side of the pan to help the gold settle to the lowest spot, which should be the ring or rim at the bottom of your pan. Keep removing material slowly, stopping to resettle the material occasionally .

Step 7: When you get down to a small amount of dirt, a tablespoon or two, you are ready to see what you have found. Get just enough clean water into the pan to cover the material. Tilt the pan again and settle the material in the bottom by tapping the side of the pan. Slowly swirl the material back by rolling your wrist and causing a small wave to wash around the bottom ring of your pan. Don’t go too fast, but fast enough to push the material away. The heaviest material is moved last, and if you are lucky, you will have a few fine flakes of gold in your pan!

First peek of gold in the pan
Cleaned up gold
Dime comparison of gold.

First peek of Gold!                        Gold revealed.                       That tiny bit of gold is worth                                                                                                        about 110 dimes!

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