Where to find gold

In The Desert and More

Gold Panning | Gold in the Desert | Gold Prospecting Clubs


Know Where to Look for Gold

The Southwest is full of promising places to look for some gold. 

In the southern half of California you can find good streams to work on public lands in that area west of Lake Tahoe, including Placer, El Dorado, Amador and Calaveras counties.  Farther south, down toward Death Valley, you can drive west out of Bishop on Highway 168 for a few miles up into the Sierra Nevada range, where you'll find streams that may put gold fines and small nuggets into your pan.  Still farther south, near Lake Isabella, at the southern end of the Sierra Nevada Range, you'll discover public land with an area set aside for recreational gold prospecting (see the U. S. Bureau of Land Management Internet site)   With good luck, you might even find a little gold in some of the stream beds in the Los Angeles area.

At the southern tip of Nevada, you might find potentially rewarding stream beds in the Eldorado Mountains, especially around Eldorado Canyon, the site of a major mining claim in the mid-19th century.  You can reach the area by taking U. S. Highway 95 for about 10 miles south out of Boulder City, then turning southeast on state Highway 165, which will take you down the canyon to public lands and the Colorado River, downstream from Lake Mead. 


In Utah, you can find placer gold, usually associated with volcanic rocks, within the Colorado River drainage system, including, for instance, the Dolores River (near Moab), Green River (in northeastern Utah), Abajo Mountain creekbeds (southeastern Utah) and the San Juan River (southeastern Utah).  You may find that American Fork Canyon, which lies north of Provo and northeast of Utah Lake, will prove more rewarding than some other areas.  Near the canyon’s mouth, you might find a small nugget and some “flour” gold. 

Looking for gold in a desert wash with a metal detector.

Out of the 15 counties in Arizona, you can find gold in at least 10 of them, mostly in the northwestern and southern part of the state.  Some prospectors like to work the drainage systems and hillsides in the Tonto Basin, west of State Highway 87, in the northwestern corner of Gila County.  Others take to the stream beds in the Lynx Creek area, a few miles south of Prescott, in the heart of Yavapai County. 

In Colorado, you will find both lode (deposited in a rock matrix) and placer (deposited by stream flow) gold in over half of the state’s 64 counties, primarily from the north-central to the southwestern parts.  For instance, around Central City, a historically rich gold-mining area west of Denver, you can find placer gold in some of the stream beds and even find showings in the tailings of past lode-mining operations.  In southwestern Colorado’s San Miguel County, one of the state’s highest producers, you have a good chance of finding placer deposits of gold fines along the San Miguel River from Telluride downstream to the Montrose County line. 

In New Mexico, you can find placer gold in the streambeds of about a third of the state’s 33 counties, but you’ll likely have the most luck in Taos County, on the sand bars of the Rio Grande and Red River; Lincoln County, around the arroyo’s of the Jicarilla Mountains; and Grant County, in Bear Creek.  Taos County is located in the north-central part of the state; Lincoln County, in the south-central part; and Grant County, in the southwestern part. 

In western Texas, you won’t find much in the way of opportunities to prospect for gold (although the area is rich in lost treasure tales, lore and legend).  That part of the Southwest has yielded relatively few discoveries.  Moreover, most potential prospecting sites lie in private hands rather than federal or state ownership, making access more difficult.  Recreational gold prospectors of western Texas usually head out of state, to more promising areas, often north, into New Mexico. 

Know What to Load on Your Devoted Donkey  (or Your Devoted SUV)

You can get started in gold prospecting for as little as $50 to $100, about what it will cost for a plastic pan set, a plastic classifier (or sifter), a plastic suction bottle, tweezers, a magnifying glass, decent safety glasses and maybe even an instruction book, but almost certainly, as gold fever invades your psyche, spreading like a virus, you will feel an irrational compulsion to buy or build more equipment, most of it aimed at giving you a special advantage in finding more paydirt and move and process more ore. 

Using a plastic gold pan and a fine brush to pick up some gold in the pan.
Panning for Gold

You can buy a folding shovel for about $10 to $20 to help move dirt; an economy geologist’s pick or hammer, for maybe $10, to split or chip rock and take samples; a mortar and pestle, for less than $30, to loosen up and grind tightly bound gold-bearing dirt clods; a metal detector, for $200 to $900, to help find nuggests; a motor-driven panner, for several hundred dollars to process gold-bearing stream soil; a shaker table, separater and steel base, for about $2000 to serve as an oversized pan; a riffled sluice box and accessories, for a few hundred dollars, to help separate gold from stream-bed soil; a surface or submersible dredge, for several thousand dollars, that sucks up dirt and gravel from the stream bed for separation; a trommel, for several thousand dollars, to help screen ore; or a dry washer, for several hundred dollars, to help separate gold from dry soils.  You can buy a GPS navigation system, for some hundreds of dollars, to help you pinpoint and relocate claims.  You can even buy a miner’s head lamp for about $30.00 to $40.00.  That way, you can keep working even after the sun goes down. 

Small one ounce bottles are used to store gold.

If you choose, when you’re not prospecting, you can spend time constructing your own equipment, designing it specifically to meet the varying conditions you will inevitably encounter in prospecting, such as shallow flowing stream beds, deep flowing stream beds, intermittent stream beds, sand bars or dry desert arroyos.

By Jay W. Sharp

Prospecting Clubs and More

Part 1 Desert Gold
Part 2 Panning for Gold
Part 3 Finding Gold - This Page
Part 4 Clubs and More
Riding over Gold on Your ATV in Ocotillo Wells
Gold Fever in the Desert
Looking for Gold in Arizona's Washes
Crystalline Gold: Finding The Motherlode


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