Alluvial mining is an age old method of retrieving precious minerals and metals. It can be the most profitable way for artisanal miners to make a living. Alluvial mining makes use of the effects of nature which send metals and gemstones downstream from their original source. This can be hundreds of miles away from where these commodities were created. The riverbeds may now be dried up leaving these precious trophies for the picking.
Alluvial -v- Placer Mining
Placer mining, a related effort, actively relies on water to aid in the separation of precious metals from their host ore. This process separates heavily eroded minerals like gold or platinum from its surrounding gravel.
What’s in a Word?
The origin of our word placer might have come from a word in Catalan Spanish, meaning a shoal or sand bar. It quickly entered the American lexicon during California’s Gold Rush in the mid-19th century. Loads of gold was also discovered in Alaska and throughout the Canadian Klondikes by the late 1890s. While prospectors rushing to these parts brought various placer mining technologies, the simplest was merely the prospector’s pan used to swirl a combination of water and gravel or sand until the lighter material spilled out. Since gold and platinum is heavier than sand and rock, it would remain in the bottom of the pan.
Just Like in the Movies
The idea of a gold rush is the stuff of western movies. With enduring fascination, Americans have cherished this part of our early history. In fact, the California Gold Rush transformed the American population by sending masses to the under-populated west coast. In the process, some fortunate souls became fabulously wealthy and helped to build up San Francisco.
When Nature Intervenes
But natural occurrences apart from man’s intervention can further aid in the discovery of these natural treasures. Massive landslips in northern India’s Kashmir region were said to open up the crevasses, revealing the legendary Kashmir sapphires. Earthquakes in Guatemala some years back in the mid-20th century exposed that country’s famed blue jade.
Late in the 20th century a destructive storm hit Central America resulting in thousands of deaths due to floods. Further landslides reshaped the region’s landscape. From that, ancient jade veins were exposed as deposits washed up along riversides. Within a few years of that exposure, jade hunters hit the jackpot, by finding “bus-sized” jade boulders scattered over the Guatemalan highlands.
Rain, Rain Don’t Go Away
So it should come as no surprise that a modern day rush is unfolding on the west coast of California today – in the general region of those earlier rushes. Weather watchers will take note of the fact that California has undergone an atypical onslaught of rain particularly since late 2021 through early 2023.
All these torrential rains dousing California (particularly in the north) this past winter helped jump-start a new kind of gold rush. The so-called “flood gold” has definitely intrigued treasure hunters.
Gold, being a heavy substance requires massive water-power to move it downstream. The historic rainfalls blanketing northern California revealed a surplus of gold that was uncovered after the flooding.
Placerville Back on the Map
The old miner’s region of Placerville, California has recently produced gold nuggets for modern prospectors, the old-fashioned way – placing a pan in the river and swirling around the muddy sand until only gold remains.
Placerville, as its name suggests, has a history steeped in gold. It was an important mining camp during the Gold Rush of 1849. Its identity was so associated with gold that the town was given gold-related nicknames like Hangtown, and Old Dry Diggings. Even today, Placerville remains a hub for modern gold seekers who take pride in the Gold Bug Park & Mine.
The water has definitely helped move some new material in the regions which might not have had anything before the rains. “Now it’s actually gotten replenished, so there’s a lot of good flood gold in this area right here,” a local miner confessed.
The uncommon 29.14 inches of rainfall around Placerville through the end of the 2021-22 season coupled with almost 48 inches of rain through mid-May of 2023 made finding gold pretty easy. This gold is available for the picking and has given many gold seekers renewed energy in being part of this modern day gold rush.
“It’s going to get crazy,” gold hunter Mark Dayton said to Global News CA. “It’s the biggest event of my life.”