April 13, 2015
Gold Panning at Merced River

Since Chris’ retirement, we’ve been doing something fun every couple of weeks.  The first week we went to Yosemite to view the dogwoods.  This week we drove to the Merced River to pan for gold.

The river moved quickly.
The river sparkled in the sunshine.

Water is a constant concern for me living in a drought-ridden county and state, but that worry ceased for a short time upon hearing the river’s joyous rage of spring.  I had a sense of overwhelming gratitude for the abundance of water before us.

California Poppies near the river.
California poppies are drought tolerant.

Chris set up near the river’s edge.  Up shore California poppies grew between rocks.  A swarm of sociable butterflies, so colorful and delicate, crawled on the ground and fluttered from flower to flower.

The Butterfly Festival in Mariposa begins on May 1, 2015.
The Butterfly Festival in Mariposa begins on May 1, 2015.

Chris started to dig and I worked the Nugget Bucket; with a scoop of dirt we began the process.  It wasn’t long before my shoes were off and feet were in the cold water, toes curling in the sand.


He poured buckets of water over the rocks that funneled sand (and gold–if we were lucky) into the concentration bowl below.

The flow of water funnels perfectly (a patented secret) to the bowl below.
Dig. Pour. Sift.

Washed free of debris, the upper and lower screens caught larger rocks (and nuggets–we hoped).

The upper and lower screens catch larger rocks (or nuggets it you're lucky).
Check. Check again.

We panned the pay dirt that gathered in the concentration bowl below the screens.  “Look at this, is this gold?”  Flecks of fool’s gold swirled like glitter in the pan.

Empty the lower bowl into a pan.  This should be the "pay dirt".

It took a long time to pan the pay dirt, but the more familiar we became with the process, the quicker it went.

Pan the pay dirt for gold.

Alas, there was no pay in the dirt, but we didn’t really expect to strike it rich.  Our expectation was to have a good time prospecting together, and that we did.

7 thoughts on “Prospecting

  1. I was taught by a miner on his property to pan and one surprise for me was that not all the glitter was fools gold. But you can’t touch the ‘color’ with your finger because skin oils will cause the gold to become buoyant and float off in your water stream. Very interesting process. Look for the really warm yellow sand mixed with the titanium black sand, was what he told me, and yes I did win a little drift of yellow at the end of my lesson. Enough to coat the head of a pin, I think!


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