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» Drywashing; or Introduction to the Blister End of a Shovel

BY SAM LONG

 

Dry-washing, in many ways, puts me in mind of eating at a Chinese restaurant with chopsticks. It’s fun to try; but you can’t move material from one place to another very fast, even if you’re good at it. That’s why it’s so important to pick out an area with a theoretically high concentration of gold. Of course, down here in Arizona, you’ve got about as much chance of finding an area like that as a one legged man’s got at winning a kicking contest!

That’s not to say you shouldn’t try. I always do so with this theory in mind: Billions of years ago, when God was putting tons of gold in Alaska, South America, Russia, Australia, the Yukon, and even California, he accidentally spilled a couple of pounds over Arizona. I always think of that after I’ve worked through a pile of rocks and sand big enough to shade an elephant, and not come up with enough gold to fill a tooth. All the expert mining techniques in the world won’t come up with a speck of gold where there’s none to begin with. So, the place to start is history.

I know you’ve read it a thousand times. Now you can say you’ve read it over a thousand times: It’s usually better to begin your search for gold in an area that has produced it in the past. The more the better.

From that point, go to maps. Study them religiously. I take my topographical maps to an office supply that has an enlarging copier. I have the section I’m interested in blown up two or three times. This really helps in seeing all the side washes, forks, bends, and places of slowing water that are the obvious holding spots for gold.

Now, you’re ready to hike to these areas. Of course, on your way to and from these spots, keep your eye open for any likely looking area you might have overlooked on your map. There are a zillion of them, so you’ve got to learn to be very selective.

Remember, you want to shovel rocks, sand, and gold through your dry-washer, not just rocks and sand. It doesn’t matter to your shovel. It doesn’t matter to your neighbor. It only matters to you. Take your best shot before you ever crank up your machine, and you won’t have to deal with the disappointment of getting skunked.

And, just how do you do this? Sampling. That’s right— sample, sample, sample. If you’re diligent about it, and do it correctly, when you finally start dry-washing, your question won’t be will I find gold? It will be how much will I find?

Starting up your dry-washer in a likely-looking spot without sampling, makes about as much sense as a dog barking at a knothole. Sure, sampling is a lot of extra work and it takes time. But, when it’s all said and done, you’ll end up with some gold along with the new blisters–instead of a sour attitude and the new blisters.

This isn’t to say you can’t set up anywhere and get some color. But to my way of thinking, that would be pure luck; and I haven’t experienced enough of that to feel qualified to write about it. If you have, and can make it work time and time again, I’d sure be willing to learn.

So, here we are in a gold producing area, walking up a wash that had some likely-looking gold-holding spots on our map. How do we sample? Well, as with most things, there is more than one way to skin a cat. I use a Goldspear. It’s proven itself to me to be an accurate, time saving, prospecting tool. I know lots of folks don’t think much of them, but usually they haven’t ever owned one, or don’t understand how to use them to their advantage. Granted, they’re not some super tool that can automatically find gold. But used correctly, they can sure save you a lot of needless digging. And, at the price of shovels these days, you don’t want to wear out any more than necessary.

For now though, I’ll skip the use of the spear and explain a few points of how I sample without one. Again, this isn’t the only way to sample or dry-wash, but it works for me. Adapt it to your own personality and tools, as you see fit. In my pack, my basic tools are: Two pans, a small kitchen sieve; and, because we’re prospecting dry washes, a wide-mouth plastic gallon jar of water. Needless to say, never go anywhere without your rock pick.

With these basic tools, slowly work your way up the wash, visually sampling as you go. In your mind’s eye, continually look for the places gold is likely to accumulate. The more of these types of places you can recognize, the more success you’ll have in sampling.

Likely gold-holding areas would be the inside of sharp bends; areas where the wash levels and widens, indicating slowing water; areas of red and blue clay; pockets of iron pebbles, which show the water’s inability to carry heavier minerals; or a zone of magnetite, hematite or quartz. All these are good visual indicators that gold will likely be present.

After finding a place containing as many positive indicators as possible, roll over the biggest boulder you can in that area; and using one pan to hold the water, screen some material from under the boulder into the other pan and go to work. If you’ve done your homework right, this should yield you a few colors. Jot down how many on your map at the place where you found them. If more than just a few colors materialize, try a couple more pans before moving on. Continue in this manner for the rest of the day. You should have a few different areas that are somewhat better than the others.

Now that you’ve picked a good spot to work, and packed in all your equipment, the last important point is the speed at which you run the material through your dry-washer. It’s a big temptation to drop your riffle board too low so you can process material faster. But by doing this, you’ll lose a lot of finer-sized gold. As you either know, or will soon find out, most gold in the dry washes is very small. Unless you keep your riffle board only slightly lower than level, a good portion of the fine gold won’t have time to settle. It will end up going over the end instead. You can’t feed any more material in than is going out, so be careful not to overfeed the hopper. Otherwise, you’ll end up with gold in your tailing pile. Nothing will make you feel ankle high to a frog in a post hole quicker than your neighbor coming by, to run his Goldspear through your tailing pile, and getting enough beeps to make a liar out of you, when you tell him you were planning to run it through again a second time anyway.

The biggest hindrances to running your machine are laziness and rain. If you’re the type who does more spitting on the handle than shoveling, you’ll probably welcome the rain. If not, the folks around you will surely think you were raised on sour milk. It takes the fun out of dry-washing when you just get going good, then it rains and stops your operation. That’s what happened to us this winter. With my Keene dry-washer, I could work wetter dirt than everyone else because it blows hot air. But after the fourth cloudburst, it was even too wet for me. We switched it to a re-circulating water system and kept going.

So, if you pick the right spot and don’t push your machine, you’ll get some good gold. It might not be the most gold you’ll ever get in a day, but that desert-gold is some of the prettiest you’ll ever find. Since gold is more ornamental than useful anyway, you ought to be happier than a fly in a raisin pie

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