To plucky prospectors on the San Gabriel River, the Santa Ana, and other rivers of the Inland Empire, there's gold in them thar mud.....Very few people ever find the mother load, but others have found enough to keep them coming back.
ON a bright afternoon, about two dozen people gathered on a bend overlooking the San Gabriel River.....The idyllic sounds of birds and flowing water mixed with the low growl of gas-powered suction dredges.....Clusters of men (and one or two women) crouched in the water with vacuum hoses, circular pans and sluice boards.....Their goal, in some cases, their obsession, was the same.
I have cousins who have hunted for Gold, especially in the San Antonio River bed after the 1969 floods.....they found a few flakes but never enough to make them rich, although, one of them was a able to buy a $500,000 home down in Sleepy Hollow just to the west of Chino Hills.....But they always told me that after a few days of finding nothing, they started to wonder if it was worth it.....But finding a few flakes or some small nuggets keep them coming back for a few years....Remember that house.
Nearly 160 years after the gold rush that helped populate the West, there are still those who go out every spring and dig in the major streams of the Inland Empire hoping to find the mother load......A mix of permanent residents who live in nearby camps and part-timers who drive up every chance they get, the prospectors have formed their own self-policing, gold-obsessed community.
Many miners believe that there are endless amounts of gold in the Mountains...all they need is a good series of storms to break up the soil and rocks and the y believe the gold will come down to them in the rivers silt....At least that's what they hope for....This years drought and lack of rainfall did not exactly help those dreams....But there is still enough water in many streams and the headwaters of most of the major rivers in the IE to keep them panning for the elusive mother load.
Working the river is painstaking stuff, hours spent crouching or submerged in water to produce a half inch of glittery dust in a vial......With gold selling for about $650 per ounce on the international market, they're looking for just one healthy score.....But judging from several visits, nobody seems to be paying his rent from prospecting.
As one resident put it....I have never seen anyone make any money....Its all dreaming....and they continue to chase those dreams.
There are now just 16 sites that the state classifies as "active gold mines," most of them in Northern California's Gold Country.....None of the areas in southern California are on that list.....There are even several websites where gold miners exchange information on the latest big strike, where the gold is being found.....But not a word about the IE....Is all of the gold gone form the IE?....If the miners believed that they would never return to the Santa Ana or the San Gabriel to dig for gold....But then again, you just never know do you....My cousin managed to find enough to build his dream home....There just has to be more out there....After all, there is a lot of mountain for the winter rains to wear down isn't there.
Nationwide, the U.S. Geological Survey said that about 260 metric tons of gold were produced in 2006, with a value of $5.1 billion. But only a tiny fraction of that amount, officials said, was from individual prospecting.
Many miners use a device called a suction dredge....A device that looks like a lawn mower engine floating on pontoons and trailing a metal beaver tail......The 16-horsepower engine provides vacuum power and pumps air through a tube down to where the miner has his slough set up, a method known as hookah diving......The dredge's 6-inch-wide hose (hose size is crucial with these folks) sucks up mud and silt and dumps it onto the sluice, a multistage obstacle course designed to trap and separate every last gold flake from the surrounding muck.
Metal grids and perforations weed out the rocks and large chunks of dirt, while black plastic ridges capture many of the heavy gold flakes. The runoff flows onto a jumble of what looks like plastic vermicelli.....The so-called miner's moss traps the tiniest remaining bits of gold dust.
Many miners spend most of June and July in the forest, camping in family-size tents or travel trailers and working the rivers almost every day.....They leave only for supplies and check on home once in a while....Just to make sure there wives and kids are still around....although, many wives look at the time the husbands are a way as vacation time....Then there are those wives who like to go along with there husbands or boyfriends.....as one gent said, I dont know if she is here for moral support, or to keep an eye on me....But another wife who was in scuba gear next to here husband made it quite clear she was at her husbands side purely for the money....They planned to use the gold found to make Gold wedding bands to celebrate there first Wedding anniversary.
Now ain't that nice....
Gary Hall, the ghostpainter