With The Drought Over, "Gold Fever" Grips California

The heavy rains that pummeled California this year ended the state’s historic drought in spectacular fashion, saving the state’s farming and tourism industries from an uncertain future. But the return of rainfall has had other less obvious economic ramifications, including, as the Los Angeles Times reports, the revival of an activity that’s been associated with the state for more than 150 years: Prospecting for gold.

Thanks to the rain, the yellow metal is once again being found in the state’s riverbeds for the first time since a judge’s controversial ruling prohibited the use of pumps and other equipment that were once required to extract gold from the state’s rivers.

Russ Tait

And now that word has spread, the possibility of discovering immense riches underfoot is inspiring entrepreneurial Californians of a variety of ages and backgrounds to venture to the state’s rivers and creeks in search of the shiny yellow metal, sometimes equipped with little more than a pan, as they hope to collect gold fragments buried in the muck under the water, according to the LAT.

Many have also taken to prospecting to suppliment their incomes, as wages in the US have stagnated and more than 90 million Americans aren't working.

Russ Tait, an elderly man who spoke with the LAT, insists om venturing down to Eagle Creek in Central California – not far from where the Detwiler fire broke out in Northern Mariposa County.

“Tait has bone cancer, so getting down to the creek isn’t easy. But even if his days are numbered, he isn’t above dreaming. He peers into the murky solution, hoping to glimpse something shiny.


“I guess you call it gold fever,” he says. “You get out there, and there’s times where you get tired and you don’t want to quit.”

Even in the middle of the drought, Tait, a longtime prospector, and several friends would venture down to the river looking for gold, only to return empty handed. The reason? Back in 2009, a state judge temporarily blocked prospectors from using motorized equipment near the state’s rivers after environmental groups complained that they could damage fish habitats. The ruling was meant to be temporary pending a study, but to this day, no final ruling has been made.

"The equipment was once necessary to separate gold from the slowing rivers. But now with water gushing forth from the state’s mountains, the motorized equipment isn’t needed.  

Now prospectors hunt for “irregularities” in rivers that could create “a backward eddy” that would allow the gold to drop to the water’s floor.


Excessive ria severe flooding, and very nearly the failure of the Oroville dam in Northern California, has changed that.


Geological gumshoes, they search for ancient rivers, for rounded boulders tumbled together, for orange soil tainted by rusted iron and veins of quartz hiding gold.


They read streambeds, imagining how the current flowed during floods, hunting for any irregularity — a riffle, a ledge, a waterfall — that could create a backward eddy for the gold to escape the water’s momentum and drop to the floor."

One prospector named Robert Guardiola helped organize an outing of nearly 40 miners to the Golden state's “Mother Lode." Guardiola and company are wearing waders and knee pads and equipped with pans and cradles.

“Late afternoon, after nearly an hour in the water, Guardiola totes two five-gallon buckets up from the creek. One contains trash collected from the shallows: a spark plug, a shotgun shell, a square-headed nail, a spatula and part of a car door.


The other contains his concentrates, less than a cup of dark sand sloshing about in water.


Panning it, he separates the lighter material from the heavier to reveal a few gold specks, each no bigger than a fat flea.”

As the LAT explains, the “Mother Lode,” which runs along the Sierra Nevada mountain range, was the epicenter of the 1848 gold rush, which saw $2 billion in gold extracted from the area in less than five years. For Guardiola, prospecting has become a second career of sorts.

“Guardiola, 52, purchased the right to mine these 20 acres in 2001. When he first walked out on this property, he knew he could be happy here. Ten deer, two bucks and fawns browsed beneath the oaks. A stream — Grizzly Creek — cut through the property, which already had two mines on it, always a good sign.


Seven years later, after losing his equipment rental store in Modesto to a broken plumbing pipe and a slow insurance claim, he began to work the claim more seriously.


Prepped for the cold — insulated waders, booties, wool socks and sneakers — Guardiola wades into a pool of 55-degree water as deep as his thighs.


“We’ll see if Mother Nature was kind and restocked my bank,” he says.

According to the LAT, the stream was dry during the worst days of the drought. Last year it became a trickle. Then this year, the winter brought a torrent of water as well as two feet of new rock and gravel deposits known in the profession as “overburden.”

For the amateur prospectors, the hobby has brought with it a kind of hope.

“As long as I’m not sure what’s in the bucket,” says Tom Mutschelknaus to the LAT, “there’s hope.”

Mutschelknaus prospects near the South Fork of Stanislaus River, a few miles from where one lucky miner pulled nearly 800 ounces out of the ground. Many prospectors have been following gold’s climb this year, excited that an amount that would almost fill a lipstick case is worth more than $1,200.

While the LAT doesn’t touch on the parallels between the gold miners and cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum, often referred to as “digital gold,” Shannon Poe, 55, described prospecting in similar terms to the techno-libertarians who represent bitcoin’s most hardcore users.

“In his company, gold mining seems less a get-rich-quick scheme than a libertarian impulse, an exercise in independence and self-determination as much a part of the American heritage as the rights guaranteed by the Constitution.


Ask him what his political party is, and he’ll say he is neither a Republican nor a Democrat.


“We are more constitutionalists than anything else,” he says.

With this framing in mind, the rush of amateur prospectors is hardly surprising. Since bitcoin first entered the public consciousness in 2013 thanks to stories of hobbyists becoming newly minted millionaires overnight, Americans everywhere are looking for the next easy score. In that respect, similar impulses appear to be behind both trends. But at least with prospecting, the only thing hobbyists are risking is their time.


rbianco3 dasein211 Sun, 07/30/2017 - 13:16 Permalink

I bought a gold claim and someone at work warned me about the same thing. I do it to get away from this damn computer which brings nothing but anguish- now I'm enjoying nature and learning to live "off the grid"I guess people being plucked from National Parks is reaching epidemic crisis. I don't bring GPS or satellite beacon, my only goal is to fill them with as many leaks as possible before going out - for my fellow citizens.

In reply to by dasein211

Ms No rbianco3 Sun, 07/30/2017 - 15:44 Permalink

Paulides movie "mising 411 the movie" is out of vimeo now, but hard to find on there for some damn reason.  I imagine eventually it will be free.  Those things are more prevalent in AZ and Ca than just about anywhere else, in my opinion anyway.  ND has it too but it doesn't seem to do anything there.If your out and the environment suddenly goes silent, almost as if time stops, put your back up against a tree, get your gun out and it will go away eventually.  Whatever is going on it's been around our whole lives but just now it's getting publicized. People really shouldn't go out by themselves and kids should literally never be left out of sight for one second.  I personally wouldn't even go into Yosemite but there are numerous areas that are just as bad in AZ, just less people, which makes it even creepier. There is a big spot with this problem in the four corners.  When Bigelow aerospace bought the ranch they had a scientific team including military and a second scientific team to review their evidence, and then kept most of it for themeselves.  George Knapp wrote a book about all of it.  This Colonal gave some interesting info in this interview though:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yYMj1LHtOmw  

In reply to by rbianco3

29.5 hours Sun, 07/30/2017 - 11:51 Permalink

The only successful prospectors for gold that I know of all do their panning in Washington, D.C."But at least with prospecting, the only thing hobbyists are risking is their time."Notice the typo in the word "lobbyists"?  

ihatediscus Sun, 07/30/2017 - 12:04 Permalink

LOL LOL LOL......long ago all the country tilted toward the left of the nation and everything that was a little bit screwy and fucked up was naturally drawn by the slanthence California (currently known as Mexifornia) was born ........Californians .......you just can't fix 'em so you gotta laugh at 'emlet me know when the next big gold strike comes in.......i'll pack up my wagon and go sell them a bunch of shit they don't need .......they like thatGood  lord ....what a bunch of dumbfucks..........."Da real golds in califonia's  is down at da wefar offices ....any nigga be knowins dat"

Bubba Rum Das Sun, 07/30/2017 - 11:57 Permalink

Gold fever? Gold Fever???I'll tell you right now, Russ Tait is odviouslly High as Fuck off his bone cancer meds in that there pic...Tell you the truth, if I had bone cancer, I would be too...!

Dickweed Wang Sun, 07/30/2017 - 12:01 Permalink

The Black Hills area in South Dakota probably has more creeks, streams and rivers with obtainable gold than central California but its location and government interference makes it much harder for the individual to prospect for it there. The same thing applies to the Grand Canyon area.  Probably the main reason prospecting in California is even allowed at all is simply due to the huge number of people in such close proximity to where the gold is - .gov simply doesn't have the resources to keep the people out of those areas.

I Write Code Sun, 07/30/2017 - 12:04 Permalink

It will be 100,000 years before natural processes replace all the gold dust and nuggets that the 49'rs took out of California.  Anything anyone finds on the surface now is going to be small, small, small.

the artist Sun, 07/30/2017 - 12:07 Permalink

I know a dude that looks like him. He wanders the washes near Coulterville with a metal detector. He has found a $40k and a $65k nugget among other smaller ones. And that is in 1995 dollars. 

Anteater the artist Sun, 07/30/2017 - 12:31 Permalink

Roe on Kelp diving is the real gold. I got roped into helpinga guy hydrualically mine his stream bed, after roe season was over. It was still April in Alaska, so the water was justbone-piercing cold, and when I'd surface off his paint-sprayair compressor to warm up, he'd have some line about, wellnothing yet, keep trying! At the end of the day, we'd cleanthe riffle box and pan out the flakes, maybe $200 each backthen. So I'm in the bar down the road that night, and a guylistening to me laughs, "You realize while you're down therefreezing your ass, he's high-grading all the nuggets off theriffle box!" I did not know that, so I never got rich. RICH!!!!!!

In reply to by the artist

Herdee Sun, 07/30/2017 - 12:10 Permalink

Dredging destros fish habitat. Many people use mining techniques that are harmful to the environment, especially those who still use mercury.

torabora Herdee Sun, 07/30/2017 - 12:29 Permalink

That's just not true, the dreging done with a shovel doesn't affect fish in the least. What affects fish are the dams that blocked all but ONE of California's rivers and killed billions of fish....and the soon to be built tunnels to divert water to illegals in LA that will kill many more fish.  Democrat's killed the fish, not the miners.Gov. Gropenfuhrer signing the dreging ban was just further evidence of more useless Democrat collusion by RINO's.

In reply to by Herdee