Unemployed Californians Pan for Gold

April 5, 2009 at 6:26 am | Posted in News | Leave a comment


pan9The soaring unemployment rate is hatching a new breed of prospector. A new gold rush is on in California.

According to USA Today: “Eyeing a flash of bright yellow at the bottom of the wet sluice box, Mike DeMello knew his rugged morning hike to this spot had been worth it. He had found gold, if only a speck…. More than 150 years after the great Gold Rush that propelled California’s development, the prospect of striking it rich prospecting for gold remains very much alive.

“Panners are appearing at streambeds due to the price of gold, the poor economy, and a 10.5% statewide unemployment rate that leaves a lot of people with time on their hands….

“Gold, which is selling for more than $900 an ounce, has been found all over California, from near the Oregon border to the Mother Lode near Yosemite to the deserts of Arizona and Mexico. Seasonal rains and snowmelt erode minerals, including gold, at higher altitudes and wash them down streams and rivers.

“Most gold is extracted by mining companies whose claims can go back years, but in each of the past two years, mining claims in California have grown by more than 3,000. In the first three months of 2009, 1,173 more claims were filed, government figures show. As of the end of March there were 24,583 active gold-mining claims in the state. Those figures don’t tell the full story because anyone can prospect for gold on many public lands without a claim…. No one knows for sure how many people are actually actively searching for gold or how much is being found. Prospectors who find pieces big enough to bring real money aren’t inclined to reveal much about the location. Local prospecting clubs all over the state report membership is up….

“DeMello, 60, and his prospecting partner, Mike Gavin, 53, a Los Alamitos roofer idled by the business slowdown, drove 20 miles into the forest north of Azusa, Calif., then hiked up a trail into East Fork Canyon and hopped rocks jutting out of the side of the fast-rushing river, passing trout fishermen, until they found a spot that looked promising. Gavin shoveled furiously along the bank while DeMello sifted and sorted through the dirt.

“Reducing his shovel contents to mostly sand, he deposited it slowly into a metal sluicer, a piece of equipment refined but little changed in a century and a half. Placed for river water to run through it, the sluicer catches the heaviest particles in its carpet-like bottom — and the heaviest material is gold. They didn’t find enough to buy dinner, but they did get small pieces for their collections.

“Downstream, Marc Montelius, 50, of Whittier, was panning and sifting while three friends dug and offered advice from the riverbank. He is a self-employed handyman waiting for an oil refinery job.”

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