Sierra City Gold Dredging - 2005

Every year in July and August, I go prospecting out at Sierra City, California - located around 1:45 minutes from my home in Reno. This year I moved my trailer into the local campground for an entire month, from mid-July to Mid-August. I wasn't there the entire time, but I would come up for long weekends, and then go home to work. I'd like to share some photos I took while I was there. While the desert is roasting, Sierra City is at 4200 feet and the weather this time of year is usually great with highs in the low 90s and lows in the low 50s. The water temps runs around 65, which is cool but still pleasant - it feels very nice to be prospecting in the water that time of year. I spend most of my prospecting time dredging. In many ways, small scale suction dredging was born on the North fork of the Yuba, as many of the early dredging pioneers like Ernie Keene tested their home made machines out here, sometimes with amazing success. Over the years, I've made a number of friends at the campground there and many show up year after year, just like I do. There are detecting opportunities, high banking, sniping, lode gold prospecting and plenty of other things for the prospector to do. I always wish I had more time when my season ends and I have to come home.

Sierra County is an area known for large, coarse nuggets. The geology in much of the county is very favorable for the formation of large gold. Historically, more large nuggets have been found in Sierra County that any other county in California, and the region in and around the North Fork has produced most of those finds. During the gold rush, miners found a 25 pound nugget in the North fork of the Yuba river between Sierra City and Downieville. An 11 pounder was found at the Jersey diggings on the hill just above Downieville. Many of the side streams that dump into North fork of the Yuba have yielded  dozens of large nuggets and quartz/gold specimens containing between 50 and 150 ounces of gold. There is even an unsubstantiated tale of a heart shaped nugget from one of these side streams that contained over 1800 ounces of gold.

This is the North fork of the Yuba River. I had spied out the boulder on the lower left a couple years ago, but last year by the time I got there, the water was too low to dredge at that spot. I was on the river a bit earlier this year and got right to it for 2005. I took about 4 Penney weight (about 1/5th of an ounce) from behind the boulder, but that was less than I'd expected. The boulder is about 10 feet wide, 5 or so feet tall, and sits smack in the path the along which the gold travels. 
The water in  late summer is warm and comfortable. I actually only wear the top part of my wet suit. Its so clear, it almost looks like I am floating in mid-air. I am kneeling and you can see my pasty white legs - its not like I am out sunbathing the other times of the year. The large boulders on either side of me were about 500 pounds each and I might have moved them, but this crevice was cleaned long out before I got there, so there was no point to do so.
Here I am working a crevice in bedrock. It was about 2 feet wide and at least 15 feet long, and as I began to work it I found the rocks in the crevice were tightly packed in. This is generally a very good sign. Unfortunately, when I got below the packed rock, instead of a golden hoard, I found that there was old dead leaves and light sand. This means that the crevice was worked by someone before me, but not for a while. 
The leaves and light sand had filled in the opening after it was cleaned out - flooding afterward put in some packed gravel and refilled the crevice. Part of the key to finding gold here is to find crevices which have not been cleaned out already. A lot of the bedrock is fairly smooth, but there are a number of crevices, and these catch the gold fairly well. 
My sister and her family came up here to visit. Here I am explaining how the dredge works to my young nephew. My 6 year old niece is not paying much attention. This is also a good look at my mostly home made dredge. My nephew is standing on bedrock, which outcrops for about 20 feet in both directions from that point. The next day, only a few feet away from where he is standing, in about 18 inches of water, I  plucked a quarter ounce nugget from that very bedrock surface.
Here's the campground at Sierra City. A darn pretty place, with full hook-ups and nice shade and good folks. This is my brown Suburban and the good old golden falcon trailer. As I noted above, I brought the trailer up for an entire month this year. It allowed me to just bring up clothes and food and not worry about packing up the trailer at the end of each week. A number of the folks who stay here focus on prospecting in the area, so its great to get together and talk prospecting in the evenings.
This years prize - a quarter ounce nugget. I was dredging, moving along some bedrock going from crevice to crevice, and after moving my nozzle a few feet to the next one I went back for my tools and as I was swimming, bang - right in front of me - I eyeballed a quarter ounce nugget sitting in a small crack in the bedrock.
It was sitting edge up in about 18 inches of water and the crack was not much bigger than the nugget itself. The spot is a local swimming hole often used by the area kids. There is even a big swing rope they use to jump into the water. No doubt lots of folks walked on or very near that nugget, including me!  The weight on the nugget is 5 penneyweight, and one grain.

Sierra county is also famous for the 16 to 1 mine hard rock mine whose deep workings continue to yield rich pockets of gold in quartz. During the summer of 2004, the mine yielded a single pocket containing almost a million dollars worth of gold. As at the 16 to 1, important and large finds continue to be made periodically in Sierra County. Most of the really large nuggets were found in the early days when thousands of miners scoured the hills, but even in today’s era of smaller scale operations and weekend prospectors, rich pockets of crystalline gold and multi-ounce nuggets continue to be found from time to time. As an example, some friends of mine found a 7.5 ounce nugget while dredging in September 2004.

The whole of this year's golden harvest from dredging, the total weight is just shy of 14 penneyweight (21.56 grams), or nearly 3/4 ths of an ounce. The fines on the right are minus 20 mesh, the pieces on the left are bigger than 20 mesh but less than a penneyweight, then the big nugget is on top. It was the only piece I got this year dredging that was larger than a penneyweight, last year I got 3 pieces a penenyweight or larger.

The Above Article is Copyrighted by Chris Ralph, and May Not be Copied or Quoted Without Permission

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