The Story of Chris the Prospector

Dry Washing For Gold At Randsberg, California

Out for a prospecting trip in the desert at Randsburg, California in 1978. The leg of my little dry washer shows in my truck bed - I still have it, now nearly 28 years later.

I got into prospecting as a teenager when my grandparents, who were light duty rock hounds that enjoyed camping and the outdoors, took me on several trips. I got into rockhounding and it wasnít long before I was planning rockhound trips for them to join me on. I hunted rocks, including gem tourmalines in San Diego County. One of the trips they took me on was to tour of an underground gold mine in Julian, California.

The idea of prospecting for my own gold really sounded great, so I bought a pan, made a sluice box out of wood, and read some books. I hadnít even had my driverís license very long when I took my younger brother and we went out to a place the book said gold had been found. I dug for most of the day and ran it through the box - I found nothing. I tried a couple other places mentioned in the book, and still nothing. It wasnít until I took a trip with my family up to the mother lode country on the North Fork of the Yuba River that I found a little 3/16 inch flake in my pan. Not very large, but plenty large enough to see it was clearly gold. After that, I kept exploring different locations closer to my home in the LA area and ended up doing better, finding spots where I always got at least some color and sometimes a few very small nuggets (little pickers). I spent a lot of time around Randsburg and the East fork of the San Gabriel River back then.

By the time I graduated from High School, I was so interested that I decided I wanted to go into geology as a career, so I enrolled at Long Beach State (in the LA area). I moved up in my prospecting as well, and within a couple years I bought a small puffer type dry washer and a 3 inch dredge (both from Keene) and I started processing more material and getting a little more gold. In those days (30 years ago) metal detectors could not do what they do now in finding nuggets, so I did not own one back then.


After a couple years as a geology major at Long Beach, in 1979 I decided to make a switch, and I transferred to the Mackey School of Mines in Reno and changed my major to Mining Engineering. The two are related, but Mine Engineering was more along the mining part of things I felt would I would be more suited to. I enjoyed my college classes. Reno is a great area and I was now close to some great prospecting in the mother lode country, as well as the Northern Nevada Deserts. I spent a lot of weekends in those days kicking around the mother lode and especially the North fork of the Yuba River.

I had met and started dating a very special lady before I left the LA area and we were married in 1980. Soon we were both attending to college in Reno, and I finally finished up and got my Mine Engineering degree in 1982.

Mine Survey Class

My underground mine survey class in the early 1980s.

Drilling for Gold

Drilling out the 20,000 ounce ore body near Virginia City, 1984.

The first mining company I worked for was Candelaria Metals, where I set up and ran a small heap leach project in central Nevada about 70 miles from Tonopah. We mined some ore underground, but got most of our material from the huge old dumps of the early day mining. It was actually a fairly simple process. Cyanide solution was sprinkled over the old mine tailings which we had heaped up on a heavy plastic sheeting. As the solution percolated downward, it dissolved out the gold and silver which drained out on the plastic sheet. We then captured the solution and extracted the precious metals. I really enjoyed working out doors, the excitement of producing our own gold and silver and the friendships of the other guys on staff there. At Candelaria, I really was involved with pretty much everything in the process, from initial construction of the heap leach facility, to running the mining equipment, through the smelting and shipment of the metal. We produced quite a bit of gold and silver, but the company had huge debt and overhead that were established long before I arrived, and in spite of the mineís success, the company went bankrupt.

Within a few months, I was able to get on at the New Savage mine in Virginia City, a district steeped in rich mining history, and not so far from my home in Reno. I worked mostly underground, surveying out where the working miners would drill. At Virginia City I discovered an important near surface ore body - I put together our modern maps with some old surveys from the 1800ís and showed there should be a valuable ore body in a certain spot on our claims. I convinced the head geologist to drill there and sure enough, there was a nice little area of high grade rock, with about 20,000 ounces of gold. Not too bad! Unfortunately, this small mining company also had serious financial problems, including too much over head, and it too went under as prices of gold sank after the early 1980s highs and new sources of funds dried up. Except for the corporate instability of the small mining companies, the mining industry was all I had hoped it would be while I was in school - I really enjoyed it.

Declining metals prices meant fewer jobs were available in the US, and many of my former classmates were going overseas, some even to South Africa - a very politically unstable place at the time. That just seemed way too risky to me. Instead, I chose to take a job as an engineer with the local county Health Department, at least temporarily, and unlike the little mining companies, I knew my county paychecks would not bounce! The county job was a safe haven, and my wife and I built a house and started a family, and I have now been at the same county job that I told myself was ďtemporaryĒ for more than 20 years! In spite of how much I enjoyed it, have yet to return to the mining industry - though I may still return, someday.

Golden Boulder Silver Mine, Fairview, Nevada

The remains of my complete 1915 gold and silver mill in the Fairview District of Nevada after an un-requested custom incineration by the US Navy.

Gold dredging in the Yuba River

Explaining the operations of my dredge to my young nephew. This is where I dredged a few summers ago.

On the other hand, I have never left the love of hitting the hills prospecting that I had when I was a kid. For the last 20 years I have spent vacations prospecting in the hills for placer, hard rock and even large scale bulk mineable gold deposits. From Ely to Denio to Tonopah and beyond in Nevada and the Klamath River to the Cargo Muchacho Range in California, Iíve been all over Nevada and California at various times. In the winter I focus on research, and when the nice weather arrives, I do my prospecting. One of the big advantages of working for the county is the amount of vacation time I get.

Iíve also staked and owned claims across various parts of Nevada and California. One group of claims I staked out east of Fallon was actually bombed by the US Navy. A couple of wild eyed flyboys from the deep south training in Nevada decided that since Nevada is a wasteland, they could drop their live bombs just about anywhere - no matter that they were miles from the bombing range. Heck, blowing up old buildings is fun - and they did a good job of it. It was a darn good thing I wasnít out there prospecting on my claim that day! Before the bombing, the mine had a complete, fully intact gold and silver mill with the building still standing, and the shaft was fully timbered with good wood. The former owners had even built a dirt seal at the top of the shaft to keep the weather out. The building was leveled and the wood in the shaft burned for 3 days. I got an attorney and we won a small but meaningful settlement.

Spring and fall are the times I focus on metal detecting for gold. I have 2 metal detectors, an MXT and a Minelab GP Extreme. The VLF detectors have their place and the MXT also doubles as a good coin machine. The GP Extreme is a great machine and is the detector I normally use when prospecting. In fact, probably my biggest mistake in nugget detecting was sticking with the VLF machines too long. I would tell myself that I was successful nugget shooting with a VLF, so why did I need one of those expensive Minelabs, anyway? I found out later that I didnít know what I was missing. Once I got the hang of the GP Extreme, it definitely opened up a lot of new prospecting possibilities for me. I have a variety of coils for it, including a 20 inch Nugget Finder mono that I use a lot when Iím exploring out in the northern Nevada deserts - it covers a lot of ground. I generally use smaller coils on the GPX when I am hunting in California, as I am often hunting in environments with near surface bedrock and small gold. I have had some good success prospecting for nuggets, both with the metal detector and my dredge.


For the last several years I have been regularly writing articles for the Prospecting and Mining Journal - what used to be the California Mining Journal. Not long ago, I accepted a position to be the associate editor. The ICMJ Mining Journal is a great magazine with a long history, and I am glad to be a part of that. To see the latest of what is going on, take a look in at my favorite Gold Prospecting Magazine


Best of luck in all your prospecting -

Chris Ralph

Metal Detecting for gold nuggets

Here Iím metal detecting an old gold mine dump in the Sierra Nevada gold country.

My greatest treasure - my wife of 25 years, my son and my daughter.

For Media Contact, please see this page:
Chris Ralph Media Contact Info

My most valuable ďtreasureĒ is of course, my family - my wife of 25 years, my son and my daughter. My kids used to accompany me on many of my prospecting trips, but not so much anymore as they have gotten older. My dad still joins me on a number of my trips.

If youíd like to see a little more of my adventures, you can check out my web site at:


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