Q: Ever since the first of the year, I have received requests to do another column on gold and diamond panning. I cannot believe that it is already July, so I decided to write about the subject or lose the opportunity for 2003. As an aside, in the last column I indicated that I had never received an apple pie like Abraham Lincoln did. Well, thanks to three readers, I can no longer say that. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
A: At this point it might be a little late to organize the skills and knowledge to have the kind of experience (find gold) to maintain everyone's interest. It is a bit like fishing. If no gold is found quickly, standing in the middle of a cold stream with the hot sun beating down while lifting a "heavy" pan full of muck rapidly loses its glamour.
Before trying to pan for gold or for diamonds, it is necessary to hit the Internet or the library to pinpoint the areas in your desired destination where gold has been found in the past. Almost every area in the mountains has some deposits, but the golden rectangle about 50 miles wide and 300 miles long starting west of Boulder and running down to Durango is the most productive for gold.
Next, it takes a little practice to learn how to use the gold pan. Mix sand, gravel, mud, and shot pellets together in a mixture. Then over a tub of water, practice by putting your "witches soup" into a gold pan and wash out the "throw aways" from the pan into the tub to see how many of the shot pellets you can retain. Take heart because it is a lot like learning to ride a bicycle. Nothing; nothing; and then when you least expect it, you are up and cruising.
Finally, it is helpful to go and watch the stream during flood stage to see where the strongest current is and where the water naturally slows during flood stage, such as around boulders and meanders, because that, more than likely, is where the gold is dropped by the water and concentrates, just waiting to be found.
But so much for the techniques. Next are the legalities. Buy a "hiker's" license or a hunting or fishing license so, if a rescue or a search arises, the cost of such actions will not be passed on to the one rescued (although very rare, it might be prudent just in case).
Gold prospecting is prohibited in national parks and national monuments, historical sites, and military installations, along with Indian reservations, private property, and public sites already under a mineral claim, but the last three may be available if permission is obtained.
If you use gold pans, no permits or environmental impact statements are needed. If you explore on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land, out of courtesy, check in with the local BLM office. This will also help to predetermine if there might be a problem with where you wish to go or rules in that particular location as to filling holes or not digging into the stream banks.
Forest Service property seems to be a bit more touchy. I am told that it all depends on how the local officials interpret the law, rules, and regulations. If you telephone ahead and run into some resistance, try elsewhere. Since there are so many areas to utilize, it's not worth getting involved in a war of words. Often the official may have other reasons, such as concern over forest fires or a personal prejudice against such activity, in taking the position that recreational gold panning is not allowed, at least over property controlled by that official.
I am told by members of the local gold prospecting club that state owned land is also open although one might run into the same hassles such as those sometimes arising on forest service land. Remember that state-owned "school lands" are normally under lease so permission must be obtained from the lessees.
The following are suggested destinations gleaned from local residents. The best family area in the state is the Arkansas River where, besides panning, there are also opportunities to fish, hike, mountain climb, camp, etc. In fact, for two dollars, some major sections of private river property are available with an abundance of "flower gold" just waiting to be harvested, especially by those who have mastered the use of the pan.
I have been told that a member of the local gold prospectors club found several 1-ounce nuggets in Clear Creek around Black Hawk. Farther downstream "flower gold" can be found. But be prepared to share the stream with many others.
So try it this summer. Maybe one of the kids has the Midas touch. And yes, four decades ago, several then CSU students did partially pay their tuition by prospecting. (I only add that because last time I wrote about panning, a local "rock hound" denied that it could happen.) But if you try it, do so for fun because "there is gold in them thar hills" that you have the right to try to find. To catch a flash in your pan will certainly put a sparkle in your eyes, even if it won't completely pay for the gas used that day.