If your retirement is not financially panning out as planned, how about trying what made early Californians crazy rich? Prospecting for gold does not seem so lunatic now that the precious metal is going for $1300 an ounce. Reputable mineralogists insist that 80% of California’s gold is still in the streams of the Sierra foothills. Thanks to this winter’s heavy rains, more gold should be rising to the surface on rivers like the Feather, American, Calaveras, Yuba and Trinity.

There are a number of ways to go about prospecting. Find a website with as much information as possible.

You can go the tourist route. A handful of companies organize gold panning “adventures” where they provide all materials. A simple day trip may run your $115, money that you are  unlikely to make back. A 3-day group tour with transportation provided comes in around $600.

If you’re only in it for the historic interest, you can go back to the source at Sutters Mill.

For the curmudgeons who  want to do their own prospecting and keep their treasure for themselves, you need to know that prospecting is allowed on property of California’s Bureau of Land Management. Don’t get near anyone’s private property unless  you ask first. Also check to see if someone else has a claim on it.

Unfortunately, the most promising public lands are already under claim, and cannot be worked without the claim holder’s permission. Three areas within the jurisdiction of the Mother Lode Field Office, however, are available for casual prospecting: the South Fork of the Yuba River and the lower Merced River. Gold seekers who use the traditional shovel and pan can try their luck in these areas without having to get permission.

Experts concede that the best places to look, surprisingly, are the popular ones. Find a spot where the water has been forced to slow down, inside a bend, behind a rock or on a gravel bar. Equipment is minimal. In fact you probably already have it in your kitchen cabinets. A pan 2-3 inches deep and 12” in diameter. A screen to sift the gold from rocks and dirts. Tweezers to lift your miniscule motherlode out and a vial to hold it. Geezers are especially advised bring knee pads or cushions as there is a lot of bending and kneeling as you work and pray for gold.

Beware of fool’s gold or pyrites. Bring along a piece of glass. If what you’ve found is gold it won’t make a mark because gold is softer than glass.

Finally don’t start counting your new found fortune yet . Odds are that only in one in 1,000 prospectors make a strike.

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