Over 170 years later, the Gold Rush still isn’t over for some Northern California residents.
Gold was first discovered in 1848, leading to the California Gold Rush and changing the course of the state and igniting the growth of the West Coast, according to the Library of Congress.
All these years later, you can still find people panning for gold.
“There’s clubs locally in the area,” said Laura Fierro, who is involved with gold panning groups in the Sacramento area called River City Prospectors and the Lady Explorers, Adventurers and Prospectors, the latter being an all women-club. “There’s prospector clubs that get together and do some panning and prospecting as well.”
When Fierro pans for gold, she and a friend spend 12 hours, starting her day early in the morning and leaving when the skies get dark.
The biggest find for Fierro has been pickers, which are described as gold visible to the eye that can be picked up, about the size of large grains of sand or tiny pebbles.
She hopes to find nuggets, which are considered to be anything pea-sized or bigger. Fierro said she has seen a nugget up close, as her friends have found them.
One of the largest gold nuggets found in California was discovered in Sierra County, which is about 121 miles northeast of Sacramento and on the Nevada state line. The nugget, known as “Monumental,” weighed 106 pounds and was discovered in 1869, according the Sierra County Historical Society. By today’s pricing, the find would be worth over $2.4 million.
More recently, in 2016, an amateur gold seeker found a “steak-sized” nugget while prospecting outside of Jamestown. The chunk of precious metal is believed to be worth roughly $70,000.
So how can you tell you found gold? It’s all in the weight of the pan.
Gold is about 18 times heavier than water and as you’re panning, the gold will sink to the bottom of the pan, Fierro said.
“Black sand and gold go hand-in-hand,” Fierro said. “As you’re panning, you’re getting down to the black sand and as you’re swirling your pan around, if you’re lucky, you’ll see gold flakes at the edge of your pan buried under the black sand.”
As for what brought Fierro to gold panning, she describes it a soothing activity.
“It’s the hiking, it’s being out in nature and listening to the river,” Fierro said. “I just find it relaxing just sitting in the river, in the water, listening to the rocks and thinking of nature. I also make the connection in the past and just think of how it was 150 years ago.”
Fierro, who says she is always on the lookout for new strategies, also teaches gold panning classes and enjoys talking to others about her favorite hobby.
She didn’t reveal where she pans for gold, but for prospective gold panners, Fierro recommends going toward the foothills, the American River and Yuba River in Northern California.
Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park, Auburn State Recreational Area and South Yuba River State Park are also some places where modern day gold seekers go, but there are regulations to follow.
Gold panning regulations
In California, panning at a state park means using only your pan and digging with your hands. There are other regulations for gold panning in the state such as being careful of private properties or in areas that have mining claims by people.
At state parks, panning for gold is considered to be “rockhounding,” the recreational gathering of stones and minerals found naturally on the undisturbed surface of the land.
According to the South Yuba River State Park, rockhounding includes panning for gold in the natural water-washed gravel beds of streams.
Gold pans are the only exception permitted at the state park, as tools and equipment may not be used.
According to the state park, rocks or minerals gathered may not be sold or used commercially and one person may gather no more than 15 pounds of mineral per day.
When panning for gold at state parks, rockhounding is limited to beaches within the jurisdiction of the Department of Parks and Recreation or “within the wave action zone on lakes, bays, reservoirs, or on the ocean.” You can also “rockhound” on the beaches or gravel bars that see flooding from nearby streams.
Be careful not to stir up too much mud, however, as muddy water shouldn’t be visible more than 20 feet downstream.
At Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park, gold panning is allowed during park hours on the east side of the South Fork American River, according to the park’s website.
This state park also has a “hands and pans” only policy, as no other mining equipment is allowed in order to protect historic park resources.
Despite the regulations, state parks frequently get visitors.
At the Marshall Gold Discovery SHP, the park conducts gold panning lessons and others typically go the area to seek gold.
“We see people virtually every day,” said Ed Allen, park historian at Marshall Gold Discovery SHP. “It’s recreational. People literally like to go down there and pan for gold because it’s so exciting. Literally, you do it awhile and you get gold fever. You want to keep doing it. You’re hooked.”
So how much can you cash those gold flakes and nuggets in for?
“It’s a commodity, it will go up and down in value literally every day, but it’s hanging around $1,850 for the last month,” Allen said, referring to the price for an ounce of the precious metal. “Price of gold goes up with inflation basically. It’s actually a hedge against inflation. Since we’re in inflated times, the gold value will go up.”