Dirt, Rocks, and a Little Creek Water
by Carol Oakes

The metal detecting/coin hunt outing was a blast! We had a wonderful time hunting for buried treasure both with metal detectors and with dowsing rods and pendulums, and witnessing speed panning demonstrations, but we also were treated to a lively discussion about gold panning by Allen Mershon.

While the coins were being buried in preparation for the hunt, Allen took us all down by creek-side where he showed us pans full of dirt, rocks, and a little creek water and told us that they were full of gold. He first passed around the filled pans to groups of three eager panners each and proceeded to show us several different methods of finding that gold in the pan. He talked us through the usual circular swirling method, demonstrated it, and then let us try it for ourselves. We all found gold in our pans!

In keeping with the adage that what works for one panner doesn't always work for another, he then showed us several alternate methods of getting to the gold in the pan. One alternate method involved creating a crescent of raw materials in our pans and then washing the gold off the man-made sandbar with rocking motions of the water. Another technique that will probabley take most of us a while to master came from an Alaskan gold panner and is called the Blueberry Bounce. The gold is first stratified in the pan and then bounced with small taps against the side of the pan to make the gold "jump" out of the raw materials. As in his first demonstration, Allen consistently talked us through the steps we were going to try for each new techique, showed us what to do, and then checked up on us to see what questions and problems we were having with the technique being taught.

Allen next proceeded to give us tips on where to find gold in streams. He reminded us that water needs to be flowing more than eight feet per second to carry gold and less than that flow to drop it.

Allen taught us that we shouldn't pan for gold at the creek edge of a valley where gold has not been found before--it won't be there unless there has been a recent major upheaval of rock and dirt up the valley. Instead we should look for gold where it has been found in the past; the Spring runoff will consistently bring down more gold to the same place year after year.

Look for high water areas in the stream where rocks and boulders have been washed clean by the runoff. These rocks signal places in the stream where gold could be found in front of the piled-up boulders and even behind them where the water slowed down. Allen warned us to not dig under the larger boulders, though, as they could roll and injure us. He pointed out places in the creek where he prefers to pan.

After telling us that sandbars are not usually a good place to find gold, Allen proceeded to tell the Idaho Springs story of all the gold found in that town on a sandbar. He reminded us that gold can really be found anywhere that there is a natural "V" to slow the water and that such was the case in Idaho Springs.

We heard that it is more important to dig deep in a small area to find that elusive gold than it is to dig a large area. Gold is heavy and it is driven to the bottom of an area by motion of the water around it. Allen also warned us that when we find a solidified layer of material that is above bedrock, it is probably a waste of our time to break through that layer as the water will have pushed the gold over it and moved it further downstream to drop it later in a slower place.

There were many smiling faces in the crowd as the demonstration ended; we had all found gold in our pans and were armed with new techniques and hints on where to find gold in our Colorado streams.

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