Gold at Union Flats
As appearing in The Gold Nugget, October 1998
by Leonard Leeper, "The Golden Optimist"
(See Leonard's website at

Finally, all of the camping details were taken care of at the Union Flats Campground in California's Gold Country. I was finished with the boring work. The cooking stove and supplies were all set out on the table and the bed was made up inside the tent. That way, if I indulged in a couple of cool ones around the campfire that night, I would be ready to sack out without having to put out any extra effort.

Now it was time for the fun part. Making the all-important selection of the dredging spot. Some prospectors might spend a day sampling up and down the river but I had a better way.

"Just pick an open spot!"

Actually that wasn't as bad a method as what it might sound like at first as I had spent a lot of sampling time with a pan and sluice wandering up and down the bar the previous year.

I popped the top off of a cool one and walked out onto the gravel bar and began searching for an empty spot. I could see where a lot of activity had occurred. There were many dredge holes spotted up and down the bar along the water's edge. Deciding that all of the really big gold would be at the upriver end of the bar, I walked there and looked up and down the river. There really weren't any open spots. There were several dredges near the water's edge sitting in their own holes. There was one large empty spot, but it had equipment placed strategically around it, which meant someone was about to move there. Looking a little closer, I could see that there was a long, skinny, open spot between the idle equipment and along the swift water's edge. That would have to be the magic spot. I walked over to the dredge, grabbed the rope, and pulled it upstream until it was in the selected spot and then tied it off to a large rock. That would be where I would begin dredging tomorrow. It might not be the best spot on the river but it would have to be better than anywhere I had been dredging in Colorado.

Taking my digital thermometer out of my pack I walked to the water's edge and placed the probe into the water. The water temperature really didn't make a lot of difference as I couldn't see any ice in it so I knew it was warm enough to dredge in. I've dredged several times in the winter when I had to break a hole through the ice just to get to the water. Turning it on, I waited as the reading stabilized. It read 53 degrees. An almost tropical temperature by Colorado standards as I've never seen the water there any warmer than 60 degrees. With all of the scientific work completed, I returned to the campsite to cook supper and then spend a friendly evening around the campfire with friends and a couple of cool ones in hand.

The next morning, I woke up early and eagerly jumped out of bed to fix breakfast. I had plenty of time, as the camp rules didn't allow dredging until after 9:00 a.m. Finally, the magic hour arrived and I suited up with the wetsuit and headed out onto the bar with all of my equipment. The first order of the day would be to move all of the larger rocks out of the selected area so I'd be able to start sucking up the pounds of gold I knew was there. I surveyed the area and selected a spot to place the big rocks. It seems like no matter how much pre-planning I do, I always end up moving rocks more than once. I didn't have a lot of room between my spot and the neighboring dredge's area so I would have to move all of my rocks out into the swift current, being careful not to get caught in it. The rocks would also help to break the current if I moved them to the upstream side of the hole. Taking the time to do all of the pre-planning and rock moving was hard, as I was anxious to crank the dredge up and get with it. Finally it was time to start the motor. I was really, really, ready, as the rock moving was hot work in the wetsuit bottoms. The cool water would really feel good.

Dredging all day, I managed to remove the top foot and a half of overburden from my selected area. It was a good start. I attached the cleanup tub to the dredge and carefully removed the mats and washed all of the concentrates out of the sluice and into the tub. Now it was time for the really fun part ... panning out the concentrates. I usually do cleanup every night as I like to see how the day's work went and after about 5 to 6 hours of dredging I'm more than ready to take a break. The panning is a good relaxing way to finish off the day. As I panned the material down I was excited to see that there was more gold in the pan than I had ever found in Colorado. Not only was it more plentiful, it was larger pieces. There was nothing smaller than rice size and most of it was a lot larger. When I was finished, about a pennyweight of gold sat gleaming in the pan. As I walked back to the campsite with my sucker bottle held securely in my hand and a big smile on my face, I thought 'If only I can do this good every day'. Little did I realize that this was to be my very worst day.

It would only get better from there.

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