Funny. I spent my childhood in Diamond mines. It was rough. I know you can get prospecting pans and other gear from Military Surplus stores. I'm trying to find a military issued Bicycle and I noticed they have kits for it at some stores. When I was a kid I tried it in Colorado at one of those pan for your treasure places that makes you sell them the gold you panned for at a reduced rate. If I hadn't been ten I would have been irate.
I live about 15 miles from the spot where they discovered gold and started the Gold Rush in 1849, and yes I have panned for gold many times. I've gotten a little color from time to time, but mostly I just do it for fun. The geologists say they have only taken 15% of the gold from the American River, if so there is still tons left. If you want some hints on where the best places most likely to produce, let me know.
Someone on Jeepforum asked the same question. Here is my post from over there.
My wife and I started panning back in 94. It was a reason to go into the backwoods. I wanted to wheel every weekend and panning for gold was a reason to go out in to the middle of nowhere.
We started out with a classifier set over a 5 gallon bucket with 1/2 inch mesh. We would shovel the dirt and rock over it and smash the dirt clods to get them through and the rocks we would dump. Continue that until you get a bucket full. You can then dump it into a second bucket with a classifier on top with a 1/8th inch mesh but we didn't buy 2 classifiers so all we had was the 1/2 inch minus screen. We would then dump the bucket into a sluice with water running over it. We would then clean the sluice off into a 5 gallon bucket. When we had a bucket full of sluiced dirt we would sit down and pan. You can run through a lot of material that way.
When you are using the sluice you want to put it in a pretty decent flowing part of the stream. Not a heavy high flow spot because it will just blow everything off of the sluice leaving nothing behind. But you want to find a spot that will flow a food amount of water over the riffles to move the debris but keep the gold.
We would go out wheeling and find a stream that looked promising and pan for a while then move on, sometimes if we were lucky and found something we may camp the entire weekend at that spot. it was hard to leave sometimes when you find a piece of gold. We found enough that if we would have turned it in we would have payed for our equipment and our wheeling trips so it worked out good for us.
Just noticed the price of gold is over $1K, pretty good price.
Adding to Grape Ape's piece, the best places to pick up the dirt and rock is on the down stream area behind large rocks, kinda like the slipstream you follow in a pace line. If you have the equipment you can even move the rock, the bigger the better, and sift the dirt/gravel from under the rock. The reason is, the heavier gold settles there when the flows are high and is the place to look for the highest concentration of gold. It is a common theme among the full time gold dredging/panning junkies around here, the foothills west of my house is called "gold country" for a reason. The state has a pretty big park in Coloma Ca, the town around Sutter's mill where the first gold was found that started the whole thing. It is also a pretty popular whitewater area if the flows are up, the spring is best, but weekends are ugly crowded. There is also some awesome cycling in the area, hundreds of miles of backroads with not too much traffic if you are into that, and who around might be into cycling?
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