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Sierra City Gold Prospecting Trip in California’s Mother Lode
Every year for the past several years I have taken a vacation and prospect trip to Sierra City, a small town high in California’s Sierra Nevada range, to prospect for gold on a friend’s mining claim. The town of Sierra is a historic gold rush town of over 200 people. Known primarily for its rich lode mines, it also contained some rich placers. It is now a center for various recreational activities including prospecting, fishing etc.
The North Fork of the Yuba River flows through the town and is a well-known gold-bearing river, and in particular, extensive dredging has been done both above and below the town of Downeyville. It runs for miles through the Sierra Nevada range. Where I work there has been very little work done in the last 10 years because the claim is surrounded by private property and a trespassing permit is required. The spot I’m hoping for is actually a well-known local swimming hole for kids – but there are nice nuggets in the bedrock and stones in the background.
All of Sierra County is an area known for large, coarse gold nuggets. Much of the county’s geology is very favorable for large gold production. Historically, more large nuggets have been found in Sierra County than any other county in California and the region around the North Fork. During the gold rush, miners found 25 pounds of silt on the North Fork of the Yuba River between Sierra City and Downeyville. An 11 pounder was also found while digging in Jersey on the hill just above Downeyville. Several side streams dumped in the North Fork of the Yuba yielded dozens of large nuggets and quartz/gold specimens containing 50 to 150 ounces of gold. There is also an unconfirmed story of a heart-shaped nugget from this side stream containing over 1800 ounces of gold. In the early days, most of the really big nuggets were found when thousands of miners scoured the hills, but even in today’s era of small-scale operations and weekend prospectors, many pockets of crystalline gold and multi-ounce nuggets are found from time to time. As a time example, some friends of mine found a 7.5 ounce nugget while dredging in September 2004.
Sierra County is also famous for its 16 to 1 hard rock mines whose deep workings yield rich pockets of gold in the quartz. In the summer of 2004, the mine yielded a pocket containing nearly a million dollars worth of gold. As 16 to 1, important and large discoveries are occasionally made in Sierra County.
Sierra City, California is about 1:45 minutes from my home in Reno. This year I moved my trailer to a local campground for an entire month from mid-July to mid-August. I wasn’t there full time, but I would come for long weekends and then go home to work. While the desert is scorching, Sierra City is at an elevation of 4200 feet and the weather at this time of year is typically in the high 90s and low 50s. The water temperature hovers around 65, which is cool but still pleasant – great to be in the water at that time of year. I spend most of my time dredging. In many ways, small scale suction dredging was born on the North Fork of the Yuba, as many early dredging pioneers such as Ernie Keene tested their homemade machines here, sometimes with surprising success. Over the years, I have made many friends there at the campground, and many look like me over the years. There are opportunities for prospectors, high banking, sniping, load gold prospecting and many more. I always wish I had more time when my season ends and I have to come home. It’s a great place to visit, and those who discover this hidden gem in the Sierra range are usually very happy.
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