April 14, 2014
Mini Gold Rush In Sierra Nevada, But Is It Still In 'Them Thar Hills'?

The cry "There's gold in them thar hills" may be heard yet again in California, as changes in water levels have created a mini gold rush.

The recent drought, and its effect on the level of the rivers and streams that used to flow in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, has drawn fortune seekers from far and wide.

Now, amateur prospectors are digging in the dry riverbeds which have been inaccessible for years, and creating a mini gold rush, according to a report filed by CNN.

Tim Amavisca, 38, one of the hopeful hunters, said, "With the drought going on, we're able to dig in more locations that wouldn't be accessible at later times." He was panning in the Bear River near Colfax, together with his teenage daughter.

They were using the traditional method of pouring sand into a sluice box that's used to trap gold flakes on textured rubber mats. "If you see a good-sized flake, that's when you get excited," said Amavisca.

Another prospector, Rudy Price, 39, joined the gold rush and was surveying the riverbed for good spots for prospecting. "I do understand that it's a dramatic impact on everybody during a drought that's this severe, but at the same token I'm taking advantage of it."

One of the worst droughts in California history has left rivers and streams at dangerously low levels,bringing danger to fish and other wildlife.

Jeff Kitchen, a hydrologist with the U.S. Geological Survey's California Water Science Center, said, "You're seeing flows that are either at or near record lows. If this drought were to continue into future years, there could be some severe consequences."

The record-low flows have uncovered new chances to earn some extra money. And that's not only from the prospecting. Prospectors need equipment and supplies, which means a "mini boom" for Pioneer Mining Supplies in the Gold Rush-era town of Auburn.

The store sells everything needed for prospecting. Items include mini shovels, buckets, pans, rubber boots, maps and mining books, as well as more advanced prospecting equipment such as sluice boxes and gold concentrators.

People are willing to risk a few hundred dollars, with the price of gold now around $1,300 an ounce.

"The word is definitely out," said Trevor Whitehead, another prospector, "We've seen more people prospecting than usual. It's more of a hobby," Whitehead added, "but obviously if we hit a nice pocket, then yeah, I would love to make some money."

So far it remains just a mini gold rush; a poor imitation of the mania of the 1880s. But who knows?

Maybe "them thar hills" contain a lot of gold after all - and then the mini may turn into a maxi!