Colorado Gold and Gem Prospecting Etiquette and Safety

The best kind of gold digger...

The best kind of gold digger…

I have been a prospector for five years now, and although I do not consider myself an amateur anymore, I still have a lot to learn. With the advent of reality television and a recent interest in the world of prospecting, I have noticed an exponential increase in prospector sightings these past few seasons. The feeling is bitter sweet; prospectors are competitive by nature, and seeing once vacant land filled with holes and squatting novices, fills me with mixed feelings about the rise in popularity of my hobby.

Gold prospecting has a negative correlation with the US’s economy, membership numbers increase as the economy declines. The recent spike in activity is largely due to the Great Recession, and in a very cyclical manner, the “gold fever” has returned with exaggerated reports from the field and TV shows propagating the notion that anyone can pluck the abundant gold from the rivers (although the ol’ timers only extracted about 5-10% of the gold in the Western US.)

So I have decided to inform rather than resent and have compiled a short list of gold & gem prospecting etiquette and safety tips. If you must go out, at least be informed!

90923f58df9511e2be6322000a1f922f_71. Safety first! Every prospector knows the feeling of their first significant find, it sometimes overwhelms reason and gets you into severe trouble, or killed. Stay out of old mine shafts and their surrounding areas. Most are dilapidated and their vents covered by forest debris, which you could unknowingly step into and fall. If you see any sunken area stay away from the ground and never attempt to enter an abandoned mine. Poisonous gases/dust, decaying support beams, cave-ins, predator run-ins are just a few reasons to stay out and stay alive!

This portion is more for the female prospectors… carry a firearm when out alone. I hated guns before my husband familiarized me with guns, and now I own two! The thought of me out alone in the woods in rural wilderness drove him crazy, he always thought the worst! Being alert is crucial when alone, the woods are occupied by mountain lions, moose, elk, black bear (not really worried about them they are terrified of humans), wolves, and coyotes. One can get very distracted while working and make an easy target to be surprised.

**Note to any non-prospectors, DO NOT sneak up on a prospector and ask them if they have found anything. Most of us are armed and do not reveal our sites or bounty to strangers.

You are also a female carrying gold, gems and expensive equipment in some cases. I have had instances where a truck load of men drive by me several times, very slowly as if to scope my situation. I immediately pack up and leave. If for some horrifying reason I am approached in a negative manner, I know my holstered and loaded .357 snub nose will let them know I mean to protect myself.

2. Leave it as you find it. I hate hate hate it when people leave their unproductive holes in the ground for someone to stumble into and break their ankle. It is very simple, if you dig a hole fill it in when you leave.

You will also dig up trash and stumble upon debris, as a conservationist I urge you to pack it out to preserve the ecosystem we cherish so much.

3. Do your research on hazardous materials and areas. I still do not own a Geiger counter, which I hate, but I do compensate by extensive research in the areas known for radioactive materials and their appearance. I also do not own any major hard-rock mining equipment, so I poke around old mine dumps about half the time (always search for signs of a claim, a rock stack marker, a No Trespassing sign, etc.).

The mines in Boulder County used mercury and other extremely hazardous materials to extract the gold from the ore. Just a few days ago I dug my shovel into a stream bank and emptied it into my pan, shook it gently and a pool of mercury formed on the top. There are also naturally occurring Colorado ore that is caustic to your health like asbestos, smoky quartz, galena, and uranium. Familiarize yourself with these for field identification and avoid.

wpid-IMG_20130423_160141.jpg4. Do not claim jump! Another instance where research really pays off. The BLM has set aside plenty of national forest for you to freely prospect in, while other mines like the Phoenix Gold Mine and Argo Mine allow you to pay to pan their productive streams… a little girl apparently panned an 8 ounce nugget near Phoenix!

If someone owns a claim, most likely they make their living off of it and every gem and fleck of gold is a hit to these miners. When in doubt just head to the town’s gem and rock shop and ask a local for public land to mine.

Or better yet, support Colorado gem and gold prospecting clubs and the GPAA or LDMA to attain access to their claims!


My husband the goofball angler

5. Respect the anglers. Now obviously this only pertains to mining on the river, and I feel inclined to add this because of my angler husband. Gold prospecting on the river does wonders for the fish population, from extracting trash and mercury from the water, to producing spawning beds from sluice tailings, to uprooting nutrients and food sources for the fish while digging.

But, we do inconvenience the other river enthusiasts like anglers, and on public land they have just as much right to be on the land as you. When setting up a high-banker, dredge or sluice be conscientious of any anglers in the area… of course if they show up after to you that is their fault. But, if they are there first try not to murk up their  water if they are downstream, attempt to not spook the fish by walking around near large holes, and let them fish through if need be (take a break and grab some water, smoke or food.)

I’m not saying let them run your day, just share the wealth of the environment!

IMGP4207…With all that being said get out there and explore the beautiful state of Colorado. And remember, it’s not about finding the gold it’s about the search!

Lincoln Creek, Independence Pass


Lincoln Creek, Independence Pass

According to legend, a young boy stumbled upon an exposed vein of gold 10 miles outside of Aspen while resting on a ledge. I went to find this vein over the holiday weekend, to no avail, but captured some spectacular pictures. Ah, Colorado how I love thee.

Field Report: Sedalia Mine, Salida Colorado

For every peak there is a trough in life, and for the last few months I have weathered the trough and completely neglected my blog. My sincerest apologies.

Due to the large amount of international travel already this year, my adventures have been confined to the state boundary lines… but Colorado is a wonderful place to explore. I am the sixth generation to reside in the state and I still have yet to explore vast sections of the area.

Ridgeway, Colorado through my cracked windshield

Ridgeway, Colorado through my cracked windshield

My family is largely concentrated in the Durango area, and it has been over a decade since my last visit, but a tragic and untimely death in the family drew the clan out of the fields and mountains and back to the homestead.

Red Mountain Pass

Red Mountain Pass

The drive from Boulder to Durango follows Colorado’s mineral belt and provided me with prime prospecting opportunities. With my Gem Trails of Colorado by my side I plotted my route and prepared to sift through the ages… hopefully to discover some  natural wonders.

My route was shot due to a giant wildfire on Wolfcreek Pass so I had to detour through Salida (awww, shucks) and over Monarch Pass. One promising spot presented itself as I flew down the highway and slammed on my breaks making a very precarious turn onto a graveled county road. My book instructed me to acquire permission from the ranchers, most of them gun-toting and completely protective of their land, but I lucked out and saw a sign for a yard sale.

I thumbed through old records and purchased a Chubby Checker record with “The Twist” for one dollar… then proceeded to ask for permission. The lovely couple directed me to the old Sedalia Mine (the most productive, abandoned copper mine in the state) up the hill and wished me luck, proudly displaying their finds and scars from a narrow miss with death as their 4-wheeler flipped.


View from the mine

I flew up the rutted old road and came upon the “parking area” which to my surprise was full. The Lakewood Gem & Prospectors Club greeted me and let me tag around their outing since I had obtained permission and made the trek up there.

I gave myself a half an hour to speed prospect so I wouldn’t arrive too late at my destination and got to work with my classifier and the tailing around the rotted high banker. Withing a few minutes I found my half pound almandine garnet, along with microcline feldspar and possibly some epidote in quartz!

almandine garnets

almandine garnets

The 90 degree temperature and smell of smoke in the air severely limited my stamina, but in the short 30 minutes of dry washing rocks I found some impressive specimens! I highly recommend the Salida area for rock/gem/gold prospecting but remember most mine dumps are on private property so due your research before heading out… or if you feel spontaneous just ask at the local rockhound shop for public sites.


Inspiration: Robert Frost

Steamboat Springs Fall

Steamboat Springs Fall

“The Road Not Taken”

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I marked the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Robert Frost

Ephesus, Turkey

c/o Wikipedia. The Celsus library in Ephesus.

Heraclitus the “obscure” philosopher roamed the marbled streets of Ephesus, pondering what most ancient Greek philosophers pondered. His contemplation about the meaning of life in a world full of chaos led him to believe one “cannot step in the same river twice.” This implies that the world is constantly shifting, changing, and evolving.

Unfortunately, most relics from his era are long destroyed by natural forces or mankind… but the ruins of Ephesus remain. Ephesus, where Heraclitus influenced Plato, where Hippocrates created modern medicine and the Hippocratic Oath, where Cleopatra’s younger sister Arsinoe IV was murdered in broad daylight, where the Priestess of Delphi’s divinations guided every legend of Greek mythology and lore.

If you are passing through Turkey I must insist you make the time to visit Ephesus for a day or half-day. The ruins and the museum do their best to speak for those who are no longer with us and project through time an era of invention, thought, and innovation.

Tea for You at the Brown Palace, Denver

Image of Henry Cordes Brown

Image of Henry Cordes Brown from the Colorado State Capitol website.

Henry C. Brown was a liberal man.  His shrewd nature and perseverance amassed an enormous fortune which he invested in the burgeoning city of Denver in the late nineteenth century. His generosity is responsible for the Denver Library, the street grid system, the Capitol building, Capitol Hill and many of the gorgeous, old Brownstones that populate the area.

One day, Henry was downtown and attempted to enter the Windsor Hotel, the most luxurious hotel available in Denver at the time, and was turned down because of his cowboy attire. Infuriated, Brown set out to build a hotel that would outdo the Windsor in extravagance… a palace of sorts.image

The Brown Palace opened its doors in 1892 and never closed them, boasting continual service for over 120 years.  The juxtaposition of Victorian and Italian Renaissance architecture cohesively blends into striking aesthetic appeal… both bold and delicate.  You enter through the revolving doors and are slapped in the face by the impressive atrium lobby capped with a 2,800 square foot skylight by artist Clarence Watkins.


An excellent example of Daylighting technique

The dominant building material for the lobby is a cream-colored Mexican Onyx with marvelous marbling of natural tones throughout the stone creating abstract art on the walls. Six floors of cast-iron railings and panels frame the room with metal ladies dancing around the atrium.


Photo of exterior, care of Wikipedia.

The exterior of the hotel is made of Colorado red granite and red sandstone from the coast of Mortar. Architect Frank E. Edbrooke created an odd triangular shape to the building accented with 26 beautiful carvings of Colorado animals lined along the seventh floor.

A grand stair case leads you up to five-star hotel rooms chalked full of history. Notable guests of the Brown Palace include: the “Unsinkable” Molly Brown (no association to Henry Brown a common misconception), all U.S. presidents except for Calvin Coolidge, The Beatles, Queen Marie of Romania, and Dr. Sun Yat Sen to name a few. The hotel is supposedly haunted and offers a Ghost Tour among other themed tours of the facilities.

The Brown Palace is my favorite historic hotel in Denver and I often stop by for a beer in the Ship Tavern or afternoon tea service. My neck usually hurts from constantly gazing up, losing myself in the detailed decor and fascinating history.

I highly recommend at least a peek inside the hotel if you are in downtown Denver, or better yet classic tea service with delightful finger food and ambiance. Don’t forget to ask the Concierge for a self-guided tour pamphlet!