Monday, May 21, 2018

Beach Mining for Gold

On the Pacific shores of Canada and America, extending in various spots along the coast covering a distance clear from southern California to Alaska and the Bering Sea, there are a number of gold deposits known as “beach placers.” Similar formations exist in New Zealand, Chile, Spain, China and elsewhere across the globe. While these placers are difficult to work as a commercial-sized operation, they are ideal for the small prospector who has access to them. I recall a couple who told me that not long ago they recovered seven ounces in a very short time from a beach near Santa Barbara, and I’ve read of a miner who recovered 78 ounces of gold in 24 days from a beach near Cape Yakataga in Alaska, armed with nothing more than a sluice box and shovel. Several reports from the 1800s noted that a skillful beach prospector who knew what he was doing could average better than two pennyweights per day—at current gold prices, a tenth of an ounce wouldn’t be too bad! In spite of this, they are little worked outside of Nome, and I can’t recall any commercial equipment that I have ever seen for sale made specifically to work them.

Beach placers are perhaps the most frustrating and most poorly understood of all the forms of placer gold deposits. Unlike most other placer deposits, which, once formed, tend to remain in place for many years, beach placers come and go with the weather and the tide. They appear one day and then disappear the next. They form on one beach after a storm, but after the next storm, they form on a different beach miles away. While the downside of the temporary nature of many of these deposits is a problem, it also means that whenever winds are high these placers are regularly renewing themselves all over again. This is not to say that they cannot be rich—there are multiple reports of times when there is so much gold on a beach surface that the gold is literally visible to the eye as the tiny flakes and dust shimmer in the sunlight. Reports of abundant gold have always had a tendency to cause gold rush stampedes, and certainly this has long been the case with beach placers.

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