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RV prospector: How to file a mining claim (plus a surprising boondocking benefit)

When your RV travel prospecting hits a pay streak, you may want to return to the site of your discovery and continue working it and recovering gold or other precious metals. You might wish to file an official mining claim if your discovery was on U.S. federal lands in the Lower 48 states or anywhere in the state of Alaska.

Most RVers have heard of mining claims on U.S. federal lands, i.e., public lands administered by the U.S. Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management. However, people tend to think of staking a mining claim in the abstract and are not sure just how to do it.

There are rules, sometimes both state and federal requirements and procedures, that must be strictly adhered to in order to validate a mining claim and prevent cancellation.

Here’s how to file a mining claim

Placer claim

A Placer claim covers up to 20 acres of land and can be used to recover mineral values in stream beds, banks, and old dry stream gravels near the surface.

Lode claim

A Lode claim covers 1,500 feet in length along a vein or ledge discovered to contain valuable minerals. The width of a lode claim is 600 feet, i.e., 300 feet on either side of the center line of the vein or lode. The end lines of the lode claim must be parallel to qualify for underground extra lateral rights. Those are essentially the legal right to follow the vein or ore shoot as far as it extends, even if that means tunneling underneath or onto another mining claim.

Why the difference?

The differences arise from the nature of mining the two types of claims. Placer claims involve working materials at the surface, often but not always around stream beds. Lode claims are for excavating below the surface to follow veins and ore shoots underground. Thus, the rectangular dimensions surround a mineralized outcropping or exposed fault that dips underground.

For a detailed description of filing mining claims on federal lands, you can access online an official U.S. Department of Agriculture Mining Claims Packet at USDA.gov. The U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management (BLM) also publishes a very informative Mining Claims Brochure.

Clearly marking mining claim boundaries as required by law

When you “stake” your claim, you must erect clear markings at the point of valuable mineral location, as well as of the claim boundaries. The rules are specific on what is required and how to do it. If you look this up on the internet, you will often see images of mining claim boundary markers made of PVC plastic pipe. These are no longer legal on U.S. federal lands due to the hazard to wildlife posed by these markers. Use stones or wood posts instead.

Recording a mining claim

There are two requirements here: 1. The claim must be filed or recorded with the County Clerk or Recorder (or, in the case of Alaska, the borough) where the claim is located; and 2. The mining claim must be recorded with the appropriate BLM state office within 90 days of the date of location. In Alaska, claims can be recorded with the BLM district office located in Fairbanks.

Under federal law, location notices must contain the following information:

  • The date of physical location
  • The names and mailing addresses of the locator(s)
  • The name of the claim (e.g., “The Jumping Jack”)
  • The type of claim (lode or placer)
  • The total acreage included in the claim
  • A geographical description of the parcel.

The BLM requires claimants to file copies of the official notice record filed at the county office with the BLM within 90 days of the date of location, along with a map of the claim boundaries. Any changes in claim boundaries or ownership must also be filed with the BLM.

A non-refundable processing fee of $20 is required to record each new claim, as well as a $37 location fee, and a $155 initial maintenance fee, all due at the time of recording. Note that a separate location notice must be filed for each mining claim, and the fees must be paid at the time of filing or else the claim will be declared invalid, which would enable anyone else to file on it.

One added benefit for boondockers is that the 14-day limit for dispersed camping on federal lands does not apply to an RVer who is prospecting or mining on a federal claim.

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BILLY Bob Thronton
2 months ago

Fun read. Never knew how it all worked, thanks.

Tommy Molnar
2 months ago

I wasn’t aware that PVC is no longer accepted for markers. I think the reason is bogus. Most markers I run across ARE PVC.

I always pull out the claim info when I run across these markers to see if the claim is still valid. Most times they are long expired (here in NV anyway).

Do you still have to show some kind of ‘improvement’ to your claim every year? I think that used to be a requirement.

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