“There’s gold in them thar hills.”
We’ve all heard that line, spoken by a quintessential prospector character in a film or on TV as he resolutely heads for the high country. The words are valid throughout most of the inter-mountain West. While gold is present in every state, most prospectors prefer hunting in the twelve western continental states, where the majority of gold strikes have historically occurred in the USA.
The American West has such a rich mining history—continuing to the present day—that an RV prospector can become discouraged thinking that those that came before found all the gold.
RV prospector wonders: Is there still gold out there?
Has it all been found? The simple answer is no.
The question of how much gold remains produces peculiar statistics, such as “All the gold ever mined throughout history would fit into 3.27 Olympic swimming pools.” Another stat says that 20 percent of the earth’s gold has yet to be mined. On the other hand, major mining company executives are saying that most of the gold has either been recovered or lies in underground mine reserves. As recently as 2018, Ian Telfer, then-chairman of mining giant Goldcorp Inc., said of the world’s gold, “We’ve found it all.”
All of this is a matter of perspective. The big mining companies claim they have found all the gold because they only refer to gold deposits that are rich enough to mine at a profit. Their enormous equipment, personnel, and operations costs mean they have to mine high-grade ore or not mine at all. Unless a gold (or silver or platinum) deposit will produce $3,000-$6,000+ per ton of ore, it’s simply not economically feasible for them.
We RV prospectors are different because even a minuscule amount of precious metal seen in the bottom of the pan or sluice box is an exciting find and worth the work.
The old-timers didn’t find all of the gold
As you hike into the wild in search of gold and other valuable minerals, forget about the idea that the old-timers found all the gold. Again, it’s a matter of perspective. The old-timers did well at an ounce to the ton of rock processed. Even though gold was at $12.50 per troy ounce in the late nineteenth century and only reached about $20 an ounce well into the twentieth century, they could buy a 50-lb. sack of flour, ten pounds of bacon and 25 pounds of beans—a whole year’s supply of grub—for about $10.
On the other hand, their mining methods and hand equipment were primitive, and my own prospecting experience shows that they left behind a lot more gold than they recovered. Miners in Alaska, Idaho, and Nevada poured gold-laden rock into their mine dumps because it wasn’t sufficiently high grade to cover shipping costs. Many of those old mining dumps are still there today, having not been touched in more than 120 years!
Spring runoff washes gold into streams
Each year, the spring runoff washes gold into the streams. That is why placer mining in the Sierras and northern river gold country of California still produces such high values. The same is true in Washington’s Cascade Mountains and throughout the northern Rocky Mountains.
“Gold is where you find it.” Most people, particularly gold bugs, have heard this one too, which is also true. I once found a rich placer gold paystreak in an Idaho mining district that geologists had declared barren of mineral values. In that same district, while doing legal research on a well water pollution case, I discovered a significant quartz outcropping at the bottom of a draw surrounded by the peaks and ridges where miners had worked for more than a hundred years but who had never considered surveying the lower ground.
So, as you travel the highways and back roads of America in your RV, never doubt that on that ridge or road cut up ahead, or along the banks of the river or stream near your camp, gold lies undiscovered in the rocks just beneath the surface or in the gravel banks of the old streambeds.
Gold is where you find it.
- RV Prospector: Be on the lookout for ancient streambeds
- RV Prospector: How to file a mining claim (plus a surprising boondocking benefit)