Top Ten Gold Rushes of BC – Part 1

Top Ten Gold Rushes of BC – Part 1

Prior to the gold rushes in BC this part of the country remained almost entirely unexplored.  The Clovis people and their descendants the North American Indians were the first settlers of North America.  The Clovis crossed the Beringia Land Bridge from Siberia to present day Alaska approximately 13,500 years ago.  When Europeans began exploring the area, first by sea in the late 1700s and later by canoe, they encountered aboriginal groups covering much of the province.  Many Indians had seen gold in creeks but had little use for it.  They did not have the knowledge or motivation to mine gold until they came into contact with Europeans.  After learning the value of gold to the British they began to mine it and trade for goods.

Map of British Columbia Goldfields circa 1858
Map of British Columbia Goldfields circa 1858, click for larger image

The Spanish explorers on the other hand were completely obsessed with the yellow metal.  Spanish explorers were motivated primarily by legends of “El Dorado” in their search of the Americas.  Each Spanish explorer had the ultimate goal of returning to Spain with a ship full of gold.  Most of their attention was focussed in South America where their superior weaponry, armour and small pox allowed them to quickly decimate tribal empires and steal their gold.  There is evidence of Spanish gold exploration in BC as well.  Most of the Spanish exploration took place on Vancouver Island and other coastal areas such as Haida Gwaii.  One Spanish expedition travelled inland as far as the Okanagan and Similkameen regions.

Fur trading is what led to the first European settlement of British Colombia but the impact remained relatively small.  The first settlements were established by early explorers such as Simon Fraser, Alexander Mackenzie, and David Thompson.  Early forts were established along the river routes that these explorers used as well as along the coast.  The area became a recognized fur trading district called New Caledonia and it held that name until it became a British Colony in 1858.

Fort St. James was founded in 1806 and was the first major inland fur trading post in BC and still bears that name.  Other notable early forts are Ft. George (now Prince George), Ft. Kamloops, Ft. Langley and Ft. Victoria (1844).  During the fur trade the European population slowly grew to a few hundred people but little effort was put into exploring new ground outside of the established trade routes.

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1851 Haida Gwaii Gold Rush

The Haida Gwaii gold rush was the first recorded gold rush in BC but was very short lived due to hostilities with the local natives.  The rush began in 1851 when a Haida man traded a 27 ounce nugget for 1500 blankets in Fort Victoria.  A Hudson’s Bay Company ship was sent up there soon after and discovered a very high grade lode deposit.

The HBC crew began mining the lode deposit but the Haida Indians soon turned against them and prevented further mining.  In 1852 a ship with 35 adventurers from San Francisco set out for the islands.  They arrived at “Gold Harbour” in the Tasu Sound but did not have much luck finding gold.  They did however manage to trade with the Haida Indians for gold.

1857 Gold Found At the Nicoamen River

Placer gold was discovered in Nicoamen River which is a tributary to the Thompson River.  The Nicoamen enters the Thompson about 12 kilometers up stream from the confluence with the Fraser River at Lytton.  A local Indian discovered gold there by chance and soon the majority of the tribe was mining the area.  This discovery is credited with igniting the Fraser River gold rush.

1858 Fraser River Gold Rush

The Fraser River gold rush involved one of the largest populations of migrant prospectors in history.  It is estimated that around 30,000 people rushed to the lower Fraser River in 1858.  The rush began after an 800 ounce gold sample was sent from Fort Victoria to San Francisco for assay.

Yale in 1868
Yale in 1868

Soon after a shipload of 800 American prospectors from California arrived in Victoria to hunt for gold on the Fraser River.  The influx of American prospectors overwhelmed the small government that managed the territory.  HBC Governor James Douglas requested immediate help from Britain to control this massive foreign population .  The British Government responded by formally claiming BC as sovereign British Colony in 1858.  The new government quickly enacted mining laws to prevent the mayhem that took place in the California goldfields.  Along with the declaration came British military support and the Royal Engineers who went on to build several major road systems including the Cariboo Wagon road and Dewdney Trail.

The early work centred around the community of Hope where steamboats allowed for easy access.  The majority of the gold rushers were participants in the California gold rush that fizzled out a few years earlier.  As a result the population of Yale was largely american and the town was modelled after San Francisco.

Lower Fraser River Circa 1862
Lower Fraser River Circa 1862

A story in the San Francisco Bulletin is credited with igniting the rush.  According to the newspaper:

“In one month the Hudson’s Bay Company fort in Victoria had received 110 pounds of gold dust from the Indians … (prospected) without aid of anything more than … pans and willow baskets.”

Numerous bars were prospected and mined between Hope and Lytton.  Some communities along the Fraser are still named after the bars that were mined such as “Boston Bar”.  Like most gold rushes the men who arrived first snapped up the good claims and the the majority of the adventurers ended up working for them.

Cariboo Wagon Road in Fraser Canyon 1867
Cariboo Wagon Road in Fraser Canyon 1867

The British Royal engineers developed a route from Port Douglas at the head of Harrison Lake to Lillooet to accommodate the influx of miners.  Many new communities popped up and some are still settled today.

The Fraser rush brought people from all over the world but the bulk of the miners came from California.  At the peak of the rush there were over 10,000 miners operating on the section of river form Hope to Lillooet.  The bars depleted rapidly and by 1860 most of the miners continued on the other gold rushes in BC.

1858 Rock Creek Gold Rush

Gold was discovered in Rock Creek in 1858 soon after miners rushed in from the United States and the rest of the world.  The Rock Creek rush was also instrumental in the development of British Columbia.  The discovery was made by two American soldiers who were chased North of the boarder by a band of Indians.  Just 5km from the border where an unnammed creek entered the Kettle River they found gold.

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At the time of the discovery the colony of British Columbia was only a year old.  American miners tried to claim the area as part of the United States due to the high grades and the fact that it was discovered by Americans.  The Rock Creek claim issues prompted the construction of the Dewdney Trail as a means to separate the new colony from the United States.  The Dewdney Trail snaked its way from New Westminster all the way to Wild Horse in the Kootenay region staying just North of the Canada-US border.

Soon after the discovery an estimated 5,000 prospectors migrated to the newly established town of Rock Creek.  In the beginning there were two saloons, a butcher’s shop, a hotel and five stores.  Within the first year a revolt broke out due to tensions between Chinese and American miners and refusal to pay for mining licences.  The incident became known as the Rock Creek War.  The governor of British Columbia Sir James Douglas travelled there from Victoria to straighten out the miners.  He threatened to send in 500 British soldiers if they couldn’t behave themselves.  Sir Douglas was successful and soon the miners paid their claim fees and mined the creeks in peace.

There were some amazing claims on Rock Creek.  Adam Beame’s claim on Soldier’s Bar  in 1859 allegedly netted $1,000 in six weeks.  That gold would be worth $70,500 today!  Other bars such as Denver Bar and White’s Bar produced similar results.

1859 Cariboo Gold Rush

Gold was discovered on the Horsefly River in 1859 by prospectors who participated in the Fraser River rush.  They were guided by a local Indian and shown a spot on the Horsefly River with abundant gold and nuggets the size of wheat kernels.  The rush was on as more miners from the Fraser River rush migrated North to the Cariboo.  Soon a town was erected near the strike that exists today.

Cariboo Map Circa 1862
Cariboo Map Circa 1862

In 1860 gold was discovered on Keithly and Antler creeks to the North of Horsefly.  Other notable creeks of the region are Lightning, Lowhee, and Williams Creeks, the Quesnel River and Parsnip River.  Towns popped up all over the place with the most exciting being Barkerville.  That town was named after a British prospector named Billy Barker and had a popluaton of 10,000 at its peak.  His claim on Willams Creek was one of the greatest gold producers in history yielding an estimated 37,500 ounces of gold.  Barkerville was restored in 1997 as a tourist historic town that is a popular attraction in the area.

Barkerville1868
Barkerville circa 1868

The Cariboo gold rush saw 100,000 people flood into the area during 1862-70 from all over the world.  By 1864 the Cariboo Wagon Road was completed from New Westminster all the way to Barkerville.  This allowed for easy travel of people and supplies, wich substantially brought down the costs.  It also allowed for stage coaches to securely move gold from the mines.  The stagecoaches operated on this road from 1863 to 1917 carrying people, mail, express packages and of course gold.  The stagecoaches saw surprisingly few hold ups, even though they carried literally tons of gold.  There are only five hold ups on record, two of which were successful.

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By 1870 the gold rush had largely fizzled out.  The good claims were now owned by mining companies who could gather the money needed to undertake underground drift mining.  Those who didn’t stick around to work in underground mines spread around other parts of BC’s North and some sparked gold rushes in new areas.  Others settled in and started up cattle ranches or logging companies.  Gold mining in the Cariboo is still active today, as a matter of fact I have a couple claims near Keithly Creek.

Cariboo Drift Mine
Cariboo Drift Mine

1863 Wild Horse River Gold Rush

Gold was discovered on the Wild Horse River in the Kootenay region in 1863 once again by American prospectors.  The Wild Horse held great gold reserves and still does today.  Early in the rush huge nuggets were found with the biggest tipping the scale at 36 ounces.  The first town that was built was called Fisherville.  Apparently after one resident found a nugget under his house the size of his fist the whole town burned their houses down to dig underneath.

A town was erected named Galbraith’s Ferry, named after John Galbraith who operated a ferry across Kootenay lake.  Later the town was re-named Fort Steele after the legendary Sam Steele.  A second gold rush broke out in the same area in 1885.  Later hard rock silver rushes spread around the region.

The Wild Horse River is estimated to have produced over $7,000,000 in the initial gold rush which would be worth about $490,000,000 today.  There is a very well preserved historic town at Fort Steel that is a popular tourist spot with many actors playing the roles of old time blacksmiths, prospectors, sheriffs and so on.  It is located North of Cranbrook at the intersection between Highway 93 and 95.

The initial gold rush ended after about 6 years but soon the great silver rush would flood the region.  Places like Nelson, Kaslo, Slocan grew out of the silver rushes that blanketed the Kootenay region.

 

1864 Leech River Gold Rush

The Leech River gold rush started with a letter from Robert Brown who was Commander of the Vancouver Island Exploring Expedition.  Yes that was the correct name of the VIEE expedition.  The expedition was launched by the British government in Victoria.

1880Leechtown
1880 map depicting the locaton of Leechtown

A letter from Brown published in the British Colonist newspaper on July 29, 1864 ignited the rush.  Here are some exerpts from the letter:

..the intelligence I have to communicate is of too important a nature to bear delay in forwarding to you, even for one hour…

The discovery which I have to communicate is the finding of gold on the banks of one of the Forks of the Sooke River, about 12 miles from the sea in a straight line, and in a locality never hitherto reached by white men, in all probability never even by natives. I forward anquarter eighth of an ounce (or thereabouts) of the coarse scale gold, washed out of twelve pans of dirt, in many places 20 feet above the river, and with no tools but a shovel and a gold pan. The lowest prospect obtained was 3 cents to the pan, the highest $1 to the pan, and work like that with a rocker would yield what pay you can better calculate than I can, and the development of which, with what results to the Colony you may imagine.

Leechtown - Berks Hotel
Leechtown – Berks Hotel

A town called Leechtown was built near the discovery.  By November that year there were an estimated 6 general stores, 3 hotels and over 1,200 miners at work in the area.  By 1866 an estimated 200,000 ounces of gold had been produced in the area and the gold rush had passed its peak.  It was over in a flash as the Leech and Sooke river placer deposits, although high grade, were limited in size.

In the span of one decade gold rushes turned the vast unexplored fur trading district of New Caledonia into a sovereign British Colony.  By the end of the 1860’s the new region had gone from a population of under one thousand people to a colony with several major wagon roads and towns covering much of the Southern half of BC.  The gold rushes continued and led to more development in British Columbia.  Stay tuned for part 2.

Check out part two here:

Part 2: Top 10 Gold Rushes

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Late Season Prospecting on the Fraser

Late Season Prospecting on the Fraser

This claim is located in the Cariboo-Chilcotin region of BC.  The location is fairly remote and there are no paved roads for quite a distance in any direction.  When you are out there you are definitely alone.  It has sort of an eerie feeling all day and night, it feels deserted.  There is a ghost town near the claim and some signs of a more active human presence from a distant time.  Check out this post for pics on of the ghost town, Southern Cariboo Prospecting Trip.

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The hike down to the river is pretty tough.  There is about a 1000 foot elevation change from the access road to the river.  We went down there the first day to sample the beach.  We came across a couple of bedrock outcrops which prevented us from travelling any further.  The bedrock had some gold stored in the cracks and we were able to get some of it out.  Near the river we saw some decent colour in our test pans.  We marked the locations on my GPS and made our way back up to the camp.

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We had some great burgers cooked on the campfire and a couple of beers.  It is getting pretty cold up there this time of year.  Once the sun goes down the temperature quickly falls below freezing.  We had a nice big fire and enjoyed the stars for the evening.  It was pretty tough to get out of our tents in the morning.  The moment when you unzip your sleeping bag and start putting on cold clothing is the worst.  I’d like to stay in my nice warm bag for a couple more hours but we came up here for a reason.
CreekRavine

We found an old claim post with tags from 1989/90 right in the center of the claim.  The post was actually carved out of a tree trunk and is the most creative claim post I have ever seen.  As far as industrial markers go this is a work of art.  I hope to find out more about this G. Johnson and what he had discovered on the claim.

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As we were making our way down to the river for day two of prospecting we came across a creek that seemed to appear out of nowhere.  My partner noticed some gravel near the surface and we thought we might as well pan it.  In that pan we saw a small coarse chunk of gold.  This was pretty exciting since it was located several hundred feet above the river.  We took several more pans in that spot and found a little bit of gold in each one.  Now we have to find out where that mysterious little creek is getting the gold from.

Bazooka

My partner had a Bazooka Gold Trap and we tried it out on this little creek.  The gold trap seemed to work pretty well.  It’s an interesting design that has a chamber at the back and a water scoop underneath that forces water into the trap.


That was our last trip of the season to this area.  The weather forecast says snow is coming this week and it will probably stick until the spring.

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Drone Mapping of Placer Claim on Fraser River

Drone Mapping of Placer Claim on Fraser River

This weekend we completed an aerial mapping mission on a gold claim in BC.  Our drone was able to complete four flights and took hundreds of photos.  Through post processing we were able to produce a high resolution 3D model, digital terrain model (DEM) and a high resolution orthophoto mosaic.

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3D Model Produced from Drone

The flights were all completed in one day.  Two flights had to be cancelled.  One due to excessive wind, the other due to a bald eagle chasing the drone.  That is the first time I’ve seen a bird chase a drone, the eagle was closing in before I diverted the drone to come home.  We were able to cover an area of 2.2 square kilometers with high resolution photography.  Each flight covers about 250 acres just short of 1 square kilometer per flight.

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UAV Flight Paths

The photo quality that was produced is outstanding.  With this flight pattern a consistent photo resolution of 4.0 cm/pixel was obtained.  To put that into prespective Google Earth’s highest resolution data is at 65cm/px and the best satellite data you can buy today is 30 cm/px. Photogrammetry techniques and software were used to produce the 3D model, point cloud and mosaic stitching.  This software as improved substantially in the last couple years.  You do need a lot of computer horsepower to run the calculations though.

Processing

Lets take a look at some of the photos.  The two photos below are showing the ghost town that is located just North of the claim boundary.  Some ground photos of the same spot can be seen in this post, Southern Cariboo Prospecting Trip

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Here is an image of the same spot in Google Earth for comparison:

Google Earth Ghost Town
Google Earth Ghost Town

This set shows my SUV which was set up as a base station for the UAV operations.  I had a special antenna mounted on the roof and a laptop with the UAV ground control software inside the SUV.  You can clearly see the vehicle and I am standing just behind it.

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Here’s a short video of me launching the drone.  Its a pretty simple system, once all the pre-flight programming is complete you shake it three times and send it on its way.

Here is an overview of the 3D model that was produced.  We essentially created a 3D environemnt similar to a video game that you can fly around in and check out terrain features.  Its similar to google earth except much higher resolution.  The second image is actually from within the 3D model, not a photograph.

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3D Model of Claim Area
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Inside the 3D model

All the data that we produced with this drone is georeferenced.  That means that each pixel has a real world coordinate and the model matches up with its real world position.  Here’s a couple shots of the orthophoto and the DEM overlayed in ArcGIS.

DEM_GISpubOrthoGISpub

You might be wondering why go through all this effort?  Yeah drones are cool and all but what does this imagery offer to placer miners?  The biggest thing we are looking for is ancient river channels or paleo-placer deposits.  Using the high definition 3D imagery we can look for signs in the terrain where an ancient channel may have been.  In addition to ancient channel mapping we can plan access for people and equipment, analyze land forms for placer potential and know where we can set up machines that need water.

In the future we plan to do some subsurface mapping with a ground penetrating radar system.  This will parallel nicely with the UAV data to give us a clear map of the subsurface gravel layers.

These services are provided by West Coast Placer, if you are interested in drone imagery send us a note via the contact page.

Check out our Drone Services page for more details, Drone Services.

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Fraser River Unexpected Rock Climbing

Fraser River Unexpected Rock Climbing

In April I went to check out two claims in the area North of Lillooet, BC. These two claims are close to the one that I wrote about in my Southern Cariboo Prospecting Trip.  On the way up the Fraser Canyon I stopped at the old Alexandra bridge to get a peep at a claim that I have on the other side of the river.  The old bridge is part of the original Cariboo wagon road that serviced the gold rushes of the Fraser and Cariboo.  The Alexandra bridge that stands today was built in the exact same spot of the original bridge from in 1861.  The current bridge was completed in 1926.  There’s a lot of history here.

Alexandra Bridge 2 Bridges

In the second photo you can see the latest bridge in the distance that replaced the old suspension bridge in the 1960s.  The old bridge has an open grate for a bridge deck.  I’m not afraid of heights but it is a little hard to trust a bridge that has been decommissioned.  There has to be a reason right?

Long way down

Once again I travelled up the West Pavillion forest service road to do some gold panning.  This time though the road frequency had been changed, and the new one wasn’t posted yet.

Pavillion Road Sign

There were some phone numbers and a website posted but this area is outside of cell range so that is not really helpful.  I had a my trusty Baofeng but it wasn’t any good without the proper channel.  Here’s a link to the new posted channels for the area, FYI.  According to that site the new channel is 150.11 MHz.  Fortunately it was a quiet day on the road and I didn’t see anybody.

Claim #1, other viewClaim #1

I got to the first claim later that day.  I found a nice camp site near the dirt road and eagerly began hiking down to the river to take my first samples.  It looked pretty steep on the topo maps and with my prior experience in the area I was expecting it to be.  The maps were accurate and it was at least as ugly as I had imagined.  Loose gravel and significant slope on the way in.  I was hoping to find a more civilized route up once I got down to the river.

SamplesApril

I managed to get a couple samples before the light started to fade.  The samples that I take consist of two full pails each, and partially processed on site.  I use the pyramid pan to concentrate that down to about 1L and store the samples in a waterproof zip lock bag for the hike out.  It takes at least an hour to excavate each test hole in this area due to the abundance of large rocks making up the beach.

RockClimb1

My hope of finding a “civilized” route was not fulfilled, I marked the climbing route in the above photo.  I was faced with either hiking up the super steep talus slope or rock climbing up some exposed rock.  I chose the rock climbing.  I must mention that I am experienced with rock climbing and don’t recommend this course of action if you aren’t comfortable.  Its not exactly safe, especially with a backpack loaded with a pick axe, shovel, 5 gallon pail, samples, gold pans and all the other prospecting gear.  Not to mention no rope.

April Fraser Looking South April Fraser Looking North

I made it up OK, with a little bit of a gut check at the top, then hiked the rest of the steep slope up to the camp for some well deserved beer and food.  Little did I know that was just the beginning of the unexpected climbing on this trip.  On the previous trip to this area we thought that climbing ropes and gear might be needed for these claims but it was impossible to tell until you come over the edge towards the river.

AprilClaim2 Canyon AprilClaim2

The second claim was just down river from a small canyon.  This is a good thing for trapping gold but it does not make for easy access.  It all looked good on the way down but it dropped off steeply as I descended towards the river.  Pretty soon I found my self perched on top of what was a near vertical drop.  I spotted a line down but I couldn’t see the whole path.  At this point I was committed.    The further I descended the worse it got and next thing I knew I was reverse rock climbing down to the beach.

Claim2Beach

Once again I hoped that I would find a better route up.  This time around I knew it wasn’t going to be easy.  I had a whole day of sampling to do so I’d worry about climbing out when the time comes.  I managed to get three good samples from the beach and inevitably the time came to climb out.  I knew the way in was very dangerous and didn’t know if I even could climb back up.  The photos below show the route to the beach.

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I spotted a route to rock climb out but it was nasty too.  It looked like solid rock with good holds so I went for it.  It turned out not to be solid and almost every hold I grabbed broke loose and slid down the slope.  I got to a point about 3/4 the way up the rock climb section where I was certain that I was screwed.  No way up and no way down.  Not a good feeling.  After several minutes of gathering my courage I decided I had no choice and went for it.  Once I was on top and able to walk on my feet I was relieved and more than happy to hike up the rest of the steep slope to my camp. I didn’t get a great picture of the route up from the beach.  The photo below shows the approximate route.Claim2ClimbUp

I’ve gotten myself into these sort of situations more times than I’d like to admit.  Honestly though the unexpected situations are one of the most exciting parts of prospecting.  At the time you are terrified and wonder how you ended up in this situation but afterwards those are some of your best memories.  Without a sense of adventure who would go out to these places looking for gold?  As luck would have it, these claims actually had some decent gold.  The trouble is how am I going to get in there next time?

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Southern Cariboo Prospecting Trip

Southern Cariboo Prospecting Trip

Here is another trip report from March.  This trip was to a claim in the Cariboo region.

The claim is located approximately 30km to the North of the town of Lillooet on the Fraser River.  Access to the claim was gained via Highway 1 from the lower mainland to Lillooet, then 4×4 roads to the claim. We took the West Pavillion FSR and turned onto an un-named dirt road towards the claim.  The driving distance from Abbotsford is approximately 316km and took about 5.5 hours to drive.  The map below shows the route taken.

Map to Cariboo Claims

Upon arrival to the claim we spotted some old buildings and decided to check them out.  It turned out to be a really cool ghost town.  There were several shacks that are still standing and a very well preserved church.  I haven’t been able to find out any information on the ghost town.  It is really one of the best preserved ghost towns that I have seen.

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The trip was off to a great start.  After checking out the ghost town we tried to find a suitable route down to the river.  The sides of the river in this part of the valley are very steep.  We tried out a route and it ended up being a little too steep, we were able to make it but it wasn’t easy.

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The next morning after looking over the topo maps and weighing our experience from the previous day we decided to take an old creek bed down to the river.  The creek bed was not a direct route but it is much easier walking and a fairly consistent grade.  We arrived at the beach and began scouting sample locations and started digging.

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We managed to get four samples this time.  As usual we used a measured volume of material, screened on site and hand panned down to a manageable amount.  The gold values were not super exciting from this round but there was gold in each sample.  I saw some small flakes in the gold pan in a couple spots.

IMG_2421 Trommel

Across the river on a different claim we spotted some old mining equipment.  It looks like an old trommel with a hopper and possibly some jigs.  That property was a past producer but it looks like it hasn’t been worked in some time.  After three days the trip was over and we headed back to civilization.  To top off the trip we spotted some mountain sheep on the side of the highway.

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