There’s gold in them thar hills, and the 150 members of the Utah Gold Prospecting Club (UGPC) are celebrating the club’s 40th anniversary by looking for, and in some cases, finding it.
Gold and the West are inseparable. Pioneers did not journey to California to look for silicon. No, the valleys they were seeking had nuggets of shiny paydirt, and Utah is part of this prospecting heritage. There are legends of Spanish gold in the Lost Rhoades Mine, and the search for the mythical Dream Mine, as well as current major operations such as Kennecott’s Bingham Copper Mine, which also extracts gold as a valuable byproduct.
Gold is still being found in Utah due to the constant forces of erosion. Dan Bergquist has been an amateur prospector for 30 years. He explained that gold appears in both nugget and flake forms. Prospectors actually look for gold-bearing quartz formations that have been weathered and scoured, washing the metal into fast-flowing mountain streams. This accounts for the familiar image of the prospector with his gold pan.
“You are going to get wet when prospecting,” Dan said. Gold is heavy. It settles into crevices and crannies of a streambed. A prospector puts a shovelful of silt into his pan and uses the stream water to wash away progressively lighter sediment. There are a lot of “ifs” in gold prospecting. If there is gold to be found it will shine through the black sand remaining in the bottom of the pan. If a stream has a bend, gold will be deposited on its inner bank. If flecks are found, Dan said a person would move progressively upstream seeking larger-size deposits.
This brings up the second common image of the gold rush ― a grizzled geezer doing the happy dance before rushing to town to file a mining claim. It is still possible for a person to file a mining claim for up to 20 acres on BLM land. The cost is $190 annually and it must be renewed each year with the county clerk’s office where the claim is located. Providing there are no competing claimants, the prospector obtains exclusive rights to seek gold and minerals in that area. Due to venerable mining laws, it is still legal to shoot a person for claim jumping.
Dan explained that research with the Utah Geologic Survey and mining history should preceed filing a claim. There are maps where old mines are located. Tailing piles are places to find gold that was missed the first time around. It is also important for a person to follow all pertinent environmental laws. He added that prospecting actually improves stream habitat for fish since holes that are dug create deep pools for fish in times of low water.
A much easier way to work a claim is to join the UGPC. The club maintains seven active sites in Utah, Idaho and Nevada. For $35 in annual dues, members can visit any of them and camp up to 14 days while seeking their fortune.
“The UGPC teaches members the right way to go about prospecting,” Dan said.
Speakers appear at monthly meetings and members can share information (well, perhaps not about finding the mother lode).
In Dan’s words, “Gold prospecting is a great family activity. It allows parents and their kids to share time together in nature.”
Dan has accumulated about four ounces of gold in his years of seeking the shiny metal. It’s not a big grubstake, but for him it is about the outdoor adventure that prospecting provides. Once a person contracts gold fever, there isn’t really a cure.
The UGPC meets at 7pm on the third Tuesday of every month at the Utah Cultural Heritage Center, West Valley City.
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