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More on Tailing Piles and Old Workings


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This is an article I wrote in 2003 about working Tailing Piles and it can be of help to many of the folks newer to our hobby and perhaps even some that have been at it a while...

I have mentioned hunting for nuggets in tailing piles many times in various articles, but this time I will go into a bit more detail. There are several types of left over piles after mining operations ended in the various placer and hard rock mining districts across the southwest. Some from dry operations and some from wet methods and still others from the removal of ore from deep under ground. Most hold potential for the electronic prospector and should be investigated.

Drywasher Tailings

The drywasher is used in areas where there is little or no water and uses air to separate gold form placer gravels as it is passed over a series of riffles. Before the gravel is processed it is screened through a grizzly with usually 1/4 to 1/2 inch openings in it. Now these fellows were (and still are) working under very tough conditions and with no water to wash the gold many nuggets to big to pass through the screen were lost in the header pile. These fellows were also known to work at night to keep out of the summer heat and nuggets to big to pass through the screen simply rolled off into the waste pile.

Nuggets were also lost in the fine pile at the front due to user mistakes or the material being to wet to process correctly and many other reasons. Often in the newer drywasher piles the fine pile is quite obvious, but often the older areas only show the coarser header pile and often it is hard to see due to brush, natural erosion, and other occurrences. Below is a pile grown over with brush that I got a nice 3.5 penny weight nugget from recently. Note that the pile was completely covered until I removed some to detect the pile.

RHdig01.jpg

The nugget is on the coil next to a dime and is easier to see in the next photo. It was 8 inches deep and any gold detector would have heard it with no trouble. It was still there because no one took the time to move the brush.

RHdig02.jpg

By looking around dry washes in the desert you can find these piles and some areas hill sides as well as flats were worked with drywashers. Now these methods were only profitable when the richest gravels were worked so work the sides of the washes, benches, hill sides, and is some cases even hill tops for nuggets in areas where drywashers have been at work.

Raking the header piles is a good method used by many hunters to get to the bottom of the pile if the pile is large and deep. A rake also comes in handy for removing brush etc. from the pile so that it can be thoroughly by the nugget hunter. Work these areas slowly and completely and you will have a good chance for a nugget. Remember that drywashers both old and new loose nuggets in their tailing piles due to varying reasons so stop and check them out!

Winnowing

Winnowing was a method of dry separation accomplished by putting material on a blanket and 2 or 4 men would throw the material up and down letting the wind blow off the lighter material. They would then pick out the larger rocks etc. to recover the gold. The only evidence left of these operations are out of place piles of rocks of all sizes where they "just shouldn't be" this method is now called the poor man's drywasher and is very seldom if at all used these days. If such an area is encountered it could really pay to detect for missed nuggets.

Dredge Tailings

Dredge tailings can be found along waterways and washes anywhere there was enough natural flowing water or wherever the miners could dam a stream or wash to gain an ample water supply. It is truly amazing some of the places that huge dredges are found with no visible water supply anywhere to run it.

These operations left long lines of tailing piles along the water course the dredge was working as the material was processed. Again material is classified down to a given size before being fed into the separators where the gold is removed. The material that is discarded ends up in these tailing piles and again nuggets, some of incredible size are also discarded unknowingly. Often a man was hired to watch the conveyer to make sure no big ones got away, but they still did being covered with dirt or a dozen other reasons.

DredgeLynxCreek.jpg

Dredging Lynx Creek in the 30's

Often these piles are huge and very hard to work with a metal detector, but some very nice finds have been made in dredge tailings and there is undoubtedly more just waiting for a lucky nugget hunter to dig the signal. Now raking these piles is possible in some cases I suppose, but due to the size of the materials and height of some of these piles heavy equipment is the best way to go and this method is being used with much success in places like Alaska where many multi ounce nuggets have been found at places like Gains Creek.

buckhorndredge.jpg

Above is an old dredge left high and dry in Buckhorn Wash in central Arizona. Often times wild schemes to dredge remote areas of the desert resulted in failure due to the unpredictable nature of the washes during torrential rain. Months or even years of work are destroyed in an instant along with dreams. The miners simply would give up and walk away leaving everything behind.

To sum things up what I am trying to get across here is that a crafty nugget shooter should never walk away from an area with old time tailing piles without spending time looking for missed nuggets that they may hold. I have found a large percentage of my gold by working these areas and still get excited when I discover new piles with ne evidence of raking etc. by other detectorists.

Mine Dumps

Mine dumps have always been one of my favorite places to hunt because I just love finding "specimen gold". Specimen gold or gold still in the host rock comes in many forms and I have found some very impressive crystalline gold on quartz over the years in the old throw away piles or dumps. In the old days ore was sorted by hand and if you couldn't see gold you threw it away, but often there was gold within the rock that was not visible. It is truly amazing how much gold they threw away! In many cases only the richest ore was processed due to lack of water or numerous other reasons related to the hardships faced by these early miners.

Working these piles is hard work as you must rake a few inches at a time detect and then start the process over again. The best method is for two persons to work together alternately raking and detecting and switching when gold is found.

Often also the drainage's and hill sides around hardrock mines are well worth the time it takes to detect them and again I have made some very nice finds that way. Many times there will be evidence of the old timers having worked local drainages near the mine for placer values. There is unfortunately a lot of trash around old mines and you must be very patient and dig all targets.

Remember though that many old mines are on patented private property and you need to gain permission to hunt there and where ever you hunt be aware of who owns what and pay attention to claim markers! Old mines are VERY DANGEROUS and the best defense is to simply stay out!

Good Luck and Good Hunting!

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Bill-

Your article points out some very important fundamentals in clear terms. Even 'ol sourdoughs such as my self can benefit from reviewing the basics and for the newbies, your article is pure gold!

Thanks,

Jason

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Great post Bill...especially since you know that about 90% of my beeping is done on 150-

200 year old slave tailings....you and I discussed their method of serperation years ago

when you suggested they probably used the winnowing method...I've been able to pull out

some really nice nuggets....my best was the 436gramer....when El Dorado was here last year

we worked some virgin tailings that were the largest I've seen here...the owner had just

pushed about the top three feet of the tails before we got there and that made it really

nice...now that you've got me to thinking maybe I'll try another area tomorrow if it's

still possible to get across the river....post-300-048710300 1286220417_thumb.jpg this

barge is current powered....the front line is longer than the back one and the current

pushes you right along....thanks for the reminder!!!

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Does anyone ever look over tailings like this? These I think are bucket line dredge tailings and are from the lower American river. I'm standing on top taking this picture and the piles are about 30-50 feet tall and miles of rows of them. Rocks range from as big as a watermellon down to 1/2". Any likelyhood of gold being in these? If so, is this something an experienced detectorist would look through or is this more for heavy equipment?

tailings.png

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There have indeed been some huge nuggets come from tailings like that. Lot of trash in them as well though as the workers just threw it on the belt and off it went.

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Be careful in that area unless you have written permission from property owners you could end up in jail and have your detector confiscated. I was told that it was unlawful to metal detect within Folsom city limits or sphere of influence? I would love to get into aerojets property or along white rock rd or better yet deer creek where it crosses boys ranch road. I heard that teichert? finds a lot of gold in their gravel operations.

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If you look at the boulders in the back ground this is a big dredge tailings that I found my biggest nugget to date, a 5.56 oz solid no quartz piece.

Also the other pic shows a big dredge tailings where I found a 3/4 and 1 oz piece here.

Then there is the regular mine tailing piles where all these little pieces came from, alot of raking from bottom to top, all found with the GB2

Allen in MT

post-227-089648800 1286237304_thumb.jpg

post-227-002308300 1286237437_thumb.jpg

post-227-020764400 1286237567_thumb.jpg

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Thanks for the insight Bill. I read this a couple of weeks ago. Sunday I went up in the mountains behind my house to cut firewood. I have made this trek many many times. I couldn't believe all of the large piles of dirt I saw. They were always there, I just wasn't looking for them. It looks like they were made by large machinery, like they would cut into a side of a hill and just leave these piles. Kind of like they were looking for something , GOLD maybe. I did take my detector with me, but only found bullets and beer cans. Apparently, these piles are good target rests. I'm using an entry level detector, so I know I wasn't getting very deep. I was encouraged that I noticed the piles though.

Great info, thanks,

Steve A.

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Be careful in that area unless you have written permission from property owners you could end up in jail and have your detector confiscated. I was told that it was unlawful to metal detect within Folsom city limits or sphere of influence? I would love to get into aerojets property or along white rock rd or better yet deer creek where it crosses boys ranch road. I heard that teichert? finds a lot of gold in their gravel operations.

Wow, thanks south fork. This picture was at the tailings at Sunset and Main in Orangevale, but I have been a few times at the Folsom tailings last year. But there are no "No Trespassing" signs or warnings of any kind. And I also see a lot of people out there looking like they're playing paintball or something. But I'll check with Folsom if I plan to go there again.

I've also been to the last tailings on the river right around the San Juan rapids. And I called the American river park foundation to ask them specifically if it was OK for me to detect in the tailings down there. The guy I talked to said yes pretty much as long as I wasn't diggin any huge holes or doing anything too disturbing to the landscape. I think I asked him about Folsom too, but I can't recall. It's all part of the American river parkway.

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If you look at the boulders in the back ground this is a big dredge tailings that I found my biggest nugget to date, a 5.56 oz solid no quartz piece.

Also the other pic shows a big dredge tailings where I found a 3/4 and 1 oz piece here.

Then there is the regular mine tailing piles where all these little pieces came from, alot of raking from bottom to top, all found with the GB2

Allen in MT

Wow! I guess you can find gold in these big piles. What method do you use to sort through this stuff? When you look up at a 50ft pile a mile long it's sort of discouraging when all you have is a couple hand tools and a detector... :)

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I have been told absolutely no metal detecting past the hazel bridge to the Sacramento river, big fines if caught.

I detect in the Folsom area from time to time and have no problems. Of course Aerojet would be fantastic.

The area you show was worked by bucket line dredges. Anything over 3/4 an inch was dumped back into the pile ( so i have been told). There has been fantastic pieces found not to far from those piles in that area. I know of many excellent finds from this vicinity first hand.

Look for the piles with chunks of bedrock, those would be the best to start in meaning they hit bottom of old channel.

Jerry

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