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There remains public interest in gold mining in the Mother Lode, scene of the great California Gold Rush of 1849. Forms of mining include panning, hardrock or quartz mining, dredging, and hyrdraulicking (long-since prohibited). See Glossary of Gold Terms in the Gold Rush Chronicles, and Mines of El Dorado County.

Much of the public land in this region is open for the filing of mining claims under the Mining Law of 1872. Under the Mining Law, the claim holder has exclusive rights to valuable minerals which may be found on the claim. Persons who wish to stake a mining claim should contact the Bureau of Land Management in Sacramento to find out if a site is already claimed or not. The BLM must be notified prior to the use of mechanized equipment on a claim.

One of Placerville's many mines & coyote holes

Top of pagePanning - This form of mining, done with a hand-held pan at water's edge, is often used as a prospecting method to locate areas that may potentially produce adequate gold for the effort expended. Cradles (or rockers), long toms, and sluices are larger modifications based on panning, once widely used for harvesting gold when pay dirt has been located. See also Panning

Top of pageHardrock (Quartz) Mining - Gold is sometimes found running through quartz, a hard, crystalline mineral commonly found in many places. The Mother Lode in the Sierra foothills is an incredibly rich vein of gold stretching 120 miles. To retrieve the gold found in quartz, hardrock mining was developed.

When gold has been located, either near the surface or deeper underground — some modern mines are several miles deep — three basic operations are undertaken. First, the ore is extracted by conventional methods. Next, the gold is separated by chemical or mechanical processes, or both. Then the gold is refined, or purified, and cast into bars. See Modern Mining for details.

An excellent example of a hardrock mine is Gold Bug Mine, owned and operated by the City of Placerville and open to the public.

An old ore cart used in hardrock mining

Top of pageDredging - This gold mining method uses a barge or boat equipped with machinery to scoop the gold-bearing gravel from river beds. The gravel is then processed by washing or sluicing. It is seldom used in the Mother Lode, but is common on the rivers of the San Joaquin and Sacramento valleys.

Recreational dredging is dredging on public lands which are excluded from mining claims. This type of gold hunting is usually done by people who are not mining claimants or professional miners, but rather people who dredge for the enjoyment of it. This is more a recreational activity rather than a commercial enterprise.

Scars of hydraulic mining at Big Cut in Placerville

Top of pageHydraulic Mining - This method of mining was started in the later 1800's. It sometimes employed miles of manmade flumes to carry water to the gold site to be directed at the slopes through giant nozzles called monitors. The resulting water pressure was great enough to wash away entire sides of mountains. The water, mud, and debris were washed through long toms or sluices to capture the gold. The thick silt, called slickins, then washed down the rivers, causing navigation problems, and into the valleys, destroying valuable agricultural land. Hydraulicking was ultimately outlawed after litigation.

There is evidence of hydraulic mining in the hills of Placerville (see photo above, taken at Big Cut). The most famous hydraulic mining site is Malakoff Diggins State Historic Park, 26 miles from Nevada City at North Bloomfield.

A monitor used in hydraulic mining

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