Panning for gold in the California Gold Country

June 11, 2012

California’s Gold Rush history is well known, and thanks to all the gold mining realityTV shows, there’s a new Gold Rush afoot. Well, not really. But kind of. Anyway, we decided to spend a few days in the California gold country last week to experience our own version of Gold Fever ala California 1849.We even stayed at a historic place that was established back in 1859, The National Hotel. It’s got modern conveniences now, but still retains some of its Gold Rush charm.

Sign next to light switch in our room at the historic National Hotel, Jamestown, Calif.

In a day when we can turn lights on and off remotely with our phones, it’s hard to reach back to the day when Edison’s genius invention was something so foreign that instructions were required.  Or how about this old telephone? Hard to fathom that was once modern technology.

But the small rooms, dim lighting, narrow hallways and period antiques at the National Hotel set the mood for imagining 1859, when the hotel was new, when the California Gold Rush was full-on and dusty Main Street was full of 49ers.

We sat on barstools in the saloon and imagined how many whiskies were ordered by scraggly-faced miners wearing dusty clothes.

On a weekday, the couple of blocks that is Jamestown is quiet. Not exactly a ghost town, but only a handful of people on the street.

Mosquitos nipped at us during dinner outside. The waitress brought over a citronella coil, but what was it like in the 1800s, before such things were common?

There was hardly any square footage to spare in our small room. The double bed was half the size of our huge king at home, but it dominated the space.

The wardrobe in our room was tiny–how did travelers fit their clothing, especially since clothes then were so much more elaborate than ours? And how did they manage wearing all those clothes in the heat– without air conditioning?  How did they sleep?

This narrow mirror in the corner of our room was impossible to use. How about a woman, trying to see her full skirts in that sliver of glass?

Although today the National Hotel has en suite bathrooms, back in those days bathrooms were down the hall. At the National Hotel, this claw foot tub sits in what they call the “soaking room”, which today, guests can use by appointment.

In its time, this computation machine was as modern as today’s computer.

Yes, Virginia, this is a typewriter.  “What IS a typewriter?” you ask?  Google it.

I love this old photo. The street looks very much the same today.

So off we went on a gold prospecting adventure. Meet Dan, our prospecting guide and a world-class wise-ass in the best of ways. From the way he moved around, I’d never have known he’d had a spinal fusion in January. This is the first step in panning for gold: digging in the stream and removing the big rocks and stones.

I never get tired of watching my husband do manual labor. You know how we women are with our blue collar men. Eat your hearts out, ladies, I ain’t letting him go!

Then you have to pan.

Panning is hard work. But Dan made sure we found a few flecks in our pan. “Fourth grade gold,” as in how Dan seeds the pans of elementary school kids, but they don’t listen and spill the pans back into the water, dropping the flecks and ensuring there’s gold for us to find. Here it is

But it takes a long time to pan. The sluice box makes it easier.

The sluice box cleans out the dirt, leaving behind flecks of gold in what’s called “miner’s moss.”

Our prospecting guide, Dan, talks about how prospectors used to run very long sluice boxes back in the Gold Rush days:

And sure enough, we found a bit of gold:

Maybe 50 cents worth? But boots in the icy stream, sunshine, the sound of rushing water, Dan’s tales: what a fun trip to the Mother Lode country! Highly recommend.

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