By Brad Jones
There was a time not so long ago when “wet and damp” meant “go back to camp” when it came to drywashing. But today, that’s not always the case. The key to successful drywashing in the past has always been that the material you run should be “dry” before it can be successfully “washed” through your machine. The rule of thumb: The drier, the better.
Kevin Hoagland, the host of Gold Trails, featured Keene drywashers in “Dustless Dirt,” Episode 9 of the first season. The show, produced by the Gold Prospectors Association of America and now available on DVD, clearly demonstrates how the newest line of Keene drywashers not only dramatically cut down on dust, but are incredibly efficient at recovering gold.
And, although some of the newer Keene drywashers are better at handling somewhat damper material, your best bet is still to thoroughly prep and dry your material for maximum gold recovery.
“I’m a true believer in doing the prep work,” Hoagland said. “Drywashing means the material has to be dry. Preparation of the material means everything. I’ll spend a day drying and classifying the dirt, and then running it. A lot of times, I will lay out the material on tarps and I’ll rake it first.”
Hoagland is such a stickler for prepping his paydirt that he will often rake and dry it for a whole day before running it through the drywasher. Even if you have one day in the field, it is still best to spend a few hours prepping, he said.
“Spend some time drying your material. It will dry out very quickly in the desert as soon as the sun hits it, as soon as the wind hits it,” he said. It’s worth it.”
With weather experts forecasting the strongest El Niño in half a century this winter, Hoagland eagerly awaits auspicious prospects.
“El Niño is going to create a lot of opportunities because we’ve been so dry for so long. And, what moves gold is water. So, as we start having flash floods and high water events as predicted, and the washes start to flow, areas that really haven’t produced much in the last couple of years are going to start producing gold again because they will be replenished,” Hoagland said. “That creates a perfect opportunity to get out with a drywasher once the floods are over.”
It’s no secret that heavy rains and strong winds will cause massive erosion, causing mudslides and flash floods with enough force to move sands, gravel, rocks and even large boulders. As the water slows to a trickle, gold that has been unearthed will drop out of suspension in once fast-moving water and fall where it may, creating a layer of flood gold on or close to the surface. Then, as more rain occurs, the gold will begin to settle deeper into the damp ground, and wind erosion will move sand, either covering it or further exposing it.
“If we get the kind of events they’re talking about, the flood gold is going to be incredibly good, which means you’ll be working anywhere from the ground surface to only eight or 10 inches down, and those areas could be very, very productive,” he said. “If it’s a flash flood, the water comes through and the gold gets moved, but the water disappears almost instantly. It’s gone.”
In essence, with little to no water movement, the gold becomes “locked” in place, but during a flood the force of rolling rocks tumbling through the wash and the abrasion of fast-moving sands in the water will release the heavier gold and move it downstream. Naturally, the greater the volume and velocity of the water the larger the gold and the further distance it will be moved until the water slows as the rain dissipates or the water pools behind a log or boulder, for example.
“I’ve worked patches of flood gold, where I’ve dug down maybe two feet and got a gram. But, after a major flood, I’ve taken the first six inches of dirt off and gotten an ounce. It just depends on how the gold moves,” Hoagland said.
Patience is a virtue
Though the desert rains are likely not far off, there is plenty a gold prospector can do in the calm before the storm.
“I’ve got places in California where I’m just waiting for the flash floods to come,” Hoagland said.
“Patience. It’s all about patience. And, right now, before the rains start is a great time to go out and look at different areas and start doing your prospecting.”
He recommends going to the places where you’ve found gold in the past and then imagine what will happen when the dry washes and gullies are gushing with torrential rainwaters.
“Look at the gullies, the dry washes. Take some time to think about what it’s going to be like when the water is running,” Hoagland said. “Expand your view. Don’t just look at the inside bend of a curve in a stream. That doesn’t mean anything if there’s a 12-ton boulder 50 feet in front of that curve, and the water is hitting it and creating this huge eddy on the opposite side where gold could drop out or get trapped. Gold is where you find it, not where we always tell you it’s supposed to be. Gold doesn’t read the books. It doesn’t know the rules.”
After the rains
“After the first big storms, get back out there because following a flash flood, you’ll often see black sand on the surface because it didn’t have enough time to start working its way down. So, when you start seeing these surface events, you can start panning. You can start dry panning or even carry some water with you to test pan these areas even if it’s too damp to drywash,” Hoagland said.
When all else fails and the material is still too damp to drywash but you just can’t contain your gold fever, remember that it’s not too wet to classify and prep your material. Then, when you simply can’t stand it any longer, and your material is almost dry, but not quite, the Keene Model 190 and 160 series drywashers might just be what the doctor ordered.
“The 160 is the exact same machine as the 190, only smaller,” Hoagland said. “These two machines have revolutionized the drywashing industry. With the new 160 or 190, I’m not going to worry if those areas are completely dry or not. I’ve used both of those machines. There’s nothing else out there that will do what these two machines will do that I’ve ever seen.”
Choosing your equipment
“Drywashing is an art, but it’s not so complicated that you can’t learn it quickly,” Hoagland said. “It’s basic prospecting and then understanding the equipment that you’ve got.”
What kind of equipment you use will depend on your budget and, like anything else, you usually get what you pay for.
“Will I use a puffer model? You bet, when I don’t want to hear a motor running. But, would I use a bellows-type of drywasher exclusively? No way!” said Hoagland. “Why would I want to drive a Model T Ford across the desert when I can drive a Jeep?”
Brad Jones is the Managing Editor/Communications Director for the Gold Prospectors Association of America. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.