it's great to meet someone who joined the same month; maybe we can use the forums to track each others progress in tracking down that gold!
I've been doing a lot of research on claims up here in Idaho, and I'll tell you one thing, there doesn't seem to be a shortage of them! I've yet to make a call to the BLM or USFS to see what I can get away with in closed "stream alteration"season streams; pretty sure its just panning, hopefully sluicing...
I'll be attending a local GPAA chapter meeting this week, so looking forward to that. I understand completely about OJT and great informants out there, nothing could be better for us green-beans.
I bet its a little nicer down there in NM for prospecting than up here in Idaho, we were 60 degrees today, but snow tomorrow!
Take care and good luck!