What does “worth $25 per yard” mean? What is “good material”? How do I determine if the material I’m working is worth it? Should I bother? These are all good questions, and may not be as easily defined as one might think. First, they can lead to a whole lot more questions. Next, the answers are not always so clear. So let’s begin with some basics.
How big is a yard?
If you are unfamiliar with material measurement, and even if you are, you may not be able to picture this volume, so let’s define a “yard.” A yard refers to one cubic yard of material. This is equal to 201.974 U.S. liquid gallons1. For our purposes, we’ll use 202 gallons to equal 1 yard to make the math easier. So, a yard is roughly equal to 40 full 5-gallon buckets plus about 2 more gallons. This is perhaps the easiest definition in this article, but once in the field it can be a little tricky to measure.
202 gallons is a lot of material, but there is a discount that can apply here. That volume can include the material that is classified out, which helps. However, if you are working material that is relatively fine to begin with, or you were estimating based on classified material, it’s still a LOT of material. I know a lot of folks who count how many 5-gallon buckets they process. The problem is the buckets filled to the 5-gallon mark are heavy. I know I can lift a full 5-gallon bucket, but I don’t like to do it any more often than I have to. As a result, I typically fill my buckets to about the halfway mark before I consider them “full”. Of course, they aren’t full. So, I have to take that into account when I am adding buckets. I’m now to 80 buckets to make a yard. That is a whole lot of buckets.
What is the value of gold?
$25 worth of gold is a little more fluid than the definition of a yard. Because gold is a traded commodity, the price can change from one minute to the next. Because the gold we mine is not pure, it has to be discounted based on purity. To simplify matters, many folks use the closing price of the previous trading day when talking about this. Let’s break this down a little. A “trading day” is in simplest terms a business day, with almost all holidays off. However, because the world does not share all the same holidays nor, due to time zones, the same business hours, there is often some trading of gold happening almost all the time. This makes getting a specific price of material per yard more a best estimate than hard number.
What else does this mean?
It means that 100-plus years ago when gold sold for about $21 per ounce, land that wasn’t worth mining has become much more valuable now that gold has reached over $1,200 per ounce. It also means that historic areas that were “exhausted” might not be so exhausted in today’s market. These areas are the easiest places to prospect because they already are known to have gold.
Is it worth looking for the gold?
This is the most complex question to answer, and frankly no one can answer it for you. What do you get from the hunt? Time in the outdoors with friends and family. Perhaps time away from the office or the constant chatter of the information age. A few minutes in creation when you get to discover a raw element that has been hidden since the beginning of time. And sometimes enough of that element to pay you for your time.
There are so many factors that can come into play with this question, and most of them are not about the money. The answer I have is actually a question.
What is that experience worth to you?
At the close of the market today (Oct. 4) gold was at $41.08(U.S.) per gram2. So, for my $25 I need to recover about 0.61 gram of pure gold. The gold I typically recover runs about 22 karats, vs 24 karats for pure gold. This is almost pure, and I can find some artisan jewelers who will pay full spot price for it, but only in small amounts. I need to move about 51 of my half-buckets of material to get to that 0.61 gram of gold, where the ground holds $25 of gold per yard. That is a whole lot of pans of material to process. It is a whole lot of time spent in the outdoors. It is a whole lot of time spent with friends or family. It is a whole lot of time looking for something that has been hidden since the beginning of creation. This is NOT a get-rich-quick scheme. At the end of the day it is simple math, and a lot of hard work!
Chip Triplett is your Tennessee State Director, Coker Creek Chapter President, and a featured contributor in the publications and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org