As featured in the 2019 Feb/Mar Pick & Shovel Gazette
Ever Untamed and Sparkling
By ADRIANNE YOUNG
Washington state is dusted in gold. It glints on the sandbars of the once irascible Columbia River — the state’s historic backbone. It can be found on the shores of Cape Disappointment where the Pacific Ocean gnaws on rock and sand. It’s tucked away in the dense and dramatic folds of the High Cascades in the long lines of mineral-abundant alluvium that run down the deep creases of basalt.
Even Washington state’s history is gilded. From its most remote villages to its largest cities, the state’s early economy was established in part by the fevered hope that one lucky pick would strike the first find of a rush.
In the North Cascades, active claims still echo the glory of gold found in the mid-1800s and people still heed the air of lawlessness that rules the backcountry. On the west side of the Cascade Range, dense forests of Douglas fir bristle with wildlife and wild deeds. Legends of big finds still abound, and one-room miner shacks still dot the mountainsides.
There are breathtaking swaths of Washington that remain untamed and it doesn’t take too many miles in before you realized that many areas are unserviced by cell reception. Mountain roads are often washed out and it’s slow going to many of these sites. Bring blankets, shelter, light, water, food, and protection.
Washington State GPAA Director Steve Lewin advises to always bring at least one sidearm and a shotgun. Always travel with armed friends and never go alone. Bonus points if someone in your group is gifted with the ability to sweet-talk their way out of an oil slick. Let your friends and family know where you are going and when they can expect to hear from you. These precautions will seem like common sense when you’re in the dark and in the middle of nowhere. It will certainly make days of difference if your vehicle breaks an axle or blows a tire.
At the time of this writing, Washington state does not require a permit fee to prospect for gold. You do need to download and print the Washington State Gold and Fish Guide, which acts as your permit. Many claims are on land overseen by the United States Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management. The Gold and Fish Guide lists the basic rules that the state asks prospectors to follow.
Check in with the USFS and the BLM before you head to a claim; they can tell you if an area is accessible or when it might be. You will do well to obtain a USFS Recreation Pass. A day pass costs $5 and allows visitors to use recreation facilities. Camping fees are reasonable and, in general, rustic. Four-wheel drive makes getting to and from these claims much easier. All of these sites are pack in, pack out sites. Take the gold, leave nothing behind.
So grab your toys and GPS, prospectors. Gold and adventure await. Bring your camera too, though there isn’t a camera in the world that can capture the heart-stopping beauty you’re in for. Welcome to the wilds of Washington.
Yellow Jacke Creek & Easy Diggins
Of all of the Washington State GPAA gold claims, the Yellow Jacket & Easy Diggins claim is one of the most accessible from the paved road.
Located in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest and in the southern shadow of Mount Rainier, the winding drive is filled with dappled light and glimpses of rushing water. You’ll know you’ve arrived when you see the bridge that crosses Yellow Jacket Creek. There’s parking at the bridge.
It is an easy amble down to the creek’s northwest boundary. Walk along the waterline and you’ll spy the promising spots. Dredging with a recirculating pump is allowed from Aug. 1 to Aug. 15 (grab that Gold and Fish Guide!). Sluice with a highbanker on the sides. You’ll appreciate the swift running water and a colorful cleanout with lots of black sand.
The claim’s proximity makes it a popular one for the prospector and the pleasure-bound alike. Keep your valuables on you and leave nothing visible in your vehicle. Even in the heat of a July, it’s a gorgeous place to spend the day and full of potential. Bring all that you need to ward off just about everything that flies and bites.
If dredging for nuggets is your thing, you can find loads of exposed bedrock at the Direct #1 claim. Lewin reports finding gold nuggets, and while the fist-sized nuggets of lore have long been smelted, there’s something so abundantly unique about this location that it draws experienced prospectors back again and again.
Less than an hour and a half from Oregon, Direct #1 is in the southwestern corner of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest aka Sasquatch Country. The claim is tucked into one of the furrows of the Cascades Range. Before you start digging, look around — you’ll see that Direct #1 is right in the path of great strikes. And it’s good gold.
If you’re prone to starting sentences with, “So there I was in the middle of nowhere,” Hard Wages is your destination. Just northeast of the glacier-bedazzled Mount Rainier, it’s not a bad idea to have four-wheel drive in the mud season known as spring. On an arid summer day, two-wheel drive has made the trip fine — but these backroads change from season to season and there’s no way to know how or where winter is going to take its toll on any given section of road.
The claim has piqued the interest of quite a few members and there’s 160 acres to cover. A highbanker setup functioned with ease and the 2/3 yard of material fed into it offered up fines. There’s plenty of water for sluicing.
Yes, there’s bear scat. Yup, there’s evidence of a big cat. But in the creek below members have found gold and garnets in their first pan. The claim is easy to get to from the North Cascades Scenic Highway and easy to find. Make sure to get there after the snow melts for the irresistibly promising sites.
One member ran two buckets through his sluice at the sandbar’s waterline that produced “4 small color and about a 1/2 cup of black sand.”
Be prepared to locate the gradual way down to the water as it drops steeply at certain points. A member posted that it was a sheer 50 to 100 feet down to the water.
(For opalized wood)
Rockhounders looking for opalized wood with decent color will be more than pleased with the Saddle Mountain site. The 30-mile ridge is located in south-central Washington and provides panoramic views of the high desert and Columbia River. If you can bear to take your eyes off the horizon, you’ll see plenty of evidence of rockhounding. Finds are abundant so be aware of the limit to how much petrified wood you can collect.
For now, Washington is extremely friendly to prospectors — and it allows access to some of the state’s most precious waterways and salmon habitat. Remember your Gold and Fish Guide; it lays out the rules for dredging, what equipment is welcome and how and when that equipment can be powered. It can also save you from some pretty hefty fines. As with anywhere remote, you’ll need to take the appropriate precautions and friends. Contact a local GPAA chapter to see if there are any group outings on the calendar. For more camping information, visit www.fs.usda.gov. Come on out, we can’t wait to see you!
Adrianne Dow Young is a writer, chef and winery owner who lives in the mountains of Washington State