As featured in the July/August 2019 Gold Prospectors Magazine
Where are the “diggins”? Better yet, first question is … what are diggins?
Let’s look back in time when the “g” was recognized. The “diggings” was an everyday term for the gold rush locations in Australia and the United States beginning in the 1850s. Gold miners — the diggers — would describe their journey "to the diggings" and say that they were "at (or on) the diggings." Because of the speed at which a "rush" to a particular location might occur, or at which it might be abandoned at news of another rush, the term diggings tended to apply to general areas.
When George “Buzzard” Massie, founder of the Gold Prospectors Association of America (GPAA) and the Lost Dutchman’s Mining Association (LDMA), would get a group of prospectors together, he would often say … “Off to the Diggins” — and that’s where they would dig for gold.
He (George) had so many “diggins” locations across the United States, that he had a special logo made that had the phrase “Off to the Diggins” as part of it. Many of these diggins locations eventually became the LDMA Camps where the GPAA would host Open Outings to anyone; and we still host them to this day!
Whether you’re just getting started in gold prospecting on the weekends or you’re a seasoned “sourdough” veteran in the dirt for years, the common dig operation where all participants share in the gold recovered, seminars to make you a better prospector, hands-on instruction and activities offered during these events will help you get the “in the dirt” experience, fun and adventure for you and your whole family ... plus some gold too!
When you head “Off to The Diggins,” during one of our common dig outings, now known as a Dirt Party, you will learn that they are much more than just recovering gold. It’s family and friendship! You will often hear the “ol’ timers” share their stories and experiences about “the club” and I’ll encourage you to partake, and listen at any camp campfire — the entertainment, the history and knowledge are always a hoot!
In the old days of the Gold Rush eras, many men left their families behind to head to the diggings. We encourage you to bring the whole family to be a part of the diggins at a Dirt Party experience.
(When asked, “Why is it called a Dirt Party?” I usually laugh and explain that when we all get together at the Diggins, it’s like a “party” and we are playing in the “dirt” on the hunt for gold)
Another difference between “diggings” and “diggins” is that we stockpile the gold-bearing material so that you just have to process it and extract the gold. We might go prospect different areas to search for gold in our off time because we all like a good game of “Hide and Seek!”
As our founder, George “Buzzard” Massie would always say, “If you want to find more gold, you’re going to have to work for it!” He went on to say, “Work together as a team, put a few more hours in and watch your vials fill up faster.”
We are prospectors so let’s prospect and teach why and where we dug to find the diggins.
A Dirt Party is the perfect place to get some “seed gold!” What is seed gold? That is your first gold that you put in your vial and as you prospect more, learn more you will surely fill your vial with more gold.
Off to the Diggins . . . Arizona Desert
This past April we decided to “PUSH” the diggins!
LDMA Stanton Camp in Congress, Arizona, hosted a different kind of Dirt Party. We wanted to go “BIG” and “PUSH” the limit during the five-day common dig outing.
In years past, we created a pond in Antelope Creek, which runs through the Stanton property, and participants headed “Off to the Diggins” below the camping area to process material and recover gold.
Not this time! LDMA secured access to a private claim and posted a bond with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), so we could utilize the claim owners “Notice of Intent to Mine.” This is where the “BIG” comes in … and cuts deep down and “Pushes the Diggins!”
John Mathis, LDMA Stanton Camp host, along with a team of fellow prospectors started playing in the dirt. Testing, testing and more testing. He studied the geology and terrain of the claim and directed where test holes should be dug. Where was the abundance of gold hiding? He knew it was there waiting to be found.
“Many times, Dominic (LDMA Executive Director of Operations) expressed about going bigger and the passions that the Buzzard had about the Diggins. I think we succeeded with our first Push Dig in the desert.”
With a backhoe and an excavator, the dig site was turned into a “diggins” site. Gold-bearing material was dug and stockpiled for the 152 participants that registered for the Dirt Party.
Fred Dickinson, the claim owner, created a pond that he trailered in 1,500 gallons of water for so that “Cyclopse” (one of his trommels) could be set up and help recover gold.
“I want participants to be a part of a true gold-catching event!” Fred exclaimed. “They have the chance to run material wet (trommel) and dry (dry washers) and see gold in the pan at the end of each day.”
We did recover gold, but not without daily challenges — motors locking up, gold almost missed on top of the caliche and high heat temperatures.
There were Keene 151 Drywashers, a Keene Dustless Drywasher, a Keene puffer drywasher, Royal Manufacturing drywashers and then we went BIG with the super Keene Kong Drywasher and Fred Dickinson’s homemade Godzilla Drywasher.
After the first day it was time to push and do something we have not done in years … feed Godzilla with the backhoe. Participants stepped back and had tailings that needed to be shoveled away as the hopper was filled bucket load after bucket load.
Oh, My Goldminers! Material was being processed like never before.
After the first day’s cleanups we were surprised that there was not bigger gold. Where were the pickers? We knew they had to be there.
That is when you step back and look at the operation — material dug, grizzled away big rocks, ready to process, machine running well — where could they be? Then we looked down. Down in the hole where the material was dug from. You could see the caliche sticking through the dirt. WHAT?
When the backhoe and excavator were digging pay dirt, the bucket would go down, teeth leading the way to scoop up pay dirt, and dump into the stockpile. The teeth were the “picker problem” since they would scrape against the caliche, and pickers and fines would slip between the teeth and stay sitting on top of the caliche.
A team of participants went into the hole, armed with shop vacs, wisk brooms and two drywashers. They started cleaning up all the material that was sitting on top of the caliche and what was recovered? Yes! We found the pickers and a lot more fines.
For the few participants that could not make the daily journey 3 miles from Stanton Camp to the dig site, we still set up the traditional pond in Antelope Creek for a few recirculators to process pay dirt.
Gold was being recovered everywhere!
We definitely learned a few things with this “Push Dig” type operation. Yes, we did it! And most importantly … YES! We will do it again, this fall! Get signed up for the October 29th through November 3rd Dirt Party hosted at LDMA Stanton Camp, where we will go BIGGER!
This is open to anyone. Get your family and friends signed up to play in the dirt with you. If you can’t make the 5-Day Party, then get there for the 3-Day that starts November 1st.
All the participants walked away with some beautiful Arizona gold, as well as some “thank you” gold for participating.
Off to the Diggins . . . Eastern Oregon
They say that Oregon is trommel country when it comes to mining for gold!
Next stop with Digger’s Dirt Party was hosted at LDMA Blue Bucket Camp in Huntington, Oregon. The gold is chunky, and some has a tint of orange on it due to the high levels of iron mineralization.
How could we go “BIG” at Blue Bucket? Not a problem getting great pay dirt pulled from many of the ongoing locations above the camp. The famous 110,000-pound excavator was brought in to sling the up to 10 feet of overburden away and pile up the gold-bearing material to get ready for the common dig operation . . . Digger’s Dirt Party!
Pay dirt was prepped in two locations (north and south) to make sure we had plenty ready for party goers. In years past, we established a “bucket brigade” to bring the material down from the hills to where the common dig was operating.
This year we did not need a team filling buckets up top at the stockpile of pay dirt. We did not need multiple UTV’s with little trailers carting down buckets to be processed.
A transport of the backhoe from LDMA Burnt River Camp to Blue Bucket Camp allowed the material to be scooped and brought down the hills and set at each of the machines waiting to process and recover the gold. Scoop after scoop, pile after pile, the dirt was waiting for participants to get busy.
Was that enough to go BIG? NO!
The Grey Ghost Trommel is always a favorite with participants because it can process a lot of material and capture the gold. It was set up and waiting.
Can we go BIGger? YES!
We added another trommel to the mix, a reverse helix trommel that had been sitting idle for a few years. This would help us in “trommel country.” Participants seem to like to try equipment that they normally don’t get to play on. This Red Devil was going to fiendishly work hard to recover gold.
Did we stop there? NO! We went BIGGER!
One more trommel was added to the line. The 6-inch Gold Monster from Gold Fox USA. This is a smaller machine but can still easily process a few yards of pay dirt a day.
There was a line of small highbankers from multiple manufacturers for participants to use as they are always good for recovering gold.
Was there anything else we could use to go BIG? YES!
I spoke with Jeff at Proline Mining Equipment and asked about using one of his highbankers for our common digs. He said, “Dominic, do I have the perfect highbanker for you. It is oversized. Could even be fed by a backhoe bucket and has 240 high-powered jets in the spray bar to clean off the material before hitting the sluice. This is the unit for LDMA!”
The BIG Banker, as Proline calls it, was ordered and picked up on the way to Blue Bucket Camp. I was so excited to try it out, I got to camp a day early so I could get a few people to help me run a 20-bucket test run. WOW! This baby can clean the clay off of rocks as we dumped into the hopper. The force of the water was amazing and when all was run the cleanup process was easy. Guess what? There was gold in the miner’s moss and in the top ripples. YES!
Participants arrived and the Dirt Party started. Day after day the three trommels, little highbankers and the Big Banker processed all that we could feed them. Daily cleanups were looking fantastic. Small nuggets, pickers, chunkies and fines . . . we were on the gold.
There was “other” gold in camp too! Grandparents had kids in camp. One little girl riding a bicycle around and hanging with Grandpa, two others with Grandma . . . what a blessing to see.
Dirt Parties are supposed to be fun and relaxing (and sore from processing gold-bearing pay dirt), but there was one very stressful night. As a fun activity we had a Gold Bullion Block championship, better known as Jenga. It was evening fun and full of laughter, and as each match got closer to the finals it got more serious. In the end, Mark Kenworthy came up as the champion. Congrats again!
When the Dirt Party came to an end there was gold covering the pan. All walked away with Blue Bucket gold, thank you gold and some black sands to clean up when they got home.
Off to the Diggins . . . Gold in Michigan?
There has not been a National Dirt Party/Outing hosted at LDMA Athens Camp in Michigan in over six years.
Is there even gold in Michigan?
After arriving at Athens Camp, you look out and have to think, “This is so beautiful! But I don’t want to be here in the winter.” The top level has a hayfield that will now start producing cuttings from which LDMA will reap the rewards, and a level area for dry camping. Once you drive down to the lower main level it is flat and there’s plenty of room for dry camping. There is a back area that many don’t go to, but it’s so beautiful.
Tom Morey, camp host, had a challenge to host the first Dirt Party at Athens in years. “I want people to come back to this camp or come to this camp for the first time and see its real beauty. There is gold here, it is very fine, but it is here.”
One of the old timers who knew some of the history of the property, along with geology, worked with Tom and decided that change was needed. A new processing pond was dug, gold-bearing pay dirt was brought up and waiting to be processed. Test runs showed there was gold waiting to be recovered.
Bradley Dover, State Director for the GPAA, delivered his prize trommel, the AuDraggin, for participants to use. That meant we were going BIG in Athens!
Since I had never operated the AuDraggin, I asked Tom and new LDMA member Kenny Barnes to help me “tame the Draggin” by running a 20-bucket test the day before the Dirt Party started. We started it up, filled the buckets and dumped them in. The Draggin chomped them up and spit out the dirt. It was time to clean it up.
Once in the pan, I started to think, “there’s no gold in Michigan except this small micro fine stuff.” I started to lose confidence in the outing ahead, but as people started coming by to check out the cleanup, they were excited. Really?
Participants were excited that the National Outing was back. The new pond with fresh pay dirt was one thing that was needed. With a few highbankers and the AuDraggin being used, smiles were everywhere.
When the first day was over and the cleanup was being processed, I started freaking out inside again that we were not finding very much gold. I even used a Martin Water Table to clean up the final pan as the gold was so small. As all the participants watched they got excited. “Really?” I thought.
GPAA Michigan Chapter President Nick Straffon saw the concern in my face and helped educate me that what we were recovering was really good for Michigan. He told me not to think about other areas in the USA where I go mining. He again assured me that all were excited.
I truly learned a lot that week at the Dirt Party at Athens Camp. We did in fact recover a few chunkies and a small picker. Some of the locals to the area explained that the chunkies were considered Michigan pickers and the pickers were Michigan nuggets.
Nick scheduled a few chapter events to be hosted at LDMA Athens Camp, and the local sheriff is going to help with an “open to the public” weekend so that Tom and others can teach panning, and that Michigan has gold that needs to be recovered.
It was a great week, and I look to go back again . . . when it is a bit warmer so I can dredge in the creek.
Off to the BIGGER Diggins
If you haven’t been to a recent Digger’s Dirt Party, you really need to come experience one. We encourage you to get as many of your family and friends to come be a part of the gold mining adventure hosted at our LDMA Camps. They really are a lot of fun, as well as educational.
Digger is going bigger wherever he can. Not all “diggins” are the same, so be a part of as many as you can. You will meet other prospectors from all over this beautiful country.
I’ll encourage you to check us out on social media as we announce Digger’s events, and post pictures and videos as they are happening. We touch a lot of people through different media, publications, chapters, etc., but why not come and live prospecting for gold and enjoying the outdoors for a few days? You will go home with great memories, friendships and, of course, some gold too!
Don’t miss out on an opportunity to participate in a Digger’s Dirt Party adventure and head Off To The Diggins. Call Digger’s Hotline at 888-GOLD(4653)-717 and get signed up for one near you. This is the time to have the whole family out playing in the dirt. Don’t forget to invite other family and friends to join in all the fun and get their gold too!
This is the real deal, real prospecting! We have all the equipment you will need for an exciting adventure!
It is the hope for an enjoyable first experience that this article is written. Hope to see you In-The-Dirt, and around a campfire real soon!
Dominic Ricci is the Executive Director of Operations for GPAA/LDMA and can be reached at 800-551-9707, ext. 163, or by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.