By Brandon Johnson
I’ll always remember the day I fell in love with gold prospecting. It was roughly 30 years ago, when Iwas eight or nine years old. I was with my stepdad and my mom, and we were sluicing on a creek inNorthern California during a Gold Prospectors Association of America outing. It was the first time Ihad been to the California Motherlode, and one of the first times I had been prospecting. Iremember the drive from Southern California taking six or seven hours, so we didn’t get into campuntil after dark. After sleeping through the night, I woke up the next day to a completely differentworld.
Everyone around us was running material in the river, on the banks and at the common operationwhere large equipment was being used. You could hear motors running on a sunny day and thewind blowing through the trees. It didn’t take long before I started bugging my parents, asking themwhere we were going to set up. The idea of getting our own gold had me so excited, so we set outdown the creek to pick a spot and start mining.
My stepfather, Tom Massie, set the sluice box up in the creek and we were digging in a spot on theside of the bank. I can remember working the shovel and filling buckets of material. Once the bucketwas full, we would bring it down and slowly dump it in so the box would have time to clear beforewe added more. As a kid, I was just happy to be filling buckets and feeling a part of the familyoperation.
We worked for probably about an hour. It felt like a long time as we probably ran 20 to 30 bucketsof material. Each one we ran through the box slowly. For me at that age, learning the process wasfascinating in and of itself. When it came time to clean up, Tom pulled the sluice out of the river, andwe started breaking it down so we could wash the concentrates into a gold pan.
We pulled the riffles up, pulled down the miner’s moss, and removed the nugget trap. As we washedthe remaining material into the gold pan, a gold nugget the size of a dime appeared under thematting. It was flat and pretty big. I had never seen anything like it, and it was heavy in my hand. Myparents got excited, so I got excited. The idea that gold was worth money hadn’t crossed my mindyet, and it seemed like something you could brag about finding because everyone wanted to see itwhen we got back to camp. That made it fun.
Fast forward 30 years and I still don’t know if Tom planted that nugget for me to find, nor do I careto know. I got a chance to spend an afternoon digging in the dirt with my family and processingsome material, and after my first time out there was a nugget in the sluice box. That was my firstprospecting memory – an experience I will never forget. That was the day I fell in love with goldprospecting, and the day I caught gold fever.