By Dave McCracken General Manager
Within days after the temporary moratorium on suction dredging in California went into effect, we were already in planning to launch a week-long group dredging sampling program onto the Rogue River in Southern Oregon. This was going to be a vitally important mission for The New 49″ers. So I invited several very experienced dredge miners to participate.
The New 49’ers has a responsibility to provide mining opportunities for our members. Some of our members prefer suction dredging over other types of mining. Therefore, as soon as it became possible that we might lose dredging in California for a while, we immediately started looking for suction dredging opportunities outside of California.
One nice thing about the Rogue is that the section of river we chose is not any further away than Happy Camp for members traveling north on Interstate 5. Gold Hill (one of several places where the Rogue crosses Interstate 5) is only around 9 miles to the north of Medford (Oregon). We were looking for a place which is not too distant from our main headquarters in Happy Camp.
We have also been looking at the mining history of the Rogue River in the area around Gold Hill and Grants Pass. This history is good! Still, even though we have been hearing good reports for years, before encouraging our members to go over there, I personally wanted to see high-grade gold being recovered out of the river.
In gold mining, seeing is believing!
Oregon courts have recently confirmed the validity of a law which declared the Rogue River as “navigable.” This is a legal term which places the entire river and its bed under the ownership of the State of Oregon. This means that there is no private property, and there are no mining claims, between the normal high water marks of the river. Oregon has placed the entire 37 mile section of river between the Gold Ray Dam and the Applegate River in a “recreational” status. This means the river is open to rafting, boating, fishing, swimming; and yes, suction dredging.
Click on the map to see the full size version with links to points of interest and river access.
As the stretch of river between the Gold Ray Dam (about 8 miles from Medford) and the Applegate River (downstream from Grants Pass) is a very long one, all of which is gold-bearing, and our time for this project was limited to about a week, we decided to begin within a few miles downstream of the Gold Ray Dam. This is an area where several of our project-participants had previous experience in dredging high-grade gold. We still have a lot to learn about this Rogue River. Our immediate mission was mainly to prove conclusively that high-grade is present there now! So we started in an area where others had found it before.
Here follows a video segment put together to give you an idea what the surrounding area looks like along the Rogue River in the area we were sampling:
This was not one of those types of projects where we needed to provide any teaching or guidance for the members who participated. Everyone present already knew what to do. Mainly, we coordinated our sampling program amongst ourselves to make our progress more effective.
I brought a boat along so I could help participants get their gear across the river and sometimes up and down the river.
We had seven dredges participating in the project. All or most of them were recovering gold on the first dive. Within the first two days, it became clear that the Rogue River is producing gold from one bank to the other! Several participants were into high-grade gold within the first few days. Interestingly, at least in the sections where we sampled, we found that much more of the river has yet to be dredged, than what has been dredged before. This is true even in some of the most accessible areas.
Here follows a video segment which captured the excitement and satisfaction Craig and Mike were experiencing just as they started uncovering high-grade gold in one section of the river:
We discovered to our amazement that even though the Rogue is a wide river like the Klamath, you generally do not have to dredge very deep to reach the bedrock, or a false bedrock which is made up of cemented gravel. The average depth of gravel we were dredging to the pay-dirt was less than two feet. Our samples were turning up gold results weighing in the pennyweights in places where several local dredgers told us that they ruled out as “not good enough to dredge.” I am certain we will find even higher-grade gold deposits! Mainly, for starters, we wanted to make sure the gold is there.
The gold is definitely there!
Since this is a whole new mining opportunity for us, I will follow with some initial observations:
While the Rogue River is big and wide (in places), we found that there is an abundance of slow, shallow water where you do not have to dredge very deep to reach bedrock or the cemented gravel layer (false bedrock). We were finding good gold in the hard-packed layer right on top. Fine gold, and some nuggets, seem to be spread all across the river. There is a lot of slow, easy water where beginners can learn without getting in over your heads. It looks to me like beginner-dredgers will have an easier time getting into gold on the Rogue, than along the Klamath River.
Here follows a video segment which we captured of James & Denise talking about how nice the area is, showing off some of the gold they were finding, and talking about their plans of returning to the Rogue River next year:
There also seems to be a ripe opportunity for more-serious dredgers. We only saw a few dredgers working the river while we were over there. So we took the opportunity to meet them. Besides being hospitable and friendly, they were also very helpful with historical information about the area. They passed along some very encouraging stories of fantastic gold recoveries which have been made by a few more-experienced suction dredgers along the Rogue River. Based upon their information, it only took us a few hours before we were recovering beautiful gold nuggets just by busting open cracks along exposed bedrock in a slow, shallow section of the river! With time, I am sure we can tap into the really rich sections of this long river.
Still, for the time we made available for this project, we all owe our heart-felt gratitude to each of the members listed above who helped us prove the existence of excellent dredging opportunity for all of us on the Rogue River. This was a very important mission! All of us were very satisfied with what we discovered. Here follows a video segment that captured the enthusiasm we were feeling when Alan started bringing up gold from a relatively shallow and easy area to dredge, while Mike and Craig were tapping into a higher-grade gold deposit which we located further out into the faster water:
Here is a video segment which was shows about half-mile of the river from my boat. This is just a short distance along the river. The video provides some valuable perception of how much room there is for us on the Rogue River:
While the river is designated as “recreational” by Oregon, a lot of it is land-locked by private property on both sides. This means that we must gain access to the river through the public access points. As a starting point on this, we have established the first 25 public access points to the Rogue River (between the Gold Ray Dam and Applegate River). We will likely add more with time. These access points are all numbered on our map. The numbered links on our map will take you to our “Rogue River Access Guide” that includes images, important details and GPS coordinates for each place where you can gain access to the river. There is also a Google Earth link so that you can fly to each access point and actually look over the river from a bird”s eye view. We have also created a preliminary Lodging Guide that lists most of the private lodging facilities along this 37 mile stretch of the Rogue River.
Because of the limited access, I encourage you to think about bringing along a small rubber or aluminum boat with portable outboard motor. A prop-guard is a good idea to help protect your propeller in shallow water. If you use a motorized boat on the Rogue, Oregon requires you to have a boat registration from the state where you reside (if required by your state). They also want you to pass a boating safety course which can be accomplished (free) over the Internet. A small boat will allow you to more-easily access both sides of the river upstream and downstream of the public access points in most places. This will provide you with substantially more dredging options.
Oregon dredging regulations open this particular stretch of the Rogue River to suction dredging from 15 June through the end of August. Suction dredging on the Rogue River requires you to obtain two permits. One of them is free. You can obtain that one from the Oregon Department of State Lands with an application over the Internet. To make it simpler for you to fill out your own application, we have placed a copy of my own approved permit for 2009 on our web site.
The second dredging permit is available for $25 (same fee for residents and nonresidents) by sending in your application to the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). You can print out the application by going their web site. You can find a copy of my own 2010 permit application here.
Overall, during the week we spent there sampling, we found the local residents and other visitors to be very friendly and hospitable. Nearly all of the home owners we encountered along the sides of the river were friendly. I am speculating that because Oregon law creates a firm boundary at the high water mark, and the river is seen as a place for recreation, most local residents generally do not seem to be resisting the activity.
We spent quite a lot of time in the small community of Gold Hill during the week. People are outgoingly friendly there. Everyone we talked to about what we were doing thought it was “cool!” The local dredgers we talked to (we only found a few dredgers over there) expressed sympathy about our situation in California. They were not surprised to see us working our way up into Oregon. Nearly all of the people in the rafts and fishing boats, along with the swimmers and picnickers alongside the river, were very friendly to us. There is a definite feeling of group outdoor recreational activity in the air over there.
While suction dredging in the active waterway is looked upon as just another recreational activity, I gather that digging holes up on the bank is frowned upon under the rules in Oregon. Private property begins at the normal high water line, not far from the river in most areas. It is not a great idea to start digging up someone”s front yard! My impression is that the Rogue River is not the place to bring your high-banking gear. So I strongly suggest you members who like to mine for gold out of the water plan to spend time along our very extensive properties just over the border in California. The Rogue River is mainly going to be an excellent suction dredging option.
There is a lot more modern structure along the Rogue than we are used to along the Klamath River. Cell phone coverage seems to extend nearly everywhere. There are roads mostly along each side of the river. There are lots of nice RV parks and different kinds of lodging facilities and sweet-looking restaurants along the river. The area is much more developed to support recreational activity.
There is very little in the way of federal public lands in the area. So the free 2-week (and longer in some places) camping we are used to along the Klamath River does not appear to be available along the Rogue River. For the most part, the area seems entirely structured for visitors to plug into local private facilities. I suggest you do not wait until the last minute to line something up.