By Ron Wendt

“I have found some bedrock so rich, it has averaged
over $300 an hour for half a day”

 

Bedrock gold 1With each scoop of dirt and piece of bedrock I dumped into the bucket, it was tempting to glance over my glasses to try and catch a glimpse of gold in the pay-dirt. But having learned from experience, if I panned-out every little spoonful or trowel full of bedrock dirt, my production of bedrock gold would be sparse.

Working bedrock on most Alaskan creeks is working the cream of the crop. It is where the best pay usually is. At times, when pay-streaks become concentrated, the only good way I know of to work bedrock is by old fashioned scraping. Although you can go over the top of bedrock with a metal detector; or if it is underwater, you can dredge bedrock, there is only one way I know of to work on bedrock located high and dry, and that’s with old-fashioned hand tools.

During recent years, a lot of bedrock I have worked has been the stuff that is up high and dry. It has usually been cleared away by bulldozers, where massive amounts of the pay-streak have already been washed through sluice boxes. You would be amazed how much gold remains in bedrock cracks in places where the large equipment has already gone through. It is just a matter of finding the right pocket to dig in, and here lies the key to success.

Working bedrock can be a life of leisure. I have found some bedrock so rich it has averaged over $300 an hour for half a day, and I laid down to do it.

Obviously, the first step to take if you want to gain access to a nearly-guaranteed pay-streak is to go where the gold has already been found before in large quantities. If you have an opportunity to get out to the goldfields, and you find out who owns some of the mining claims, ask if you can do some sniping of mining ground where bedrock has been exposed and worked on an industrial scale. The nuggets usually won’t be big; but if you find the right pocket, it is possible to take out several pennyweights or even ounces of gold from bedrock traps that were missed by the heavy earth-moving equipment.

Bedrock gold 2 B&WIf it is convenient, sometimes I am able to drive my pickup truck close to the golden spot that I have chosen. I carry a five-gallon jug of water, a small plastic tub big enough to pan into, and a few tools for crevicing. Without having to walk down to a stream, I can pan-out my pay-dirt into the tub with water from my five-gallon jug. This makes working bedrock a lot easier.

There are several types of bedrock in the north. Once you gain enough experience, you can eventually read bedrock like a book. Alaska has some unique formations of bedrock. There are the limestone bedrock formations in Livengood, where one old-timer used to tell me about scraping gold off its surface with a candlestick.

There is the Birch Creek schist of the Circle Mining District, which can be interspersed with granite bedrock.

The slate bedrock of the Kenai Peninsula’s gold-rich creeks is some of the most fascinating to work, and contains some very rich pockets.

Bedrock off the Koyokuk River area creeks in the Brooks Range contains unusual bedrock formations where the schist stands on end and can be peeled apart with a crow bar.

The bedrock on Jack Wade Creek in the Fortymile District contains quartzite schists, graphic schists and garnet-hornblende schists. Quartz seams are common on this creek. The gold is found not only in the bedrock, but in gravels as much as two feet above the bedrock. In the original pay-streak on Wade Creek, gold is found as deep as 1 1/2 feet into the bedrock. The origin of the gold is supposed to have been from the quartz stringers in the schists. The gold becomes black toward the head of Wade Creek. This is the result of a manganese stain in the surrounding gravel.

Canyon Creek in the Fortymile has some bedrock with a makeup of marble, schist and quartzite with occasional granite dikes running through it.

Over on Franklin Gulch, the bedrock includes micaceous, garnetiferous, hornblendic schists, and crystalline limestone. Though the gulch has a width of only 50 feet at the bottom, the bedrock has folded up considerably, and the gold is found in the bedrock at a depth of about two feet. The bedrock is so versatile in this vicinity; that over in the Chicken area, the bedrock is made up of dark-jointed shale with gold-bearing quartz and calcite seams. Clay is also known as a gold-robber in these areas, a curse to the miner; because it has a tendency to ball-up in the sluice boxes and roll on out.

When working these bedrock areas, it is always good practice to break-up all the clay that you find. Though this can be a tedious task, it may be worth doing in the long run. I have found some pretty nice little nuggets after kneading my fingers through a wad of slimy clay!

When prospecting, you do not have to become an expert in rock identification; but it does help to become aware of the essential types of rocks and bedrock that you will encounter in the field. Learning to read these rocks and layers can greatly enhance your ability to find gold.

It also helps to locate portions of the original pay-layer that were not worked by past miners. These can often prove to be very rich. Finding portions of an original pay-streak from past rich and historical creeks in Alaska can be a real and enriching thrill.

Panning out your take of pay-dirt from bedrock cracks can tell the tale of a lot of the mineral-types that are on the creek or gulch where you are prospecting. The little stones and sands that are left in the bottom of your gold pan are your heaviest minerals. If you are planning to spend an extended length of time on a creek, it might be good to save these heavies and study them. Also, if you have a small hand microscope (available at most mining supply or lapidary shops), take a closer look at the small rocks and iron sands in your gold pan. You may be surprised at how much gold is clinging to the sands or small pieces of stone!

In a lot of cases, the deepest portion of a bedrock crack or crevice will contain the most value. It is amazing how deep gold will actually penetrate.

Gold-bearing bedrock found off the Koyukuk River in the Brooks Range is generally mica-schist and slate, is uplifted, and stands on edge. Gold is found on the bedrock and inside the cleavages and crevices.

If you are in a gold-bearing area, I suggest you don’t waste too much of your time digging around smooth bedrock. Back through the eons of time when old streambeds once washed higher up on the hill or bench, most of the gold would wash right across smooth bedrock. Very rarely will gold occur on a regular basis on top of a smooth surface. The more rugged, and the more cracks in bedrock, the better your chances are of striking a rich crevice. This is generally true anywhere you go to find gold.

Once you make friends with local miners on the creek where you are going to snipe or crevice, ask the miners which side of the creek the pay happens to be most abundant, and also which stream bend or portion of the valley or gulch seems to contain the most pay. Some areas are better than others. And gold does tend to follow its own path down the waterway.

In some places, you can use a metal detector to scan the surface of the bedrock, finding occasional nuggets. But the crevices might also have many ounces of gold scattered throughout, too disbursed to sound-out on a metal detector.

If you prospect with the right approach, you will figure it out on your own. Plan to spend some time when exploring bedrock. Finding gold does not always happen on the first pan. It takes a lot of patience, and you must possess a keen interest in what you are doing and keep your hopes kindled.

 

BY MARCIE STUMPF/FOLEY

There is a fairly new method of mining out there in the mining community that is rapidly gaining in popularity, with good reason. It is called “Vacking;” and, as you might suppose, involves vacuuming material.

As a suction dredge vacuums material from the bottom of the river, this is a type of dry-land dredging. It involves using a small, lightweight unit to vacuum cracks and crevices of exposed bedrock, moss on exposed bedrock or boulders, or material in a dry wash in the desert. For this “dry land dredging,” however, there are no uncomfortable and expensive wet-suits to don, no heavy equipment to carry and then set up, and no long period of learning how to operate the equipment, or learning where to find gold.

Anyone who is familiar with mining knows that there is a much larger proportion of fine gold deposited than large gold, in almost any area. Each winter, as the rivers swell with winter rains and snows, much fine gold is washed down them. The fine gold, since it is much lighter in weight, is deposited much higher on the banks, or in the material of the river. As the high waters recede with the onset of spring and summer, much of the areas where the fine gold is deposited is left exposed up on the banks of the rivers.

The new units consist of a two-cycle gasoline engine mounted on a five gallon container, which is equipped with a suction hose and a crevice nozzle. They are very efficient at pulling the fine gold from moss, and at cleaning out crevices. Previous efforts to accomplish this by hand were slow and painstaking, and not very efficient. Collecting fine gold has always been one of the greatest challenges facing any miner, and some people spend years attempting to perfect their fine gold recovery.

Not only does “vacking” do an excellent job at recovering fine gold — it is a lot of fun! It is so fast, simple, and easy to use, that it seems to take all the work out of mining. You are still out in the great outdoors, still getting healthy exercise, but all that’s left when you remove the excess work is the fun.

Since we live and work very near a gold-bearing river, if my husband can squeeze two hours of time, he can get to his favorite spot, set up, get in most of that time mining; and still come home with enough gold to feel he has been mining. If he is dredging, that’s not enough time to more than set up and get started before he has to quit!

These units come on their own back-pack frame, and all accessories are carried right inside the unit. It is a completely self-contained unit, and includes an extra fuel bottle, a crevice tool, a gold pan, a “sniffer bottle” to remove the gold from the pan, and even a sample vial to keep it in. With all these accessories, the unit weighs just 15 lbs., so you could hike into the back country with it without undue strain.

Many wives who are not interested in dredging or motorized sluicing (high-banking) enjoy using this type of unit because it is something they can do completely on their own. The only problem we have seen develop is that when some of the husbands see that the gold recovery exceeds that of their dredge or motorized sluice, they want to use one also. Then, they either fight over the one unit, or join the growing group of “two-vack” families. Since they are such low-cost units, this is pretty easy to do.

I recently talked to one avid vack-miner who has been using one of these units for two years. He was concerned that he might possibly lose some of the fine gold out the exhaust as the unit filled, since it is so lightweight. Shortly after purchasing his unit, he fitted an elbow and extension over the exhaust, and directed it into a container of water. He has used it faithfully, and panned out the light powder that accumulated each time. He has never found even a speck of gold in it.

A crack or crevice in exposed bedrock that runs crossways to the current of the river acts as a natural riffle, catching fine gold just as the riffles of a sluice do. The moss that accumulates on exposed bedrock acts much as the carpet in a sluice, only better! It is amazing just how much fine gold can accumulate there. These are prime areas for vacking.

Areas where people have been working with motorized sluicing equipment have also proven to be good. Even if they have worked the area down to the bedrock, they have been unable to clean the area as thoroughly as it can be cleaned with a Vack, and generally, the richest areas are right on the bedrock.

The greatest demonstration I have ever seen about how gold traps in bedrock and moss, and how much work it is to recover it using conventional methods, is contained in Dave McCracken’s video, “Modern Gold Mining Techniquies.”

Although I have not mentioned finding nuggets with this equipment, it certainly does find them! Even areas that have predominantly fine gold in the high bedrock will trap nuggets during flood storms, and if they are there, this equipment will help you get to them as nothing else will.

Since you do not work directly in the active waterway, and this equipment does not put anything into the waterway, there are no dredge permits required for the use of these units, at least in the state of California.

All in all, Vacking has such a wide range of applications, in so many areas of the country, by such a wide range of people, that the gain in popularity is very understandable. It can only be expected to grow.

If you should get the Vacking bug, be sure you look for us out there, because that’s where we will be every chance we get!

 

BY JUDE COLLEN KENDRICK

 

This is a picture that you will seldom see – me getting up at 5:30 a.m. full of excitement – to vacuum! Yet, I spent some of last summer and almost all of this past winter, doing just that. It wasn’t “dust bunnies” I was after, however; it was gold!

A few Decembers ago, I wrote a Christmas dry-washing article about the Mojave Desert. I said that I had made a portable vack machine to clean off the caliche (cement-like material) shelves that one encounters out in the desert. But it was not until last summer on the Klamath River near Happy Camp in California that I actually used the vack machine for what most people use them for, which is crevicing.

I knew about crevicing, of course, but it just wasn’t my thing. In fact, on several of my surface mining (motorized sluicing) trips there would be lots of prospectors around the creeks crevicing and getting gold. I cannot recall, though, at that time seeing anyone with a vack. They all had store-bought or homemade tools to get the gold out of all the nooks and crannies. On the Klamath, I borrowed a Mack-Vack made by Pro-Mack in Happy Camp, because I did not have the space to bring my motorized sluice along. My little portable vack that I had made was in the “equipment graveyard.” I had brought gad bars and digging tools, so I was set up to crevice. I will admit that I was not very enthusiastic about it at the time. I like to see dirt flying and lots of material running through my equipment. But it did not take long to change that lack of enthusiasm!

The bedrock around the area where I was on the Klamath broke apart fairly easily. I walked around trying to find the right kind of hard-packed gravel between the seams of these massive slabs. I had only used the vack for a while and had only about half of the 5-gallon bucket filled (not much material, I thought). Yet, when I panned it out, there was a beautiful match head-sized nugget. Now, this type of prospecting wasn’t bad at all!

Kay Tabbert and her husband Chuck, both members of The New 49’ers, were in the same area at the time. Chuck was busy dredging while Kay, with only her little hand tools, a whisk broom and dustpan, was crevicing on some bedrock not far downriver from me. All of a sudden I heard Kay calling for Chuck (and anyone else around). So I walked over to see what was going on. I could not believe it. Kay had separated a rock about the size of a melon, and in the crevice, stuck to one side, were 7 beautiful large flakes of gold! Just like that! I could not get back to my area fast enough!

I had dredged for years and I knew just how to spot the places where the water would deposit gold. It was really no different from working in the water – I just did not have to get my hair wet! I was feeling a little impatient, though, as I never did wait to fill up an entire 5-gallon bucket with material using the vack machine. But what I did pan produced great little “clinkers” of Klamath gold.

Unfortunately, I only had about seven days last summer up on the Klamath. But, I had five months this winter to play in the dirt. Lucky for me, I got “hooked” on vacuuming crevices!

I was prospecting Quartzsite, Arizona and the surrounding areas. The desert had a lot of rain this past summer and everyone was hoping that the washes would “pay off!” I decided to sell my beloved “Nick’s Nugget” dry-washer, as I knew I was going to be out prospecting alone a lot. As great as it was, it was too heavy and clumsy for me to manage on my own. I purchased a small dry-washer combo (with the vack option) from my friends Bob and Linda Taylor. This was great. One engine ran both and I could carry everything in one trip.

Hunting for bedrock in the desert is certainly not like on the rivers. It definitely does not expose itself as much. Yet in many places it is not deeply hidden. I was finding many places in washes where people had dug down to bedrock and had not even touched it with a whisk broom. So, guess what I did? They had already done the heavy work. I just sat there and vacked up the gold!

Finding new places to vack was not easy, as I have said. I have known for years, from experience, that the gold in the deserts isn’t always where it is supposed to be. What would look like great bedrock on the rivers often means nothing in the desert, mostly due to the lack of water volume and movement in the deserts. When I arrived at Quartzsite I met up with Al Powell, who is also a New 49’er member that I met briefly while on the Klamath. Al and I were finding “perfect” looking bedrock, in established gold areas, that produced nothing. We were always shocked, because all the “recipes” for gold were there. We could have found more gold in downtown Quartzsite! We were not giving up, however!

I decided to take five days and go off to find a hot spot for Al and me to work. I found a very small ravine below a heavily mined area that had a large section of bedrock exposed. It took two days of pulling “Buick-sized” rocks to work myself down to where I was getting some nice gold. After the fourth day, I showed Al my gold and took him out to the spot so we could clean it out together. Well, I suppose I did my job too well; as except for some small flecks, Al and I vacked all day and got nothing large. “OOPS! Sorry, Al!”

The weather in the desert turned nasty, with off and on heavy rains that went on for days. Consequently, all of the dry-washers around the desert were silenced. The ground in places was damp as deep as eight inches down, which forced people to grab their gold detectors and head out nugget-shooting until things dried out. Yet, Al and I were not held back; we were still out there, in a new area, with our vacks. We didn’t have any trouble bringing up the damp gravel, although the two of us looked like “mud pies” at the end of the day.

I had, from the beginning, been running my vack materials through my dry-washer so I would not have to pan as much concentrate. Even the damp material did not present much of a problem, as Al and I just ran everything through the dry-washer two or three times. I am sure that the people driving by during those wet days who saw the dry-washer running, said to themselves, “They are crazy!” Well, that is a whole other story, but we did have our pretty desert gold to look at all the way back to our desert “sanitarium!”

I would recommend purchasing a vack to anyone, even as a backup to your usual motorized sluice or dry-washer. And, now, when “housework” day comes each week, I won’t dread using the vacuum; I will just be practicing! Good Luck!

 

 

By Linda Montgomery

I have found it is not necessary, during weekend or vacation gold mining trips, for women to be resigned to the camp cook and dish washer position. There is an easy, hassle-free way to spend your time and have it turn out uniquely rewarding at the end of the day. This method is called “crevicing”. It requires few tools, no back breaking work and can be enjoyed by the whole family. My kids and I have creviced in desert dry washes as well as along streams and rivers. The final panning of the material we’ve recovered has always kept us going back for more!

Crevicing gets it’s name from the cracks and crevices found in exposed bedrock. These are known gold-catching areas. It is amazing how deep gold can settle inside these cracks. The job of crevicing involves breaking the crack open wide enough to allow you to get out all the material that it contains. This isn’t hard. Within a short time you can become a pro at it. The tools of the trade vary. it’s best to have a chisel, rock pick and a gold claw. A bucket is needed to put your material in, along with a #4 classifier. If you classify at your work site, you will not have such a heavy load to lug back to camp. Add a tablespoon to your tools for scooping out material in places where your hand won’t fit.

The very best piece of equipment you can add to your operation is one of the several models of motorized vacuum suckers now available on the mining market. It is not a necessity, but there is no comparison to the ease and thoroughness of using one. These vack machines are extremely lightweight and strap to a pack frame for carrying on your back. Instead of spooning or scraping out your material, you can simply vacuum it up. These motorized vacuums are also good for sucking flood gold out of moss on high water rocks. This is probably the easiest job of all.

Here is where you can find a special offer on the world’s best vack machine.

But do not fret, if you don’t have one. When I started crevicing, I used a hammer and a screwdriver!

After you’ve gathered your tools together, hike up the river or along a dry wash, wherever you happen to be. Look for low bedrock exposure, because gold is heavy it tends to concentrate more readily in the low spots. Preferably find a crevice in the rock running toward the river instead of along it. These usually catch more gold. Remember also, the bigger the crack, the larger the gold that could be trapped inside.

Start working by loosening everything inside the crevice with your gold claw or screwdriver. Scrape it out and into your classifier on top of your bucket. Chip around any rocks jammed in the way with your chisel until they come free and you can pull them out. Sometimes you can knock off the sides of the crack to widen it by hammering. This enables you to work farther and deeper into the crevice. If you reach a point where you cannot fit your hand, use your spoon; scraping away until the crevice is clean.

This type of bedrock is over 500 million years old. It’s origins come from the ancient mountains that used to be here. Quite often it appears harder than it is; but if you keep digging and scraping, it is actually soft enough to keep breaking away.

Take everything! Moss, sand, dirt, anything that you can loosen. Clean the crevice out as much as possible or as far as you can reach. If you finish one spot and have not gathered enough material in your bucket, move to another spot.

The hardest part about this whole method of mining is carrying your material back to camp. You can regulate this to suit you. Or, if you have kids or a partner, you can share the load. That is, unless water is near the place where you are working. In that case, you can either pan or sluice your pay-dirt right there.

Crevicing is fun and rewarding for the whole family. You will probably recover lots of fine gold and once in awhile a nice nugget or two. Your back will not hurt and you will not be dog tired when you are through, either! If suction dredging for gold is not your cup of tea, and you do not want to spend extra dollars on other equipment, crevicing may be just the thing for you. No noisy engines, no gas to haul, nothing to break down. Just peace and quiet, and the enjoyment of a job well done.

 
Dave Mack

“Crevicing, both above and below the water, and vack-mining, especially in and around the moss along the edges of an active waterway, are one of the most popular methods our members use to recover gold.”