The Rocker Box Blog Archive

How to Read a River - Part 1 


My 2 cents


Starting with James Marshall at Sutter’s Mill, there have always been stories of people who find gold just walking along a river and picking up “something shiny” that turns out to be a gold nugget leading to a fantastic gold strike. Did that happen to James Marshall? Yes and No. Marshall was using the force of water flow to carve a tailrace (water ditch) away from the mill he was constructing. Each morning he inspected the results of the water action, and on one of those mornings (January 24, 1848), he spotted some “shiny flecks,’ that obviously that had been exposed from the previous night’s water work.


If it had not been for the water work of carving a ditch, would he have spotted gold just lying on the ground? Most likely not.


Gold is heavy…VERY heavy. In fact, gold is 19.2 times heavier than water. Gold is almost twice as heavy as lead. This means that wherever gold is laying, it is gold to sink until it lays on something it cannot penetrate…like a flat rock. Ask yourself, “How many times…just by chance…will gold be laying on a flat rock right on the surface where I will just happen to be in the right place at the right time see it?” If you honestly answer that question, you’ll conclude, “Not many…or most likely not at all.”


But, gold is ‘out there.’ The challenge is to find it. The secret is to know how to find it. Let’s talk about one way to find it…that being “Reading a River.”


What is Reading a River? It the survey and reconnaissance of a gold bearing river to determine the MOST LIKELY locations that gold will collect (commonly called ‘pockets’). Well…how do I know if a river is a ‘gold bearing river? That’s easy. Grab some books on gold prospecting and the history of gold in the area you want to work. The old-timers were thorough in their prospecting. And, if they never found gold in a river back then, it’s not going to have gold in it now. If it DID have gold in it back then, you can pretty much surmise it will still have gold in it today.
So…let’s say the river (or creek or stream) your researching has a history of gold being worked in it. The question now is, “where will gold pocket?” Now we have to do some “figurin’ and such,” based on what we know about gold and what we can deduce about the river.


Gold is HEAVY. Generally, two forces are going to work on gold to get it to pocket.


 First…gravity. Gravity will force gold to move down through whatever it’s mixed with until it hits something it cannot penetrate.


 Second…water pressure. Water pressure from FAST moving water will move gold laterally (down river) until the water pressure decreases (for whatever reason) to a point where it cannot overcome the weight of the gold.


A river flowing at average or low flow will not have enough pressure to move gold. However, a river flowing at FLOOD STAGE will. Therefore, do some research to find out how wide and deep a river gets at FLOOD STAGE. Trace the left and right banks of the flooded river onto a topographical map. You will see that there are terrain features that will be underwater at FLOOD STAGE that will not be underwater at lower river times.


Even at FLOOD STAGE, the river will flow downhill, curving this way and that. Start at the most upriver point of interest and trace a dotted line in the middle of the river between your high-water left and right points all the way to the most down-river point of interest. This dotted-line snaking its way down river is called the “gut of the river,” and can lead us to some significantly large pockets.


Remember…gold will continue to move until the water pressure decreases to a point where it cannot overcome the weight of the gold. So…look for places along the Gut of the River where the water will be forced to slow down…and therefore decrease the water pressure. What are some common places this occurs?


Curves. Curves in the river is our first clue. Think of a wheel spinning. When a wheel spins, all points of the wheel move at the same time. If it spins one complete circle, all points on the wheel complete the circle in the same amount of time. The outside of the wheel (being a part of the whole wheel) is moving at the same relative position as the inside of the wheel. But, to keep this relative position, it must move a lot faster than the inside, because it has a lot more distance to travel (in the same amount of time). The inside (near the axle) is moving the slowest, as it has a much smaller distance it needs to cover in the same amount of time as the outside. Water flowing around a curve works the same way. Water moving around the inside of the curve is going to be moving much slower than the outside. Slower moving water means less water pressure. Less water pressure means gold will stop moving, and a pocket begins to form. That pocket will remain and continue to fill until one of two things happen:

How to Find Gold

1) Erosion occurs, changes the course of the river and eliminates that curve, speeding up the water which moves the gold again, or…


2) You find it.


The point of maximum probability of finding a pocket of gold on a curve will be at the point where the Gut of the River touches the beginning of the inside curve, and where the Gut of the River touches the end of the inside curve. During average or low flow times, both points are most likely to be accessible to the panning, sluicing, high-banking, nugget-shooting, and sniping prospectors without having to dive underwater. But, just remember that gold…be heavier than anything else in the river, it going to settle UNDER everything else.


This is just the first of a series of articles on Reading a River to find gold. Start your research and find yourself a good chuck of river to start your next gold prospecting expedition, and go have some fun!


        Gold Prospecting and Placer Deposits         You Can Find Gold with a Metal Detector


Full Disclosure: The supplies, equipment, tips, techniques, and procedures I recommend are based on my evaluation and experience. I link items I recommend to companies I have an affiliate agreement with (or to The Rocker Box Catalog) from which I receive a small percentage of sales if sales are made during your visit to their website. The recommendations are mine, and mine alone. I use any proceeds to pay for The Rocker Box website, and to generate future articles and activities. I thank you in advance for your patronage and support to further the great recreations, hobbies, and vocations of treasure hunting, gold prospecting, metal detecting, ghost town hunting, and rock hounding.


30-Second Bio: I am a retired soldier of the US Army Special Forces (aka Green Berets),The Author: Mark Prewitt serving for over 25 years. My specialties were communications, medicine, operations and intelligence, with extensive cross training in weapons and demolitions. I was a paratrooper, jumpmaster, combat diver, combat dive supervisor, combat dive medic, sniper, and pathfinder. I’ve been deployed countless times to locations on four continents, and have participated in operations in open water, riverine, jungle, mountain, desert, arctic, and urban environments…but I’ve been a “treasure Hunter” since I was eight. The End.