Last Chance Placer

Mining Camp at Cactus Flats

(4.8 miles) Drive in 200 feet to a split rail fence around a mining pit.

Placer mining is a simple technique where gold is separated from sand or gravel with water. The miners worked the ground at this site down to bedrock. Once pay dirt (black sand) was found, it was transported by horse and cart or in sacks on burros’ backs, to be “sluiced in the rockers.” There crude gravel washers were located near hand-built earthen “snow ponds” where runoff supplied the water they needed. One such pond is northeast of the pit, 0.25 mile up the gulch.

The mounds or “tailings” you see are the dirt and rocks removed from the mine after it was worked for gold. The prospectors were in search of the mother lode- the source of the gold -which has never been found.

Placer Deposits

A placer deposit is a concentration of a natural material that has accumulated in unconsolidated sediments of a stream bed, beach, or residual deposit. Gold derived by weathering or other process from lode deposits is likely to accumulate in placer deposits because of its weight and resistance to corrosion. In addition, its characteristically sun-yellow color makes it easily and quickly recognizable even in very small quantities. The gold pan or miner’s pan is a shallow sheet-iron vessel with sloping sides and flat bottom used to wash gold-bearing gravel or other material containing heavy minerals. The process of washing material in a pan, referred to as “panning,” is the simplest and most commonly used and least expensive method for a prospector to separate gold from the silt, sand, and gravel of the stream deposits. It is a tedious, back-breaking job and only with practice does one become proficient in the operation.

Many placer districts in California have been mined on a large scale as recently as the mid-1950’s. Streams draining the rich Mother Lode region–the Feather, Mokelumne, American, Cosumnes, Calaveras, and Yuba Rivers–and the Trinity River in northern California have concentrated considerable quantities of gold in gravels. In addition, placers associated with gravels that are stream remnants from an older erosion cycle occur in the same general area.

In addition to these localities, placer gold occurs along many of the intermittent and ephemeral streams of arid regions in Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, and southern California. In many of these places a large reserve of low-grade placer gold may exist, but the lack of a permanent water supply for conventional placer mining operations requires the use of expensive dry or semidry concentrating methods to recover the gold.

What are the rules for prospecting for gold and staking claims in the National Forest? 

  • Prospecting, mining and claim staking activities are permitted on National Forest system unappropriated land. Claimants have an express and implied right to access their claims when permitted under Forest Service surface use regulations (36 CFR;228). Check with the Bureau of Land Management Office for land status pertaining to mining claims and the Ranger Station for land appropriation status
  • An Administrative Pass is a temporary authorization issued at no charge for prospectors and miners who have a statutory right to enter and prospect on public lands sanctioned under the General Mining Act of 1872, as amended.
  • Other visitors using the forest for recreation are required to purchase an Adventure Pass for a fee, which is required to park their vehicles while recreating in ‘High Impact Recreation Areas’ (HIRA).
  • An Administrative pass may be issued for a 14 day period for members of a mining club and other prospectors at no charge. If they require a longer period, we request them to submit a Notice of Intent for the District Ranger’s review to determine if the proposed activity causes a significant surface disturbance. If the proposed activity does not cause a significant surface disturbance, then the District Ranger may issue an Administrative Pass for up to one year at no cost.
  • The Notice of Intent requires your name, address, telephone number, a claim map or the approximate location of the proposed activity, the number of samples, the depth of the sample site, the beneficiation method and need for water.
  • If the District Ranger determines that if the proposed activity may cause a significant surface disturbance, the claimant, prospector and the mining clubs will be required to submit a Plan of Operation. This will require substantive information about the mining, beneficiation, reclamation methods and a substantial reclamation performance bond will be required.
  • Prospecting does not require a mining claim or an exact location of the activity, an approximate location will suffice.
  • A Notice of Intent is required if the proposed activity is located in an environmentally sensitive area (1-e, Holcomb Valley, Lytle Creek, Horse Thief Canyon, Cactus Flats, Santa Ana wash and Rose Mine). This includes panning for gold, dry washing, high banking, metal detecting and suction dredging. Call the Ranger Station if you are not sure about the sensitivity of the area involving the proposed activity. Members of mining clubs are encouraged to follow this procedure.
  • There are several hundred abandoned mines on the forest. The public is prohibited from entering any of these openings. If any of these of openings are causing a clear and present danger to the public, report the location to the local Ranger Station for signing or fencing.
  • To stake a mining claim, you need to follow Bureau of Land Management guidelines as they are the lead agency for minerals management. The Forest Service administers the surface use regulations in accordance with the Code of Federal Regulations, Title 36, part 228.
  • Mining claimants are not allowed to drive off National Forest Designated Routes to access their claims. They are required to have an approved Plan of Operation from the District Ranger for access.

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