Being a gold hunter is not for the fainthearted. Whether 1849 (when the California Gold Rush began) or 2017, gold is not found in any easy-to-reach location. Gold is the heaviest natural element, heavier than rocks or sand. Its specific gravity is 19.3, which is much heavier than lead (11.3), which means gold sinks to the bottom of any other material (sand and gravel) and will keep right on sinking until it is stopped by something solid, that is: bedrock or boulder, or (very often) a crack or crevice in a slab of rock. Sandbars are good places to look for gold. Just be sure you dig all the way down to the bottom of the sand to the bedrock. When you find black sand (magnetic sand) you will be close to gold. This bottom layer of sand is called pay dirt. But, as I said, I wasn’t looking for gold. I was looking for a mysterious lake called Gold Lake.
I first became aware of Gold Lake while researching an original copy (1882) of a historical text called, History of Plumas, Lassen & Sierra Counties, Farriss & Smith, (p 145) relates the original tale from which I drew my inspiration of the search for Gold Lake, as well as wonderful adventure tales and names of the real gold hunters. If you find yourself caught up in the golden spell of California Gold Rush History, I also recommend: History of Rich Bar, A Blue Ribbon Gold Camp, by Jim Young, which I used to model my camp called, Gold Nation, in my novel. Want to know what daily life was like in a real gold camp? The Shirley Letters by Dame Shirley (Louise Clappe) is a world-famous account (one of the most vivid accounts ever written) said to have influenced such luminaries as Mark Twain and Brett Hart. By the way, I visited this gold camp, still being actively mined on the Feather River, and visitors are not welcome. Historical and modern Rich Bar Gold Camp is far more interesting than the original ‘1848 Marshall Gold Discovery Site’ at Coloma and if I ruled the world should be a historical monument as a true treasure of California (as is Coloma). If you really go over the rainbow crazy about California gold, get a copy of Geologic History of the Feather River Country, California, by Cordell Durrell, a truly awesome book detailing an amazing volcanic history of upheavals that produced the northern California Sierra topography—and also the inspiration for the volcanic source of the Motherlode in my novel. Warning: You could get addicted to the real magic kingdom of California. (Hint: it’s not at Disneyland).
If you’d like to learn the nuts and bolts of actual gold hunting, panning, and extraction, (even just the armchair variety) try a wonderful little book/pamphlet called, Gold Fever, The Art of Panning and Sluicing, by Lois De Lorenzo, and also, book/pamphlet, Diving and Digging for Gold, by Mary Hill, which packs more gold-lore per inch than any other bigger book. (Interestingly, if you thought this was a man’s-game, both of these delightful booklets were written by women). And if you really want to get out there and find gold, The Complete Gold Country Guidebook tells you exactly where to plant your shovel and dip your pan in the California Motherlode Region.
After I left my river-gold friends, I headed on foot into the remote, geologically-crazed, granite kingdom of the High Sierra, delirious with gold fever and high confidence that I would be the one chosen to rediscover the location of the Lost Gold Lake. (To be continued.)