Nevada is currently the largest producer of both gold and silver in the United States. On a commercial scale, no other state even comes close. And the record-high prices of precious metals have mining going in full-swing all throughout the state of Nevada.
In 2021 alone the state produced more than 4.47 million ounces of gold which represents 77% of all the gold extracted in the U.S. The top five mines in the state produced a combined 3.3 million ounces of gold in that year. They are:
Other notable mines that have continued to produce gold in Nevada include:
Mineral deposits of all kinds are widespread throughout Nevada. The state is so gold rich that every county contains gold deposits whether lode, placer or micron. It has been attracting prospectors for centuries, and continues to attract miners to this day.
The Early Gold Prospectors in Nevada
The most famous mines in Nevada would most certainly be those of the Comstock Lode. While these were primarily silver mines, the initial discovery of silver ore was made by small-scale placer miners.
Miners continued exploring the Nevada desert and soon found the goldfields to be quite extensive. We now know that northern Nevada is one of the richest gold mining regions in the United States. Elko, Humboldt, and Pershing Counties all have countless mines and prospects.
Early day miners found abundant placer deposits throughout the Nevada desert, but the lack of water made things challenging. Productively washing the gravels in most areas was limited to a short time-frame in the spring during snowmelt. Mining was often inefficient and lots of gold was missed. Gold panning in the Carson River was reported in 1849 when prospectors found the precious metal in the river while on their way to California during the gold rush.
Of course these early placer deposits often led to the development of lodes. Nevada has literally thousands of lode mines scattered across the state. Some of these were small operations; others employed hundreds of men and were major gold producers. The late 1800s was a good time to be mining in Nevada.
The Carlin Trend Gold Discovery
The history of gold mining in Nevada is slightly different from other US states. Despite the gold rush of the late 19th century, there were many rich gold deposits that remained completely undiscovered for almost a century after the initial gold rushes to the state.
The most significant gold discovery in Nevada actually happened much later in 1965. An area that came to be known as the Carlin Trend was discovered in Eureka County. The reason However, since the boost in gold prices in 1971, the Carlin Trend has been producing gold non-stop along with other major mines in the state.
The area covers a 5-by-40-mile swath in Eureka County which is tucked in northeastern Nevada. Cumulative production in the Carlin Trend had surpassed 88 million ounces by the end 2016. Other areas in Nevada such as the Cortez District are exhibiting the same type of deposits seen in this region.
Why were these gold deposits missed for so long? The answer is that the Carlin deposits are quite different from any others that were known prior to their discovery. The gold within the ore is microscopic. In fact, the ore is very low-grade and requires that millions of tons are processed to produce paying quantities of gold. The old-timers simply would not have given this sort of ore any attention.
Now, with advances in mining technology we can see that these ore deposits are some of the richest on Earth. Today’s open pit mining which uses heap leaching has enabled miners to recover more gold than before using a series of chemical reactions that absorb the metal from the ore. The ore is normally placed on a liner and then the chemicals are added using drip systems. This method is more efficient (requires less energy) for large volumes of low grade ores such as the ones in Nevada where digitization and automation have been embraced.
Mines that are located along the Carlin Trend have defied the traditional boom and bust cycle of the old mining towns. They have kept producing gold for decades, sustaining the boom in Nevada and shaping it to become the biggest and longest in U.S. history.
The Lone Prospector in the Nevada Desert
It’s not just the large mines that are finding gold… small-scale prospectors are also finding plenty of gold too.
Nevada has an abundance of public lands that have excellent prospecting opportunities. In addition, the remoteness of most of the goldfields throughout the state means that there has been much less mining pressure in Nevada than in many other states throughout the West. In fact all the mines in the state occupy a paltry 0.25% of Nevada’s 70 million acres of land.
Water is limited in most areas. This means that prospecting methods are often limited to drywashers and metal detectors, since they don’t require water to operate.
Many prospectors here prefer metal detectors since many of the goldfields here are famous for producing sizable gold nuggets. Placeritas, Rye Patch, Pershing County, Rabbit Hole, Seven Troughs, Willow Creek and Dun Glenn are all historically known to produce gold nuggets. Humboldt County is famous for producing pretty large gold nuggets hence the gold producing areas around Winnemucca are worth checking out.
Probably the most well-known gold district in Nevada is called Rye Patch, or the Majuba Placers due to its proximity to Majuba Mountains. This area is located west of Rye Patch Reservoir near Imlay, south of Winnemucca in Pershing County. Unlike other gold deposits in Nevada and most of the country, the gold in Rye Patch was discovered pretty late, in 1938.
Since the first discoverer Charles Dice, prospectors have found a lot of gold scattered through many square miles in and around Rye Patch. The area is actually somewhat undefined. Anywhere between Majuba Mountain and Rye Patch Reservoir has good potential.
The gold deposits of Rye Patch are unique in the sense that they can be found without needing to dig very deep. Prospectors are able to find deposits of placer gold by using high quality metal detectors. Most nuggets are within a foot or two of from the surface.
Back when it was first discovered, men could literally walk around the desert and pick up “sunbaker” nuggets sitting right on the surface. As metal detector technology improved the prospectors found more and more gold.
I have met guys who hunted gold at Rye Patch back in the 80s and 90s. Let me tell you, they found some amazing gold!
Unlike the Carlin Trend where gold is found in microscopic form, Rye Patch and other areas of Pershing and Humboldt counties have extensive placer deposits ready to be exploited. This area still produces many beautiful gold nuggets including the highly cherished “chevron nuggets” with exquisite crystalline texture.
Most of the land in this area is owned by BLM but there are certain parts that are private property. Part of the BLM land has claims on it hence the need for prospectors to be vigilant so that they do not explore without permission.
More Pershing County Areas
Numerous other placer districts are located in Pershing County, which is one of the best areas to metal detect for gold in the West. The Placeritas mining district is one such area which has the reputation for producing decent gold nuggets. Some range up to a few grams in size so this is another area that is popular for metal detecting.
Gold in Placeritas was first discovered on the slopes of the Kamma Mountains in the 1870s. Mahogany Jack led a group of four men in the excavation of the placer deposits in which they recovered gold worth $30,000. A larger operation ensued in 1890 when water was brought to Placerites from Cow Creek.
Other districts such as Rosebud, Sawtooth and Rabbit Hole are favorable for metal detecting. The placers in the Sawtooth district cover an area of about 6 square miles at the border between Humboldt and Pershing Counties. The site sits on the northern end of the Antelope Range. The gold in this location, which is about 60 miles northwest of Lovelock, is mostly found in gravels.
Most of these areas have been prospected for over a century for placer gold and admittedly, the gold nuggets are not as plentifial as the once were. But prospectors still occasionally find undiscovered nugget patches that result in ounces of gold! To do this, you need to get away from the hard-hit areas and venture out toward nearby virgin ground.
Hunting for Gold in Nevada
There are truly countless other areas to explore. Other areas in Humboldt and Elko County are still producing good gold for persistent prospectors. Northern Nevada is good “nugget country,” so metal detecting is a great method to use.
There are countless other places to search for gold in Nevada. In the central part of the state around Nye County is another rich mining region. The Round Mountain Gold Mine is located here, which is currently one of the largest mines in the United States. This area is rich in gold ores and crystalline gold nuggets excavated from open pit mines. Individual prospectors searching the area around the mines have been known to find beautiful gold nuggets every now and then.
The Dutch Flats area in Humboldt County has placer gravels where gold can be prospected. Gold was discovered in the area by F.G. Wendell in 1893. This is the site of the Dutch Flat lode mine.
Other districts in the county include the Bullfrog, Johnnie, Cloverdale, and Ione districts just to name a few. Countless undiscovered veins of gold are surely undiscovered here.
Areas to Avoid
A word of advice when researching the goldfields of Nevada; make sure that the area that you might prospect has produced gold nuggets, not just gold. The reason for this is the abundance of gold mines that process micron gold deposits. These are microscopic gold occurrences that are locked up in ores. While there may be millions of dollars-worth of gold locked up in the rock, it is essentially worthless to a small-scale prospector because we don’t have the equipment needed to extract it.
The Carlin Trend deposits are an example of this type of gold. While this region in Northern Nevada is responsible for the majority of Nevada’s gold production today, these areas will generally not produce gold for prospectors using a drywasher or metal detector. However, since most of the prospecting in the area has been done in shallow soil, by investing in a strong metal detector and digging a few feet into the soil, one can still find themselves some quality gold nuggets.
With more than 200,000 historic mine features in Nevada, venturing into some of the old mines can be dangerous for prospectors. The tailings of old mines are especially hazardous and should be approached with a lot of caution.
Still Great Potential to Find Gold in NV
Nevada has unbelievable mineral wealth. Quite frankly, its immense size, remoteness, and small population has really limited the amount of prospecting that has taken place. Some very rich gold districts throughout the state have seen very little attention from prospectors since the 1930s, and still have excellent potential. Thanks to the relatively later discovery of gold and mining in the state, its reserves are nowhere close to depleted and much more accessible than most other states.
Any serious prospectors who want to find gold in Nevada should do their research. There are simply so many areas that are worthy of exploration, taking the time to find areas that have greater potential is a must. As the dry nature of the state prevents gold panning, Nevada may discourage some prospectors.
The current trend in Nevada points to frequent new gold discoveries. For example, the Goldrush deposit located about 20 miles west of Elko may start producing in 2023. It is estimated to contain 10 million ounces of gold with the mine projected to have a lifespan of more than 20 years. The new discoveries are a clear indication that the state’s fourth gold rush, which is more than 50 years in the making, isn’t about to slow down.
Mines in the state are having longer lifespans which indicate that there is more gold to be mined than previously thought. This is a sign for prospectors that their “Eureka!” moment is on the horizon.
The gold nuggets found in Nevada, especially in Northern Nevada are often found as a naturally occurring alloy of gold and silver called electrum. Be on the lookout for this silvery looking substance and don’t toss it! Even though it is a lower-grade of gold, sometimes it comes in interesting shapes and textures that actually brings a higher cost to mineral collectors.
Nevada is one of the best states in the country to search for gold today as it is still the highest gold producing state in the country. Despite some challenges due to its geography and weather, if one dares to invest in some tools and information, there are boundless opportunities to find gold nuggets.