Prospecting in the desert has many challenges that are unique to this harsh environment. Primarily, it is the lack of water, or more specifically, the inaccessibility of water to process material using traditional alluvial mining methods.
Of course, there are many gold-bearing areas that are in arid desert environments. And while it may be true that tools like sluice boxes certainly aren’t going to work here, there are several options to allow you to search for gold in the desert.
Using a metal detector is one of the most popular methods to search for gold in the desert. In states like Arizona and Nevada, metal detectors are still used very successfully to locate gold nuggets. They don’t require any water to use, and modern gold detectors have gotten quite good in recent years.
In the desert, gold nuggets often aren’t very deep. In fact, there is often exposed bedrock that can be found in many desert environments, so a sensitive detector like the Fisher Gold Bug 2 is often the best choice for many locations, rather than the more expensive pulse induction detectors.
When deeper soils or highly mineralized ground is encountered, a good PI detector is your best bet. Minelab metal detectors are still a favorite and are successfully finding gold nuggets around the world.
Also Read: Must-Have Gold Nugget Detecting Gear
Drywashers are a piece of mining equipment that every desert gold prospector should own. Rather than using water to move material and allow gold to settle out of the gravels, they use vibration and air pressure to do the same process.
Capture rates for drywashers are not as good as methods like sluicing or panning, but they are the only decent option in many dry locations. And although they have lesser recovery rates, you can feed material into them rather quickly, which can make up for the reduced recovery.
The dirt that you run through a drywasher should be completely dry. If it isn’t, the gold will get stuck in the dirt and be easily lost. If the ground is too wet, you will need to wait until the weather warms up and thoroughly dries out the soil.
Since even the best drywasher will lose a certain amount of gold, it is always a good idea to scan over your tailing piles with a metal detector every once in a while, just in case a nice nugget got lost.
Most prospectors use drywashers in combination with a good metal detector to maximize efficiency.
Also Read: Find Gold in Arid Regions with a Drywasher
Crevicing is a very simple method that you can use to find gold in the desert. This method simply involves carefully cleaning out cracks in the bedrock, often using just basic hand tools, and later panning out the concentrates that you collect.
Crevicing is slow work, and you don’t process large amounts of material like you do with other mining methods. However, if you are in a good location you will be getting very high quality concentrates that should be loaded with fine gold. The trick is to find a rich area to crevice.
So how do you find a good location? Often the best crevicing locations are places where you have already found some gold nuggets with a metal detector, but the shape and texture of the bedrock creates conditions where crevicing is needed to thoroughly “clean out” the location.
One great tool to use for crevicing is a modified dry vac. These are a great investment and can do an awesome job of cleaning out those deep cracks.
Hard Rock Mining
Most of the gold that has been mined in the desert comes from hard rock mines, where gold is extracted directly from the rocks. There are still considerable hard rock gold deposits out there that can be mined by the small-scale gold prospector that have not yet been discovered.
The startup cost of most hard rock mining operations is too expensive for most prospectors, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t do some hard rock mining on a smaller scale. All you need is a simple rock crusher that you can break apart the ores for further processing. This way you can collect rock samples and break them up to see what they contain inside.
This method will take some research to learn to identify what gold-bearing rocks look like in your mining area. Different mining districts will have different ores that will be of interest. The most important thing for the small-scale prospector to keep in mind is that the gold needs to be large enough to be visible, so you can then use a simple gold pan to separate out the crushed gold.