The area near Lake Mead in Southern Nevada has distinguished itself as a reservoir of gold and was once the site of a sustained gold rush in the 1800s.
This region has a variety of sites that have produced gold as well as other minerals. In fact, beneath Lake Mead (formed by the waters from Hoover Dam) is buried what was once a bustling mining town.
There are a handful of key areas near Lake Mead where there was significant gold mining in the past. Some of these areas are now underwater… others are in the surrounding desert.
Gold Butte Mining District
Located on the northwestern side of Lake Mead, this mining district encompassed a wide area between the lake and the Arizona-Nevada state line. Extending south of the Virgin Mountains, the area can be accessed from Las Vegas heading northeast towards Riverside on U.S. Interstate 15.
Since no gold deposit of major significance was discovered in the area, the ensuing gold rush was short-lived, managing to stretch between 1905 and 1906. The first gold discovery was at Gold Butte Peak in 1905 although other minerals such as zinc, copper and magnesite were later discovered, extending the lifespan of the site until 1910 when mining activities ceased and all the miners left.
The combined production of all minerals in the district was $75,000, underlining the brief period of interest from prospectors. Today, the district falls under the Gold Butte National Monument which is managed by the Bureau of Land Management. The areas with significant gold in the district were at Temple Bar (whose placer deposits were inundated by Lake Mead) and the Lakeshore mine which is located northeast of Temple Bar Marina.
Southwest of Lake Mead exists a mining ghost town known as Nelson. It was one of the most lucrative gold mining towns of its era and attracted thousands of prospectors. It all started in the 1700s when the Spanish scouted the area searching for gold but only got lucky with silver. It was not until 1859 when prospectors finally found gold.
While murder and violence were common in the town due to ownership wrangles, Techatticup, Nelson’s most famous mine was renowned for yielding gold worth millions of dollars during its lifespan between 1861 and 1942.
While Meadview, Arizona lies close to the Lake Mead National Recreation Area, the land south of this community is a mix of public BLM lands and other parcels that are privately held. The public lands provide great opportunity for prospectors to explore, especially the areas where mines operated.
The King Tut Mine and the Eureka Gold Occurrence are some of the deposits that defined this area.
If you’re an enthusiastic prospector, then Gold Basin presents a great opportunity to scour a vast area for placer gold and a high likelihood of finding sizable nuggets for anyone using a metal detector. Numerous gold-bearing gulches and washes abound in this expansive land on the eastern part of the White Hills, about 60 miles from Kingman on Highway 93. Located about 10 miles south of Lake Mead in Mohave County, Arizona, this basin extends for about six miles in length from the White Hills all the way to Hualapai Wash.
The first gold discoveries in the area were made in the 1870s with most of the deposits occurring in both placer and lode forms. Drywashers have been used extensively in this area due to the limited supply of water. However, with modern metal detectors, prospectors can have a fruitful expedition scanning the countryside.
Gold Basin gives way to the placer gold of the Lost Basin Range that stretches up to Grapevine Wash. The most significant gold mines in the Gold Basin were the OK and El Dorado mines. This area remains a popular destination for prospectors intent on exploring a large area administered by the Bureau of Land Management.
Read more about the Gold Basin Mining District
El Dorado Canyon
El Dorado Canyon, which drains into the Colorado River near Nelson, started producing placer gold as early as 1857. The larger area consisting of the Eldorado Mountains was especially productive in both lode and placer deposits.
The gravels in the El Dorado Canyon down to the bars on the Colorado River have produced placer gold consistently albeit in small quantities compared to other areas around Lake Mead. Most of this gold originates in lode mines around Nelson and the bulk of total production in the canyon was done in the 1930s.
Colorado River Placers
Many locations along the Colorado River have recorded substantial amounts of placer gold. Most of the gold recovered from this river may be originating from gold-bearing lodes found in the nearby regions.
Some of the areas include:
The gravel bars at Temple Bar on the north shore of Lake Mead have produced placer gold in varying quantities. Mostly occurring as fine gold, the deposits were found on both sides of the river. Although these gravel bars were inundated by the waters of Lake Mead, such deposits can still be found as one moves inland from the river’s shoreline.
Unlike the fine gold at Temple Bar, the gravel bars around Willow Beach have produced slightly coarser placer gold. The bars cover a large area that can be productive for prospectors.
The locality that produced some gold is found about 2 miles north of Pyramid Rock. The area is inundated by the waters of Lake Mohave but can be accessed when the waters recede due to drought.
Eldorado Canyon Sand Bars
Some fine gold was recovered from the sand bars of the Colorado River directly opposite Eldorado Canyon. The high waters may be a hindrance but the Arizona side of the river can be productive.
**It’s important to note that some of the areas and mines mentioned here may be within the Lake Mead National Recreation Area which is managed by the National Park Service. This recreation area does not permit prospecting for either recreational or educational purposes and violators are subject to criminal penalties.**
However, numerous areas near Lake Mead offer opportunities for gold prospecting although some caution must be taken not to encroach on private property unless permission is granted by the owner. Make sure you do your research and figure out where you can legally prospect without getting into trouble. There are still many public lands open to prospecting where you can find gold.