The New California Gold Rush

Modern-day gold diggers party like it's 1849

By Chuck Henry and Tara Wallis-Finestone
|  Thursday, May 27, 2010  |  Updated 10:20 AM PDT
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Gold in That Thar River

"Some days you sit here an make two cents. Some days you make a couple of hundred dollars. I had one good day and made about $10,000,” said one prospector.

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Some California entrepreneurs are searching for gold.

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Within an hour of downtown Los Angeles, people are seeking that one sure commodity.

"I'm here to find gold," said Kevin Brown. "I'm a studio lighting technician in Hollywood, between the writers strike that happened last year, and the Screen Actors Guild, whatever they want to call it. Lately I've had to turn to having to do it for extra cash."

Geologists estimate that during the gold rush of 1849 in California, about 80 percent of the gold was never found. Today, with the price of gold soaring and the economy falling, the idea of panning, digging or diving for precious metal has become serious business.

"There's definitely gold nuggets down in the bottom here," Brown said. "Just a matter of getting 30 feet down lower than any old timer or modern prospector has done."

And, for people willing to put in the effort, it's paying off.
 
"I just wanted a little California gold. That's all I initially started at," said David Perkins, an unemployed aerospace worker from the South Bay. "And, one thing led to another, and within my first year, I actually picked up close to two pounds of gold."

Where's the best place to find gold? In the Mother Lode country just east of Modesto, Calif., experts say.
 
But prospecting is not easy money. It takes time and a lot of hard work. John Gurney, who came out to California from the East Coast to find gold, was able to pull out about $35,000 worth of gold nuggets over a couple of months. Then there was a dry spell -- and now, John is at it again.

"Some days you sit here and make two cents. Some days you make a couple of hundred dollars. I had one good day and made about $10,000," Gurney said.

This was another one of those good days. Gurney was able to recover several hundred dollars in gold nuggets from the river. And, after running the dirt through a sluice, he took the rest down to the river and sifted out the gold.

"See these two pieces," said Gurney. "They're just sitting right there."
 
California's second gold rush has also created at least one recession-proof business.

Keene Engineering of Chatsworth, Calif., makes the equipment you need to find gold -- from plastic pans to large commercial rigs. The owners say their business has doubled.
 
"There are hundreds of people coming in here to buy gold pans and sluice boxes, and take their chances of finding gold in the local hills and mountains," said sales manager Patrick Keene. "There is a whole new flood of prospectors and miners."
 
Gold also is found in Southern California along riverbanks in the San Gabriel Mountains. One hot spot is a canyon above Azusa, where the road is often lined with campers.

"Back in my childhood, I use to come up quite a bit with my parents," said David Perkins. "But not until I was in my early 20s did I know that gold was in the river. There aren't many places like this. Once more people find out about it, it's going to get really crowded up here this year."

When asked if prospectors give out the location of a really good find, Perkins responded, "If we're sitting on a good spot with good gold, we're going to tell you to go about a mile down the river and that's where you're going to find the gold."

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