(KSEE) – Like most rivers in California, the Fresno River is full of water this year, but it’s also full of gold.
The sounds of prospectors and equipment echo, and they have penetrated canyon walls for more than 100 years. Hidden between the rocks and rapids of the swollen stream lay the hope of fortune that drew thousands to California over a century ago.
“Oakhurst and Coarsegold – those names are there for a reason,” said Mark White as he dug through heavy soils beneath the rushing waters.
California’s Highway 49, that winds its way through the heart of California’s gold country, begins in Oakhurst – just up the road from the claim White and his fellow group of prospectors set up shop for the day’s work. Just talk with White for a few minutes and you’ll get the idea of what brings people out to these rivers. He’s the president of the Central Valley Prospectors, a Fresno-based group of people with one thing in common – after their day jobs are done, gold fever kicks in.
For White, gold is in his blood. His father, after spending one summer in Alaska, has the inside scoop from a local on where to strike it rich – pulling out 72 pounds of gold in just a few short months. “That’s incredibly rare – stunningly rare,” White said. “You only hear about that in urban legends, and it ends up being your dad.”
White invited Eyewitness News to join them in the hunt at the group’s claim in the rugged foothills of Madera County. “That’s gold,” said Angie Paul, who was excited after seeing some gold in her pan.
These weekend prospectors seem to have an extra shimmer in their eyes this year saying it could be the beginnings of a new California gold rush. “It has a high quality of gold that was recovered through the years, and it still has it,” White said. “So when this big water comes through, it’s going to move it back down to the places they found it originally, and you could be first.”
As it turns out, this year’s drought-busting rain and snow has not only filled our reservoirs, but it could also fill your wallet. “The velocity of this water coming down is going to move these big boulders where that gold has been sitting maybe underneath that boulder,” said prospector Bob Paul. “So it’s going to break those boulders loose and break that gold loose that’s been hiding underneath there for years.”
White added, “All the water is pressing through the cracks and knocking stuff through as it flows.”
Mother Nature may have boosted your chances of hitting the motherload, but the process of finding gold takes equipment and a lot of patience – especially when most of what you’re looking for turns out to be fool’s gold. Having good equipment like a shovel, a sluice box and a pair of waders is really just the first step when getting out onto the river. You’ve got to be very careful because with such high water; these full rivers can be treacherous.
“I slipped and my chest waders caught the water and filled up, almost dragged me down the darn river,” Bob said. The same force that makes these rivers potentially so dangerous, is the force that’s tumbling boulders and exposing areas that prospectors in years past would have had no way of reaching. “It makes it kind of a game. You’re trying to beat Mother Nature where she’s hiding that gold at,” Bob said.
The challenge of finding what may just be a few flakes of gold, if any at all, after hours of work, is part of the appeal for prospectors like Bob, Angie and White. “Everything that glitters is not gold, Tarzan,” White said.
It takes a keen eye during every step of the process, as well as knowing exactly how not only the gold, but everything else around it filters out. “If you don’t set it up right, you’re not going to get the stream that you need,” Angie said. Hours of setup, digging through mounds of dirt – all for that Eureka moment.
“That little siren goes off in your head when you find it,” White said, “and gold fever starts right after that.”
Angie and Bob Paul joined the Central Valley Prospectors just a few years back – all as just a hobby. “We found two good sized nuggets – I guess you could say, and he made earrings out of it.” said Angie next to her husband Bob.
And just like his father, for White it’s more than just about the crisp mountain air, but that lingering idea that maybe, just maybe it could be him that cashes in on that next big nugget that keeps him coming back. “I didn’t really understand it until later,” White said, “so after I retired I thought, you know, I’m just going to go deal with it so I found this club, and you know I really enjoy it.”