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13 August 2009 

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Americans Still Seeking Gold in California

13 August 2009

A pan containing gold found by prospectors in California
A pan containing gold found by prospectors in California
The U.S. economy may be weak but the price of gold has remained strong and is prompting many Americans to seek gold in the western U.S. state of California, scene of a famous gold rush that began in 1848. But some of these new prospectors aren't dreaming of striking it rich. So what are they searching for in those ice-cold streams?

The San Gabriel River is only about a one-hour drive from Los Angeles. Fed by melting snow from the mountains upstream, the bone-piercingly cold water would be enough to keep most travelers safely on the bank. However, it isn't cold enough to stop a new wave of gold fever. Even though many years have passed since the first California gold rush, the San Gabriel, which was a major mining hotspot at the time, is still attracting prospectors. Some visitors are just there for fun.

Nick brought his son to have fun - and learn a little history. "He's a fourth grader and they're studying the gold rush in school, so he wanted to go panning for gold," Nick said.

"Well, we looked in this book and I was just a little bit interested. It said that there was gold here and I was thinking about going here with my friends. So we went here and we thought that we might have a chance to find some gold. Well, it's pretty fun looking at the river and just getting all the rocks," his son explained.

There are also some so-called weekend warriors, people who have other jobs and search for gold in their free time.

Dan, a cabinet maker who prospects for gold on weekends
Dan, a cabinet maker who prospects for gold on weekends
Dan is a cabinet maker who reports to the river bank every Saturday. "Well, you start a little slow with the gold pan, and then you get the little box, the sluice box. And then you realize that to find more gold you have to move more dirt, so then you go to the machines, and the machines do the work for you," he said.

Lester has been at it for 17 years. He says he taught Dan how to prospect, and like his student, is a weekend warrior -- doing it for fun, not money. "You will not survive [prospecting gold for a living]. There's just a little, you can't even buy your gas," said Lester.

But some are here for the money. Kevin, 39, is a Hollywood lighting technician who has been out of work for months. "It's turned into a way to make extra cash and keep food on the table," he said.

Kevin and his partner found several pounds of gold after excavating sandstone deposits.

But that happy feeling comes at a steep price. Kevin spends 10 hours a day in the water using a tube to suck up the gravel and stone from the riverbed. Everything that's sucked up goes into what's called a rocker box. The sand is washed away and the heavier rocks and gold remain in the trough.

But few people have found enough to retire. Bernie has been prospecting for 21 years and is known as the "Mayor of the San Gabriel Valley." Today, he still lives in a trailer. "I have yet to see in this area someone make a living by prospecting," he said.

So what are these modern-day prospectors really in search of? "I love the river, it's the best. I come at 5 o'clock in the morning every Saturday. I come up the mountain, wait for the sun to rise, It's beautiful. Me, God and the river," said Dan.


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