Modern Day Prospectors Search For Gold In Sierra

CBS San Francisco
CBC San FranciscoJune 6, 2011

NEVADA COUNTY (CBS 5) — The price of gold is at historic highs. While the precious metal is hard to find, modern day prospectors are combing the Sierra Nevada.

The original 49ers mined much of it, but a cache of gold remains in the South Yuba River in Nevada County. Last year, one man found a huge clump. It's called the Washington Nugget and it weighed in at 100 ounces.

Geologist Fred Holabird helped auction the Washington Nugget. He said because it's a rare find, it sold for $400,000. That is more than twice the market rate for gold, which is already at a record high.

Watch the video report.

Not likely since the Gold Rush of the 1850s, hydraulic mining stripped the area known as Malakoff Diggins, now a state park.

A few miles up the channel, one man found the Washington Nugget on his property. The owner has hid his face or name to avoid modern day claim jumpers. Contrary to rumors, he told CBS 5 that he did not sleep with the nugget, but kept it close at hand.

How did the owner find what could be the biggest gold treasure in modern California history? Detectorist Michael Minotti uses a customized deep seeking metal detector, similar to what helped find the Washington Nugget.

The lure of gold had Minotti scouring the same area where the Washington Nugget was found. He said his metal detector had some very strong signals that could mean more buried treasure.

While the lure of finding gold may draw more to the Mother Lode, it's not that easy. These modern day prospectors spent years poring over historic materials and searching for geologic clues. The man who found the Washington Nugget said it also takes some luck.

Photo caption: The Washington Nugget weighs 100 ounces and was found by a prospector in Nevada County in 2010. (CBS)