Recent flooding in California only goes to show that one man’s downpour can be another’s windfall, for floodwaters that have resurrected the Tulare River and immersed its namesake town in the San Joaquin Valley have loosed gold-bearing sand and soil elsewhere in the state.
The 1848–55 Gold Rush brought a flood of some 300,000 hopefuls to what on Sept. 9, 1850, joined the Union as our 31st state. The gold panned from streams and picked from hillsides then spawned fortunes worth tens of billions in today’s dollars, though precious few individuals came away with more than a pocketful of dust.
While there’s always been “gold in them thar hills,” more recent prospectors are usually content if able to foot their expenses with what they pan in a weekend. That is, until the onset what some are deeming “Gold Rush 2.0.”
Heavy rains have mimicked the slope-denuding power of hydraulic mining, releasing ore-rich soil from the banks of rivers and creeks throughout the Golden State. The conditions are ripe for, if not a full-fledged rush, then at least stepped-up weekend panning by locals and out-of-staters alike.
While a morning’s worth of digging might yield only a few hundred dollars in ore, that certainly beats the average hourly wage. As with the original gold rush, though, local merchants are the ones who will really clean up from the influx.
In a recent interview with NPR, Placerville hardware store owner Albert Fausel could hardly contain his excitement. “I’ve got people from New York coming over,” he said. “I’ve got people from San Francisco just taking a day trip up here. People from even Idaho coming down here.” Among the hammers, saws, nails and screws on his shelves Fausel stocks various mining equipment.
“It’s not as easy as it looks,” the hardware store owner cautions. “But some people do get lucky on their first try. And I think you could, you know, find that pocket of gold, or you could hit that vein, or you could even maybe hit some lost artifact, like a $20 gold piece that a miner dropped out of his pocket.”
Stranger things have happened—especially in California.