Monday, May 19, 2008

Gold rush fever returns to the California hills

After almost 150 years, a new gold rush is seen in the US. With gold prices through the roof and and a recession looming a new breed of "49-ers" are on the move. With the discover of gold in California in 1848 over 300,000 people headed west to turn a tiny backwater destination into the new American Dream. Gone are the covered wagons and picks, the new 49-ers choose suction dredges and mobile homes but the spirit and the dream are the same.

"Too many people think there's gold just lying along the rivers waiting to be picked up," said "Klondike" Mike LaBox, a prospector for 50 years. "There's still vast amounts of gold out there but it's not as easy to get at as it was for the '49ers. Most of it's subterranean."

About 20 prospectors and their families were installed in their mobile homes at the Scott River mining camp this week, swapping gold stories and preparing for the onset of the sluicing season, which is timed to avoid disruption to fish spawning. There will probably be 50 prospectors there before the summer was out.

"What upsets me are the ones who are quitting their jobs to come out here with their families, spending thousands of dollars on equipment," said Mr LaBox. "Almost every day we have people stopping in looking for equipment and they have not a clue what they are buying. I just try to answer their questions. I don't try to discourage them – it's their lesson to be learned. Some will get very lucky and even make a few thousand dollars a day, but not for long. But the majority will have trouble even earning enough to pay for fuel for their equipment."

Gold has been found in all but two US states – Kentucky and Hawaii. But given that the first rule of prospecting is to look where large amounts have already been found, most of the interest has focused on California, Nevada and Arizona and Alaska.

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