On a recent Colorado white water trip on the Arkansas River, I was shocked to see a couple of prospectors on the side of the river. They had long, scraggly beards and overalls. If it weren’t for the power generator operating their sluice and trucker hat that one of them wore, I’d swear I was transported to the late 1800’s! Either that, or I was on some Disney float ride. Nope! It was 2014 and the float ride I signed up for didn’t include historic reenactments for tourists.
Turns out, prospecting has made a quiet return to the mountain states. Popularity is up for a variety of reasons. Mostly it’s economics. Since the recession of 2008, people have been looking for ways to supplement their income. The Gold Prospectors Club of Colorado has seen a 300% plus increase in their membership since 2008. Also, the price of gold is at historically high levels. It’s not just gold. The “precious” metals include rare minerals used in our laptop computers and cell phones. Even my recluse, mountain man cousin from Crested Butte is getting in on the action. “Are you going to mine gold?” I asked. “Naw, there’s more valuable stuff than gold in there,” he scoffed. He recently purchased an old mining claim and is planning his extraction strategy to reap a crop of new metals that weren’t valued during the last boom. “Maybe some silver too,” he added.
Another reason for the prospecting popularity is television. Hobbies nowadays get a scintillating makeover as reality television. The reality show “Prospectors” generated a lot of buzz about prospectors turned millionaires overnight. The problem is, most of the prospectors were doing it illegally. You can pan for gold just about anywhere without a permit on public lands (or your own land). You have to have a valid permit if you use any machinery/devices. More importantly, you want to avoid any environmental damage. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has a great FAQ site that answers most questions for the prospective prospector. It’s a good idea to check with your state’s mining office first. Colorado has the Colorado Division of Mining, Reclamation and Safety.
Mother Nature has added another twist to the excitement. Global warming and the recent floods in Colorado in 2013 spurred a rush of prospectors. Flooding has a great way of flushing out gold sediments.
As a hiker, you’ve seen your fair share of old, dilapidated mining cabins along the trail. They are quaint and seem to fit with the desolate surroundings. Don’t be surprised now to find some modern prospectors parking at the trailhead with you. This trend may be around for a little while. To escape them…just climb higher.