Panning for Gold

Ready to take a leap back in time‚ and maybe come away with your own treasure? Gold panning is a ton of fun. People of all ages can do it and it's a great way to learn about geology, take a hands-on tour of the past, or just enjoy being out in nature. With the prospect of actual gold as a reward, who can resist the allure of gold panning?

In California's gold country, Southern Alaska, or Canada's Yukon Territory, it's easy to find gold pans for sale. Just head to a hardware store and ask for a pan that has bars or slats in the bottom (known as ‚ "riffles‚") and a catch hole for splitting off the heavier particles. Plastic pans are great, especially for kids, since they're lighter than old-fashioned metal pans. But if you want an authentic experience, get the oldest-looking metal pan you can find.

You'll also need a few plastic pill vials and tweezers or an eyedropper. A shovel is handy, but optional. Wear clothes that you can get wet and muddy, and a pair of old tennis shoes for wading.

Once you have your equipment, stop at your nearest park ranger's office or tourism office for suggestions on where to do your gold panning. Many National Forests permit panning, and rangers may even be able to point you to popular spots along rivers and streams.

Look for a place where the water slows down near sandbars, large rocks, or bends in the river. Gold and other sediments are likely to accumulate here, so it's a good place to try panning. Be sure to watch your kids around the river, since the current may be swifter than it looks.

With your hand or shovel, scoop sand from the side of the creek into your pan, filling it nearly to the top. Dip your pan edge into the creek to fill it with water, then start swirling. Heavier rocks‚ and minerals like gold‚ will settle to the bottom. As you swirl the pan faster, water and sand will fling out the sides. Add a little more water if you want and swirl again. The more you get rid of sand and other unwanted sediment, the closer you'll come to what you do want, the heavier rocks and possible gold at the bottom of the pan. You can also use your hand to scrape sand off the top of your pan.

Keep adding water and swirling until your pan is nearly empty. Take it to the bank of the river and take a good look. If you're lucky, you'll find flecks of gold at the bottom. Use your tweezers or eyedropper to pull the gold out and store it in your plastic vials. When you fill your pan the second time, take sand from a different level (higher or lower on the river bank than where you dug before), so you can get a sense of what stratum has the most gold in it.

Just like that, you're prospecting for gold!
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