by Gary Baldridge
First, let me say that Eldorado Canyon is what we call this area, but it’s not the real name. It’s a piece of private property where we have permission to metal detect; I do not want to start another gold rush! The property is located in Mariposa County, California, and all the gold in the pictures came out of an area the size of two football fields.
Second, I want to thank Jim Straight. I met him a couple of years ago at a hunt sponsored by the Antelope Valley Treasure Hunters in Lancaster, California. Jim has been my friend every since. I’ve read his books on nugget hunting, and followed his advice. My wife, Dorthy, and I spent hours in a restaurant, drinking coffee and talking with Jim—he has a lot of knowledge to pass on. Jim’s books gave me the knowledge necessary to find this left over gold in Eldorado Canyon.
Mariposa has a very rich history. John C. Fremont had his famous frying pan land grant here, the Pinetree Mine, overlooking the Merced River, and a mill at Bagby on the Merced River. Mariposa is also home to the Princeton Mine and the Mt. Orphir Mint. This all spells mother lode gold to today’s detectorist or prospector.
Gold is still being found in Mariposa, mostly placer gold and some specimen crystallized gold. The crystallized gold is what I’m finding in Eldorado Canyon.
The old miners must have just moved on and left it laying there for me to find. I can only imagine what they were getting if they left these specimens behind.
I have been in Eldorado Canyon many times before, but I was using my coin detector, looking for coins from the boom days of the mining camps. I found a few coins, mostly worn and not worth much. But coins are a part of history, and I love history. I enjoy the challenge of the hunt, and of finding something no one has held in their hand for over a hundred years. This keeps me going back to the places I detect.
I was mostly a coin and jewelry hunter for many years, hunting the beaches near Monterey, California, where my uncle Allen Cooksey and best friend Jim Owens live. They are both business owners so they have to work all week, but they find time to detect on weekends. I have it a little better—I’m medically retired from long-haul truck driving. This is not by choice, but the government won’t let you drive eighteen-wheelers after five heart attacks in three years.
I metal detect when I’m physically able. My doctor said I should get out of the house for a while for exercise and piece of mind.
Jim Straight and I agree that to find gold you need knowledge, persistence, a decent gold detector, and a little luck. If nothing else, I’m persistent—just ask Dorthy.
Last year I decided to go to Eldorado Canyon after purchasing my new detector. I’d been to the Mojave Desert on club claims a couple of times, but I found only two small one-gram nuggets. It was disappointing, because Allen and Jim were finding quite a few small ones. Eldorado Canyon was a different story.
I detected all day. It was getting late, and I decided to try one more area—boy, what a great decision! My first nugget was 7-pennyweight crystalline gold. I quickly found another 3-pennyweight nugget. It was getting dark, so I headed the two miles back to my home. I couldn’t wait to show my wife. As I entered the house, Dorthy said, “Well, did you find anything?” Dorthy knew I had found of couple of coins previously. I told her to hold out her hand and I dropped the smaller nugget in it. “Oh, you found gold!” she said. Then I put the 7-pennyweight nugget in her hand and she couldn’t believe it.
I had followed Jim Straight’s recipe for success in nugget hunting—I looked where the miners had mined.
I called Allen and Jim Owens later that night and told them to come join me the following weekend. Allen arrived on Saturday, but Jim couldn’t make it—but he sure wished he had.
Allen was speechless when he saw what I had found. He couldn’t wait to get out there. When we arrived, I quickly showed him the spot where I had found the nuggets. We ground-balanced our detectors and started hunting. Allen quickly got his first nugget, then another. I was also finding more nuggets.
Allen found nine that weekend and I found four. I have to tell you that it’s a good thing men don’t wear lipstick, because we were both smiling so big we would’ve had it on both ears!
Jim and Allen both came up the following weekend. Allen and I found several more nuggets, but poor Jim came up empty. We didn’t feel sorry for Jim, because he has had more than his share of luck. He’s found hundred dollar bills while metal detecting on the beach. He once found a rare five-dollar, private mint gold piece, under a piece of driftwood. “Poor Jim” received $45,000 at auction for that one piece!
Jim’s luck came through on a Friday, when he took time off work to join me. All day long I found three-, four-, and five-pennyweight nuggets. I found five nuggets in about four hours and I was rubbing it in.
I was using an $800 detector, and Jim’s was worth about $3,000. It’s not how much your equipment costs, but how well you know it and use it. Just as the day was coming to an end, Jim found two nuggets, including one about 17-pennyweight of rose quartz laced with gold. Jim wasn’t skunked after all—it was a beautiful nugget!
Allen had another great day when he found a solid gold nugget that weighed just short of one ounce, and Jim also found a really nice specimen of ribbon gold.
Some, but not all of the gold found by Gary, Allen and Jim, including a piece of ribbon gold (above right).
I have personally found 56 nuggets in Eldorado Canyon. Allen has found about 40, and Jim doesn’t keep count. We have dug up and removed over 50 pounds of trash, including bullets, casings, nails, tin cans, and other miscellaneous metal trash, along with about a pound of gold.
The gold in Eldorado Canyon is getting a lot harder to come by, but I will never give up. I will continue to hunt and metal detect until my body will no longer allow it. Everyone dreams of finding lost treasure, gold, diamond rings, and gold coins. I’ve found them all in my lifetime, but consider Eldorado Canyon the best treasure yet.
Metal detecting has given me much enjoyment, but most importantly some great friends and peace of mind. Sometimes the real treasure is not in the ground, but rather the company you keep. Good luck at finding your own Eldorado Canyon.
Gary Baldridge has lived in Mariposa County for about 15 years, and he’s been prospecting and detecting for about 35 years. All photos are courtesy of Gary Baldridge.
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