We decided on taking a road trip rather than flying somewhere since the security at the airports is now such a hassle, my wife hates boats so cruises are out so the car was our chosen means of travel. We do have a large luxury car and the fuel mileage is over 23 miles per gallon and is really comfortable on long drives. We have some relatives in Louisiana and decided that we would head there from New York State and make as many stops as we wanted along the way. No schedules, no appointments, no flight schedules just drive until we were tired and then pick a place to sight see.
We left home on an early Tuesday morning in late June and headed West across Pennsylvania on Route 84. This has to be most boring road to drive on Earth. Miles and miles of bumpy concrete with nothing to see except trees. I love trees but after six hours or so of looking at them they can become pretty boring. Turning South on Route 81 the scenery started to change for the better. Different type trees, the mountain landscapes and less traffic made the drive so much the better. Before leaving on our trip we researched the locations of every gold mine we could find in the South and Southeastern states. There are far more than you would think. North and South Carolina, Georgia, and Tennessee all have many places to visit. Many places have gem stone mining sites where for a fee you can dig your own dirt or have them do it for you. You can then take a seat at a water sluice way to pan the gems from your dirt.
Panning appears so simple but in fact needs to be practiced over and over to learn how to do it correctly. Pans come made in both metal and plastic and some have more ridges or "riffles" than others but whatever type suits your taste and budget is fine. You forts gather a small amount of dirt in the pan and then scoop some clean water into the pan as well. Using both hands you swirl the pan in a circular motion to get the water and dirt to mix and slush around the inside of the pan. You may then pick out any large rocks that are not gold or other collectible stone (opal,emerald, etc.) and then continue to swirl the material in pan. As you work the larger materials will separate themselves and can be flushed out of the pan with more clean water.
Always being careful not to wash away the balk sand that is the best indicator of there being gold present. Little by little you will eliminate everything from the pan except larger pieces of gold (you hope) called clinkers, pickers and so on and the black sand containing the smaller gold pieces. Very carefully you swirl the black sand with some water and the gold flakes or flower gold will separate from the sand as it is heavier and fall to the bottom of the pan. The sand will end up on side of the pan and the gold on the other. Using a sniffer bottle with a small end tip, you carefully suck the flower gold into the bottle. Then again very carefully pour the sniffer bottle contents into a gold collection vial or bottle. The gold will settle to the bottom along with any sand you accidentally sucked up. Once you attain a large of gold/sand mix you can then re-pan if there is excessive sand or take it to your gemologist or assay office to be processed and weighed. If you have a postal scale find something that weights just exactly one ounce. See how small and lightweight it is? One single ounce of gold currently is worth about $1400. Granted it takes a great deal of work to gather an ounce of flower gold but one or two "pickers" can bring the weight up really fast.
You may find while panning, Opals, Garnets, Emeralds, Tourmaline's plus many other precious and semi-precious stones. We have one Emerald cluster that weighs over a pound. I found it at the Emerald Hollow Mine in Hiddenite, North Carolina. It will some day go to a gemologist to clean and cut some stones for us. Many of the other stones we found were made into bracelets or necklaces and are now keepsakes. Smokey Quartz, Yellow Citrine, Aquamarines and sapphires can be found at most mine sites in that area.
The very best mining for me was for gold itself. Yeah real yellow gold. Nuggets, flakes and flower gold all are a thrill to find in your pan. A gold mining pan costs about $15 and all you need is a small vial and a snuffer bottle to pickup the flower gold and store all the gold you find. The first piece you find is a real kick and then you want to find more, and more, and more. You will quickly see why many people got hooked on gold prospecting. One of the best places we visited was the town of Delonga, Georgia. Listed as a gold mining area, there is a great museum right in the center of town that has a football sized gold nugget on display. in fact, Delonga, Georgia was the gold rush area of the U.S. before there was a California Gold rush in 1848. They claim there are still millions of dollars in gold left in Delonga to be found and I did manage to find myself some before I left. If you are lucky enough to go there, there are plenty of places to go mine or just sit at a sluice way and pan what they dig for you. We spent some nice enjoyable hours gathering our loot and even if you do not later turn it into jewelry, just looking at the stones will bring back good memories. Make sure you have a camera with you. There is a fantastic store across the plaza on the corner from the museum and I cannot for the life of me remember it's name but they have a huge selection of memorabilia and other great antiques. I did buy some Octagon brand soap bars which I have not seen in fifty years. Plan to spend at least a full day in and around Delonga.
Be sure to bring some old clothes that you don't mind getting dirty and for sure some comfortable shoes. We found the local hotels more than comfortable and affordable. Each day we would search the internet to find the next closest mine location and then head there. We saw some of the most gorgeous, off the beaten track scenery, small towns, and mountain vistas you can imagine. Each mine site offered something a little different. Some were slick operations that we were not quite sure were not "salting" the soil and others that had pot holed roads, old wooden benches and an old timer willing to tell of his gold prospecting adventures. We got some gold at almost every one and the fees were pretty much the same at $10 for a full five gallon pail of dirt. It takes a while to pan that much dirt so don't go crazy and buy the fifty-five gallon drum right away.
It would take you eight hours to pan that much soil. If you could keep your hands in freezing cold mountain stream water for that long that is. On a three week trip we visited over twenty gold mining sites. Like I said, some good, some bad but all were an adventure. I take the two small vials out of the jewelry box once in a while to just take a look at my raw gold. We also did the Nashville honky tonk scene, Luray Caverns in Luray, VA and The Biltmore Estate in Asheville, N. Carolina. The gardens and grounds at Biltmore are stunning and are well worth the trip. Not having a set schedule each day made the trip very enjoyable. We lingered in Nashville an extra day to sight see and then on to Memphis to see Elvis and then to Tunica, Mississippi to try our luck at their casinos. (My wife won all our gas money back). This summer we are planing a trip to Murfreesboro, TN to the Crater of Diamonds state park to mine for diamonds. We have no idea where we will end up but you can be sure we will see more of the great things America has to offer and be our own little stimulus package as we travel.