A New Rush to Find Gold in the Sierra Nevada Foothills
by Thomas Fuller
In their lust for riches, the miners of the gold rush moved a gargantuan amount of dirt. A prominent geologist, Grove Karl Gilbert, calculated in the early 1900s that miners in the Sierra Nevada had displaced eight times the amount of dirt and detritus that was moved to build the Panama Canal.
Most of what those miners displaced was broken loose from the landscape by spraying hillsides with powerful water cannons. The human-made mudslides that resulted were directed through troughs known as sluices, which had grooves to catch flakes and nuggets of gold.
This seminal chapter in California’s history came up a number of times during two trips I took to Gold Country in recent weeks. Fortune seekers, geologists and amateur prospectors compared the past winter’s deluges to the water cannons of yore.
The chain of atmospheric rivers that Californians endured had many consequences: It filled reservoirs, flooded valleys, spurred a super bloom of wildflowers, and extended the ski season into summer.
And, as it turns out, the rain brought a measure of gold fever back to the foothills of the Sierra. In an article published over the weekend, I explored the small but dedicated corps of fortune seekers who said they had seen conditions like this only a few other times in their lives.