Thursday, April 23, 2009

Wolfenstein article

I've been working on Intel's Visual Adrenaline magazine. Here's a piece I finished about the new Wolfenstein game:

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Mining the Internet – Mother Lode 2009

California’s famed Mother Lode district is one of the easiest gold mining areas to research using Internet tools. For the last ten years I’ve written annual columns on the Mother Lode, and each year the online information gets better.

Before going further, let me reiterate the three main tools all electronic prospectors should have access to:
1. Google Earth, the free program that lets you zoom in and out on aerial photographs, provides GPS coordinates, shows roads and highways for an area, and provides ground cover information. Download Google Earth at
2. GeoCommunicator, otherwise known as the Bureau of Land Management’s LR-2000 online mining claims database. The claims information is invaluable, and as an extra bonus you can set the base map to be a topographic map. You can also find information about abandoned claims. Go to and click on the mining claim map.
3. Minerals Database, the online source that lists locales and the material found there. Go to

Although long-time readers will notice a few duplicates in the list below, we have a lot of new members who may not be familiar with all the resources available. So I’m going to stick with a complete list of my favorite web pages. I’ve divided the links into four main areas: history, geology, prospecting, and tourism.

Highway 49
This has always been one of my favorite web pages for the Mother Lode area. The page is commercial in nature, with a big business directory, but it has a decent map and a lot of content. There are links to historic photographs, including James Wilson Marshall, whose work on Sutter’s mill sparked the initial rush into California.

Gold Rush stories
Don Baumgart has amassed a nice collection of short tales from the Gold Rush days. He covers topics such as the end of hydraulicking, the use of mercury, high-grading, and mine salting. Here’s an excerpt from his tale about early reports from the gold fields:
“One eastern newspaper writer claimed mining gold in California took no skill at all. ‘The workman takes any spot of ground or bank he fancies, sticks his pick or shovel at random, fills his basin, makes for the water, and soon sees the glittering results of his labor.’
If only it were that easy! Perhaps the newspaper stories were sparked by stories such as this one, which Baumgart relates from the days just after Marshall’s initial discovery, when he was still trying to keep news of the discovery from leaking out:
“The men were unsure how big the gold strike was and were reluctant to give up their well-paying jobs to go prospecting full time. ‘...but when Sunday came, down into the tail race we would go. No other place seemed to strike us so favorable, and there we would pick and crevice with our jack and butcher knives, and we hardly ever failed to get three to eight dollars each and sometimes more.’"

Gold Rush History
This is an excellent, comprehensive site that defies easy labels. There is plenty of historical information, references to old towns and mines, discussions about mining methods, and lots more. One thing that helped was where the important names are spelled out for easy pronunciation. For example, if you’ve ever stumbled over the word “placer” this is what you should remember:

Placer - plass' er; American Spanish: gravel or sand deposits containing precious metal deposits.

Or here’s another tongue-twister:
Tuolumne ~ too-all'-um-nee; Miwok Indian: Stone Houses

My personal favorite for geology information about the Mother Lode is still Andrew Alden’s About Geology web page. He has plenty of links for maps, discussions, articles, treatises, etc. Let me warn you up front – his site is addicting if you have even a hint of an interest in geology. There is so much content here, it will take you a long time to exhaust all the possibilities.

California State Mining and Mineral Museum
I was expecting more pictures about the exhibits here, but this may be a place better visited in person than online. I’ll quote from the front page: “You are invited to discover for yourself California’s mineral wealth, colorful history and geologic diversity as you view the official mineral collection of the state of California. The collection, which began in 1880, contains over 13,000 objects including mining artifacts, rare specimens of crystalline gold in its many forms, as well as beautiful gem and mineral specimens from California and around the world. The collection was moved to Mariposa in 1983 after residing in San Francisco for over 100 years. The museum became a state park in 1999.”

I found a link to the museum with pictures: There is a photograph of an outstanding platinum nugget from the Trinity River area, plus a nice shot of crystalline gold.

California Department of Geology
There are two excellent documents on this page: “Hints for Gold Prospectors” and “Placer Gold Recovery Methods.” Each is an Adobe PDF file, easy to download. There are drawings, maps, and more information. I also like the Map of California Active Gold Mines and the Map of California Historic Gold Mines, two more PDFs. In addition, there are links to the publications database, a page for ordering reports and maps, and a database of reclaimed mining properties.


Chris’ Gold Prospecting Encyclopedia
This is a great new page for me, and well worth your time. Chris has a degree in mining engineering and spent the early years of his career as the geologist for underground and heap-leaching operations. His site has information on prospecting, metal detecting, build-your-own equipment, and lots more.

California Gold Maps
These maps come in very handy before heading out to the gold fields for your next visit. Here’s a quick tease from the webmaster: “The largest true California gold nugget weighed 54 pounds. A 195 pound mass was also found. The 6,600 gold deposit sites shown on our six California gold prospecting and panning maps are continuous from Mexico to Oregon and to the Arizona and Nevada state lines. All gold sites on the prospecting and panning maps are from official records.”

This page has good information about publicly accessibly gold panning areas. If you’re unfamiliar with California’s Mother Lode area, the site gets you started with this snip:

“Gold was first discovered by the Spaniards as early as the 1500s, but mining operations did not begin until the 1780s along the Colorado River. Gold was next discovered in the San Gabriel River (near Los Angeles), San Francisco, Palo Alto, Santa Clara, San Jose, and Santa Cruz by Mexican prospectors who kept these finds secret. Of course, gold was then found at the infamous Sutter's Mill near Sacramento in 1848 and made headlines worldwide. The ensuing great California Gold Rush spawned massive gold discoveries in 40 counties. The richest, Tuolumne County, boasts 8 million troy ounces of gold taken since then.”

Some of the sites listed by Treasurefish are off-limits to dredging, so think of them as “beginner” spots. GPAA members have access to much better areas thanks to the locales listed in the Claims Guide.

Whipple Well
Here’s a site I haven’t seen before, dedicated to not only mining but also metal detecting. The database includes information about old population centers, mines, cemeteries, and more. Warning: the music on the opening page can be annoying to some folks.

Whenever I’m planning to visit a new area or state that I’m not familiar with, I spend a little time poring over the sites dedicated to tourism. I’ve found that much of the information is geared toward visitors, and I can get an idea of which towns have services, such as gas stations. That can come in handy when you look at a map and see a small crossroads halfway between two points, where you hope you can fill your tank. Sometimes those promising points on a map can succumb to economic forces, dry up, and blow away.

For general information about the Mother Lode country, try the Wikipedia page. The site boasts lots of additional links for newcomers, and can help to prepare you for in-depth research.

Virtual Guidebook
This site is a collection of photographs, and breaks down by county for quick searching. If you were concentrating on Placer County, for example, you could quickly zoom in on that spot. I always like to see what a place looks like before I visit, just to get a mental image of how crowded it might be or how developed the land is. Sites like this are a lot of help if you are traveling long distances for your first trip to a spot.

Nevada City Chamber of Commerce
As an example of what you can expect from a good web page run by a chamber of commerce, check out Nevada City. For example, the site points to some gold panning locales: “Some of the most accessible gold panning locations are on the South Yuba River at Bridgeport, Edwards Crossing and Washington, and on the Middle Yuba River at Oregon Creek. These are public stretches of river so you don’t have to worry about claim-jumping.”
Here’s a helpful spot for more recreational opportunities. The page is a list of links for additional information, on a county-by-county basis and more. I list it here because I have to keep reminding myself that not everyone prospects like I do – constantly on the move. I like to hit a lot of sites in a day if I’ve never been to an area, and it’s hard for me to sit still. For example, I’ve long had it in my head that it would be great to visit all the GPAA claims in the guide book. I don’t usually end up in a campground, either – I like to camp on the claim if at all possible. But some of you may be planning a trip to the Mother Lode as a family vacation, and you’re going to want to toss in everything from a trip to Yosemite to a stop at a winery. So tourism links are crucial to maximizing your family fun.

Researching a trip into California’s Mother Lode country is a lot easier thanks to the avalanche of information available on the Internet. Whether you are dredging, panning, sluicing, or metal detecting, you should be able to narrow the odds considerably if you have enough time to study your options carefully. Whether you are doing additional research to determine which of the GPAA claims in the Mother Lode area to visit first, or you want more details about a spot off the beaten track that appeals to you, the links here should open the right doors to get you going.


Garret Romaine has been writing “Mining the Internet” for 12 years. In 2007 he completed his first book, Gem Trails of Washington, and in January 2009, his rewrite of Gem Trails of Oregon was published. His next book, Rockhounding Idaho, is scheduled for publication in 2010. He can be reached at