If you have panned for gold in any part of the Sierra’s, you will well remember the rush of excitement when your pan showed a tail of black sand as you swirl your pan. Seeing this tail makes ones heart beat faster as you look harder for that elusive shine denoting gold flakes in your pan.
Many folks have had this kind of experience and the topic can be the center of conversation when a group gets into gold discussions and reminiscing of trips from the past.
I must admit that it does give one a rush.
Recently Jeri and I journeyed up to eastern Washington near Wenatchee Lake and the town of Plain. Our oldest son had recently purchased a summer home on the Wenatchee River, which flows from Wenatchee Lake to the Columbia River, which it meets near the city of Wenatchee.
Shortly after taking ownership of the property a group of booklets and Forest Service maps were found. The booklets provided some interesting reading and much useful information about what to look for and how to seek ones fortune.
The maps had been heavily used as shown with hand written notes and some quadrants had been checked off in pencil. Those being marked appeared to were locations where creeks and water sources were shown to start; all flowing down to the Wenatchee River itself.
Wow! Now I was starting to see a possible pattern and my enthusiasm was perking up and accelerating as we neared the town of Plain. It will be a real interest to see what the river will reveal; especially since I had packed my gold pans and extra tools into the truck with a twinkle in my eye.
After a couple of days chatting with family and friends, it was time to grab the gold panning equipment and head to the river.
The property backs onto the river itself and has a large island a short 15 to 20 feet from the river edge. The island is about 200 yards long and some 120 to 150 feet wide. The far side of the island borders the faster moving water for another 100+ feet before resting on the other bank of the river. This last bit of water moves rapidly enough to show small white capped waves along its surface. The earlier short stretch of water is very slow moving and well protected and shows a large number of pollywogs and salmon fingerlings.
A quick reconnoiter of the island shows it to be covered with river worn boulders of a 12 to 14” diameter. All boulders are well rounded suggesting they had traveled far to get here. Also, there were ten or so uprooted trees laying out there; root systems still attached. All appeared to have arrived a number of years ago and were quite dry.
A number of boulders showed books of mica to be breaking out of them and much sand was piled on the lee side of the downed trees where one would expect the flood waters to eddy and hopefully release any gold it may carry. OK. Now to get to work.
I selected one of the downed trees that seemed to have a nice pile of sand and started to use a hand shovel to fill my 5 gallon bucket. Did not fill it too much more than half full for fear it would be too heavy to carry to the waters edge.
Filled my 14” pan with sand and started the process; soon got down near the bottom of the pan and did not see any black sand. Did I do the unthinkable? Did my haste cause me to swirl off the black sand too early?
OK. Fill the pan again. Slow down and do a good job. Took my time and soon got to the pans bottom. D _ _ n! Still no black sand. Where did I go wrong?
A closer look showed that I did indeed have a tailing in my pan, but it was red in color. I had never heard of red sand before.
I turned the pan so that the sun was hitting the pan from over my shoulder and then I could see sparkle coming up from the red sand. Wow! What is this stuff?
As I looked closer I could see a couple of complete crystal shapes which looked like garnets. This suggested that what I saw as red sand was garnet chips and pieces with an occasional complete crystal. Now it was starting to make sense and soon took away from the disappointment of not finding black sand.
The garnets and their chips appear to be almandine garnet which are a deep violet red and are often found in mica schists which also explains my earlier mica findings. The specific gravity is 4.3 thus explaining their heaviness in my pan and the chips show a grading of color all the way to a light pink.
With this new found information I soon completed the bucket of material and went back for a second one; this time I went deeper into the sand near the tree in hopes of finding layers of garnets. I must confess that I had already tweezered the larger pieces into a glass bottle and some of the prettier chips.
A couple of days passed before selecting yet another site to dig. This time a tree of wider diameter and the sand on the lee side seemed to have a firmer packing to it.
This time the red sand was more predominant and some crystals were near 2 mm in diameter. Provided the start to a good sample collection from the area.
Did find one boulder of bull quartz that showed a grouping of garnet crystals still intact within the quartz, but was a single boulder at a stream entrance to the river. No others were found.
Neat bit of exploring and fun doing some physical work for a change and cause to do further investigation.
Now I know something about the garnets of the area and understand my surprise at the red sand and the next time will make every attempt to get down to bed rock to see if there are indeed crystals larger than 2 mm.
The next time you hear someone speaking of red sand you will be conversant about it and maybe you can run into some in your travels as well. Hope you do and then we can compare notes. I look forward to it.
8 Mar 2006