With the price of gold currently running so high, number of folks are becoming interested in recreational prospecting. Unfortunately, one of the problems is finding a place where they can get their hands wet and really find some real gold. Here’s an opportunity that is near to millions of California who homes where anyone can go and pan their own free gold. Not far from sunny Los Angeles in the San Gabriel Range, the San Gabriel River has yielded a significant amount of placer gold, including some good sized nuggets. The San Gabriel Mountains are located in a part of the Transverse Range geologic province of Southern California, just a short drive north of Los Angeles. This location has become a very popular spot for local prospectors – much of the placer area is designated for recreation and anyone is welcome to prospect here for free.
It is not unusual to see a large number of folks out here on weekends, although not all of them are prospectors. A dozen folks here and perhaps a half a dozen there are spread along the San Gabriel River engaged in the quest for gold. The main placer area is located about 30 miles north of Azusa and deep in the Angeles national Forest, from the Camp Williams trailer park upstream for some distance. The San Gabriel River is not terribly rich, but it does consistently yield some nice small nuggets, flakes and colors of gold to the hard-working prospector.
Placer gold was discovered in the San Gabriel range in the 1840s in the area has had several productive periods since that time. Nuggets and flakes of placer gold have been obtained from both the stream gravels as well as older terrace bench gravels. Some good sized nuggets more than an ounce in size have been produced from these deposits. The bench gravels were mined by hydraulic mining as well as tunneling along the bedrock. While a number of streams in the region west of Mt. San Antonio (also known as Mount Baldy) have been productive, the East Fork of the San Gabriel River has produced most placer gold.
In 1874, it was reported that more than $2 million in gold had been produced from this area. In addition to the productive placer deposits, there are also several hard rock mines located near here. Lode gold mining was most productive during the period from 1903 to 1908, however there was some activity again in the 1930s. The estimated total output of the lode mines here is about 50,000 ounces.
The gold quartz veins occur in schist and gneiss, both of which are metamorphic rocks. While the values are spotty, the ore deposits are rich in places. The veins are usually less than 3 feet thick and do not extend to any great depth. The oxidized zones near the surface yielded the richest ore. The erosion of the veins in these hard rock deposits are the source of the placer gold nuggets found in the gravels.
The East Fork of the San Gabriel River is a popular spot for both picnic goers and prospectors from southern California, and still yields small amounts of gold. The East Fork was actually the second spot where I was able to find some placer gold of my own when I first started prospecting. While the bed of the River does contain gold, the gravels are very deep and getting down to bedrock is about impossible in most places. I always did my best at this location when I was digging in the bench gravels above the modern stream. I would dig the material from the bank, then haul it down to the river where I processed it in my sluice box. Small garnets are common in the concentrates from this location.