The kids ( @thehomeschoolkid ) lately have been studying the California gold rush in the late 1840's. It was a time that changed the country and there were fantastic stories of fortunes won and lost. Indeed, there were the early birds who got the golden worms in the early stages of before the "rush". People were literally picking up the gold by the pounds right off the ground.
But during a time in history where it took months for news to travel, by the time the rest of the country was running to the America river in California, most of the easy pickings were long gone. Thousands of people showed up having heard those amazing tales of gold so plentiful that it would take 100,000 men 10 years to pick it all up. But by the time they had arrived, they realized that what gold was left was going to take hard work to get. It was for many of the new arrivals, harder work than the jobs they had left behind.
The history and stories of the gold rush are indeed fascinating and the kids have watched a documentary and have read books now on the topic.
By chance, I stumbled upon a youtuber called Gold Pay Dirt Reviews
What better way to give them a taste of the experience in that time of history than some hands on gold panning that we can do right from home? Sign me up!
The youtuber listed above reviewed a number of selections from a company called Lynch Mining and found their products to be well worth the effort. Other reviews I found online also claimed that Lynch Mining pay dirt was fun and had a good ROI (return on investment). The only draw back on these reviews for this company was their long shipping times. It took 3 weeks for their product to get delivered via USPS.
The 5 lbs of pay dirt FINALLY showed up and we took it out of the box. It was simply in a freezer bag. I also ordered a pan to help sift through everything. I watched a few videos on youtube on how to pan for gold because I had never done it before. It was pretty easy to get the hang of it.
The next day we set up a container with water where we would be doing our panning. Taking out the pay dirt in small amounts made the job manageable. 5lbs is actually a lot of work if you want to find the small flakes of gold hidden inside. So you do it little by little.
Most soil that gold is commonly found in will also contain a good amount of hematite black sand. It's a kind of iron ore and heavy which makes separating it from the gold a bit hard when panning. But if you put a rare earth magnet in a ziplock baggie and move it around in the dirt, it will collect most of this iron ore called hematite and you can remove it, making the process of finding the gold flakes a little easier.
Once the black sand is gone, you can begin sifting through the dirtby hand and pull out any big flakes you see and any pickers. A picker is a piece of gold that is big enough to pull out by hand. My boys are hard at work in the picture below pulling out any flakes they find.
Joshua worked especially hard and really dedicated himself to finding every last flake.
We took samples out of the bag at the rate of about half a cup at a time. They would search it and pull out any flakes or pickers and I would then pan it and see what they had missed if any. Many times they found all the flakes by hand. But other times, there would be 2, 3 or even four flakes in a pan for dad to discover!
In total, we found 45 flakes. We lost one in the panning container when it sailed out of my pan. Gold will float Really! Because the gold is so small and the surface tension of the water is so strong, sometimes the gold will float for a moment. To counter this, most panners will add dish soap like Jet Dry (low suds) that will break the surface tension in the water. So I lost one flake in the panning tub. The boys determined to find that lost flake later. But for the below picture, you can see all the remaining flakes and a couple of nice pickers. Each of the boys found a picker which made it extremely exciting for them.
We have a jewelers scale but it didn't seem to want to work on such a small weight. I would estimate that maybe we are looking at a total weight of around a quarter of a gram of gold or more. I paid $35 for the bag and so maybe I got about half of my ROI back. Not bad considering the fun we had and the learning of history that went along with all that fun.
Order Your Own Pay Dirt
Ok, they are not paying me for the review. And we may at some point try this again with a different company. But there is no doubt that Lynch Mining has the best reviews out there. The little 10 inch pan we bought from them worked great for us. If you are interested, you can find the pay dirt for sale on their website. They have lots of options. If you're new, maybe avoid anything that advertises mostly being black sand. Some miners like the challenge of black sand but for a beginner, it may be frustrating. The 5lb bag we got was excellent for beginners like us.
So give it a try and let us know how you did. My kids really had a great time studying the Gold Rush of California the last couple weeks. But the hands on experience of what little gold that most miners ever found was the real lesson.
The next time someone comes into town screaming about the latest gold rush, you may ponder that maybe by the time we've all heard about it, probably means its too late. It was way too late for the tens of thousands of 49ers who long ago left their homes and families to chase a rainbow that never had gold at the end of it.
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