Fairgoers learn gentle art of coaxing gold from sand and gravel

Panning proves popular among young, as club shares knowledge at Coos County Fair

Posted: Sunday, August 17, 2008

MYRTLE POINT, Ore. - Gentle tipping and tilting swirls the water around and around, over the sand and small gravel at the bottom of a gold pan.

For those with patience, perseverance and a sharp eye, the reward may be a tiny fleck or two of flashing yellow that the panner isn't likely to mistake for anything else.

At the North Bend Prospectors' booth at the this year's Coos County Fair, club members were teaching the uninitiated the art of coaxing the flakes from their surroundings, not to make them rich - these quantities won't.

But the panning practice was especially popular with the kids.

"It gets them away from the computer, away from the TV," club member Renee Baldwin said.

Colton Young, 13, of Coquille examined his pan of water and sand after swirling most of it away, hoping to find a trace of the heavier gold, which tends to sink to the bottom.


"I found one right there," Colton said. A tiny flake of gold gleamed against the black of the pan.

Next to him Kim Holderfield of Myrtle Point was twice as lucky but didn't realize it at first.

"It has to jump out at me and say, 'I'm gold' or I won't know," she said.

A club member took hold of her pan and guided it back into the water. He moved it back and forth, letting the water rinse the course sand and gravel out.

Soon the pan had just a few small grains of sand and silt. And two flakes of gold.

It's not as easy as it seems.

The gold settles to the bottom. The trick lies in getting everything else out so the gold is visible. It can take time.

For those with bigger ideas the booth had a demonstration of a dredge, which acts like a vacuum cleaner in stream beds, collecting minerals and filtering out the lighter material.

What is left is a more refined mixture of heavier minerals, including gold, sliver, mercury and lead.

A diver can go underwater and guide the vacuum hose. Dredging requires a state permit, club member Desmond Rains said.

If you know where to look, dredging can be productive but Rains said that's not what the club is all about.

"With us the main idea is to have fun," he said. "We go out not necessarily to get rich but to develop an interest."

Mac and Lois McPherson of North Bend joined the 150-member club about a year ago. Mac was buying Lois a new pan as a gift, and someone told him about the club. They joined. The McPhersons see it as a good way to enjoy the outdoors.

"Down by the stream it's a whole different world because you are in God's country, not people country," Mac said.

"Unless someone knows your spot," Lois said, smiling.

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