Financial markets are turbulent, family finances are unstable and the economy is imploding. Perhaps your next vacation or weekend jaunt should be a gold mining trip.
Former Northern California mining towns offer tourists the opportunity to try their luck at gold panning. Find a large golden nugget, and quit worrying about Wall Street investments.
"People frequently find gold flakes if they are persistent enough; however, every few months, someone will find a significant gold nugget which can be worth about $700 to $800," said California state park ranger Suzie Bowman in Coloma, Calif.'s Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park. "In my personal opinion, you have to be 7 or under to find them. It always seems like it's a little kid who finds them."
While the stock market is volatile, gold maintains some semblance of stability.
"Gold is an asset that bears no credit risk and, therefore, involves no counterparty and is no one's liability; this is an extremely attractive characteristic to investors, given the current turmoil in credit markets," said Natalie Dempster, head of investments for North America at the World Gold Council.
Even if there is no opportunity to yell "Eureka!" gold mining towns offer a unique perspective on life during the California gold rush.
Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park
310 Back Street, Coloma, Calif., 530-622-3470
In a quest to discover gold, stop at the site where gold was found in 1848 in what is now Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park. California state park ranger Eric Carter described the park as the place "where the gold rush started."
The park features both gold panning lessons and an opportunity for speculating tourists to purchase gold panning supplies on the way to the riverbed. Visitors are prevented from using shovels in their gold search, and panning opportunities are limited to a recreational gold panning area. Bekeart's Gun Shop, an old West market located within the park, will teach inexperienced miners the techniques of gold panning.
Visitors should be careful about the timing of their trip. Every year in April, May and June, the park receives an influx of 4th graders who come to learn about California history. Then again, visitors will probably want to bring their younger kids to the park, because, as Bowman noted, a younger set of eyes may be the necessary catalyst in your hunt for gold.
The Matelot Gulch Mine Supply Store
Corner of Washington St. and Main St., Columbia, Calif., 209-532-9693
The town of Columbia, Calif., also is entrenched in gold rush history.
"Columbia itself is one of the most historically accurate places," said Mike Rutty at the Tuolumne County Visitors Bureau. "They strive to keep everything accurate to the way it was during the gold rush era."
Historical accuracy means tourists can experience an old-fashioned candy store, a kickin' saloon, and a Wild West stagecoach ride. Just watch out for the gun-toting bandit impersonators, who might weasel their way out of the forest while guests are enjoying a relaxing ride on the stagecoach!
Visitors to town can also stop by the Matelot Gulch Mine Supply Store. It offers gold panning lessons directed by members of the family that owns Columbia's working gold mine.
Gold Prospecting Adventures
18170 Main Street, Jamestown, Calif., 800-596-0009