Tough Times? Go Gold Mining

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

Looking for intensive gold mining training? A company called Gold Prospecting Adventures and Store offers customized gold mining trips that can be reserved in advance. The basic experience is a three-hour sluice box panning course that costs $85, and offers budding prospectors the opportunity to filter through more dirt and gravel than someone could filter using just a gold pan.

Gold Prospecting Adventures will also take customers down the river and set up a gold panning operation for a more intense experience. The company also offers a three-day course for $595.

After their three-hour course, if customers decide they might want to make a career out of gold mining, proprietor Bryant Shock will even offer to "guide them to where they could file a mining claim."

49er Mining Supplies
11940 Yankee Hill Road, Columbia, Calif., 209-588-1635

49er Mining Supplies offers gold mining supplies and gold mining lessons. While the owner, Rob Goreham, explained that gold mining can be an exciting hobby, he also implored visitors to keep their day jobs.

Those looking to try gold prospecting can join Goreham and his crew for a gold sluicing and panning charter for $115. Charter participants work for about five hours, and cleanup takes about another hour. Determined visitors can also come along for the intensive all-day power equipment charter that costs $300 for one person and $100 for each extra participant.

Ironstone Vineyards
1894 Six Mile Road, Murphys, Calif., 209-728-1251

Finally, if the quest for gold is a bust, why not gawk at the gold that others have found in their more successful attempts?

At Ironstone Vineyards in Murphys, travelers can visit the museum to see a display of what the winery calls the largest crystallized leaf gold nugget in the world. It weighs a whopping 44 pounds.