Two-and-a-half hours west of Phoenix, deep inside a giant hole in the desert of Quartzsite, Ariz., Brian Kirwin is chasing an age-old American dream. He recently took an ABC News team deep underground to view the mine where he's planning to strike it rich.
"There's gold in here. There's about 400,000 ounces," Kirwin said. "It's very high-grade. It's very rich."
The gold doesn't come out in huge chunks. Kirwin's computer models show an enormous amount of it embedded in tons of rock.
"As far as the visible gold goes, this is a very good example," he explained, showing a rock with gold bits sprinkled in small amounts. On average, he says it takes about a ton of rock to produce nearly an ounce of gold.
The gold is expensive to mine, but the skyrocketing price of gold is now turning upstart enterprises like Kirwin's into serious operations. At today's prices, Kirwin's gold could be worth 360 million dollars.
Gold prices hit record highs in 2007, selling for more than $900 an ounce. Investors expect prices to rise even further in 2008 and possibly peak at over $1000 an ounce.
Kirwin admits his plans for the mine consume most of his waking moments. "I wake up thinking about this. I think about this in the shower. I dream about this. It's consuming."
He's not the only one dreaming about it. Dan Ware runs a club for so-called "weekend prospectors" who, despite the odds, hit the desert each week with dollar signs in their eyes.
"From about two years ago we've jumped from 70 members to approximately 400 now. The price of gold seems to bring everybody in," Ware said.
-- The big companies and individual prospectors share a dream of striking it rich. They also share the same odds, relying on a heavy dose of persistence and luck.
The big companies and individual prospectors both share the same dream of striking it rich. They also share the same odds- relying on a heavy dose of persistence and luck.
While technology has obviously improved since the prospectors of a century ago, the gold mining operation is still hit or miss. Despite the metal detectors, portable conveyor belts that sift through dirt, and electric gold panning machines - no one has gotten rich yet. That doesn't deter miners like Deb Brown.
"We'll dig for an hour or two on what we call the black gold and we'll find a bullet," Brown said.
Sometimes these "bullets" of gold, are worth only around forty dollars and are so small, they could be sneezed away. Brown says this has happened to her, but like the growing number of prospectors, she is not giving up.
Because while no one's getting rich so far, there is gold in these hills — and it's getting more valuable by the day.