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For some people, gold detecting is about more than just finding valuable minerals that can be traded for cash. For some, it's akin to fishing -- a fun, relaxing outdoor activity that happens occasionally to yield material rewards. But in gold detecting, instead of fish, sometimes you get a little bit of gold.
Gold panning is a popular activity for people who value gold detecting for the fun and the sport of it. It may not be as lucrative as some of the modern, high-tech methods of finding gold, but there is some inherent value to the fresh air, the wilderness, and the exercise that goes along with gold panning.
Of course, I should note that people do make money through gold panning. Some seasoned panners have been known to find upwards of an ounce of gold per week, which can be worth as much as 1,000 U.S. dollars, depending on the rates at the time.
Here are a few basic steps for getting started:
1) Bring a good-sized pan that you can fill with material without it becoming too heavy, and find a river, creek, or stream somewhere preferably far from civilization. Mountains and other high areas are best, especially areas that are not well-traveled. River canyons or ravines in the high country work great.
2) Fill your pan with mineral-rich gravel from the side of the water, and pick any large stones or chunks of gravel so that your pan is filled mostly with fine-grained material.
3) Find a pleasant place to sit on the bank of the stream, and gently submerge your filled pan beneath the surface of the water. With your fingers, knead the minerals in the pan until everything is broken apart and saturated with water. You want the materials in the pan to have a smooth, uniform, muddy texture.
4) While you're doing step 3, the pan should remain underwater. Don't worry if some of the materials drift away in water. Remember that gold is very heavy and won't just float away. In fact, the point of this whole process is to make it easy for the heavy gold to sink to the bottom of the pan.
5) Just beneath the surface of the water, shake the pan in a left-right motion. The point of this is to assist the gold in sinking to the bottom. Be careful not to be too vigorous, as you don't want any of material escaping over the edge of the pan.
6) After doing this for a while, you'll find that much of the larger material has risen to the top. This won't be gold, as any chunks of gold will have sunk toward the bottom rather than risen to the top. Gently brush away the layer of lighter materials at the top.
7) If you keep repeating these last few steps, eventually you'll be down to just an inch or two of heavier materials at the bottom of the pan. When you get down low enough, it will start to become possible to visually identify any gold that you may have. If you get down to a final ring of materials and you see nothing that is remotely gold-colored, you may be out of luck. But don't give up just yet. Grab another pan-ful of earth from a different location, and try again.
8) If there is gold-colored material at the bottom of your pan, continue to gently brush away the other materials as much as possible. Expert panners can repeat this process over and over until they have almost nothing but gold in their pans. However, if you don't trust your skills, try using a pair of tweezers to pull out all the little bits of gold. This can be time-consuming, but it's worth it.