Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Jamestown, California: Gold Panning

We recently went on another California adventure.  This time we were able to squeeze in some time at a couple of national parks and panning for gold (our "wow" activity for this trip).  Our vacation started in San Francisco so we decided to pan for gold in Jamestown, California.  We read a lot about Sutter's Mill but that was a bit further north than we had hoped to travel.  Jamestown was featured in Parent's magazine and also seemed to have a lot of educational pieces to their panning experiences.  They offer school field trip programs so I figured they would be a great fit for my kiddos (ages 6 and 8).  

Jamestown is a small historic town.  I had actually heard feedback from some friends recommending that we visit the cemetery.  Unfortunately we quickly ran out of time so we missed this.  It's a regret!  I wish that I would have known more realistically how much time would have been needed for this adventure.  I set aside one day, which included travel time.  We really could have enjoyed it more if we would have had one full day - without travel.  

Here's our experience:

I made a reservation weeks prior to our visit. I wanted to know what was the latest time we could start considering we had to drive from San Francisco and we wanted to do the 3 hour expedition.  Considering the time of year (spring - starts to get dark around 6:00 pm) we were set to start at 2:00 pm (be done at 5:00 pm).  We checked in at the store which is located right on the main street of Historic Jamestown.  
Gold Prospecting and Adventures
It's actually a neat looking place.  It's small inside but they have a lot of historical items to look at.  They also sell a few gold panning items which people were buying (I assumed, based on their conversation, that they were residents to the area).  From there we were given directions on how to get to the "camp" (just a short drive away).  We stopped at a nearby gas station to change into more appropriate clothing.  Specifically - clothing that we were prepared to throw away if they became too messy.  I felt this was important since we have a few more days of vacation left and we had no intention of doing laundry.  

The Camp:

There's a few historical "buildings" on the site that can be explored.  You can ask your guide to show you.
We were told about it at the store but forgot to ask our guide while at the camp.
Keep in mind that we visited early in the season so most things were not set up yet.  

Not pictured - they do have one outhouse/port-a-potty, a few picnic tables, a dock to sit on while panning (wasn't in the water yet for our visit - early in the season), boots to use while in the water, and a place to leave comments and tips ($$) for the staff member assigned to help you.

Time to get wet!

You can use the boots for free (part of the package).  They have a variety of sizes.
 I don't know what the largest is but the smallest they had during our visit was size 3 (perfect for my kiddos).  
We were assigned a section of the creek to work.
Be prepared to work!!!!  You need to shovel through rocks and mud in the side of the creek bank.  

This picture is from the store but it's one of the first "tools" we used.
Put the strainer on top of a bucket.  Then start adding the mud, rocks, whatever you dig up.

As items are added into the strainer, another person needs clean off and pull out the rocks (checking them to make sure it is not gold).  Toss the rocks and any other large non-gold items to an area out of the way.  Then, work the clumps of mud through the strainer.  This "strained mud" is what you will pan.  We needed to fill the bucket about half way with mud before we moved on to panning.  It seemed to take forever!!!

Yep - it was muddy!!!

Time to pan!  Our guide taught us the panning process.  It was my daughters favorite part but I wasn't good at it.  After all that hard work of getting mud, it seemed like I was just tossing it back into the water and finding no gold!  
You can imagine that this is hard on your back and legs!

My daughter did find a couple of pieces in her first pan.  My son also found a piece.  

Some of the gold we found.

I was ready for the next "tool".  The sleuth!  This one you just pour your "mud" into one end of the sleuth and the water pushes it through.  The idea is that the gold (which is heavier than the mud) will get trapped in the bottom while the water forces the rest out of the sleuth.  This will allow you to get through more "mud" quicker than panning.  

Cleaning out the sleuth to make sure we get all of our gold off it.

The gold that we found.  I almost purchased little containers at the store but I didn't.
Thankfully they provided us each with one. We split our gold into 2 containers - one for each kiddo.

We didn't find a ton of gold.  My kiddos were well prepared for that to happen.  But, it was a fun educational experience.  My daughter, who was 8 at the time, really got into it.  I think she did more work than the rest of us put together ;-)  She can't wait to go back!

At the end we completed the feedback form, left a nice tip, returned our boots, and changed into clean clothes (used the port-a-potty).  We did toss the clothes that we wore while panning.  They weren't terribly dirty but I had no desire to take them home.  

We made a stop back to the store so I could purchase a small pan.  I figured it would be a nice addition for my kiddos "show and tell" at school.

My kiddos were happy to get some of this from the store too :-)
We had a little bit of time left in the day and we were starving!  There are no major towns in the area so we went exploring.  It's really just one main historic road so we relied a lot on recommendations from the locals.  

The area I wish we would have had time to explore more. 
One local highly recommended a Kamm's Chinese Restaurant.  Most of the other options were family restaurants.  We decided to check out the pizza place on Main Street (Pizza Plus).  I'm glad we did!

We went with the mini since we all like different toppings.

Cheese bread sticks - made my sons favorite way.  

Onions and mushrooms ;-)


Before our trip we read "What Was the Gold Rush".  It was such an interesting educational read for my family.  My kiddos really got into the history of the gold rush.  The book also changed their level of expectations when it came to "striking it rich".  The level of work required was discussed in the book and we really felt it during our experience.  Us older folks really felt the pain for a few days after!  One of my favorite parts of the book was learning how to tell the difference between gold and "fools gold".  My kiddos still talk about that when they discuss our adventure!  A little history on my past:  My family did a panning adventure when I was 7.  We went out on our own - not guided.  I remember thinking that we struck it rich (as the adults thought we did).  But, later that day, we discovered that what we found was actually "fools gold"!  

Another activity that looks fun (but we did not set aside time for) is Hurst Ranch.

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