AquariusRadar Eldorado
California's Ancient River
Of Gold
California's El Dorado -Secrets of Geology and finding gold treasure!
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This Google Earth screenshot shows barren limestone rock protruding from the river bedrock in Amador County just above Fiddletown ("Oleta" on old maps) and near Big Indian Creek.

Fiddletown was never a gold camp but served as the supply point for placer miners uphill in the flats around 2150' elevation. From the map it is easy to see why Amador County and the Cosumnes River held so much placer gold; the exposure of 2150' terrain is huge in this region. Significant areas of the ancient river valley were open to prospect. The flat terrain made finding and mining the rich river deposits easy. But much of Eldorado's path remains buried by volcanics. The map below shows that between Soldiers Gulch/Volcano and the steep canyon of the Mokelumne there lies 3 miles of unexposed river path that is buried under a few hundred feet of volcanics.
The young river Mokelumne, born with the rise of the new Sierra Nevada, cut down through the volcanic rubble of birth that buried Ancient Eldorado and exposed it's gold to erosion and subsequent transport downstream of the new river. Big deposits were left at Rich Gulch and Mokelumne Hill. The river continues to dig down and the 49ers found that the river bends contained rich deposits, but not bonanzas, of gold well below the elevation of Ancient Eldorado. Somewhere between Glencoe and Pioneer, along the sheer cliffs of the Mokelumne Canyon wall, the multiple gold channels are waiting for discovery. The fact that Mokelumne Hill had much more gold than any of the present day river bends lends to the argument that the totality of gold deposits in quartz veins, either pocket mines or fine gold milling veins, is insufficient to account for the difference considering the steep descent of the modern river Mokelumne. Todays fall of the principal streams and rivers of the Sierra Nevada is so steep that all gold from quartz veins would have been washed away and can not account for the huge bonanza at the major gold camps. The winnowing and concentration of the gold came from the Ancient Eldorado after the old river had eroded and flattened the original Sierra Nevada. The rise of the new and current Sierra first buried the old gold with the volcanics of birth and then later in time proceeded to expose the gold in a few locations as new streams and rivers developed.

Modern tools- the metal detector is useful in finding the occasional nugget. However, the most useful tool is the soil/rock sample and the the post hole digger used to extract the sample from the site. The post hole digger did not come into popular use until the advent of wire fencing, well after the rush of '49. If the explorer finds a likely spot for sample, the post hole digger allows the sample to be taken from depth. Remembering that gold seeks the lowest depth available before striking hard rock, the modern miner has a distinct advantage over the miners of yore. The sample should be taken from the bottom or as close to the hard rock boundary as the digger length will allow. That's not to say that the surface sample can't be useful. Either way, always look for mussel and clam shell fossils in the sample, using the jewelers lope or low power microscope. The presence of clay in any sample should be closely inspected for signs of fresh water mollusks fossils. Future drift mining will use the population density of fresh water clams and mussels fossils in order to follow the thin thread of gold that defines the Ancient Eldorado river bottom.
A break in the exploration is taken to discuss the question about lode versus placer gold production; which is more productive-profitable?

Lode mining has produced more gold in the Mother Lode than placer mining. Some of the most productive mines of the Mother Lode- the Kennedy, the Argonught, and others are here in Amador County. In terms of elevation, these big mines sat west and several hundred feet below the major placer mining areas. But because of the much higher capitalization of hard rock mining, placer mining results in more profit for the individual miner. Being that lode mining generally consists of many men working the hard rock and placer mining working mainly watery gravels by individuals or just a few miners. The heyday of placer mining by individuals in the Mother Lode was 1848-1854. After 1855, lode mining soon surpassed the production of the placers as gold in the river riffles soon panned out and miners sought out the sources of gold imbedded in the quartz. Undoubtedly, the initial years of placer mining made spectacular wealth for more individuals while the later lode production made only a few hard rock mine owners wealthy but provided many more mining jobs. There is of course that in-between type of mining- part placer-part hard rock- called drift mining. The source of the treasure is a gold bearing gravel that sometimes is cemented to a near hard rock consistency. All the engineering techniques of the quartz mines are purposed to follow the bed of a gold laden channel of welded gravel and clay. Much of the gold of the Mother Lode was found in drift mines. Another type of mine was the coyote mine. Shafts were driven straight down seeking the Ancient River bottom. This type of mining was very dangerous but is repeated over and over along the path of Eldorado. Pennsylvania Gulch at Murphy and Shaw's Flat at Columbia are but two examples. And that a modern method of drift mining is all that is left of the opportunity of gold mining in a profitable way in California. The margins will be small, as in hard rock quartz mining, but many mining jobs will be provided. Home Gold Page or continue on to more Southern Mines Sonora Gold Page
Amador County is credited as being the most productive placer gold bearing county along the Mother Lode. It is remembered that most of the placer gold was mined before 1854. That included the two other famous Amador localities-Mokelumne Hill and Chile Gulch. In 1854 a portion of the Amador County was split off to help make up Calaveras County. So the tremendous gold bounty at Mokelumne Hill would be included in the county total production of placer gold. Mokelumne Hill and Chili Gulch are very similar as the Mokelumne river cut down through the earth between Pioneer and Glencoe. The new river uncovered, washed, and then deposited the Eldorado gold some 300 feet down in elevation and 4 miles downstream at Mokelumne Hill and Chili Gulch. Long ago the vigorous young river cut right across the ancient river valley and during a long pause the river transported the gold downstream to the flats that surrounded Mokelumne Hill. Since the time of deposition, the river has continued to gouge out the Mokelumne canyon to the great depth seen today.
From what is known of the ancient rivers path, there must be many more geologic basins buried under the volcanics of the new Sierra Nevada. Each of these geologic basins or bowls consist of meanders and oxbows that were filled with gold just as Columbia and Murphys have shown. Keeping the linear nature of the main course within the old rivers meandering path in mind, what areas could provide a look at the horizon of the old river bed in this section of the Mother Lode?

Big Indian Creek, Slate Creek, or any of the numerous creeks that cut through the track of Ancient Eldorado between Fiddletown and Mountain Ranch and lie at 2150' or slightly above or below 2150' would be prime areas to sample. The terrain map above, with elevation in meters, is marked with the 2150' elevation (660 meters). These miles and miles of difficult terrain are the areas to search. While gold was found in these creeks- almost all streams in the Mother Lodes had some gold in 1848-some of these Amador streams held a pay dirt worth digging and payed the miner well but wouldn't make him rich. The oxbows that holds the gold treasure must remain buried under the volcanic debris of mountain growth. Where to look:
road cuts through 2150' should be checked with the metal detector and samples as well.
any drainage dry stream large or small. Remember that any gold found at 2150' could be the remnant of a thin thread of the river straightaway or the start of an oxbow loop with the bonanza treasure.

What gold hordes lie within Amador County as the course of the ancient river is followed? How many basins similar toVolcano or Columbia or Murphys lie buried at 2150 feet elevation along the path of the ancient river. The area near Fiddletown and Aukum shows many characteristics of lava caps over looping twists of terrain. Are these the telltale signs of Eldorado?

This Terrain map of the area between the grand canyon of the Mokelumne and Volcano illustrates how much of the ancient river valley was buried by New Sierra volcanic tuff and ash. The thin blue lines show the area that the valley covers, given an estimate of 2-3 miles wide at the deepest point of the river bed. Note how the blue lines converge on the "tongue" of 2150' that envelopes Soldiers Gulch. Soldiers Gulch was probably but one of several oxbow lakes that eroded into the bowl that is Volcano. 2150' terrain completely surrounds Volcano. Not a wonder it contained so much gold.

How could the gold exploration along the steep Mokelumne canyon wall be conducted? Fortunately the pioneers of old have left a trail along which the experienced trail walker can traverse; the Lower and Upper Standard canal path. The flumes originally carried the water to power the original Electra generating plant of Standard Electric. The water flume has long decayed away but the path cleared for the water flume(s) still exists. More importantly, in the area of interest, the path is near the 2150' elevation. The disturbed ground along the route of the flumes should provide plenty of sample sites.The blue line (unlying the gold of 2150') of the flume path is seen in the terrain map above and is the path along the north wall of the canyon. Only the experienced outdoorsman should search here. The steep terrain is very dangerous. The terrain around Volcano township is much safer for exploration.