Today we went gold panning at Sutter’s Mill. Sutter’s Mill is on the south fork of the American River that carries the melt water from the snows of the Sierra Mountains to the Pacific. Sutter’s Mill is the site of the first gold discovery sparking the 1849 gold rush. (How else did you think the San Francisco 49’ers got their name?)
The area at the mill is just beautiful. The mill sits right on the bank of the river with the foothills of the Sierras on the other side doing their steady rising march towards the snow capped mountains.
The mill is a saw mill. A paddlewheel at the bottom powers the long saw blade causing it to rise and fall in a vertical motion while the lumber would have been slid into the blade. A replica of the mill, built on the original site, is located at Marshall Gold Discovery State Historical Park.
In 1848 James Marshall, foreman of the mill, found flecks of gold in the tailrace of the saw mill. He shared his discovery with his boss, John Sutter, and they tried to keep their discovery secret with no luck. San Francisco went from a sleepy little town to a large boom town with literally hundreds of thousands of people arriving in CA from all over the world. CA population prior to the 1849 gold rush was little over 14,000 people. The gold rush caused CA to become a new state of these United States in record time compared to other states who applied to join the union.
Gypsy and I spent a couple days panning. We also found the gold flakes that Marshall had found quite easily. It wasn’t hard to find, but the flakes are so small it would take many days of panning morning to night to gather enough to make any money. We also found one nugget, but it is so small you have to squint to see it. Even so, we had a wonderful time and enjoyed the scenery and touching a part of our nation’s history. I even spent some time teaching some children that had come with their parents how to pan for gold.
The American River is also a popular white water rafting spot. Many times we saw rafters float by in the larger rafts and small kayaks. I hope to do that before we leave CA, but it will depend on our schedule. If not, I will be sure to do it when we return to CA this fall. Gypsy says she doesn’t want to white water raft, but I’m certain I can convince Commander Merlin to come along.
Though there are many things to see and do at the park, there are two cons I should warn you about. The park charges $8 per car to stay there to pan or tour the museum. Also, since the gold panning area is a public area, it has been pretty much panned out for that area of the river. You cannot dig to look for gold, just pan surface material of the creek and the immediate bank. Keep that in mind if you decide to visit. This is a place to have fun panning and learn about history, not to do serious panning or prospecting.
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