Have you ever tried to pan for gold? Well, Nena and I finally found time to try it when we were in Fairbanks, Alaska in June of 2008. As part of our 5-day land tour of Alaska, we were taken to the El Dorado Gold Mine which is just a few miles away from Fairbanks.

The El Dorado Gold Mine is an exciting hands-on adventure for the whole family and most especially for those who have never tried gold panning like my wife. Our tour of the gold mine started with a train ride around their mining facilities. We were then shown how to pan for gold and right after the demonstration we were given our own poke filled with pay dirt right from the sluice box. Under a large covered shed, comfortable benches and warm water were provided to make gold panning an easy and enjoyable experience for us. There were guides who were on hand to help us uncover the gold in our pans.

After we have collected our gold nuggets, we then took these to the store for the crew to weigh and they also showed us ways to fashion it into a memorable keepsake. Nena was quite excited with what she found in her gold pan and when she had it weighed she was told that the nuggets she collected amounted to only $10.00. She decided to just keep it as a souvenir. In my case, I was more interested in the complimentary coffee, hot chocolate, and fresh homemade cookies which was served for everyone who came. At the store there were also inexpensive winter jackets that were sold that I bought one for myself.

Gold panning is quite simple after all and we were shown that a gold pan is the most important tool. Metal pans were used by early prospectors and in the modem version plastic with built-in riffles are used to pan for gold. In a pinch, frying pans and even hub caps will work.

The key to recovering placer gold from gravel is the weight difference which allows gold to move downward when agitated. You start by scooping some soil from the river bed then totally submerge your 1/2-full pan in water. Panning may be done from a squatting or sitting position at the stream edge, in gently moving water, holding the pan between the knees. Liberal water, agitation, and patience are required to allow gold to settle to the bottom of the pan. While the pan is submerged, it is important to break up any clots of dirt and wash any cobbles that may have clay that can trap placer gold. You need to pick pebbles from the pan to get them out of the way and look for heavy pieces with unusual color or shape. And you just might find a gold nugget or a gold-bearing piece of vein quartz.

Panning is a relatively slow method for recovering gold. And beginners are often impatient to find gold quickly. We were told that you have to take your time. Experienced panners can process about 10 large pans per hour. A sluice or suction dredge can increase productivity.

The photographs I took during our tour of the El Dorado Gold Mine should give you an idea about gold panning and you can view the slideshow by clicking on the link shown below:

Gold Panning for Beginners

We did have fun panning for gold at the El Dorado Mines. You should give it a try.