Calling all gold diggers: Did you read about the two lucky gold hunters who last month unearthed a pair of enormous gold nuggets in Australia—one of the world’s top gold panning destinations? If so, I wouldn’t be surprised to see you pulling on your boots right now for a trip out into the field to do some gold hunting of your own!
For those of you wondering where to try your luck, here are some of the world’s best places to go panning for gold.
In ‘The Land of the Free’, gold is found in nearly all states. It’s no surprise that California is top of the list, though. California was the location of the famous 19th century Gold Rush. The area to head for is Gold Country (also known as Motherlode Country), a region in Northern California that lies on the western side of the Sierra Nevada mountain range. Here, gold gathers in the placer deposits of the streams running from its slopes.
Bordering California, Nevada, Arizona and Oregon also provide rich pickings for gold hunters. Nevada and Arizona are desert states, so you’ll need to dry pan or use a metal detector for the best results. Alaska is rich in gold and, unlike in California, the rules here are very relaxed.
Wherever in the states your gold panning adventure takes you, you’ll find countless places offering equipment hire and gold panning lessons—far too many to list!
In the remote north-west of Canada, the Yukon River is definitely one of the world’s top gold panning destinations. Dawson City, which lies on the river, is the capital of that mountainous region, and has been a destination since the late Nineteenth Century. This is where the Klondike Gold Rush began in 1896, and gold mining still thrives here today. There are plenty of spots around Dawson City to try your hand at panning for gold. For those who wish to linger, there are even log cabins for a comfortable stay in the wild.
Australia is a land rich in gold, particularly Western Australia where 60% of the country’s gold is mined. The biggest gold producing area is Goldfields—the clue is in the name!
At Warrego, near Tennant Creek in the Northern Territory, commercial goldmining ended in the 1980s, but there is still gold to be dry panned from the surface soil. This part of the country can be a challenge to tourists and care should be taken to follow official fossicking advice.
Another spot to consider is Clermont in Queensland. The site of a gold rush in 1861, Clermont still provides opportunities for visitors licensed to fossick. Panning may be wet or dry, depending on the season; but whatever the case, the Queensland government provides the visitor with plenty of advice and information on making a worthwhile visit.
In certain parts of New Zealand, visitors are free to try their luck at fossicking without the usual permits. The Tasman region, at the northern end of South Island, for example, was the site of New Zealand’s first gold rush in 1856. Here, the Department of Conservation has set aside a number of locations for low-tech amateur gold-prospecting. Whatever the yields, it’s a stunning place to visit.
The South Island’s West Coast also experienced a gold rush in the Nineteenth Century. It was there in Hokitika that New Zealand’s largest nugget was found, and today’s visitors can still dream. Not far away in Goldsborough all you need is a gold pan and some patience! Another option is the Otago region in the southern part of South Island.
For many centuries, the people of Japan have been looking for gold, but it’s fair to say that its resources have been underexploited. Things are changing, however, and today you can, in certain regions, join in the fun. The biggest mine in Japanese history was the Sado Kinzan mine on Sado Island. It is now a museum; as is the Toi Kinzan mine, where visitors can try their hand at panning for gold – and keeping what they find!
With the owner’s permission, you can have a lot of fun in the United Kingdom, especially the Celtic fringe. Scotland may make you think ‘whisky’, but gold in more solid form has been found for centuries in its multitude of rivers and streams. For half a millennium, Wanlockhead in Dumfries and Galloway has drawn gold hunters to its deposits. Once Covid restrictions have been lifted, beginners can take gold panning lessons at The Museum of Lead Mining.
In the highlands of Sutherland, The Suisgill Estate allows you to pay a small fee and pan for gold in two of its burns (streams). The Kildonan Burn flows through the Baile an Or, the site of the 1869 gold rush.
In Wales, the north is still yielding gold, while at the Dolaucothi Gold Mines in Carmarthenshire, first worked by the Romans, you can pan for gold under supervision. As for England, there is still gold lurking Cornwall the Pennines and the Lake District.
You can find more information about gold and gold panning in my Gemstone Detective guides to Australia, USA and India.
As today is Indigenous People’s Day in the US, it seems like the perfect time to take a closer look at Turquoise—a gemstone precious and sacred to Native American tribes of the Southwest USA.
Turquoise is an opaque blue/green gemstone that forms when water containing copper and aluminium seeps into rock and settles there. It’s the copper that’s responsible for the vivid colour of the gemstone. The most valuable turquoise gemstones have no matrix (the non-precious stone surrounding the veins of turquoise), though the combination of turquoise and matrix can look very striking.
Individual pieces of turquoise can look very different from each other depending on the particular geology of the area where they are mined. There is a great deal of variety even within a relatively small area. A real expert can tell exactly where a piece of turquoise was mined, right down to naming the mine itself! During my research trip for Buying Gemstones and Jewellery in the USA, I met some truly knowledgeable turquoise dealers, who introduced me to the fascinating variations between stones from different mines.
Southwest Native American tribes have been using turquoise in religious ceremonies, trade, art, jewellery and negotiations for over 2000 years. Deeply important spiritually and for health, turquoise is used as a healing stone and good luck talisman by several Native American tribes. The gemstone is significant because it represents life—turquoise’s blue and green mixed with the brown of the matrix, are the colours of the sky, water and earth.
It’s not surprising that this sacred stone is the subject of many Native American tales, though it’s perhaps most strongly associated with the Navajo, whose stories almost always have some mention of turquoise. Navajo legend tells of the goddess, Estsanatlehi, who appeared to humankind as a drop of turquoise or a turquoise woman. Estsanatlehi means ‘Changing Woman’, which refers to the way turquoise changes colour according to its environment, its wearer’s skin acidity and light exposure. Another Navajo creation myth describes how, when rains came after a long drought and the people cried with relief, their tears mingled with water and became turquoise.
With indigenous people’s way of life so often under threat and subject to exploitation, it’s particularly important to make sure you buy Native American jewellery from ethical dealers who pay the makers an honest price for the exquisite craftsmanship and intense labour that goes into each piece. You’ll be wearing a piece imbued with centuries of tradition and spirituality!
I’ve often said that the gemstone trade is not just about the gems themselves, but about the people who mine, treat, facet, set and sell them. I found this particularly striking on my travels through North East and North West America, while researching my book Buying Gemstones and Jewellery in the USA. The community of gemstone, rock and mineral enthusiasts here is a large and friendly one—practically everybody I met was falling over themselves to be helpful and informative!
This blog focuses on Christopher Blackwell and his great friend Robert Paul Colbern (better known as ‘The Geode Kid’) and life at the Basin Range Volcanics Geolapidary Museum and Rockshop in Deming, New Mexico.
Basin Range Volcanics used to be the home of a wonderful collection of thunderegg geodes, now housed in the Deming Luna Membres Museum as The Geode Kid Collection after Paul and Christopher both became ill with serious health conditions.
Paul dug his first thunderegg at age eleven, and by fifteen had left home to become a professional agate miner, mining the north western, western and southwestern deserts. By age thirty he had been given his nickname Geode Kid by older agate collectors.
Paul met Christopher in 1974 and invited him up to mine
with him in 1975 while still 29 years old. He was both an idea man and dreamer
and one who could design and build anything that he needed as usually he
could not afford to buy readymade.
Christopher and Paul opened their first rock shop, The
Klandestinny Mining Company, in Madras, Oregon. They opened the shop for five months of the
year, closing it to go mining through Oregon, Idaho, Nevada and New Mexico during
the remaining seven months. After the 1979
gas crises made running the shop impossible, they began to run their operation
by mining, cutting and polishing and selling from their 1968 VW bus.
Finally in 1984 , they had saved enough money to buy what is
now Basin Range Volcanics – three
quarters of an acre, the shell of the present building, a well and a septic tank…
but no plumbing, and four live plugs on the water pressure tank—eek!
Originally most of the building was a museum for Paul’s
collection (which then took up seven eight-foot-long cases) and a
small rock shop just in front. After naming it The Basin Range Volcanic
Geolapidary Museum, he got to work on the property, designing and building
pretty much everything in it and doing all the wiring and plumbing himself, when
he could afford to.
Christopher and Paul had the Baker Egg mine from the late 1980s as well. Christopher still owns and mines it today, but with younger people doing the work. One man who learned how to cut and polish the eggs is now a co-owner of the shop, and his son grew up around them all and is now co-owner of the mine. The shop and museum grew, with both Paul and Christopher designing new buildings.
Paul used the last seventeen years of his life writing down
all the information that he had learned in over fifty years of mining. He
contacted geologists, volcanologists, and mineralogists to bring in the latest
science about the Lithophysae.
During the four years of writing his book, ‘The Formation of Thundereggs, (Lithophysae)’ Paul and his scientists became good friends and they visited him after the collection was moved to the museum downtown.
Despite having dyslexia, Paul went on to publish four more
books, this time on his mining adventures.
During that time, Christopher took care of the shop and helped Paul
moved back and forth from his bed to his computer, making sure that the 25 feet
of air tubing keeping Paul breathing did not get tangled.
Paul died in 2013, some 17 years after losing most of his
lungs to pneumonia. Christopher says of
his great friend, ‘The Geode Kid’
“Paul’s story is the important one, I helped and filled in
the gaps as needed, but it was his devotion to thundereggs that made it all
happen. I doubt that I would be here
now, even alive if I had not joined up with him: I’m a Marine Vietnam veteran,
being bi-polar and with a number of health issues of my own. Still quite amazed
to still be around at 73 years of age.”
These days, Christopher loves to encourage all sorts of wild
creatures to him, putting out 18 pounds of bird seed each morning. Sometimes he gets a hundred birds flocking
all at once, along with cotton tail rabbits, jack rabbits, kangaroo rats, mice
and more. Sometimes the long-horned
cattle will wander along to lick up the seed.
With the increase in small animals come the predators, and Christopher
will sometimes see road runners, snakes, hawks, eagles, coyotes, bob cats and
even mountain lions!
He says that he does this for ‘selfish reasons’ – life
doesn’t always provide the laughter he needs on a daily basis, but looking out
of his windows every day lets him observe the ‘curious and funny things that
the small critters do’ and gives him a daily dose of smiles.
Christopher also has a sixteen-pound yellow tabby cat named
Dusty who, he says, ‘supervises me and sees to it that I do not get into
It was a pleasure and a privilege to talk to Christopher and I would like to thank him for sharing his story with me. All the information in this blog is from Christopher himself. Do drop in to see him and talk about thundereggs next time you’re in Deming – his shop is open 9am-5pm.
I hope you were able to find a few minutes to read Who is the Author – Parts 1 & 2. This is the final Who is the Author Q&A blog post.
What is the biggest mistake people
make when buying a gemstone that you tackle in the books?
The biggest mistake I think people make is being too trusting. One thing that I have learned through my
travels is that not many people working in the gem trade have real knowledge
about what they’re selling. They might
talk the talk – but how much do they really know about gemstones? You have to be so careful about who you buy
Unfortunately, it often comes down to survival. Competition is cut throat, there are bills to pay and families to feed. It’s a dog eat dog world out there and many people are willing to be dishonest to make money.
But that’s why it’s so important to take care and buy from people who can
advise you properly – people with real knowledge and if you’re buying a
precious gemstone, can give you a certificate from a reputable laboratory.
Who is the Author – Part 3
The Worldwide book offers the widest, most general appeal,
to anyone interested in buying a real gemstone – it looks set to be very
popular. What led to the creation of this
book, what sort of topics does it cover and who do you hope will read it?
After I had written the first few books, it became apparent that there was a market for a more general book on buying and caring for gemstones. It’s great for people who want to know more, but haven’t booked a holiday yet, or who want to buy a gemstone in their home country. I’ve taken out the country-specific detail, which has enabled me to add a few new topics.
I think the most helpful knowledge I share will be about choosing a diamond engagement ring. It was my husband’s idea to include an easy-to-follow guide to buying a diamond after confessing that he wished he’d known more about it when he chose our engagement ring 12 years ago. It’s written to help those who find themselves in a similar position – not knowing anything about diamonds but wanting to put a carat or two on their loved one’s finger. I talk about the 4Cs in relation to diamonds, the different ring styles and gemstone cuts, and I share some tips on making your holiday proposal one to remember!
handful of other new topics in the book, but I don’t want to spoil all the surprises!
Who is the Author – Part 3
What are your top tips for anyone who
wants to buy a real gemstone, such as a diamond, in the UK?
It doesn’t matter where in the world you are buying a diamond from, the exact same rules apply – make sure you buy from a reputable jeweller, and make sure it comes with a certificate – preferably a GIA lab report.
My other suggestion is to buy only what you can afford. Don’t listen to all the hype about how many months salary you should spend on a diamond – that was a line made up by a well-known diamond company to boost sales in the 1930s! Buy something that your loved one will enjoy wearing and that will suit the lifestyle you live.
How would you
describe the Gemstone Detective series to anyone who has never heard of it
It’s a simple travel guide to buying gemstones abroad. It’s a bit like a Lonely Planet or Rough Guide – but it’s just about holiday experiences with gemstones & jewellery.
Most of the books are country specific. The books are for
tourists and travellers, whether they are gem collectors, jewellery lovers,
jewellery designers, hobbyists, or just holiday makers who want to take home a
Because I’ve been out there to research the gem trade in
each of the countries featured, the information is real, up to date and you can
The launch was very successful and those who were there have
told me they had a great time. I
certainly did – the food was great, and both conversation and bubbly were
We’ve had some excellent feedback from readers of the book. We’re racking up more 4 and 5 star reviews from readers on Netgalley, and there is a growing number of equally glowing 4 and 5 star reviews on Amazon – 15 and counting…
It’s been great to see that several people have read the first book and then pre-ordered the rest of the series. It never even crossed my mind when I began this project that people would want to collect every book!
three books in one night tonight – quite an impressive feat! Why is it important for you to offer such a
wide range of books within the series?
Well, when someone refers to a ‘series’ I think there’s an
expectation that it’s going to be more than a few books… Of course, I want my
books to help as many people as possible.
Offering such a wide range reflects how many options we now have as
tourists to travel and explore.
How long does it take
you to write each book? What is the process in terms of choosing a destination?
Each book is a combination of 2-3 research trips, which adds
up to about 4-6 weeks research in that country. I’ve often been to a country a couple of times
even before I go back for these research trips. My most recent trip was to India,
and that book is now with the printers, ready to hit the shelves in May.
It’s easy to choose countries for the series because I know
exactly which tourist destinations have a well-established gem trade. Not all gemstone-producing countries are
suitable, so I won’t be writing a book for Cambodia, Afghanistan or Madagascar
just yet – the gem trade is too young and underdeveloped.
Who is the Author – Part 2
Where are you
travelling to this year?
I’m heading off to USA next week for a 6-week trip, and I’ll
be returning to the USA in May for a further two weeks.
I’m not quite sure how the rest of the year looks yet
because I want to fit in a trip to Mogok to finish researching the Myanmar
book, and then there’s the possibility of combining a trip to several countries
in Africa – South Africa, Namibia, Tanzania and Zanzibar.
When will the next
books be released?
India will be published on 14 May 2019, and USA will be published in September 2019. I’m not yet sure about Myanmar but hopefully it will be sometime this year – if I can squeeze in that second trip to Mogok. It’s going to be a very busy year!
Who is the Author? Over the next few weeks I will tell you a bit about myself and why I am writing the Gemstone Detective series.
Who is Kim Rix? Why are you the right person to write this book?
I’m a wife, daughter, aunty, cat-lover, gin-drinking, sun-worshipping, 4 ft 11 Ninja! I’m also a professional photographer, a gemmologist and I love to travel.
I have a very well-travelled family, who now live all over
the world. Over the years I have
listened to their stories, admired their photos and wished my lottery numbers
would come up so that I too could pack my suitcase. As time went on, I found it harder and harder
to ignore my wanderlust and realised that I couldn’t just wait for that lucky
ticket – I had to get out there and do it for myself.
Something else that had been brewing up inside me for a while was the urge to learn everything I could about gemstones. I had fallen in love with gemstones as a young girl. At that tender age, all I knew was that my birthstone was amethyst, and that diamonds were a girl’s best friend. From then on, I grabbed every available opportunity to look at gemstones. It became a bit of an expensive hobby and maybe even a bit of an addiction! One day, I decided that I should turn my hobby into something more serious – so I signed up for a course at the GIA.
Then there’s my photography. I’ve had a passion for
photography since my twenties. I love capturing the beauty of life in all its
guises. On holiday that usually means
wildlife, people, street photography and occasionally landscape photography. Something that not everyone knows is that 99%
of the photography in each book was taken by me on my research trips.
When I had the idea to write this series, it just felt perfect. I knew the books could help people like the young me – people who loved gemstones but didn’t know much about them. It’s not just my expertise in gemmology that makes me the right person to write these books – I’ve had the bad experiences, myself. Several years ago, I got caught out in Egypt. I thought I was buying a real ruby at a bargain price, when in fact it was just a cheap synthetic, made in a lab. If I knew back then what I know now, that wouldn’t have happened! I don’t want other people to make that same mistake…
You’ve combined three
passions into a career – that’s really inspirational! How did you do it?
It’s easy. Once I came up with the idea, I made a commitment to myself to do it. About 4 years ago, I was diagnosed with heart disease. I made a few lifestyle adjustments and I’m fine now, but it was a pretty scary realisation. It really brought home to me how precious life is. I was determined to get this series underway quickly, because you never know what tomorrow will bring. I believe you have to grab life with both hands and make the most of it while you can. I’m cramming each day with the things I love! I’m a self-taught photographer, I’ve always loved things that are shiny and sparkly, and I love travelling and exploring the world. Writing books which help people avoid buying a fake gemstone lets me do all these things. Now I life my life with passion, purpose and I’m getting an enormous amount of pleasure doing it!
What do you love most
about photography, gemstones/jewellery and travelling?
What do I love most about it all? It’s hard to put in to words – I just love the freedom. I meet so many interesting people. I get to look at lots of lovely shiny things. And I’m seeing the world.