Panning for gold is not for the lighthearted, but it can be an engaging experience that almost always shows tiny flickers of yellow if you’re in the right creek, according to Mike Pigg Sr., who took up the hobby less than a month ago and already has a few flecks of gold to show for his labor.
Pigg started panning at the urging of his friends Larry and Tammy Ward, fellow deer hunters, who said they knew just the place to start.
The trio of friends worked in Sugar Creek, Ind., for a full week June 1-6. Pigg got more than a thimbleful of gold. He got a small plastic baggy of fossils, a small vial of clear quartz... and he got hooked.
“It’s a great hobby if you know what you’re doing,” Pigg said.
Sugar Creek, where Pigg and the Wards worked, is a 90-mile-long river that cuts across central Indiana from Tipton County to the Wabash River. It’s unique in that it has only one large settlement built on its bank, which is Crawfordsville. Locals say it is the most beautiful stream in the state.
And, it has gold, Pigg said, holding up a tiny glass vial with a whisper of gold fleck rattling inside.
“That’s $22 worth of gold,” he said, “and it’s a week’s work.”
Pigg did not spend the whole week panning. He started with a study of how to pan for gold and a list of equipment needed. Ward introduced him to the Gold Prospecting Association of America (GPAP) and helped find the answer to the nettling question that he had: “Why would there be gold in Indiana?”
With the Wards as his instructors, Pigg learned that there is gold in most Indiana creeks. Sugar Creek just happens to be solitary, accessible and friendly. The reason there is gold there harkens back to past ages. Hard rock deposits of gold, located in Ontario and northern Michigan, were stripped away by glaciers and moved southward into Indiana during the Ice Age.
Indiana gold is generally 22-24 karat in quality, gold-panning professionals say, and more frequent than one might think. Gold nuggets and flakes are common in the black sands found in Salt Creek and Sugar Creek.
“But getting the gold out of the sand is not a simple thing,” Pigg said. “You have to work.
“The sand will be deposited under a rock and you have to shovel it out from under the rock and run it over a sluice into a pan,” he said.
The price of gold has sky rocketed in recent months, creating a renewed interest in panning for gold. Southern Indiana is seeing a large number of prospectors like Pigg and the Wards.
Another promising gold panning location beckons the new prospector. There’s a salt lake in Oklahoma, which offers free permits.
“Tammy (Ward) wants to go there,” Pigg said, “and pretty much where Tammy wants to go is where we’ll go.”
Pigg pulls a 27-foot travel trailer, where he and his wife camp with the comforts of air-conditioning and bathrooms.
After Oklahoma, Pigg said he has heard that good gold panning can be found in Alabama, and after that North Carolina. It’s a never-ending quest that actually does make some people rich. For most prospectors, the hobby offers healthy activity and familiarity with the nation’s streams.
Meanwhile, the Piggs and Wards are going back to Indiana in July and there is a gold show in St. Joseph, Mo., in October.
“I’m just fascinated with the stuff,” Pigg said. “It’s backbreaking work, but you know it’s in there.”