Casual Gold Panning

Looking for free places to  pan for gold

The book I have  is Kevin Singel’s Finding Gold in Colorado. It is supremely helpful in finding places to hunt for gold for free in Colorado. Great hints, very specific. I have gone to several spots and the directions and descriptions are right on.

You can also pan in National Forests and BLM.

Rules for National Forests

I found that most National Forests allow panning. Pan and shovel seems to be tools that are permitted in the most areas. (Some people have lots of machinery: metal detectors, sluicers, dredges, high bankers, trommels and machinery to run them. Depends on the individual area within the NF as to what is allowed. ) Most wilderness areas do not permit panning or detecting.

Rules for BLM

“There is no requirement for notifying the BLM of casual use activities. Casual use activities are those that cause only negligible disturbance of public lands and resources. For example, activities that do not involve the use of earthmoving equipment or explosives may be considered casual use.”

Good Manners

  • fill in any holes you make
  • no digging on the banks of the waterways
  • pick up all trash
  • pay attention to land boundaries
  • utmost respect for private property

There are mining claims and private property on both BLM and NFS lands. These boundaries  are often hard to discern. Often there are no  boundary markers.  GPS is good to 15 feet, so even that is not exact. I use mylandmatters  and/or thediggings to see if there is an active claim anywhere near. And use Google Earth.  NFS MVU (motor vehicle use ) maps show private land, but finding the exact boundary is sometimes problematic. You can get 3 free Avenza maps on your phone/ipad/computer. Those are better than the folding/paper MVU maps.

Panning for gold/ metal detecting for gold is free, rewarding and entertaining. You will learn lots about government rules, mining claims, and geology. And maybe get gold!

panning for gold



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Holiday Dispersed Camping

It is very difficult to find an empty dispersed spot during a holiday. I tried to camp in a spot near to the claim, but it was jammed packed with big rigs. There was not a spot within 30 miles. Aggh. It was the start of the muzzle loader and bow hunting season. It was a few days before Labor Day weekend. So I headed up the West Dolores, remembering a few spots.
Found delight.

Camping on the West Dolores

Really loving this easy to put up tarp, even if the fancy clips i “glued” to the topper fell off within 10 seconds. I just used bungee cords.

Back of truck with tarp

It does add a bit of curiosity for the passerbys. They have a tendency to walk by stooped, to peek under the tarp. Tarp held up to squirrels throwing immature pine cones down and waving sticky branches.

Fishing the W Dolores

I lay in the hammock and watched this fella catch a nice sized trout. He was beyond thrilled. It was his third day without catching anything.

Floating the West Dolores

Bunches of screaming children would come up and down to tube the river. Their laughs and screams  and shouts and banter were invigorating and joyful. Their parents would walk by and apologize if the kids were bothering me.

Before anyone was up or after they went to dinner I would take my pan and go down to the river and pan. I found gold. My first. West Dolores gold

I cannot tell you how thrilled I still am.

The truck was perfect for this spot. Unless you has a 4wd there was no way for you to leave the camp spot. It was very steep and rocky.

The truck camper hint: Look for a spot that needs your 4wd. You will find a great spot, even on a holiday!

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So Glad I Did

Truck camper choices that still please after 5 years

1. Tailgate

plywood tailgate

This crummy piece of plywood is still loved and cherished. No spilling coffee in the ribs of the tailgate. No twisting of kneecaps, crawling into the back. Easy/inexpensive to replace.

2. Topper Back Curtain

The topper back curtain

How the back curtain attaches

This “velcroed” cloth is perfect. It keep the great majority of flies and mosquitos and hummingbirds out of the back of the truck. And curious people gazes. Easy to take down for driving, easy to put up. It folds down to a small size. It is getting a bit ratty. One day I will find a seamstress with a heavy duty machine to put a new one together.

Under-the-Bed Curtains

Curtains instead of drawers

Couldn’t be happier with the decision to have curtains instead of drawers. Initially it was to save weight. Now its for the convenience. So easy to flip that curtain up to see under the bed and/or the shelf.  And looks so neat with so little effort.  Also still pleased with the  runner rugs. I buy 2 new ones every other year,  and cut them to fit. Easy to clean.


Coffee choices for living in a truck camper

The taste of the Vietnamese phin was the best, but cleaning it out after every use was a pain in the water supply. And the patience of the cook.

The drip was tasty. Super easy cleaning. I had used this for years.  This was in the running. The downside to the drip is the awkward size and shape to pack.

The french press was  a cleaning problem, and it didn’t do as well as the others in making small amounts of coffee. The glass was a bad idea, but there are stainless steel ones.

The Aero Press was  the winner. The coffee is very good, there is a metal screen for the filter and the cleaning is a snap. The slight down side of the Aero is that it isn’t as tiny as the phin. After 5 years its still true. Still love it. This is a truck camper’s excellent choice. (Even if I dislike having single use items.)

Shudda, Cudda, Wudda …

Coat all plywood
Put it together with screws, not nails
Smaller cook set up (what was I thinking?)
Fewer tools (what was I thinking?)
Packed fewer _______ (what was I thinking?)
Turned the sliding window around … tried, but can’t quite figure it out. Maybe one day.






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Fixing and Boondocking and Panning

Tarp Fixing

The old tarp was luxurious and endlessly challenging to hook up by myself.  Several times I ended up crying after it fell to the ground, again,  and I had to start over. The white tarp was full of holes from folding and unfolding for four years. Finally gave it away and thought about solutions.
Dispersed Camping

I bought a terrific tarp that I wanted to attach, without drilling holes in the aluminum topper.

I glued on 3 latch parts, 1 on each side, one on top. I have 3 carabiners, so it should be only seconds to set up this end of the tarp.

tarp topper latch

Next I went to get a pool noodle or pipe insulation to protect the tarp from getting poked by the back hatch corners. Ha. I am too late for  pool noodles. I am too early for pipe insulation. Soon. (That didn’t last 10 seconds. Ended up using bungee cords to the wheel wells.)

Meanwhile I checked out a secret boondocking spot. Secret boondocking spot

I spent some time collecting trash, then  went panning for gold. I had looked online and there was not an active claim here, so I felt free to “prospect”.


A beautiful, clear river.


I was beyond excited to find “black sand”*  in the first pan. First time ever! I even was able to find some specks of gold in each pan. (Specks are one step larger than the flour gold I had been finding. Aussies call them “bits”.)

*”Black sand concentrates are what you end up with after first processing of your gold bearing material. It is usually a combination of minerals in the iron group: Hematite, Fe3o3, with a specific gravity of 5.26, an iron mineral that is non-magnetic and Magnetite, Fe3o4, with a specific gravity of 5.20, is magnetic.” (thanks to goldfeverprospecting) The black sand I had was mostly Magnetite. Got rid of it with a magnet wrapped in a plastic baggy. A few specks of gold remained. What silly joy.

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Wandering and Reading

Loose Life of a Truck Camper
wandering in Colorado

I wandered around until I found a dirt road. And signs saying ” Caution: Horses”. That was a good indication for bucolic tranquility. So I went deeper into the woods, and up very rocky, dusty dirt roads.  And stopped to look at a bullet ridden map.

map of the area

Looked good to me. In the San Juan National Forest. As I was getting ready to head out a convoy of flatbed trailers pulled up and unload 12 ATVs. It has been very dry here. They drove in with huge cloud of dust that swirled around in the breeze they created. They left in a very loud dust cloud. Then two more gooseneck trailers  pull up with 6 more atvs, crosswise, on each of the beds. There must have been some kind of rally going on. I wandered off. Passed a few more atv haulers on their way in. Glad I left.

Slick Rock Outfitters

I wandered up to a favorite camping spot and met the guys from Slick Rock Outfitters.  I am not crazy about what they do (big game killing). I wish no one did that any more. They were very polite and informative about the land and vegetation.  They had gotten the rights from the National Forest Service  to hunt the area. They were here to cut a trail to the area.

I was off to read a book.

mystery book like
Mysteries are my next-to-favorite fiction genre*.  I read Kill The Father 2 years ago and told all of my reading friends about it. I gave it away. Just the other day I found another copy of it in the Second Chance Thrift Store in Dolores, Colorado. I bought it again, read it again (so rare for me), and it is still a winner. Love the characters. Love the setting. Might read it again, if I find it in another thrift store.

I am TRYING to segue int0/ on to a Kindle. Damn hard. There is not the tactile pleasure of a book. No book smell. No riffling the pages. No color in the kindle covers. No reading the gushing reviews from other authors. No easy way to check the pub date. No airline ticket envelope holding a place. No old Polaroid images falling out as you gently open the gently used book. No former-reader-notes (with exclamation marks!)  written in tiny letter in the margins. I rearrange books. I am frustrated and annoyed while trying to arrange the Kindle “books”.

I know it makes sense to read with a Kindle. I like reading at night with the lit page. I almost like holding 100 books in one hand. I have Kindle Unlimited, yet will still go to a thrift store and buy a bag of books for $5.

*Science fiction is still #1, particularly Octavia Butler.
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