Thursday, March 6, 2014

Picture of the Moment -- There's Gold in Them Hills, but Not in This Pan

Just moments before a flash of temper, a gold prospector realizes he's been skunked. But everyone is guaranteed to find a little color at Big Thunder Gold Mine in Keystone, South Dakota, even if Dad has to give a little help.

Seconds later this little prospector tossed his gold pan in frustration. Stubbornness is a virtue among gold panners, and prospecting is not the profession of the impatient. But few people got rich during the great gold rushes of the 19th century and early 20th century. The real money was made by the people that supplied food, equipment and the staples--blue jeans, bullets, booze and burlesque. The demotivational poster was created using a tool on

The 1892-vintage Big Thunder mine is a great place to try your hand at panning on the front porch or in nearby Battle Creek, and if you don't strike it rich there's always the ice cream. And you won't strike it rich, even with gold at $1300/oz.

The site includes a mining museum, gift shops and option of a tour of the underground workings, where all mine visitors get a free sample of gold ore. We visited the beautiful Black Hills a couple times (2004, 2006) for a western-themed family camping, and gold panning at a variety of locations was a highlight for the kids. These tourist sites are "seeded," as it is very rare to find any color in the played-out surroundings (and still productive sites are probably over private claims), but the process is much the same as in the 1870s.

The nearby Homestake Gold Mine in Lead was the deepest gold mine in North America when it closed in 2002 after producing approximately 40 million ounces of gold over 126 years, one of the continent's biggest single lodes.