Yup! You read correctly! There is gold in The Kenduskeag Stream, and with a lot of hard work you can find some of your own!
A fun member of the family on my wife’s side invited me, and my son William to join her on a prospecting expedition (after I had invited myself a few weeks earlier). She advised us to be prepared to get wet, and told us to bring a short handle shovel and a bucket.
Our guide is all too happy to share the years of knowledge she has acquired on the subject of prospecting for gold. She told me, “It is my Zen time after a hard day’s work and I don’t do it for any money just enjoying nature.” She tells me she has no intention of selling the gold she finds. She further tells me, ” There is a ton of stuff to learn and it has taken me years to learn it which is why I like to teach people. I feel the art of gold panning is lost as people think the only gold is in western maine or in Alaska, such a shame more people are not interested in this hobby.”
The day of our adventure was hot and muggy, with a breeze that hinted of the possibility of a storm. One thing was certain, that breeze would keep the skeeters away!
William and I had been out late the evening before, and got a late start crawling out of bed. I checked for a message from our guide before we headed out, and was told where to meet, and to watch for a flag on the trees to mark the trail.
Like the prospectors heading for the Yukon Territory in the year of ’92, we hit the local On The Run to lay in provisions…Iced tea for me, and an orange juice, and an apple juice for William.
Since it wasn’t winter, or 1892 for that matter, we didn’t have a team of huskies for me to mush, but that didn’t stop me from humming parts of an old Johnny Horton tune, “where the river is winding, big nuggets we’re finding…” as I put the minivan in gear, and headed for The Kenduskeag.
Once we approached the particular piece of stream our guide had carefully scouted, I spotted the trail marker easily, and I pulled off the road and parked. We got all of our gear out of the van, and William helped me load it all on to the pack mule…Me…then we carefully picked our way down the steep and muddy trail. When we burst through the bushes to the stream bank we saw what looked like an archeological dig in progress!
There were folks with buckets, and screening equipment, and folks with shovels filling even more buckets with material to screen. Further down stream our guide was with another greenhorn prospector showing them how to set up backpack sluice that was 32 inches long, and 10 inches wide, in a patch of fast water.
I introduced myself to the others, and watched what was happening for a few minutes, to get a feel for things. Two members of our group were using screens to “classify the material” that had been dug up from a spot in the stream behind a large rock.
Gold will travel along a swift stream, and stop behind big rocks. Being heavier than sand, it settles to the bottom with heavy black sand called Magnetite“ and non magnetic iron, lead, silver and other heavy metals. Over time the gold gets buried by larger creek stones, and sand.
The folks that were filling the buckets with material to be classified had moved away all the stones that were bigger than golf balls, scraped off the top layer of gravel, and then dug down to a depth of at least 6 inches, before putting their shovelfuls into the buckets. The folks getting the sand ready to be sluiced, were sifting the materials through round pans with screens in the bottom called classifiers.
You stack the classifiers over the top of a bucket, with a 1/8th inch one first, then a 1/4 inch in the middle, and a half inch one on top. Then you take a soup can or similar scoop full of sand and gravel from your bucket and start sorting, or “classifying” your material.
You dump a can full on the top classifier screen, and then pour water over the rocks until all the sand, and smaller material have washed through. Then you check the rocks for anything interesting…Think arrowheads, old pottery, old car parts, neat rocks…(Granite can contain gold particles, and you may find copper, and silver as well!)
Once you are satisfied that you have found all the neat stuff there is in the half inch, You toss all the remaining rocks, and you proceed to rinse the 1/4 inch classifier screen and look through what is left in there, and lastly on to the 1/8th inch.
The BEST stuff is going to be left in the bucket, and will need to be sluiced. Sluicing will remove the “blonde” sand…This is lighter than the black sand, and will wash away in the sluice.
The folks over at the sluice were taking the classified materials from a bucket, and placing it in the current at the mouth of the sluice box. The light material washed back into the stream, while the heavier materials were trapped on the ribs of the sluice, and in the filters.
After a bucket was emptied the entire sluice was carefully rinsed back into the bucket so that any material that was left behind could then be panned.
Our guide did most of the panning, because it was NOT as easy to do as she made it look! She has been panning around the state of Maine for a long time, and has had plenty of practice!
She used a 10 Inch Garrett gold pan, and before long had a nice bit of black sand in the bottom of the pan, and EUREKA! Tiny little specks of gold glittered in the pan! This is known as “flour gold” and to remove it from the pan you need a little bottle called a “sniffer bottle” (think along the lines of a clear Visene bottle), you squeeze out the air, and place it near your gold, and suck it into the bottle.
I will admit, I was skeptical, but I saw it with my own eyes! William and I got a late start, and as such, I had only filled one bucket with material to classify. Once classified, there was maybe a quarter of a five gallon bucket left to be sluiced, and even less than that left to be panned.
William did all the sluicing, and our guide helped him pan, and we DID have flour gold! The spot our guide had showed us to dig was far better than I had anticipated! To hit black sand so shallow was a great thing, flour gold in the first panning was even better! I was curious how much more we would find in the second pan.
Sadly the weather was starting to look scary, and the hour was getting late…Earlier in the day one of the prospectors had been frightened off the rock she was sitting on while putting material into the sluice by a large wolf spider. After they had left, and William and I were taking our turn at the sluice he let out a startled cry that made me think the spider was back, but it was only a crayfish crawling up his leg, so he was a little freaked out. And then I started thinking about the fact that there are lamprey eels in The Kenduskeag, and I got a little freaked out too. Plus, we had all gotten a lot of sun. It was time to call it a day.
Our guide promised to finish panning William’s bucket of material, and give it to him in a jar. But I was NOT expecting what she found for him!
William and I had actually uncovered a piece of gold big enough to be classified as a “picker”! A piece of gold that is big enough to be removed from the pan with your fingers, and not a sniffer bottle!
Now you are not likely to get rich, but if you are willing to work hard, and you know just the spots to look, YOU could find gold of your own in The Kenduskeag Stream, and not just there either!
Our guide tells us she has found gold in most every rocky bottomed stream she has looked in, and several streams in Western Maine are well known for finding small nuggets.
Maine is LOADED with streams and rivers left over from the glaciers that carved pathways into the granite foundation of our wonderful state, and those same glaciers carried “placer gold” with them. Placer gold is gold that has been moved away from the main vein, or source of a gold deposit, and as such it is weathered, beaten, and ground down into small nuggets, flakes, and powder.
For placer gold to turn to powder, it has likely traveled a very long time, and likely hundreds of miles from its source…
Who knows? Maybe YOU can be lucky enough to find a vein of gold at its source somewhere in one of Maine’s many streams, and creeks! One thing is certain! You will NEVER find Maine Gold if you don’t go out and look for it!