The Riding Tree Press is pleased to announce a great book titled: A Guide to Gold Panning in Utah. It includes Maps, photos, histories and more. Included is every thing you need to know about where to pan for GOLD in Utah.
I have just heard that the Public Panning Area in on Crescent Creek has been closed. Apparently, the previous owners sold the claims and the new owners have closed the area to the public. This is unfortunate as it has been a great area to visit, but the new owner may do as he pleases with his claims. Please stay off the area that has traditionally been a public area. Please respect private claims.
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Sept. 2, 20414
The Silver Islet Mountains of Utah©2013
By Alan J. Chenworth
Originally Published in the International California Mining Journal in January 2014
The Silver Islet mountains sit out on the Salt Flats north east of Wendover, and just to the north of the Speed Week race track. The range is relatively large, averaging about 38 miles in length and 8 miles at its widest. The range trends to the north west. The Silver Islet range is composed of several large blocks of limestone that have been pushed up to about 7300 feet in elevation and is made of three main “islands”, including Crater Island on the north, Silver Island in the middle and a smaller, un-named island-mountain to the south that is home to Tezlaff and Rishel Peaks. Aside from some scattered juniper and sage, none of these mountains have much vegetation, though the range is strikingly beautiful. As with most of the mountains in the Basin and Range Province, the Silver Islet range is bounded by large normal faults where the valleys drop during extension of the underlying plate. Large, east-west normal faults with several hundred feet of offset are also present and are visible from the road (see photo).
Access to the range is good. It is a 15-20 minute drive from Wendover, and there is a nice, well graded dirt road that runs all the way around the range. Small ungraded dirt roads will periodically leave the main road to access points of interest in the Silver Islet Mountains.
As I had never been to this range before, and knew little about the area, I focused my attention on some mines and prospects in Silver Island Canyon, which is found on the the north east part of Silver Island Mountain. The map listed the road as a jeep trial, but I navigated it just fine in my 2wd truck (and incidentally, I did see a Subaru car parked on the side of the road about half way through the canyon).
The area was completely deserted and, aside from the empty Subaru, I never saw another vehicle the entire time I was in the range. It is truly a solitary place.
The Silver Islet mountains have been a historical producer of lead-silver ore. According to Butler (1920), in the book Ore Deposits of Utah, the first mineral in the range was discovered by a sheepherder named McKeller—and the Silver Islet mining district was organized in 1872. (A conflicting report by GRE identifies the White Star mine as being located in 1864 with the discovery of a high grade outcrop of silver ore), and mentions that it was still in production in 1917. Total production for the district was reported at $809 in gold, 110,614 ounces of silver, 57,353 pounds of copper and about 414,339 pounds of lead—with a total value of $90,219 by 1920. While the production has been relatively small, the lead silver veins were of a comparably high grade. There is no record of production past 1920, though evidence (garbage and mining relics) suggests that there has been fairly recent mining in the area (past 1960). Gold Rush Expeditions (GRE) also details mining through World War II and some active claim staking through 1956.
As placer gold is not uncommon in other silver lead districts—and there was some gold recovered with these silver mines—I brought my dry-washer along in the hope that this area would also have some placer gold associated with the veins, or possibly from a small gold skarn deposit.
The first place I stopped in Silver Island Canyon was an old prospect on the west side of Cobb Peak. It was a small cut into the side of the hill where there was an iron stained outcropping. It appeared that this area was what is often called a silicified “reef”. This is where hot, acidic fluids interact with a limestone–often along faults—and dissolve the limestone country rock, replacing it with quartz, along with various minerals. In this case iron (probably originally in the form of pyrite) was one of the minerals left with the silica (quartz). The pyrite has since oxidized, giving the rusty appearance seen in the outcrop.
I set up my dry washer on the north side of the cut and sampled the bedrock and dumps around me. As I was only sampling, I ran for 20-30 minutes, shoveling from a variety of areas. When I cleaned up, I didn’t find any gold (at least not visible gold), and had only a little black sand, so I packed up and headed north.
After only a few miles I came over a ridge and started down toward the salt flats again, I came upon another mine workings. This one was much larger and appeared to be more than a prospect. They had put some time into this mine and had worked several benches—then came back in and reclaimed the area. Old fuel drums, equipment parts and some reclamation suggest that this mine was worked more recently. Like the previous stop, the limestone here had been replaced with quartz/silica and had created a hard, rusty red quartz breccia (a breccia is broken up rock that is re-cemented together). The canyon below the mine was heavy with sediment and did not have any accessible bedrock, but after another dry-washer run, I didn’t find any visible gold in the alluvial (stream deposited) sediments here either.
By the time I finished here, it was well past noon, and I figured I had time for one more stop. Turning back to the south, I went over the ridge and down the canyon. About half way back to the main road, the trail I was on had a fork that turned to the north. I followed this road to its end where I found another collection of old mines, including a small adit and a shaft that I estimate to be 60-80 feet deep. The head frame to the shaft was gone, but there were a number of heavy timbers crossing the top of the shaft and an old steel ladder made from welded rebar that descended into the darkness. The rocks surrounding these mines, as well as in the dumps, were stained rusty red from iron oxide—and the blue/turquoise of copper staining was also apparent. A short walk down the canyon to the south brought me to some exposed bedrock, so I filled a 5 gallon bucket with material from off the bedrock and carried it back to the truck. After filling a tub with water, I panned down the material and found a few specs of fine flour gold in three of the test pans. Things were starting to look up! The presence of gold in the test pans meant that it might be worth my time to carry my dry-washer down the canyon to see if I could find more gold (or better gold) in the area.
It took about half an hour to pack the dry washer down the canyon and set up, but since I was on both shallow and exposed bedrock, I figured I would have a good chance at finding some gold. I worked for about 30-45 minutes, moving some rocks and boulders, cleaning about 10 square feet of bedrock and cleaning out some bedrock cracks. Then I cleaned out the dry washer and hiked back up to the truck to pan it down.
I panned it down slowly and carefully. It took me about 20 minutes to pan the material and check it for gold. After finding gold in the original test pans, I was surprised that there was no gold here in the dry-washed material. I even used a hand lense to look for the fine flour gold, and didn’t find any.
I went back and vacuumed up the bedrock because it was very rough—maybe the gold was right on the rock—but my luck was the same. There was only one tiny spec that was barely visible and it was stuck in a scratch in the bottom of my pan. Since I already had the dry washer down in the gulch, I thought I should give it another try. I moved it up to the same place where I dug the original sample with gold in it and did anther short run. Again, no gold. After two hours of dry-washing, I hadn’t found more than a single spec of gold.
While taking a short break, I looked down the canyon toward the Salt Flats as I leaning against my truck. I was appreciating the view in the cool evening air, while I pondered how I could get gold in the small sample that I test panned, but not the larger bulk run with the dry-washer. I quickly narrowed it down to three possibilities:
1: I got all of the gold the area had to offer in my test pan (not likely);
2: My dry washer was not capable of capturing the flour gold found here (possible, but not likely as I have found gold like this before);
3: My pan, bucket or vacuum was contaminated with gold from another area (very likely since the weekend before I had found gold that looked just like it with the same pan that I carried in the same panning bag—and had recently used the bucket to carry dirt from another similar deposit).
It didn’t take long to realize that I may have had a false positive in my test pans because I didn’t properly clean my equipment. The pan had been rinsed out and the dry-washer cleaned, and I had used them to sample the material at the last two Silver Island prospects—but the bucket had not been cleaned. Before I filled it with the test material, I had tipped it upside down to dump out any material that was still hanging around in the bucket, beat on it a few times to dislodge any mud or sand that was stuck to the inside, then filled it part-way with sand and swirled it around to dislodge any gold bearing material that may be stuck there and dumping it out again to clean the bucket. I did this twice before I filled the bucket with the material that I sampled, but I had not taken the time to actually wash it out. There is a chance that the gold I found may have been from this wash, but I believe it was from another gold bearing area hundreds of miles away as a result of contaminated samples.
Even though I did not find any placer gold in the Silver Islet mountains, I will be going back there to do more prospecting. I only sampled one small corner of the range, and there are a number of other mines in other parts of the range, both to the west and south, and some of these areas have a higher concentration of mines and longer mining history than the area I visited. Because of the $809 dollars of gold that was recovered (at $20/oz), I know that there is some gold there—even if it has only been found in trace amounts. Also, limestone is known to have an affinity for gold—and gold in limestone tends to be microscopic in size, such as the Carlin style deposits found in Nevada, that don’t generally have gold that is visible to the naked eye.
While I was exploring the range, I found marble, strong iron oxides, copper oxide staining and silicified reefs. Furthermore, Butler (in The Ore Deposits of Utah) reported diorite and other igneous dikes cutting through the area. Taken together, all of these things are indicative of a potential mineral deposit.
There is geology here that is favorable for Carling style mineralization, and the area would be a great place for gold exploration by a mining company with the resources to put in a drill and take some down-hole samples, or maybe do a gravity or magnetic survey. Given the amount of copper that has been found in the areas mines, there is also the chance for a deeply buried copper porphyry deposit. The range has been little explored and prospected, and may yet offer a potential bonanza for the prospector willing to put in the leg work.
In respect to mineral exploration and claim staking, much of the range remains open, though there are some active claims in the area. These claims are generally small and located around the old mines and prospects. Please respect posted claims.
Butler, B.S., The Ore Deposits of Utah, 1920, USGS Prof. Paper 111, p. 486-488.
Gold Rush Expeditions