Amateur gold prospecting survives the test of time - FOX5 Vegas - KVVU

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Amateur gold prospecting survives the test of time

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A local prospector shows off a 2.4 ounce gold nugget found during a trip A local prospector shows off a 2.4 ounce gold nugget found during a trip
Mike Freese makes the trip from Florida to search for gold Mike Freese makes the trip from Florida to search for gold
Las Vegas prospector Charles Walker pans for gold Las Vegas prospector Charles Walker pans for gold
Doug Parker has been an amateur prospector for more than 20 years Doug Parker has been an amateur prospector for more than 20 years
Local prospectors come prepared for long hours in the desert Local prospectors come prepared for long hours in the desert
LAS VEGAS (FOX5) -

Las Vegas residents are striking it rich, and it's happening nowhere near a casino. Amateur prospectors are using the desert to find a gold mine.

The southwest is a place where brush and cactus rule the land, but there is something else that brings people to the barren land.

It is a place that is so valuable, that we were asked to keep the exact location a secret.

"I live, breathe, and prospect," said former Las Vegas resident Doug Parker.

Gold prospecting is an activity that hearkens back to the old days of the gold rush. Today, it is alive and well, miles from the Vegas strip.

"I took over for my father, learned (prospecting) from him, and taught it to my kids," Parker said.

He has done the 9-5 job, working as a slot take at the Flamingo for 25 years. Now, Parker and his friends are looking for a new kind of jackpot.

"We don't like to gamble, but we like to do this," said prospector Lorna Caldwell.

"There's gold out here all over the place," Parker noted.

The gold is found in small flakes, and believe it or not - large nuggets.

In modern times, most gold enthusiasts prefer to go the easy way, using Cash for Gold, pawn shops, and even a vending machine located inside the Golden Nugget Hotel & Casino. They all stake a claim in the expensive yellow metal.

"A little bit of gold is worth a lot of money," said Neil Sackmary, a graduate gemologist at Nevada Coin & Jewelry.

Sackmary pointed out that many of his clients are prospectors.

In fact, Nevada is responsible for 79% of all gold production in the United States. Most of that comes from mines in Northern Nevada, but there are hundreds of local prospectors and two clubs dedicated to the art:

The Gold Searchers of Southern Nevada, and the Las Vegas chapter of the Gold Prospectors Association of America.

The LVGPAA is so extensive, that it has 450 active members and monthly meetings. Most newcomers, however, are naive - or perhaps it's just wishful thinking that they will find a fortune.

"They all feel the same way, until they get out here and realize the reality of the thing," Parker said.

Each prospector has his or her own method for finding gold. Some use metal detectors, while others use a waterfall-like device called a sluice box.

Doug Parker, however, uses a series of blowers, tubes, and racks of steel – called a dry wash.

Once you find gold, it is easy to get hooked.

"I got gold fever, bad!" said Mike Freese from St. Petersburg, FL.

Decked out with his own pans and buckets, Freese comes to Las Vegas from the Sunshine State, hoping for a win he cannot get anywhere else.

"I like the casinos, but I get tired of losing all the time," Freese noted.

Yet, the truth of the matter is that prospecting is not a get-rich-quick scheme and, except the retirees, few call it a career.

"It's real nice when it's on TV, but when you get out here, you got to move quite a bit of dirt before you get that gold," said Las Vegas prospector Charles Walker. "I've got a whole conglomerate of bottle caps, tin cans, wire, paper clips."

But it's that lure of hitting the mother lode that makes gold prospecting a serious business.

"My clients are really bloodthirsty for the gold," said Sackmary.

The spirit of the Wild West is still strong, and the best locations are already claimed... so claim jumpers beware.

"Some places you can go in Nevada, they'll shoot you, and ask questions later," said Parker.

But for LVGPAA members like Katherine Gonzales, who is still rather new to the craft, the desert is the place to be.

"I think those people are priceless… all the people you meet. They're the gold nuggets," Gonzales said.

Both the GSSN and LVGPAA are accepting new members. For details, visit the links on the right side of this page. Annual memberships range from $35-67.50.

McCaw Elementary in Henderson is also home to the McCaw School of Mines, which teaches children about prospecting history. For more information on this educational program, call: 799-3546.

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