Green River Star -

By Stephanie Thompson
People Editor 

Searching for the gold


Star photo by Stephanie Thompson

Don Jones runs some of his test samples through a sluice box in his backyard.

The moment Don Jones saw the gold in his pan he knew he was in trouble.

He caught a bad case of gold fever.

The only way to solve his gold-fever problem was to keep looking for more gold.

"I've been playing around with it since I was 14 years old," Jones said.

Mining just seemed to run in the family and Jones, a Green River resident, said his mother recently gave him his grandfather's gold pan. He said a lot of his family members were coal miners or railroad workers.

Although Jones chose a different path when he worked as a PacifiCorp manager for the Northern Utah and Southern Wyoming regions, he couldn't wait to try his luck at finding gold when he retired 10 years ago.

Gold isn't his only area of expertise. Jones also focuses on rocks, including garnets and agates. Sometimes he even hunts for diamonds, which have been rumored to be around the Green River area.

"Gold is a good focus; and that's my primary," Jones said.

With this in mind, Jones purchased claims near South Pass and the Oregon Trail.

"I've been working that area since 2009," Jones said.

However, Jones had often visited this same area when he was about 14 years old. Prior to obtaining this claim, Jones made sure to do his research through Fremont County and the Bureau of Land Management. He also went out to the site he had in mind and did some prospecting.

When he found some gold on the land, he went through the legal process of claiming the land.

"My claims are federally registered mining claims," he said.

Jones' claim covers 140 acres under the placer mining designation. Placer gold mining is gold that lies just above the bedrock. Anytime a person goes below the bedrock and starts digging it is considered gold load mining, which is a completely different designation.

Jones is proud to get what's on the surface; and what he calls "gold that was left behind."

The property

Before Jones can even start prospecting his claim, he makes sure people know where his claim is.

Jones starts off every trip to his claim, by inspecting it. He is looking to see if anyone has been digging holes or mining on his claim. He also checks to make sure his claim marking posts are still up and in the right location.

During Jones' last trip to his claim, he discovered holes on it. None of his marking posts had been moved or tampered with so he went to work filling the holes back up and putting up more marking posts on his claim.

Jones was irritated with the fact that people just left the holes. He said he works hard to keep his claim hole free.

"We try to be real conscientious miners," Jones said. "I believe in being a steward of the land."

This extends beyond the holes for Jones. He can tell anyone where sage grouse, elk, deer and coyote live on his claim; and he is careful to avoid those areas.

One time, Jones was busy prospecting when he kept hearing a whimpering noise. At first, he couldn't figure out what it was, but then he found a hole leading into a coyote den. Jones said he covered his hole and left the area immediately because he didn't want to disturb the coyote cubs and their mother's den.

Working the land

Jones has been working his claim in a grid pattern so he knows where he is going and where he has been. According to Jones, he looks for certain plants and rocks when searching for gold.

"I'm not going to give all my secrets away," Jones said.

Jones, who belongs to the Gold Prospecting Association of America and the Wyoming Prospectors Association, is happy to help out fellow prospectors and show them a thing or two, but he isn't going to share his secrets with just anyone.

When Jones works on his claim, he removes the overburden so he can get down to the gravel, he then takes that natural material and runs it into a classifying gold screen. This dirt goes into a bucket.

"You're looking for a specific kind of dirt," he said.

Jones wouldn't give any secrets away, but said gold miners would know what he was talking about. This dirt just has a different smell and look to it, Jones has discovered over the years.

Recently, Jones came back with buckets of dirt which he referred to as test samples. He was taking these test samples and running them through a sluice box he had set up in his backyard. Jones' sluice box was small, but it got the job done. As water runs through a sloping trough, Jones scoops his test dirt out of the bucket and dumps it on the sloping trough. The dirt then runs down into a bin and the gold separates from it. The gold that separates from the dirt is collected at the bottom of the trough in the grooves.

Jones pays careful attention to which test samples he is running.

Between now and August, Jones will continue to get test samples from his claim. Since his claim has no running water, Jones uses a dry washer for gold.

Star photo by Stephanie Thompson

Don Jones spreads out the rocks to see if any gold was caught in the sluice-box grooves.

Jones said he waits until August to do this process because by then the dirt has dried out, which makes the process a lot easier.

Even though Jones has found his 'sweet spot,' which he will dry wash in August, he will continue to prospect more of his claim.

"It's good gold and that's all I can say," Jones said.

Sharing what he knows

In January of 2015, Jones had a major heart attack.

"I survived what the cardiologist called a 'widow maker'," he said.

Since then, Jones has realized just how lucky he was and how he may not always be around to pass on what he knows.

Jones has invited some of his friends from the Wyoming Prospectors Association to his claim to share with them what he has learned about the process.

"I'm willing to share my knowledge and go out and have fun," he said.


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