Golden Years

Kevin Roberts digs under boulders along the Rogue River for they right dirt and mud teaching Melly Wright how to look for gold.

Gold fever started with a newspaper article for 89-year-old Melly Wright.

"Golden Glimmerings on the Rogue," the headline read on the front page of the June 24, 2010, issue of the Mail Tribune. The article announced the beginning of dredging season and the success miners were having near the former site of the Savage Rapids Dam in Rogue River.

Wright and her husband, Paul, intended to go panning the following summer. Melly started collecting pamphlets from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and other articles and eventually purchased two gold pans.

"We didn't think it was a bucket list," Wright said, "just something kind of fun."

Around the time the article was published, Paul was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He lost his battle in December 2011.

When Wright saw a notice in the Mail Tribune a month later asking readers, "What's on your bucket list?" she remembered the gold pans.

"I have one thing I wish on my bucket list. It is panning for gold!" Wright wrote the Mail Tribune.

So on a clear February afternoon, Rogue River native and gold panning hobbyist Kevin Roberts took Wright for her first panning experience.

Roberts chose a rocky location near the former Savage Rapids Dam, the same area Wright and her husband first read about.

Every adventure has an element of danger, and for Wright it was just getting there.

"Oh, you've got to be kidding me!" Wright said.

But with Wright being bold, and Roberts being careful, the two pressed on to a digging site below a boulder near the high-water mark.

"I've had the most success off Savage Rapids Dam," Roberts said. "We chose that location because there's a bend in the river, and there's bedrock on that side of the river."

In those conditions, Roberts explained, gold, which starts upstream on every tributary of the Rogue River, gets pushed into a clay iron layer in the soil.

Roberts moved a boulder near the high water mark where he noticed a rusty color and dug up the dark, rich and gold-containing soil known as "pay dirt."

"It's got all that iron ore, that hematite," Roberts said. "You know you'll get some gold."

After a few steps rinsing the pay dirt for Wright, Roberts put the soil in Wright's gold pan and explained to her that gold is heavier than the other parts of the soil, and the pan's edges are designed to separate those lighter parts from the gold that wants to sink.

"You just go through, swirling and shaking off the lighter stuff," Roberts said.

As Roberts taught her the panning motion, Wright noticed that it required a special touch that she couldn't quite duplicate.

"The pan itself, that was the hardest part," Wright said. "I think it takes practice."

"Once you get the hang of it, it's really easy," Roberts said.

The swirling and shaking motion eventually separates the dark colored mercury, and the gold flashes in the pan.

"The flash in the pan," Roberts said, "that's the medicine for your fever."

Roberts explained that the way to discern real gold flakes from pyrite is that bona fide gold shimmers in all light.

The two didn't find any nuggets that day, but Roberts spotted several gold flakes in the pan, and used an inexpensive glass eyedropper to carefully remove the flakes. Roberts emptied the flakes into a small plastic container to Wright's delight.

"He was just sorry he didn't find a bigger piece," Wright said in appreciation of Roberts' help and her keepsake.

Wright, who has an active lifestyle at Rogue Valley Manor, chose to put panning for gold on her bucket list so she could enjoy the outdoors, and she considers this the start of a "fun hobby."

"I'm sure I can talk more people into it," Wright said.

She admitted, however, that she'll probably find a different location.

"I'm going to be doing more of it," Wright said. "But I'm not going down that rocky hill."

Reach Mail Tribune staffer Nick Morgan at 541-776-4477 or by email at nmorgan@mailtribune.com.



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