Panning or sluicing for shiny flakes in a stream near Blewett Pass — or anywhere the gold bug takes you — can be rewarding in more ways than one.
BLEWETT PASS — The two men stepping out of the pickup truck were rough-looking fellows.
One of them wore a sidearm pistol, and the second was missing a front tooth and held a spade with a deadly-looking spike on one end.
On a normal day, these aren’t the type of strangers I would follow under a bridge deep in the mountains. But on this particular day, we were kindred spirits.
That’s because we were after the same thing: tiny flecks of placer gold that wash into streambeds.
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Joe Rangel and Jesse Manion, of Moses Lake, are modern-day prospectors. I met them scouting Peshastin Creek near Blewett Pass when I was out trying to learn more about where precious metals and gems occur in nature.
As it turns out, looks can be deceiving, both in the people you meet and where you hunt for gold.
While my new mentors seemed intimidating at first glance, they were delighted to share their wisdom while they dug sand from dry riverbank — a place I never would have thought about probing.
You have to think about how the river moves, explained Manion. “It takes the straightest route it can down the stream.” So you try to guess how it will deposit in little eddies and under big rocks.
Rangel’s eyes stared hawklike on his swishing pan as he told how he caught gold fever. He received a panning set for Father’s Day, and on his first outing, discovered a few flakes of gold and some red garnets.
After panning for a while, he scrambled around the riverbank looking for bedrock to split apart — a technique known as sniping. You’re looking for seams where gold will collect over time, he explained.
You want to find rust red layers in a rock. “They say redder is better. If you find some rocks that have quartz running through it, well that’s where the gold gets trapped.”
Them thar hills
Washington probably isn’t a state that comes to mind when you imagine gold rushes. But the gold strike of 1860 is a big reason Blewett Pass came to be.