In the back room of a Midwest City home seemingly filled with more buckets of dirt than furniture, Mike Pung stands over a water trough demonstrating the basics of gold panning.
Holding a Frisbee-sized green pan, he sloshes water and dirt around to separate the heavy pieces — the gold — from the soil and other metals.
After repeating the rhythmic process of sloshing and draining, he raps the bowl with his hand, and small flecks of gold snap into formation at the edge.
“Now, here’s the fun part. Do you know where this sand came from?” he asks.
“No,” comes the response.
“Ace Hardware in the concrete section,” he says as he points to the edge of the pan. “And that’s where that gold came from.”
As the saying goes, gold really is where you find it. So, while Oklahoma isn’t known for its gold deposits like California or Colorado, Pung, president of Gold Prospectors of Oklahoma City Chapter 21, and members of his group are finding gold in the state in places such as rivers but also Ace Hardware, Lowe’s and Home Depot. All they had to do was look.
At one time, gold was evenly spread around the world, meaning each location should theoretically have a similar amount of gold. Some places, such as Colorado and California, experienced a geologic episode that produced heat, such as shifting tectonic plates. This heat caused gold and other metals to liquefy. During this process, like materials collected together, creating large deposits or veins underground. This didn’t happen to such a large extent in Oklahoma.
About 90 percent of the world’s gold is small enough to fit through the holes in a window screen, and that’s the gold Pung and other Oklahoma gold miners are trying to find.
To find gold, you must think like gold — or a lazy fish, since both prefer to linger in quiet areas of a river where the current isn’t as strong, such as behind a rock or submerged log, Pung said.
Using this logic, any river is good for gold panning, he said.
There’s gold in the Arkansas, Cimarron, Canadian, Red, Blue and Kiamichi rivers in Oklahoma, he said. In southwest Oklahoma, Meers was founded as a gold mining town, but the cost of mining was more than the value of the gold, so the operation eventually shut down, Pung said.
The group’s members typically take outings to the Kiamichi River and have always found gold there, but not much of it, Pung said.
Just because gold is in those rivers doesn’t mean it’s easy to get, said Jon Tankersley, Gold Prospectors Association of America and Lost Dutchman’s Mining Association member.
If you go to the Cimarron or Canadian river, you have to battle through the black sand. Also, many of the places you could pan are on private property, meaning you need to get the owner’s permission to cross the land and get to the rivers, he said.
“There’s no best place to find it,” Tankersley said. “It’s just knowing how to do it.”
Then, once you finally find a location and have permission to be there, you have to rely on something else.
“You have to be lucky on top of it,” said Ken Daley, vice president of Gold Prospectors of OKC Chapter 21.
If you do all those things, your gold panning trip may pay off. But gold is about $1,250 an ounce, and the chances of finding an ounce of gold in Oklahoma are slim, Daley said.
Even if you spent all your time prospecting for gold, you probably wouldn’t strike it rich.
“If someone says I’m going to quit my job and do gold, I’d say, well, you can probably make a living out of it here in Oklahoma if you really lower your standards,” Pung said. “Like, don’t worry about a house or a car or food.”
It’s not the money that entices people to prospect. It’s the hunt for the elusive flash of gold in the bottom of their pan.
“We’re not after the payoff. We’re after the adventure,” Pung said.
Go and Do
and Mineral Expo
•When: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday.
•Where: Newcastle Fair Barn, 400 N Main, Newcastle.