Dreams of striking it rich in the gold fields fueled the exodus west in the 1800s and Colorado was a well-known hot spot. Gold prospecting shaped much of the region, and it still enthralls a number of fans in Northwest Colorado.
According to Robbie Robinson, Dick Atchley and Bryan Adams, three members of 7G Mining, prospecting for gold is the best recreation this region has to offer.
Seven men formed the 7G Mining partnership as a way to share fellowship with others who share a passion for finding gold.
The group shares tips, equipment and two 20-acre gold claims near Hahn's Peak. Soon they will be spending weekends panning, dredging and searching for gold.
Perhaps the most rewarding part of this hobby is that it can be shared with the whole family and practiced as little or as often as time allows.
"Our grandkids love it," Robinson said. "It's not only recreational, it is educational."
He said that, because they're often camping, they learn about survival, the wilderness, taking care of the Earth and safety. He said they learn about different minerals and rocks in the area and what they have to do to get the gold.
"My wife loves the outdoors and spends time catching up on some reading," he said.
Robinson, who has been actively looking for gold since 1993, said it adds something to any camping or fishing trip and can be done on any public lands as long as there is no registered claim.
"If the fish aren't biting, ya just take out your pan, scoop up some sand water and swish it around," he said, " And with any luck, you'll find some (gold)."
He said he became interested in gold panning by watching a demonstration show on the Outdoor Channel. Shortly thereafter, he joined the Gold Prospecting Association of America.
"They sent me a gold pan plus tons of information. I started practicing at home and at the river (the Yampa)," he said.
Robinson said gold is 19.6 times heavier than water, so it settles to the bottom. But finding it isn't as simple as putting a pan in the river -- working the pan and other equipment takes some practice.
Mining the precious ore also requires knowledge of and the ability to use a slouch box, which filters larger rocks from smaller materials.
One layer of the filter, miner moss, traps the gold. The box sits at an angle in a stream bed so that water can wash over the ribs of the box.
Sand and river bottom is repeatedly shoveled into the box and allowed to sift through the box.
The threesome share a three-inch dredge, which acts like a giant vacuum and sucks everything from the river bottom and sifts it through several screens until the gold is trapped again by miner's moss.
"We find all kinds of rocks and other things," Robinson said.
He said they have a "beach box," they use where there is no water.
"It works using bellows and works similar in that it traps the heaviest material in ribs or the miner's moss," he said.
Atchley said he doesn't care as much about finding the gold as he does working with the equipment.
"I am obsessed with the machinery we use," he said. "A lot of what we have, we've built ourselves."
Adams said the cost of a 20-acre claim was a little more than $300 for all the permits and fees. He said the paperwork has to be perfect or the Bureau of Land Management will reject it.
"They (BLM) give you 90 days to return the paperwork. Ours was two days late, and they rejected our request," he said.
He said that with seven people sharing the expenses, it made the endeavor affordable for everyone.
Robinson spends his two-week vacation prospecting and said his goal this year is to make $1,000 a day. He would not comment about how much money he has made prospecting but said he keeps his gold in a safe-deposit box at the bank.
"We did find a local buyer for both the raw gold and for cubes if we decide to smelt our gold," he said.
Robinson and Atchley are headed to Denver this weekend to attend a gold show at the National Western Stock Show Complex.