What is a placer?
A placer is a sand or gravel deposit, such as a beach or stream bed, containing concentrations of heavy minerals like gold. Gold is very resistant to weathering. As a rock containing gold is eroded, the gold is freed and carried downstream as dust, flakes, grains, and nuggets. During high-flow periods when the sand and rocks in the steam are moving, gold settles downward and concentrates at the base of the stream bed or in depressions in sand and gravel bars where the current is slower. Most of the placer gold in Utah is very fine grained (flour gold) and is difficult to recover.
Where are Utah’s gold placers?
Utah’s placers are usually associated with areas of igneous rocks. Gold-bearing solutions deposited gold within the surrounding rock formations (lode or primary deposit). As these gold-bearing rocks are eroded, the free gold is deposited and concentrated into placer (or secondary) deposits. Finding gold is possible in any stream or river that crosses a gold-mineralized area. However, since the known placer deposits have been worked and reworked for over 100 years, the chance of finding large concentrations of gold in Utah’s streams is small.
Utah placers have been reported in the following areas:
- Abajo Mountains – Along Johnson and Recapture Creeks.
- Oquirrh Mountains, Bingham Canyon – Was the largest gold placer in Utah. The original topography has been altered by the open-pit mining operations.
- Colorado River – From the mouth of the Dolores River south to the Amasa Back bend west of Moab. Most placers were from the Dirty Devil River south to the Utah-Arizona border and are now under Lake Powell.
- Green River – From Flaming Gorge Reservoir down to Horseshoe Bend.
- Henry Mountains – On the east flanks of Mt. Ellen in Crescent Creek and Mt. Pennell along Straight Creek.
- House Range – In Amasa Valley and Miller Canyon.
- La Sal Mountains – In glacial deposits and streams of Miners Basin, Wilson Mesa, Bald Mesa, and around North Mountain.
- San Juan River – From the mouth of Montezuma Creek west to Lake Powell.
- Tushar Mountains – In Mill Creek on the north flank of Signal Peak and near the mouth of Pine Gulch Creek in Bullion Canyon.