USminer Field Journal Nov 2012
Walking in Your Own Footprints – The Necessity of GPS
It’s been said that the best way to find gold is to walk in the footprints of the old timers. Following their tracks and locating their workings can be one of the most lucrative prospecting techniques a person can employ. But not every path they forged led to a payday. For every rich vein or lucrative placer an old prospect located, there were probably hundreds (or more) sites they explored which contained very little of value. Fortunately, the majority of those dead end paths have been erased by the ongoing forces of nature and the signs of old workings which still remain today are generally rest upon ground which one would be wise to give a second inspection.
And even today a prospector will often find themselves wondering as they meander up a remote desert wash – “has someone detected this before?”. Using modern tools like metal detectors, today’s prospectors often create far less visible impact than the old timers did. While re-visiting a nugget patch I found last year I noticed that it was difficult, if not impossible, to determine what ground I had previously covered. Had another prospector visited this site I doubt if he could have determined that I had pulled out nuggets from this very area. And it’s possible that a prospector came before me as well and who knows what he might have unearthed?
This is one of the many reasons today that every serious prospector should carry a GPS. Creating a track of where you have been and place marking the finds you have made will not only help you remember which spots you have explored and which you still need to cover, but you can also create a map of the finds you have made and from that derive other useful information. Perhaps you can pinpoint a lode source. Or maybe you can find a deposition pattern in a river.
Using a program such as Google Earth you can plot all your tracks and place marks in one easy to use visual framework. It’s also possible to overlay useful data like geologic maps and topography which one could use to their advantage by attempting to correlate this information to your finds.
Simply recording your tracks is not enough. I mention Google Earth because one really needs a way to view all their GPS data. I was briskly reminded of this a few days ago as I set out to metal detect a huge area that I had explored once previously with no success. After some research the prior night I determined what I thought to be the sub-region with the highest probability of scoring a nugget, and in the morning I set off for my spot. After enabling my GPS I began detecting, and in short, found nothing after 6 hours of walking. I saw no signs of previous exploration and decided to call the area a bust and move on to new spots after being unable to locate any ground which I considered to merit further investigation. Upon arriving home again I transferred my GPS tracks to my computer and began enabling all my old tracks to help find a new spot I hadn’t prospected yet. Having switched GPS units (actually smartphones) since the last time I hunted this area I decided to check my archives and found a folder of older tracks I had recorded years ago. I imported the batch of them. As the new group of tracks popped up on my map I was horrified to discover I had recorded one 3 years ago at the exact location I had just spent all day exploring. I even had a note on this old track – “LP” – which is my shorthand for “low potential”. I parked my truck 100ft away from where I had parked on my last visit here, it was like shooting a 1″ shot grouping from 10 miles away.
And further. as I compared the two tracks I noticed that I had followed a very similar path as the one I took 3 years ago, investigating many of the same ground features…I had essentially spent all day re-living a past day of my life. I was literally walking in my own footsteps. But an interesting thought occurred to me: what are the odds that with 15 or so square miles of land to choose from that I would pick essentially the exact same spot to prospect twice? And further, what are the odds that once I arrived at this spot that I would walk a very similar path as I had years prior?
And when I considered it for a moment, it became clear that the odds are in fact very good. Most of us, after gaining experience and familiarizing ourselves with the locations we are most successful, tend to seek out similar spots. We look for the same features in aerial photos during research, and look for the same geologic features on the ground while prospecting. And chances are good that the guys who came here before or after you were drawn there for the same reasons you were and we are all walking each other’s footprints.
But by plotting all my tracks I am able to keep tabs on exactly were I’ve been and I’ve had great success revisiting areas and specifically avoiding my previous paths. Those previous paths are probably where a majority of prospectors also walked. Our brains are wired to look for the same signs while exploring…our paths are not as truly random as we may think.
So, next time you hear that story about a greenhorn swinging for his first day who ventures into the most hunted-out and depleted nugget patches and manages to pull out a 1 oz’er to everyone’s surprise, think about how he found it for a moment. His search pattern may be a lot more random than an experienced nugget shooter’s, and he may have just ventured onto a piece of ground that everyone else walked right past. The best way for you to find that ground is by studying your own tracks and take a step out of your old footprints.