There’s GOLD in that thar river!

This article originally ran in the Summer 2006 issue of the James River News, a newsletter produced by the JRR Condo Association from 2005-2009. 

Want to make your fortune in the James River?  It will take some back breaking work but there is gold to be found if you’re willing to work for it. But first we need to work our way upriver…

There is gold to be found in a number of rivers originating high in the foothills and mountains to the west of the James River Retreat. The sandbars of the North Saskatchewan River contain fine flour gold – pinpoint size grains – in almost economic quantities. In fact, the North Saskatchewan was actively panned and sluiced by hardbitten dreamers a hundred years ago and you’ll still find a few at it today. The Red Deer also holds flour gold, as does the James, just not quite as much. How the heck did it get there? And how can we get some?

It all began 250 million years ago when volcanic activity from Kamloops to Field injected quartz veins containing gold into the bedrock. As the bedrock broke down over eons, gold weathered out into the sand and pebble bars forming occasional “placer” deposits. Over millions of years these bars were buried several thousand metres deep, squeezed into the hard sandstones and conglomerates rocks of the Cretaceous Mannville formation and eventually uplifted in mountain building. Glaciation and endless erosion is weathering out the fine gold from those bars again. This second generation placer gold has been ground fine, traveled far, and is remarkably pure. The large surface area relative to the pinpoint size and long period of exposure has dissolved out the associated silver, copper etc that reduces native gold’s purity, so that this flour gold is about 98% pure.

Gold in the James River small0001cropped

But how do we get our hands on some? Find a big, fresh gravel bar near a high flow area of the river (lots to choose from). Shovel endless buckets of coarse gravel into a gold pan (less than $10 for a good black plastic pan at a hardware store). Swirl and swish that rock out until you have a teaspoon of blackish grit left. Save that grit. Now repeat the shovel, swirl, swish and save about 20 times until you have a good handful of grit and pan that down to a teaspoon. Guaranteed, you’ll see pinpoint pricks of buttery yellow gold warmly glowing in the sun against the black plastic of the pan. Outstanding, exhilarating, invigorating, but not too economic. An hour’s work will generate less than a few cents worth of gold. But it’s the real thing, and it’s in our very own James River.

Adapted from an article submitted by Nick Wemyss, passionate geologist, gold panner and, as a former cabin owner at James River Retreat, a part of our lore.

Take Me to the River: A JRR Streamflow Advisory Primer

Anyone who has spent time by the banks of the mighty James knows that every season brings changes to our river but none more dramatic than the high water season of late spring and early summer. So when snow starts melting at the higher elevations and the rain clouds begin to gather to the west, it’s good to know where to turn for up-to-the-minute information on water levels in the Red Deer River basin in general and the James River in particular.

Turns out there’s an app for that, the Alberta Rivers: Data and Advisories App launched today by the Alberta Government to provide information for watersheds province wide, including flood advisories and forecasts. The app is currently available for download to android devices with an iPhone version expected to follow within a few weeks.

Meanwhile, regardless of what devices you may or may not carry with you during the day, there are some useful websites you’ll want to bookmark to stay on top of James River streamflows. Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development’s Advisories and Updates page is your jumping off point for Advisories and Warnings currently in effect (high streamflows, flooding and ice jams) as well as Alberta Emergency Alerts. The link to River Basins Maps and Data is also interesting and informative, allowing you to access graphs and tables of river flows and levels. First select the Red Deer River Sub Basin and from there you’ll be able to view information on river flows and levels, precipitation and more.