The old saying, "there's gold in them thar hills," is true today, just as it was during California's gold rush of the 1800s.

By some estimates, only 20 percent of the gold in the foothills has been mined.  Now with the price of the precious metal above $1,700 per ounce, more and more people are looking for a piece of the remaining 80 percent.

"We've seen a massive increase in people who are unemployed, that have recently been kicked off unemployment coming in," said Heather Willis, manager of Pioneer Mining Supply in Auburn.  "So what they're doing is they're buying pans and sluice boxes and heading to the river and trying to earn a few dollars." 

During FOX40's recent visit to Pioneer Mining Supply, we asked Willis if it was possible for us to go somewhere and expect to find gold that very day.  After setting us up with a basic panning kit and a guide book (you can easily get started for less than $40), she directed us with confidence to the Bear River Campground near Colfax.

Every winter and spring, mother lode gold is broken loose from riverbanks by heavy rain and gushing water from snowmelt, and it settles downriver.  Willis instructed us to "read the river," looking for areas of calm water where the gold may have come to rest below the rapids.

"When it heads into the river it collects in pockets," she explained.  The Bear River is known to have a rich supply.  And as a public park, the campground allows you to keep the gold that you find there.  So we gave it a try that very day.  

Panning takes patience.  But the payoff is a thrill.  Gold, being very dense, will stick to the bottom of your pan like glue if you properly sift and wash out all the other rocks, dirt and sand you have collected.  

Sure enough, after nearly an hour of digging and panning in the Bear River, I was awestruck to find a glistening gold flake standing out brilliantly in my pan.  I showed it to a more experienced prospector in the river who also struck gold that day, and he confirmed the finding.

One gold flake certainly won't make you rich.  But if you collect enough of them, they do add up to something you can trade in for cash.  According to Willis, it is not unusual for a determined prospector to find between $50 and $400 dollars worth of gold in a single day.  Panning is also a great way to simply spend a relaxing day in a beautiful place.

"This is a part of history," mused Willis.  "This is going back and touching our roots.  This is going back and doing something that our ancestors did, and it's always going to be with us."

More information can be found at Pioneer Mining Supply's web site.