For you folks who would like to go panning, but just don't have the time to go runnin' up to the mountains, I would like to offer you an alternative: the Platte River. The Platte, as most of you know, runs right through the middle of Denver.
My husband Gary and I were first introduced to the Platte when we attended a panning class put on by our club, the Gold Prospectors of the Rockies (GPR) sometime during it's first year (1996). Carl Crookham had a small gold mining museum near Evans and Platte River Drive and gave us a tour of his museum. Then some of the old-time panners actually showed us "new-time" panners how to pan. I was quite surprised when they dug some sand out of the middle of the river and we actually panned gold out of it.
Since then, that place on the Platte has been one of our favorite places to go looking for gold. As I said before, you don't have to make an all-day commitment--you can go for a couple of hours and still get back in time to mow the lawn. During the winter of 1996-97, which was fairly mild in town, Gary was at the river at least two times a month, all winter long, and sometimes more often than that. This winter, the weather was a little less kind and he didn't go quite as often, but he still went on the sunny weekends. Even with the bad weather, he still managed to keep enough black sand on hand so that he had something to pan out in front of the TV set at night.
Like a lot of you, we started out with a gold pan, then went to a sluice, and then a highbanker. Next came a 2-inch dredge, and now Gary has graduated to a 4-inch dredge. He has not gotten rich with all his findings from the Platte, but he does get a lot of nice flakes and has managed to accumulate a small bottle of gold. We expected that the gold found in the Platte would be more of the smooth variety because it is speculated that it came from glacial action, rather than directly from lode deposits in the mountains, like the gold found in Clear Creek. However, that has not been the case. Most of the larger flakes have been fairly rough. You'll probably never find a big nugget in the Platte, but there is lots of fine gold. It's like most placer mining these days ... some places along the Platte have more gold than others.
Anyway, even though they are building a new park on the east side, which is where we used to park, there are still plenty of places you can get down to the river. Gary even hauls his big old dredge down there without too much trouble. The river was up until the end of May, but it's down now and there are plenty of places to pan. As of this writing, you may have to wait a while for the river to go down if you want to use your sluice, but it won't take as long on the Platte as it will on Clear Creek (which is another stream in town you can go to pan).
The same rules apply to panning on the Platte as elsewhere: fill in your holes, take your trash with you, and pick up a few extra pieces of trash to make it a better place when you leave than when you came.
Hope you come on down some weekend. You'll probably see Gary down there and sometimes me, too. Try it ... you'll like it!