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New Mexico Treasure Hunting and Metal Detecting

By Stan K.

New Mexico boasts numerous opportunities for treasure hunting, metal detecting and panning or mining for gold. Because of the unique geology of the state there are many placer deposits of gold. Most have been thoroughly worked, however weekend gold prospectors frequently find enough gold to keep the fever going. Now that gold prices are high there is record interest in New Mexico gold prospecting and treasure hunting using metal detectors. The largest gold nugget ever found in New Mexico in 1908 weighed a whopping sixty one pounds.

Gold Panning In New Mexico  

Lode gold occurs within the solid rock in which it was deposited. Most lode gold deposits in North America have already been located. Most lode gold found by treasure hunters is found with metal detectors in the rubble piles around old gold mines. There are many abandoned gold mines in New Mexico but many are on private property or within an active commercial gold mining claim.

Placer deposits occur when gold accumulates in a riverbed and settles out in layers of sand or fine rock since gold is approximately six to seven times heavier than anything else in the environment. Placer deposits occur both in running creeks and ones that once carried water. Metal detector enthusiasts regularly find gold in washes in areas like the Lincoln National Forest in New Mexico.

You can pan for gold in the Lincoln National forest, the Gila National Forest and the Red River north of Taos. For information on gold panning and metal detecting in the Gila National Forest of New Mexico you can contact the rangers at (505) 388-8201. For information about gold panning or treasure hunting in the Lincoln National forest you can contact the forest supervisor's office at (575) 434-7200.   The La Plata river near Farmington features some good gold panning areas with coarse black sand containing tiny gold flakes. My family and I recently took a vacation to New Mexico and Colorado and panned for gold in the La Plata River and also near Silverton Colorado. Though we found only a few gold flakes and a lot of pyrite it was still fun.

New Mexico Treasure Hunting Advice: Avoid Staked Gold Claims In New Mexico                   

There are active gold mining claims on BLM lands in New Mexico. These are areas where significant placer or lode gold has been found by a prospector. A permit and fees were paid by the claim owner to have exclusive rights to mine a defined area of land or river. You will be well advised to avoid entering someone's gold claim. Some are clearly marked with signs and some are not. The park rangers can show you in which areas you can pan for gold or use a metal detector. Some gold claim operators will allow you to search for gold on their claim for a fee. The Lincoln County Gold Mining company of Ruidoso New Mexico is one such claim operator. They allow camping and gold panning on their claim. For more info you can reach them at (505) 247-4070  Avoid old gold and silver mines at all costs. Many people have been killed or injured in these unstable mines as the least vibration can cause a collapse. During our vacation to New Mexico a California tourist was killed in an abandoned gold mine in the Lincoln National forest.

Things To Be Aware Of When Metal Detecting In New Mexico: Artifacts and Fossils

New Mexico has strict laws that regulate the possession and collecting of ancient artifacts such as arrowheads, stone tools, pottery, etc. In national parks and forests the removal of these artifacts or items such as fossils can result in federal charges and jail time. Even the removal of more recent artifacts, such as miner's tools, relics, etc, is prohibited on federal lands. Western relics may be recovered from private lands, however laws regulating native American artifacts still apply. Because New Mexico was home to Spanish explorers and settlers, gold miners, ranchers, frontiersmen and pioneers there are a lot of metal relics to be found underground. The dry climate keeps many iron relics such as old pistols preserved more or less intact. Using a Whites metal detector we found old cap and ball type lead bullets while treasure hunting on private land near Taos New Mexico.

New Mexico is one place you do not want to be caught collecting ancient artifacts. Leave arrowheads and pottery where they lie.

Respect state and federal laws and do not trespass into private property when treasure hunting in New Mexico. Treasure hunting for gold, gemstones and any other items in New Mexico requires permission in most cases from either the BLM, forest service or private landowners. Make as little of an environmental impact as possible. Always cover any holes you dug and do gold panning only in streams where it is allowed.



Above: Map Of The Gila National Forest                                            Map Of The Lincoln National Forest

Metal Detecting For Gold In New Mexico

Metal detecting for gold is a popular pastime for some treasure hunters in New Mexico. In areas of the Gila National Forest, Lincoln National Forest, and on private lands you may find small nuggets along stream beds and washes. A good discriminating metal detector is helpful, especially one that is powerful enough to scan down at least six inches. Good headphones help detect subtle differences in tones. 

 Lead bullets and old pull tabs unfortunately cause a lot of unnecessary digging. Wear comfortable shoes, sunscreen and hat, knee pads and carry along enough water. Rarely metal detectors enthusiasts may find meteorites in New Mexico. Buried iron meteorites stand out with a strong signature on a metal detector. Inquire with the forest supervisor or park ranger if you are allowed to keep them since they fall in a grey area. Over 214 iron meteorites have been found in New Mexico. You can sell any meteorites you find on eBay. Some meteorites are worth more per ounce than gold.

Metal detecting and treasure hunting in New Mexico can be a fun way to explore the state. It's a great outdoor activity for the whole family.

To save yourself some time in becoming familiar with gold mining, treasure hunting and metal detecting spots in New Mexico you might consider joining a treasure hunting club. One of the oldest organizations is the Gold Prospectors Association of New Mexico.

*Gold Prospectors Assn of New Mexico
New Mexico's oldest gold club, founded 1979
Meets 3rd Thursday each month at 6:30 PM
Los Griegos Community Center
1231 Candelaria, NW
Albuquerque, NM

See also: Metal Detecting and Gold Prospecting In Arizona




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