The distribution of California’s gold

The majority of the gold found in California in the 1840s and 50s was spread across a broad belt on the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada Mountains from Mount Shasta in the north to Mount Whitney in the south, with less rich extensions going as far north as the Oregon border and south to just above Los Angeles. But gold was discovered in many other places too. Small quartz veins with only specks of gold in them were found near San Francisco and larger ones in the Santa Lucia Mountains south of Monterey. And even to this day no one knows if another rich vein of gold bearing quartz might be uncovered somewhere in the state. But the great preponderance of the wealth of the gold rush came from the Northern and Southern mines.

California gold rush map

The gold was originally deposited as a result of one of the great tectonic plates of the earth’s crust grinding beneath another along California’s coast. This created a tremendous amount of heat as well as the many volcanoes, like Mount Shasta, that the state is known for. This heat melted the rocks as well as the gold and forced this liquid magma into fissures where it cooled into the quartz veins where a lot of gold was later found. Over the vast span of millions of years some these quartz veins began to erode and the gold washed first into ancient streams and then into the rivers we know today and settled into the sand and gravel placer deposits that first gave impetus to the gold rush.

California gold deposits


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