In pictures: gold rush 2.0
In 2009, as the US economy tanked and gold prices rose, prospectors were once again lured to California, 160 years after the original gold rush. Photographer Sarina Finkelstein sought out the people hoping to strike it rich, and found a community that kept her fascinated for years to come.
In issue #18 of Delayed Gratification, we published some of Finkelstein’s photos and interviewed her about her time with California’s new prospectors. Here are some of the remarkable people she met and the stories behind them.
“Finding the prospectors wasn’t easy. Many of them live in the national parks, where it is illegal to camp for more than two weeks. Some of them had overstayed by years, so were understandably reluctant to be found. But, via prospecting chat rooms and tip-offs, I found a group living in tents and campers along the East Fork of the San Gabriel River canyon in the Angeles – a location known as Nugget Alley. When I came upon them, most eyed me with a sense of suspicion. However, Martin jumped up, handed over a gold pan and a black screw-top glass vial for collecting gold and invited me to come along. It was through Martin that I discovered the community.”
“Over the years I alternated between a number of groups in northern, southern and mid-California. They had adapted the beautiful but dangerous landscape to fit their needs. Nugget Alley had wooden ladders going up the mountain and a pulley system to pull tools back to the campsite and drag loads to the water. One of the prospectors, Rick, had even built a swing. They were trying to make it home.”
“In 2013, in the Klamath National Forest near Happy Camp, close to the Oregon border, I heard about Steve, a prospector who had come from Wales in December 2012 — just a week or two before one of the most brutal winters in the mountains. Not long after he arrived, all of his possessions were stolen. He survived that night, despite no cover, no sleeping bag and temperatures of minus five degrees celsius. The next day he carried on digging. ‘It was my last option,’ he told me. ‘My flight money home, my cards, my wallet, my ID, all my money, all my equipment, all my clothes, all my food — that was all gone. So, I had, like, $20 in my pocket and that was me. The only option I had now… was to mine.’
“So Steve mined with a fury unmatched by anyone else on the Klamath, digging up and processing 120 buckets of material a day. He survived on Sugar Puffs cereal and smoked frankfurters bought with rationed-out money from mining. Three months later he’d managed to replace all his camping stuff, had bought new clothes, and didn’t have a problem with food anymore. Steve said people asked him, ‘How can you run so many buckets in a day?’. He would tell them ‘Because I’m mining for my food.’”
This is an excerpt from ‘The New Gold Rush’, published in DG #18. You can buy the issue in our shop to read the full feature. Find more of Sarina Finkelstein’s work on her website, or follow her on Twitter or Instagram.
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