Last Updated on June 27, 2023

The Southwest is a gold-rich region, with numerous opportunities to strike it rich. Gold prospecting in the desert can be a rewarding experience, but it also presents unique challenges. With the right tools and knowledge, you can increase your chances of success.

Using a metal detector is a great way to search for gold nuggets, especially in areas where water is scarce. With persistence, patience, and a little bit of luck, you might just strike it rich.

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Man desert prospecting with a metal detector
Metal detecting in the desert

Where to Look for Gold in the Desert

When it comes to finding gold in the desert, the first and most crucial step is to have a comprehensive understanding of where to begin your search.


Fortunately, the Southern half of California is teeming with promising locations that are ripe for exploration, including the counties of Placer, El Dorado, Amador, and Calaveras.

Moreover, if you venture farther south, you will stumble upon vast swaths of public land that have been expressly set aside for recreational gold prospecting, specifically near the stunning Lake Isabella, where the potential for a lucrative discovery is ever-present.


If you happen to be in the state of Nevada, your attention should be drawn to the Eldorado Mountains, which boast stream beds that hold enormous potential for rewarding finds.

This is especially true in the areas surrounding Eldorado Canyon, which have long been known as veritable gold mines for those with the right knowledge and equipment.


Meanwhile, in the state of Utah, there are plenty of places to search for gold, specifically within the Colorado River drainage system, including the Dolores River and San Juan River.

With a keen eye and a bit of persistence, you may find yourself uncovering some of the most abundant placer gold reserves that the state has to offer.


Arizona is another state that holds significant promise for those in search of gold. With no less than ten counties where gold can be found, the northwestern and southern parts of the state are especially rich with this precious mineral.

Whether you’re prospecting for fun or profit, a trip to the Grand Canyon State might just be what you need to strike it rich.

New Mexico

Finally, in the beautiful state of New Mexico, you will have the most significant chance of finding gold in Taos County, Lincoln County, and Grant County.

Each of these locations offers a unique and exciting opportunity for prospectors, with plenty of history and folklore to keep you motivated as you search for that elusive nugget.

Whatever your reasons for prospecting, these counties are sure to provide you with an unforgettable adventure as you seek out the hidden treasures that lie beneath their surfaces.

Desert Metal Detecting

Using a metal detector is one of the most popular methods to search for gold in the desert. It’s a tool that has been used very successfully to locate gold nuggets in states like Arizona and Nevada.

Metal detectors don’t require any water to use, and modern gold detectors have gotten quite good in recent years. MINELAB and XP Metal Detectors are the best on the market for desert prospecting and highly recommended if you are serious about searching for gold.

In the desert, gold nuggets often aren’t very deep. In fact, there is often exposed bedrock that can be found in many desert environments.

With metal detecting, you’re not limited to just searching in the stream beds or hillsides, but can search a much larger area.

Tips for Successful Metal Detecting in the Desert

When metal detecting in the desert, it’s important to follow some basic tips to increase your chances of success.

First, start by researching the area where you plan to scan for items. Look for areas where gold has been found in the past, and areas where other prospectors have had success. This can save you a lot of time and effort.

Second, be patient and persistent. Searching for gold nuggets with a metal detector is not a quick process. You will need to spend many hours searching to have a chance at finding anything.

Third, be prepared for the elements. The desert can be an unforgiving environment, with extreme temperatures, harsh sun, and little shade. Bring plenty of water and sunscreen, and dress in light, breathable clothing.

Finally, always follow the rules and regulations for metal detecting in your area. Some public lands may have restrictions or require permits for metal detecting.

Recirculating sluice vs Dry washer for Desert Prospecting

When it comes to desert gold hunting, both recirculating sluices and dry washers have their advantages and disadvantages.

A recirculating sluice works by allowing water to flow through the sluice box, trapping gold particles in the riffles. The water is then recirculated back through the sluice, allowing you to continuously process material without using a lot of water.

Recirculating sluices are a great option for desert prospecting because they require less water and can be used in areas where water may be scarce. However, they do require a power source to run the pump that recirculates the water.

Dry washers, on the other hand, use air to separate gold particles from other material. The material is fed into a hopper, and air is blown through the material, allowing the gold to fall into a riffle tray while the lighter material is blown away.

Dry washers are a great option for desert prospecting because they don’t require water, making them ideal for areas where water is scarce. However, they do require a power source to run the blower that generates the air flow.

Overall, both recirculating sluices and dry washers can be effective for desert prospecting, and the choice between the two may depend on factors such as the availability of water and power sources, as well as personal preference.

Best Metal Detectors for Desert

If you are interested in gold prospecting in the high desert of California, and sometimes around small mountain creeks, you need a high-end metal detector that can detect small flakes and nuggets of gold.

The desert is known for its harsh and rugged terrain, and a metal detector that is not specifically designed to handle such conditions may not be able to perform efficiently.

Below, a list of recommended metal detectors that are well-suited for desert use:

  1. Minelab GPZ 7000 – This high-end metal detector is the best option for finding gold flakes and nuggets in the desert. It’s a bit pricier than the other options in this list, but the results are well worth it.
  2. Minelab Gold Monster 1000 – If you’re looking for a more affordable option, the Gold Monster 1000 is a great choice. It’s highly sensitive and has automatic ground balancing, making it ideal for use in the desert.
  3. XP ORX – This portable metal detector is a good option if you’re on a tight budget. It’s highly customizable and has a frequency range that makes it ideal for finding small gold nuggets.
Gold nugget in the desert
Deserts in the US Southwest are abundant with gold.

Desert Prospecting FAQs

Can you find gold in the desert?

Yes, you can find gold in the desert. In fact, deserts are known to be one of the best places to find gold.

The dry climate of the desert preserves gold and other minerals, making it easier to detect them. Additionally, the lack of vegetation and rocky terrain in deserts also makes it easier to spot deposits of gold.

However, it’s important to note that not all areas of the desert contain gold deposits. You should research and identify areas where gold has been found in the past and focus your search there.

There are several methods of finding gold in the desert, including using a metal detector, drywashing, and panning.

Using a metal detector can be an effective way to detect small particles of gold that may be hidden in the soil.

Drywashing is a technique to extract gold from dry soil using a device called a dry washer that separates gold from dirt and debris using air and gravity.

Panning, on the other hand, involves sifting through water to extract gold from the sediment. The method you choose will depend on the area you are searching in, the type of equipment you have, and your personal preference.

Is there gold in the Mojave desert?

Yes, there is gold in the Mojave desert. The Mojave desert is located in Southern California and covers parts of Nevada, Arizona, and Utah. It is known for its rich gold deposits, and prospectors have been finding gold in the area for over a century.

Some of the most notable gold mining towns in the Mojave desert include Randsburg, Johannesburg, and Red Mountain. The Mojave desert is also home to several large gold mines, including the Goldstone Mine, which is the largest gold mine in the area.

If you are interested in prospecting for gold in the Mojave desert, it’s important to do your research and follow local regulations.

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) manages much of the public land in the Mojave desert, and they have regulations in place to protect the environment and cultural resources in the area. You should obtain the necessary permits and follow all regulations before prospecting in the Mojave desert.

In which states can you find gold in the desert?

Gold can be found in several states in the desert region of the United States. Some of the most notable states include California, Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah.

California is perhaps the most famous state for gold prospecting, with the California Gold Rush in the mid-1800s drawing thousands of prospectors to the area.

Arizona and Nevada are also popular states for gold prospecting, with many rich deposits located in the Sonoran and Mojave deserts.

New Mexico and Utah also have gold deposits in their deserts, although the quantities are smaller than in California and Nevada.

When prospecting for gold in these states, it’s important to research the specific areas where gold has been found in the past. Some areas may be off-limits to prospecting due to environmental or cultural regulations, so it’s important to follow local regulations and obtain the necessary permits before starting your search.

What equipment do you need for desert prospecting?

The equipment you need for desert prospecting will depend on the method you choose and the type of deposit you are searching for.

Some basic equipment that you may need includes a metal detector, shovel, pick, classifier, and a gold pan.

If you plan on drywashing, you’ll need a drywasher and a bucket to collect the material. You may also need a rock hammer and chisels if you plan on breaking up rocks to search for gold.

How to pick a good prospecting location in the desert?

To pick a good prospecting location in the desert, look for areas with known gold deposits, such as old mining sites, and use geological maps to identify areas with potential for gold-bearing rock formations. Also, pay attention to the presence of quartz, black sand, and other indicators of gold deposits.

Be sure to obtain any necessary permits and follow all regulations for metal detecting and prospecting in the area. Additionally, consider factors such as accessibility, safety, and weather conditions before heading out to prospect.

What can you find with a metal detector in the desert, besides gold?

Besides gold, a metal detector in the desert can detect a range of metallic objects, such as old coins, discarded ammunition, abandoned mining equipment, and relics from historical sites. It can also detect precious metals such as silver and platinum, as well as ferrous metals like iron and steel.

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