California's New Gold Rush

Brent Shock, left, teaches tourists how to pan for gold. With prices over $1,000 an ounce, California is experiencing a new gold rush, drawing tourists and locals alike.
The price of gold has skyrocketed from roughly $750 an ounce a year ago to more than $1,000 an ounce today. That's led to a new California gold rush, as CBS News correspondent John Blackstone reports.

The same rivers that drew prospectors to the California gold rush of 1849 are busy again with people panning. Teasing glistening specks of gold out of gravel and sand takes a technique. Brent Shock charges $15 to $45 to learn how.

And his bookings have doubled over last year. He knows the price of gold has gone up when his phone starts ringing.

"It's great," Shock said, "because everybody gets to make money" - possibly a lot of money.

Just two years ago, an ounce of gold was worth $660. Now it's been holding steady at over $1,000 an ounce.

"I have gold fever," said Kathi Martin, a tourist trying her hand at gold prospecting. "When I see that gold in my pan it's like, Aha! There it is!"

It's said that the '49'ers managed to find only about 20 percent of California's gold, apparently leaving plenty for the tourists who show up now with a glimmer in their eyes.

That's why California isn't the mushroom state or the artichoke state, Shock says, but the golden state.

The true measure of gold fever is not in the tourists having a go at panning - it's in those now seeking gold full time. Since 2005, the number of federal mining permits issued in California is up 50 percent - from less than 16,000 to more than 24,000.

John Gurney quit his job as an east coast carpenter three years ago to strike it rich. He teaches panning for extra pocket cash but has been working the creeks to pay the bills.

"If you do it for a living you have to sell your gold," Gurney said. "This'll pay this bill; this'll register your truck. So you sell your gold as quick as you get it."

In the gold country community of Jamestown unemployment is 12.5 percent and climbing. John Bonilla was laid off from his job as a security guard in June.

"Prices are high, there's no jobs out there," he said. "Might as well get me some gold and pay my bills."

The high price of gold enables him to get by on what he mines, but it also brings on the competition.

As Brent Shock gives lessons to novice prospectors he also warns that it's hard work. After all if it were easy to get rich this way would he be sharing the secrets?

  • John Blackstone

    From his base in San Francisco, CBS News correspondent John Blackstone covers breaking stories throughout the West. That often means he is on the scene of wildfires, earthquakes, floods, hurricanes and rumbling volcanoes. He also reports on the high-tech industry in Silicon Valley and on social and economic trends that frequently begin in the West.