The remains of a huge Tertiary gravel-filled channel lie in the area between the South and Middle Yuba Rivers in northern Nevada County, Calif. The deposits in this channel were the site of some of the most productive hydraulic gold mines in California between the 1850's and 1884.
The gravel occupies a major channel and parts of several tributaries that in Tertiary time cut into a surface of Paleozoic and Mesozoic igneous and metamorphic rocks. The gravel is partly covered by the remains of an extensive sheet of volcanic rocks, but it crops out along the broad crest of the ridge between the canyons of the South and Middle Yuba Rivers. The lower parts of the gravel deposits generally carry the highest values of placer gold. Traditionally, the richest deposits of all are found in the so-called blue gravel, which, when present, lies just above the bedrock and consists of a very coarse, poorly sorted mixture of cobbles, pebbles, sand, and clay. It is unoxidized, and, at least locally, contains appreciable quantities of secondary sulfide minerals, chiefly pyrite.
Information in drill logs from private sources indicates that a 2-mile stretch of the channel near North Columbia contains over half a million ounces of gold dispersed through about 22 million cubic yards of gravel at a grade .averaging about 81 cents per cubic yard. The deposit is buried at depths ranging from 100 to 400 feet.
Several geophysical methods have been tested for their feasibility in determining the configuration of the buried bedrock surface, in delineating channel gravel buried under volcanic rocks, and in identifying concentrations of heavy minerals within the gravel. Although the data have not yet been completely processed, preliminary conclusions indicate that some methods may be quite useful. A combination of seismic-refraction and gravity methods was used to determine the depth and configuration of the bottom of the channel to an accuracy within 10 percent as checked by the drill holes. Seismic-refraction methods have identified depressions which are in the bedrock surface, below volcanic rocks, and which may be occupied by gravels. Seismic methods, however, cannot actually recognize the presence of low-velocity gravels beneath the higher velocity volcanic rocks. Electromagnetic methods, supplemented in part by induced-polarization methods, show promise of being able to recognize and trace blue gravel buried less than 200 feet deep. A broad vague magnetic anomaly across the channel suggests that more precise magnetic studies might delineate concentrations of magnetic material. The usefulness of resistivity methods appears from this study to be quite restricted because of irregular topography and the variable conductivity of layers within the gravel.