Oblique map of the northern Sierra Nevada, California, showing location of gold-bearing areas

Miscellaneous Field Studies Map 1981

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More than a third of the gold produced by the United States was mined in California. The bulk of this gold was recovered from the western slope of the northern half of the Sierra Nevada between the Merced River in the south and the Feather River to the north, a distance of about 170 mi. Gold was first discovered, in this region, on the American River at Coloma in 1848, triggering the famed California gold rush. Mining was continuously active, somewhere in the area, from the discovery of gold until World War II when mining was legally prohibited. Dramatic increases in gold prices in the past decade coupled with recent advances in extractive techniques have revitalized prospecting, and major deposits are currently being explored and developed.

Gold has been found in a variety of geologic environments in the region. In addition to production from the complex vein systems of the historically famous Mother Lode and associated East Gold Belt and West Gold Belt, large amounts of gold have also been recovered from the Grass Valley-Nevada City and other isolated lode districts and from Tertiary river channels and Quaternary alluvium.

This oblique map illustrates the relation of the different gold-bearing environments to each other and to the general terrain of the northern Sierra Nevada. The map was derived from the 1970 U.S. Geological Survey 1:500,000-scale topographic map of California and the 1976 U.S. Geological Survey 1:500,000-scale topographic map of Nevada, using an isometrograph, a mechanical instrument that produces an oblique framework by tracing individual contours. Form lines sketched over this framework graphically portray the physiographic configuration of the region. Relief on the oblique map has a 3:1 vertical exaggeration and appears as if viewed from a 30° angle above the horizon.

Locations of lode gold prospects and mines shown on the map were obtained from the U.S. Geological Survey's Mineral Resource Data System (MRDS), a computerized mineral-resource information file, and plotted in their respective locations (D.F. Huber, written commun., 1986). Some locations from two northern counties, missing from the MRDS retrival, were added. The twenty lode mines believed to be the most productive are cited in table 1. A total of nearly 4,000 sites, including both prospects and mines, were initially plotted, but about a third of those were obscured by topography on the oblique map. Locations of Tertiary river channels and gold-dredging fields were taken from published general references modified by examining specific sources and by cursory field examination. Seven of the major dredge fields are identified in table 2.

Study Area

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USGS Numbered Series
Oblique map of the northern Sierra Nevada, California, showing location of gold-bearing areas
Series title:
Miscellaneous Field Studies Map
Series number:
Year Published:
U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location:
Reston, VA
Plate: 47.11 x 31.51 inches
United States
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