Trabuco Creek Gold

By Michael Webster: March 1, 2012 At 11:50 AM PDT.

Weekend and day gold prospectors are heading for the Mountains in Orange County. Not far from downtown Santa Anna and the sunny beaches of Orange County, California, sits the Santa Ana Mountain Range, and Trabuco Creek, much of which is located in the Cleveland National Forest in south Orange county.

As the price of gold has gone up, survivalist's, preppers and just regular folks have been heading to the National Forests to mine for gold. They just go up for the day or if they have any luck may stay for the weekend or longer. In some of these areas you cannot stay the night or stake a claim , so check with the nearest BLM office. If your lucky enough to find some gold be careful who you show or tell of your gold fines by bragging about it. Or that someone may take your spot as soon as you leave. If anyone is finding lots of gold or making a lot of money in the area, I haven't seen it. Before you prospect or mine in the National Forests, always check with the district office for finding out about the local rules and regulations. Should you find some gold and want to sell it, many places are advertizing  “We Buy Your Gold” these places have popped up all over lately. You can find them on TV, Radio, Newspapers and even in the malls.

Some believe Trabuco Creek over the years has yielded a significant amount of placer gold, including some good sized nuggets. However no amount has ever been officially registered with any governmental agency in modern times. But we believe what ever gold was taken from the region was mined by the indigenous early peoples using primitive means as they lived in the area for millennium. After them came the Spaniards and some theorist bet they found some gold as well. Numerous old arrastres Photo of old Arrastre Gold Ore Grinder

for crushing ore found in the Santa Ana's over the years suggest that the Spanish were mining gold and silver in the mountains long before the arrival of Anglo Americans in 1848.

I’ve been prospecting and mining all of my life from Alaska to South America I do use a small shovel/pick and a gold pan, but I also have a sluice box, dredge, a dry washer and high-tech metal detectors as well. But I admit I did wet a pan now and than at Trabuco Creek. At Trabuco Creek we have found pretty good color and some nuggets. This interesting and productive ground is just 15 minuets from my home in Laguna Hills California.

The Santa Anna Mountains are a part of the Transverse Range geologic province of Southern California, in Orange County, just a short drive from one of the largest metropolitan areas in the United States. Because of rumors of placer gold and its easy and convenient access in good weather, this location is fast becoming a very popular spot for local recreational prospectors - and much of the placer area is on non private land and open to the public and anyone is welcome to wet their gold pan in the water and look for some gold. If you want to prospect on private land, be sure to ask. You can prospect on public lands that are not designated as park or natural reserve areas.

Trabuco Canyon is north of the town of Rancho Santa Margarita. Plano Trabuco Road leads from the top of the canyon south to Rancho Santa Margarita. Trabuco is Spanish for blunderbuss, a type of shotgun. Some credit a Franciscan friar traveling with the Gaspar de Portolà Expedition in 1769 with the story that a blunderbuss was lost in the canyon, after which the area was named. John (Don Juan) Forster received a Mexican land grant in 1846 and established Rancho Trabuco. The grant was bordered by Rancho Cañada de los Alisos on the west, and by Rancho Mission Viejo on the east.


The turnoff from Trabuco Canyon Road to the unpaved Trabuco Creek Road.

Trabuco Canyon was the site of attempts to mine tin in the early 1900s.  The Santa Ana Tin Mining Company which had a number of claims in Trabuco Canyon was owned by Gail Borden of the Eagle Milk Company. He had spent a million dollars on the mine in 1903 but no tin was ever removed. Many believe that the local Indians for years mined the area for gold as did the Spanish who came later.  

Mining remains from this activity include: tunnels dug into the sides of the canyon the stone foundation of an ore-processing stamp mill;  several remains of old cement and rock dams in the upper reaches of the creek can still be seen and ancient tailing piles on and around the creek can still be located if you look good.

My wife Peggy and I first checked out Trabuco creek several years ago when we wanted to see the area where it was reported that the last grizzly bear in all of California was shot and killed. Honey thefts and hive damage by bears were common in the canyon, and were a significant fac tor in eliminating the grizzly bear in this area, according to local reports.

We actually prospected the creek in the past where we would find color in spots and nothing in other spots all up and down the creek which runs about seven months a year where you can pan and often sluice, when there is enough water. Caution most streams in the Santa Ana Mountains are seasonal or intermittent.  Over the years nuggets and flakes of placer gold have been obtained from both the stream gravels as well as older terrace bench gravels above the creek and the walls of the canyon.

IMG_5110he creek was running high this year, and there were several "wet" crossings on the road, and lots of people fishing and playing in it along the way.

Many people don’t believe that there is any gold in them there hills. They say there is no records of any gold mining on the mountain. But I assure them that not only have we found gold but it is rumored that some good sized nuggets of more than an ounce in size have been produced from these deposits, but fine flakes are much more common. That is our experience we have found some small nuggets but mostly fine gold. (See photo insert)




















While a number of streams, washes and water falls in the region show some color, the creek has produced the most placer gold for us and the groups we have mined with in the area.


A larger water crossing. This one may stay wet all year. Jeff Green and his bdog

Jeff Green and his dog crossing Trabuco Creek on foot


While the bed rock of the creek does contain gold, the gravels in some places in the flats are very deep and getting down to bedrock with shovel and pick is impossible with out using heavy equipment. We always did our best where bedrock is just a few inches or no more than a foot or two. Other locations that showed color were when we were digging in the bench gravels above the creek bed. Some times we would dig the overburden material from the bank, or water fall gravels, then haul the diggings in five gallon buckets down to the creek or a pool of water and pan for results. Or we would take it to running water and process it in a sluice box. I have heard that small garnets are found in some concentrates from the area although I have yet to see any in our pans or sluices.

It is common to see a large number of off roaders out here on weekends, although few of them are prospectors. Just some are out there on the quest for gold.

On October 21, 2007, a large wildfire started in Silverado Canyon and spread to Trabuco Canyon. The Canyon was evacuated by the Fire Department. Very little sign of the fire remain, but always be careful with fire even when permitted. Flash flooding is common during rain storms or during spring run off. Use extreme caution. Mountain Lion and Rattle snakes are plentiful much of the year. The rattlesnakes are usually Red Diamond Back that come in beautiful shades of red, orange or pink they are found in Trabuco, Silverado and Modjeska Canyons, Western Diamond Back and Southern pacific rattlesnake also known as dark coastal rattlesnakes are seen on occasion.. A few years ago my wife and I saw a small Black Bear on the road along the creek and just a few months before that we spotted a Mother Mountain Lion with her two cubs, the cubs where almost the size of their Mother. All three were a pretty rust brown in color and all looked very healthy. Bobcats, Coyotes, Shank and squirrels. Trout and even Steelhead have been reported.

A long, silver and gray fish
Steelhead trout have been said to exist in Trabuco Creek.

 CALIFORNIA Placer Gold Mining Claims

BLM - The Bureau of Land Management  Cleveland National Forest - Trabuco RD

Sources: Trabuco Canyon History maps and photo’s. Most of the larger photo's are by Jeff Green and his wife Colleen.

Trabuco Creek Fishing.wmv - YouTube

U.S. Forrest Service

Orange County Register

O.C.History Roundup

Laguna Journal and other open source media.Cached

 Some photo's from Wikipedia

Related Info:

 Gold in Southern California: the Santa Ana Mountains

Panning for gold. Gold rush, 2011 - YouTube

Prospecting at Trabuco Creek 1/17/11 - YouTube 26, 2011 - 2 min - Uploaded by slackmason
Me and my brother prospecting on Trabuco Creek in Orange County ... CA Gold Regulations When mining ...