The Kern River is one of the main waterways that drain the southern part of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California. Located south of the major gold discoveries of the Mother Lode, the first gold discoveries were found here in 1851, but it took a few years for the stampede to come to the area. At that time, many of the rich ground that were worked by the original 49ers was starting to play out, and prospectors were setting out into new country in search of new gold deposits. Those original discoveries in the heart of the Mother Lode Country of course came to be some of the richest in the world, but the easy placer ground was still getting claimed up and worked out quickly, as the thousands of miners continued to work the gravels.
The original gold discovery in this area was found at Greenhorn Creek, near the Kern River. In no time at all, the area was swarming with prospectors, exploring the rivers, creeks, and gulches around the area. The town of Keyesville sprang up where several lode deposits were discovered, and soon several arrastras and stamp mills were operating in the area, extracting gold from the rich ore. It was estimated that there were over a thousand men working the lode mines during the first few years of the discovery, with many others were working their own placer claims.
The mines were active for many years, until much of the town of Keyesville was flooded in 1861. Some rebuilding took place, and mining resumed on a smaller scale for many years. Chinese miners worked many of the placers long after the white miners moved on. They were often willing to work the lesser paying grounds that the white miners were no longer interested in.
The Kern River is still a popular destination for recreational prospectors in California. While it is generally not considered to be as rich as much of the Mother Lode country to the north, it is a great place for prospectors who live a little further south of the more famous gold country to the north. It is easily accessible from Bakersfield, and it is a popular destination for prospectors in southern California as well. The Kern River still gets replenished with fresh deposits of gold every spring because of high waters, and recreational miners can still find some color. One word of warning, the Kern is well-known for its whitewater, and many people have drowned in the Kern. Always respect the river and never get yourself in a dangerous situation.
An excellent place for recreational prospectors to explore is the Keyesville Recreational Mining area. It encompasses an area of 400 acres along the Kern River and has been withdrawn from mining law, meaning that the areas are open to the general public for prospecting. There are limitations to keep in mind. At the present time, there is a suction dredging ban in all of California, so that is no longer allowed.
Additionally, there are other regulations that have been put in place, including restrictions on the size of sluice boxes and prohibitions on most types of motorized equipment. If you intend to prospect within the Keyesville Recreational Mining Area, it would be wise to contact the Bakersfield Field Office of the Bureau of Land Management for any updated to the regulations in place.Historic Mining Areas in CaliforniaProspecting in Southern California eBook