You won't strike it rich there, but you can strike gold in Dahlonega, Georgia, 56 miles north of Atlanta.
The city's name stems from the Cherokee-language word "talonega," meaning "golden."
In 1828, while deer hunting 2½ miles south of what is now Dahlonega, Benjamin Parks tripped over a rock that was chock-full of gold. Twenty years before the California Gold Rush, America's first major gold rush was on, in northern Georgia.
Nearly 15,000 miners rushed to the area. The gold was plentiful and easily found then, having been washing off mountainsides for centuries.
Today, visitors who tour a gold museum and two gold mines in the area will leave knowing, Thar's gold in them thar hills!
Rich in history
Dahlonega Courthouse Gold Museum State Historic Site chronicles the history of the gold rush and miners of that period. The building served as the seat of Lumpkin country government from 1836 to 1965 and is one of the oldest public buildings in this section of Georgia.
The locally made brick used to build the courthouse contains small amounts of gold. The state of Georgia restored the structure and it was designated a State Historic Site.
Visitors to the museum can watch a 23-minute film about mining techniques and the lifestyles of prospectors. Gold nuggets and gold coins minted at the Dahlonega Branch Mint from 1838 to 1861 are on display. The museum's collection includes the Half Eagle ($5), Three Dollar Gold, Gold Dollar and Quarter Eagle.
Allow about 45 minutes for a self-guided tour. Groups of 15 or more may call in advance to arrange a guided tour.
The Gold Museuem State Historic Site is located at the center of the Dahlonega town square. The site is open Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; closed Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day. Admission is $3.50 to $5.
Motorhomes can park in a designated area 1/2 block from the museum.
Drive past the welcome center on Main Street. At the first traffic light, turn left onto Grogan Street (U.S. 19). Turn left on the next major street, Hawkins. The parking area is adjacent to a rock wall and across from Hancock Park. The lot can hold about four motorhomes.
Free parking for cars is available in the town square and nearby lots.
For more information, visit www.gastateparks.org/info/dahlonega or call (706) 864-2257.
Mining your own business
Two mines are located within minutes of the Gold Museum. Pan for gold. Grub for rubies and emeralds. View original mining machinery from the 1800s. Venture deep underground, surrounded by gold-bearing rock.
At Crisson Gold Mine, which dates to 1847, take a self-guided tour of a 10-stamp mill made in 1883. It still works. Its purpose: to crush gold-bearing ore into sand-size particles so the gold can be separated from the ore by machines or by panning.
During the tour, visitors will see various mining equipment used by early miners. Tours do not lead into Crisson's open-pit mine, which is under excavation, as Crisson still ships gold to clients across the United States.
But, guests at Crisson mine do have a good chance of striking gold.
"Everybody finds gold," said Elizabeth, who works at Crisson. "There's no one who comes in to find gold or gemstones who doesn't find something, if they follow our instructions."
Recently, a gentleman found three gold nuggets, she said. Typically, the nuggets found range from $25 to $500 in value, depending on their weight.
Elizabeth said most people who find gold at Crisson save it as a souvenir, although the Gold Shop in town offers to buy gold and gems.
Crisson gold Mine is located 2-1/2 miles north of Dahlonega on U.S. 19. Free motorhome parking is available.
Admission charge for panning "depends on the amount of dirt you want to play in," Elizabeth said, referring to the size and number of pans and buckets visitors choose to use.
Info: (706) 864-6363.
Consolidated Gold Mines and gold processing mill, built in the early 1900s, was the largest gold mining operation east of the Mississippi River. Most of the mill buildings are gone, but visitors can tour underground mine tunnels created in the 1800s.
Actual miners conduct the 40-minute tours, providing historical background of mining in the area.
The inside of the mine looks the same as it did when it closed in 1906. The massive tunnel network, 60 feet down, still exists, complete with the original track system. Guides demonstrate mining techniques using the old mining equipment that remains, and welcome questions about hard rock mining.
Tours of the mine cost $11 for adults and $7 for ages 4 to14. The fee also allows visitors to pan for gold one time before or after the tour, in the panning trough out back. There is a charge for additional panning.
"Usually everybody will find a little bit of gold," said Amanda, a Consolidated employee. "It depends on how well you listen to the panning instructors."
Consolidated Gold Mines also offers gemstone mining at a cost of $7 to $100, depending on the various pans and buckets used.
The tour entails navigating three flights of stairs and two slanted walkways. Groups of 20 or more should call the mine in advance for reservations.
Consolidated Gold Mines is located on the Dahlonega town square, about 1/2 mile from the Court House Gold Museum. A large (free) parking area will accommodate motorhomes.
Info: (706) 864-8473.