Perhaps the starkest difference between the modern prospectors and their predecessors is age. The gold rush was a young man’s game, but many of today’s miners are cash-strapped retirees trying to add a little shine to their golden years. This gives the new mining movement, Christensen says, “the feeling of being the end of something, rather than the beginning.”
Still, Finkelstein believes the latter-day miners share something of the forty-niners’ spirit. “They don’t have to be gold prospecting,” she says, adding: “There’s a certain personality to gold prospectors. In many ways it’s the personality you get from an excited 7-year-old boy who wants to go out exploring every day, to take a risk, to gamble, to get his hands dirty.”
Most on Nugget Alley are free of car and house payments. They enjoy the shade of the riverside alders and hook the occasional trout. And every night they have front-row seats to the glorious San Gabriel sunset, which gilds the river and turns the dusty mountains gold.