After seven years spent prospecting for gold as a hobby in the California desert, Terry Hughes of Moorpark hit the mother lode.
On Memorial Day, the former Marine and disabled Vietnam veteran scored a “one-in-a-million” find: an 8.7-ounce gold nugget worth an estimated $10,000.
“We’re all hoping to find the big one and Terry did,” said Patrick Keene, co-owner of Keene Engineering, reportedly one of the world’s largest suppliers of portable mining equipment.
A nugget that big — about the size of an egg — is “extremely rare,” Keene said.
Hughes purchased all his mining equipment from the Chatsworth company, and on Thursday morning he took his trophy nugget to Keene for an official weighing-in.
He would not reveal the exact location of where he found the nugget, although he said it was near Randsburg.
Although gold is currently bringing more than $1,000 an ounce, the nugget is “worth nothing,” Hughes said. “It’s all relative, about what it’s worth to me.”
And he has no plans to cash it in.
“It’s not the money value; it’s the treasure value,” he said.
Hughes, 62, was hit with the prospecting bug years ago while on an outing at Lake Isabella with his oldest son, who found a “dot of gold.”
“When you get your first gold, it gives you the gold fever,” said Hughes who retired seven years ago after 32 years with the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department.
He said his Memorial Day weekend venture started Friday when he headed for the desert near Randsburg. Others were also prospecting, but he was alone when his metal detector signaled a find.
“The last one had left about two hours before I found it,” Hughes said. “I thought I would make one last run with my metal detector.”
Previously, the largest nugget Hughes had unearthed was a 1-ounce, 7-pennyweight nugget found the week between Christmas and New Year’s. A pennyweight is about 1.5 grams.
That was “a huge find and this one is 100 times bigger,” he said.
Keene, 45, who has been prospecting for about 35 years, said Hughes’ nugget is a special find.
“From what I know, it’s the largest piece to come out of the desert in the last 20 years, at least,” he said. He has mined all over the world, and the largest nugget he’s found weighed 2 ounces, 7 pennyweight, he said.
A nugget’s estimated worth, Hughes said, is based on spot value of gold on the current market and its “collectors’ value.” He said he’s received collectors’ value estimates as high as $20,000 on his nugget.
According to the Web site for Gold Mart Inc., less than 2 percent of the world’s gold remains in the form of nuggets that may be found in rivers and streams, those filled with water as well as in dry riverbeds.
Gold in the United States is primarily found in California, Alaska and Oregon but is also unearthed in other southwestern states. Hot spots throughout the world include Australia, Africa, Russia, Bolivia and Canada.
Hughes has kept his prospecting to California and done mostly dry washing (digging, shoveling and sifting) to unearth his finds. In about 10 days, however, he plans to try his hand at underwater dredging and sluicing in the Yuba River in Northern California.
“There’s still a lot of gold out there waiting to be found,” he said. But for him it’s not about the money; it’s the adventure.
Hughes figures he has a couple thousand dollars invested in prospecting equipment; his latest acquisition is the dredging tools he’ll use on the Yuba River. Right now, though, his metal detector is in the spotlight.
He isn’t planning to return to mine the spot of his big find, comparing the exhilaration he felt Monday to being on an Easter egg hunt or a fishing trip.
He figures he’s not going to find another egg or catch another fish in the exact same spot.
“You move on,” he said. “You never, never know. Gold is where you find it.”---www.venturacountystar.com