Help|Log In|Register|
Home PageMindat NewsThe Mindat ManualHistory of MindatCopyright StatusManagement TeamContact UsAdvertise on Mindat
Donate to MindatSponsor a PageSponsored PagesTop Available PagesMindat AdvertisersAdvertise on MindatThe Mindat Store
Minerals by PropertiesMinerals by ChemistryRandom MineralSearch by minIDLocalities Near MeSearch GlossaryMore Search Options
Search For:
Mineral Name:
Locality Name:
The Mindat ManualAdd a New PhotoRate PhotosLocality Edit ReportCoordinate Completion ReportAdd Glossary Item
StatisticsThe ElementsMember ListBooks & MagazinesMineral Shows & EventsThe Mindat DirectoryHow to Link to MindatDevice Settings
Photo SearchPhoto GalleriesNew Photos TodayNew Photos YesterdayMembers' Photo GalleriesPast Photo of the Day Gallery

Nevada Co., California, USA

This page is currently not sponsored. Click here to sponsor this page.

Nevada County was created from parts of Yuba County in 1851. It is 974 square miles (2,520 km2) in area.

Regional Setting: The northern Sierra Nevada is home to numerous important gold deposits. These include the famous lode districts of Johnsville, Alleghany, Sierra City, Grass Valley, and Nevada City as well as the famous placer districts of North Bloomfield, North Columbia, Cherokee, Foresthill, Michigan Bluff, Gold Run, and Dutch Flat. The geological and historical diversity of most of these deposits and specific mine operations are covered in numerous publications produced over the years by the U.S. Bureau of Mines, U.S. Geological Survey, California Division of Mines and Geology (now California Geological Survey), and others. The most recent geologic mapping covering the area is the 1:250,000-scale Chico Quadrangle compiled by Saucedo and Wagner (1992).

Stratigraphy: The northern Sierra Nevada basement complex has a history of both oceanic and continental margin tectonics recorded in sequences of oceanic, near continental, and continental volcanism. The complex has been divided into four lithotectonic belts: the Western Belt, Central Belt, Feather River Peridotite Belt, and Eastern Belt.

The Western Belt is composed of the Smartville Complex, an Upper Jurassic volcanic-arc complex, which consists of basaltic to intermediate pillow flows overlain by pyroclastic and volcanoclastic rock units with diabase, metagabbro, and gabbro-diorite intrusives. The Cretaceous Great Valley sequence overlies the belt to the west. To the east it is bounded by the Big Bend-Wolf Creek Fault Zone.

East of the Big Bend-Wolf Creek Fault Zone is the Central Belt, which is in turn bounded to the east by the Goodyears Creek Fault. This belt is structurally and stratigraphically complex and consists of Permian-Triassic argillite, slate, chert, ophiolite, and greenstone of marine origin.

The Feather River Peridotite Belt is also fault-bounded, separating the Central Belt from the rocks of the Eastern Belt for almost 95 miles along the northern Sierra Nevada. It consists largely of Devonian-to-Triassic serpentinized peridotite.

The Eastern Belt, or Northern Sierra Terrane, is separated from the Feather River Peridotite Belt by the Melones Fault Zone. The Northern Sierra Terrane is primarily composed of siliciclastic marine metasedimentary rocks of the Lower Paleozoic Shoo Fly Complex overlain by Devonian-to-Jurassic metavolcanic rocks. Farther east are Mesozoic granitic rocks of the Sierra Nevada Batholith.

The northern Sierra Nevada experienced a long period of Cretaceous to early Tertiary erosion followed by extensive late Oligocene to Pliocene volcanism. The oldest Tertiary deposits are Eocene auriferous gravels deposited by the predecessors of the modern Yuba and American rivers and preserved in paleochannels eroded into basement and on adjacent benches. In contrast to earlier volcanism, Tertiary volcanism was continental, with deposits placed on top of the eroded basement rocks, channel deposits, and Mesozoic intrusives. Two regionally important units are the Valley Springs and Mehrten Formations. The Oligocene-Miocene Valley Springs Formation is a widespread unit of intercalated rhyolite tuffs and intervolcanic channel gravels that blanketed and preserved the basal gravels in the valley bottoms. The younger Miocene-Pliocene Mehrten Formation consists largely of andesitic mudflows, which regionally blanketed all but the highest peaks and marked the end of Tertiary volcanism.

Pliocene-Pleistocene uplift of the Sierra Nevada caused the modern drainages to erode through the volcanic Valley Springs-Mehrten sequences and carve deep river gorges into the underlying basement rocks. During this process, the modern rivers became charged with placer-gold deposits from both newly eroded basement rocks and from the reconcentration of the eroded Tertiary placers. The discovery of these modern Quaternary placers in the American River at Sutter's Mill sparked the California Gold Rush.

Tertiary Channel Gravels: It has been estimated that 40 percent of California's gold production has come from placer deposits along the western Sierra Nevada (Clark, 1966). These placer deposits are divisible into Tertiary deposits preserved on the interstream ridges, and Quaternary deposits associated with present streams. Lindgren (1911) estimated that approximately $507 million (at $35.00/ounce) was produced from the Tertiary gravels. Almost all Tertiary gravel deposits can be divided into coarse basal Eocene gravels resting on basement, and overlying upper or "intervolcanic" gravels. While the gravels differ texturally, compositionally, and in gold values, no distinct contact exists between the two. The boundary is usually placed where pebble and cobble beds are succeeded by overlying pebble, sand, and clay beds.

Lower gravels contain most of the gold and rest on eroded bedrock that is usually smooth, grooved, and polished. Where bedrock is granitic, it is characterized by a smooth and polished surface. Where bedrock is slate, phyllite, or similar metamorphic rock, rock cleavage, joints, and fractures acted as natural riffles to trap fine to coarse gold. In many cases, miners would excavate several feet into bedrock to recover the trapped gold. The lower gravels, or "blue lead," of the early miners are well-cemented and characterized by cobbles to boulders of bluish gray - black slates and phyllites, weathered igneous rocks and quartz. Boulders may range upwards of 10 feet in diameter. In many deposits, disseminated pyrite and pyritic pebble coatings are common in the lower blue lead gravels. Adjacent to the bedrock channels, broad gently sloping benches received shallow but extensive accumulations of auriferous overbank gravels sometimes 1 to 2 miles (1.6 to 3.2 meters) wide.

The lower unit is also compositionally immature relative to the upper gravel unit as evidenced by their heavy mineral suites. Chlorite, amphibole, and epidote are common constituents in the basal gravels, but are conspicuously absent in upper gravels.

The upper gravels compose the bulk of most deposits, with a maximum measured thickness of 400 feet in the North Columbia District. These gravels carry much lower gold values (rarely more than a few cents per cubic yard) than the deeper sands and are often barren. Upper gravels are finer grained, with clasts seldom larger than cobble size, and contain abundant silt and clay interbeds. Cross-bedding and cut-and-fill sedimentary structures are abundant as well as pronounced bedding and relatively fair to good sorting. Compositionally they are much more mature, with quartz prevailing, and more stable heavy mineral components consisting almost exclusively of zircon, illmenite, and magnetite. Oxidation is common and often imparts a reddish hue to the gravels.

During the Cretaceous, the Sierra Nevada was eroded and its sediments transported westward by river systems to a Cretaceous marine basin. By the Eocene, low gradients and a high sediment load allowed the valleys to accumulate thick gravel deposits as the drainages meandered over flood plains up to several miles wide developed on the bedrock surface. The major rivers were similar in location, direction of flow, and drainage area to the modern Yuba, American, Mokelumne, Calaveras, Stanislaus, and Tuolumne Rivers. Their auriferous gravels deposits are scattered throughout a belt 40 - 50 miles wide and 150 miles long from Plumas County to Tuolumne County. In the northern counties, continuous lengths of the channels can be traced for as much as 10 miles with interpolated lengths of over 30 miles. The ancient Yuba River was the largest and trended southwest from headwaters in Plumas County. Its gravels are responsible for the placer deposits in the North Bloomfield, San Juan Ridge/North Columbia, Moore's Flat, and French Corral districts. Tributaries to the ancestral Yuba River were responsible for most of the other auriferous gravels in Nevada County.

Bedrock erosion degraded the rich gold-bearing veins and auriferous schists and slates as the rivers crossed the metamorphic belts of the Sierra Nevada. Upstream of the gold belts on the granitic Sierra Nevada batholith, channels are largely barren, but become progressively richer as they cross the metamorphic belt and the Mother Lode trend. They become especially enriched after crossing the gold-bearing "serpentine belt" (Feather River Peridotite Belt) upstream of many Tertiary placer districts. While the most gold is contained in the lower sand and gravel, the majority of rich material is within only a few feet of bedrock. Generally, in drift mines only these lower gravels were exploited; however, in hydraulic mines the whole gravel bed was washed. Lindgren (1911) estimated that on average, the hydraulic washing of thick gravel banks up to 300 feet, including both basal and upper gravels, yielded approximately $0.10 to $0.40 (period values)/cubic yard. Upper gravels alone might average $0.02 to $0.10 (period values)/cubic yard and lower gavels from $0.50 to $15 (period values)/cubic yard or more.

The bulk of the gold in the deposits was derived from gold-bearing quartz veins within the low-grade metamorphic rocks of the Sierra Nevada. Gravels that have the highest gold values contain abundant white quartz vein detritus and clasts of blue-gray siliceous phyllite and slate common to the gold-quartz vein-bearing bedrock of the region. Unusually high gold concentrations have also been documented immediately downstream of eroded qold quartz veins exposed in the scoured bedrock.

Most of the gold found in the gravels of the North Bloomfield and Moore's Flat districts is thought to have originated from the famous lode veins of the Alleghany Mining District. The veins in the Nevada City and Grass Valley districts have been proposed as possible sources for the gold in the gravels of the Sailor Flat and Blue Tent diggings.

Gold particles tend to be flat or rounded, shiny and rough, and range from fine and coarse gold to nuggets of 100 or more ounces. Large nuggets were especially prevalent in the Alleghany, North Columbia, Downieville, and Sierra City Districts. The gold particles are almost everywhere associated with black sands composed of magnetite, ilmenite, chromite, zircon, garnet, pyrite, and in some places platinum. Fine flour gold is not abundant in any of the Tertiary gravels. Lindgren (1911) and others have suggested that most of the flour gold was swept westward to be deposited in the thick sediments of the Great Valley.

Valley Springs Formation: After deposition of the Eocene channel gravels, Oligocene-Miocene volcanic activity in the upper Sierra Nevada radically changed drainage patterns and sedimentation. The first of many eruptive rhyolite flows filled the depressions of most river courses covering the Eocene gravels and diverting the rivers. Many tributaries were dammed, but they eventually breached the barriers and carved their own channels within the rhyolite fill. Ensuing intermittent volcanism caused recurrent rhyolite flows to fill and refill the younger channels resulting in a thick sequence of intercalated intervolcanic channel gravels and volcanic flows. In the Scotts Flat District, very little of the Valley Springs Formation remains, having been lost to erosion.

Mehrten Formation: Volcanism continued through the Oligocene to the Pliocene, with a change from rhyolitic to andesitic composition and a successively greater number of flows. During the Miocene and Pliocene, volcanism was so extensive that thick beds of andesitic tuffs and mudflows of the Mehrten Formation blanketed the Valley Springs. Thicknesses ranged from a few hundred to a few thousand feet. Pleistocene erosion removed much of these deposits, but remnants cap the axes of many existing ridges at mid-elevations.

Continued uplift during the Pliocene-early Pleistocene increased gradients allowing the modern drainages to cut through the volcanic mantle and auriferous gravel deposits and deeply into basement. The once-buried Tertiary river gravels were left exposed in outcrops high on the flanks of the modern drainage divides.

Structure: Most Upper Jurassic and younger basement rocks of the northern Sierra Nevada were metamorphosed and deformed during the Jurassic-Cretaceous Nevadan Orogeny. The dominant northwest-trending structural grain is a result of this period of compressive deformation, which produced thrust faults, major northwest-trending folds, and regional greenschist facies metamorphism. This episode also resulted in intrusions of granitic plutons that formed the Sierra Nevada.

Nevadan deformation structures within and between the northern Sierra Nevada lithotectonic blocks are steeply dipping northwesterly trending faults and northwesterly trending folds. These features are best developed in the Eastern, Central, and Feather River Peridotite Belts, where the faults have been collectively described as the "Foothills Fault System" (Clark, 1960). Where the attitude can be determined, most of the bounding faults dip steeply east and display reverse displacement.

The regional northwest-trending structural grain is also at approximately right angles to the prevailing direction of stream flow of both the ancient and modern channels. This grain, expressed in the form of foliation and cleavage in the metamorphic bedrock, served as a good trapping mechanism for the gold particles.

Mineral List

Mineral list contains entries from the region specified including sub-localities

127 entries listed. 97 valid minerals. 1 (TL) - type locality of valid minerals.

Localities in this Region


The above list contains all mineral locality references listed on This does not claim to be a complete list. If you know of more minerals from this site, please register so you can add to our database. This locality information is for reference purposes only. You should never attempt to visit any sites listed in without first ensuring that you have the permission of the land and/or mineral rights holders for access and that you are aware of all safety precautions necessary.


Silliman, Benjamin, Jr. (1865), On the deep placers of the south and middle Yuba, Nevada County, California: American Journal of Science, 2nd. series: 40: 1-19.

Bean, Edwin F. (1867), History and directory of Nevada County, California: Daily Gazette Book and Job Office, Nevada, 1867.

Silliman, Benjamin, Jr. (1867), Notes on the quartz mines of the Grass Valley district, quoted from Bean, History and directory of Nevada County, California: Engineering & Mining Journal: 4: 9.

Corning, F.G. (1886), The gold quartz mines of Grass Valley, Nevada County, California: Engineering & Mining Journal: 42: 418-420.

Hobson, John B. (1890), Nevada, Placer, Siskiyou Counties: California Mining Bureau (Report 10): 10: 364-398.

Melville, William Harlow (1892), Tourmaline from Nevada County, California: USGS Bulletin 90: 39.

Hobson, John B. & E.A. Wiltsee (1893), Nevada County: California Information Bureau (Report 11): 11: 263-318.

Lindgren, Waldemar & Henry Ward Turner (1895b), Description of the gold belt; description of the Smartsville sheet, California: USGS Geological Atlas, Smartsville folio (Folio No. 18), 6 pp.

Lindgren, Waldemar (1896a), The gold-quartz veins of Nevada City and Grass Valley districts, California: USGS 17th. Annual Report, part 2: 1-262; […(abstract): A.I.M.E. Transactions: 14: 667-668 (1897-98); …(abstract): Zeitschr. Prakt. Geologie, Jahrg. 7: 210-213 (1899)]: .

Lindgren, Waldemar (1896b), Description of the Nevada City, California, special sheet: USGS Geol. Atlas, Nevada City special folio (Folio No. 29), 7pp.; […(abstract): Journal of Geology: 5: 409-411 (1897)].

California State Mining Bureau (California Division of Mines and Geology) (1898): Register of mines and minerals with map (each county issued separately).

Grimsley, George Perry (1899), The gold deposits of Nevada County: Engineering & Mining Journal: 68: 487.

MacBoyle, Errol (1918), Mines and mineral resources of Nevada County: California Journal of Mines and Geology, California Mining Bureau (Report 16): 16: 234-235.

Franke, Herbert A. (1930), Santa Clara, Nevada, Kings, Tulare Counties: California Mining Bureau (Report 26): 26: 2-39, 413-471.

Logan, Clarence August (1930), Nevada, Yuba Counties: California Mining Bureau. (Report 26): 26: 90-136, 186-200.

Crampton, F.R. (1932), Auriferous gravel channels of Nevada County, California: Mining Journal: 16(6): 5-7.

Wisker, A.L. (1936), The gold-bearing veins of Meadow Lake district, Nevada County: California Division Mines Report 32: 189-204.

Logan, Clarence August (1941), Mineral resources of Nevada County, California: California Division Mines (Report 37): 37: 374-408; […California Journal of Mines and Geology: 37(3): 378-379]: .

Murdoch, Joseph & Robert W. Webb (1966), Minerals of California, Centennial Volume (1866-1966): California Division Mines & Geology Bulletin 189: 282.

Clark, Wm. B. (1970a) Gold districts of California: California Division Mines & Geology Bulletin 193.

Yeend, W.E. (1974) Gold-bearing gravel of the ancestral Yuba River, Sierra Nevada, California. USGS Professional Paper 772, 44 pp.

D'Allura, J. A. (1977), Stratigraphy, structure, petrology, and regional correlations of metamorphosed upper Paleozoic volcanic rocks in portions of Plumas, Sierra, and Nevada counties, California: University of California, Davis, Ph.D dissertation, 338 p.

Mineral and/or Locality is an outreach project of the Hudson Institute of Mineralogy, a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization.
Copyright © and the Hudson Institute of Mineralogy 1993-2015, except where stated. relies on the contributions of thousands of members and supporters.
Privacy Policy - Terms & Conditions - Contact Us Current server date and time: November 29, 2015 16:03:47 Page generated: November 22, 2015 05:47:11