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Gold in them thar’ hot springs

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By Kirsten Peters

Twenty-five years ago I spent my summers beside sulfur-belching hot springs in northern California. The hot springs were not as big as Yellowstone’s. Most were just a few feet across, one or two about a dozen feet wide. None of them were truly boiling, but they were hot to the touch and gases bubbled vigorously out of them.

To add to the general ambience of roasting sulfur, air temperatures in that part of California each July and August are in the 100-degree range, and in addition to sulfur, the hot springs carried a lot of mercury, arsenic and other toxic metals.

Any normal person would have fled the scene.

But I loved it all, because in addition to the hellish aspect of the hot springs, they carried trace amounts of gold in their waters. That meant they precipitated meaningful amounts of gold where the waters cooled.  

That’s all pretty unusual in this world. In fact, it’s the only place I knew where gold makes it all the way to the surface of the Earth in such low temperature waters.


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