Gold fever: Tracy McGarey goes digging

Tracy McGarey prefers to spend her vacation days in the mountains digging for gold.

McGarey, executive assistant to the president at Newman, and her husband, Kevin, have been gold mining together for 16 years. She said, “It’s just the best way to get to spend a vacation. You get up in the morning and you get to go up into a mountain and enjoy nature.”

Their most recent adventure was to Buena Vista, Colorado, but the two have also visited mining sites in Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, New Mexico, South Dakota and Wyoming. They have found gold, precious gems, and even a diamond on their adventures.

She said the most important rule of gold mining is to obey the laws of the land. The McGareys are members of the Wichita chapter of the Gold Prospectors Association of America. Through this membership, they have access to several claims and are aware of what is permitted on those claims.

When she and her husband mine, they lug their gear to the mining site and spend eight-10 hours a day searching for gold. She said it takes patience but “you get out there and you do get the fever.” Gold currently sells for $1,200 an ounce but McGarey said they haven't sold any of the gold they've collected over the years.

One ounce of gold in comparison to a quarter.

While mining, they use pans of different sizes, a concentrator (screen) and a highbanker dredge combo to sift the dirt. The McGareys also have a gold cube — an electric three-tiered piece of equipment that, when dirt is run through it, catches the majority of the gold in the top tier.

Tracy holding up her sluice

Tracy holding up her sluice.

Highbanker dredge combo in action.

The mining can be hard work. Once the mining site is reached, they set up their sluice in the river itself and angle it properly by putting rocks underneath it. McGarey explained, “You feed it with the dirt and you start seeing the gold at the top of the sluice, then you wanna keep going.” She said finding a site with water is ideal, dry sifting is possible but water helps in processing.

There is equipment that can make digging for gold a less strenuous activity, McGarey said.

“If you think about what the gold miners in the olden days did, everything was by hand. And it truly was backbreaking. And they did it year-round.” She is content with the equipment they have and the season in which they go mining.

Their two-week excursion to Buena Vista, Colorado, was during the month of July. The duo took part in a two-day silver and gold symposium at the Colorado School of Mines in Golden, Colorado. While there, they learned about different minerals, gold, silver and gems.

school of mines

Tracy and Kevin McGarey at the Colorado School of Mines.

After classes, they had two days of field trips where they visited different mines — perhaps the most famous being Pfister Mine, which is featured on the TV show, "Gold Rush." Todd Hoffman, one of the stars, greeted them and gave them free reign to climb on the giant sluice and see the gold that had been processed just that morning. McGarey laughed and said, “It was fun. And a much bigger operation than we ever do!”

Gold Rush

Tracy McGarey and Todd Hoffman from "Gold Rush."

The rest of their trip was spent gold mining in other areas of Colorado. She and her husband have a friend who has retired from gold mining and lets them prospect on his land for a small fee. With a river running through his property and boulders all around, it’s a perfect spot to set up the sluice and start digging,  she said. They also met up with friend Brian Busse, a star of the former TV show, "The Prospectors," and climbed Mount Antero to reach the Thank You Lord mine to find aquamarine.

McGarey said, “It was incredibly beautiful at the top of the mountain.” They were forced to finish up around 1 p.m. that day when a thunderstorm rolled in, but they were still successful in their venture.

On this particular trip, the two did a fair amount of rockhounding — hunting for beautiful rocks and minerals in nature — as well as gold mining. McGarey said it’s important to know what you’re looking for.

She said, “We found grape agate that looks like clusters of grapes, pieces of turquoise and ore with silver and fools gold. My husband is setting up a shop where he can do some rock polishing.” Polished rocks can make beautiful bookends or jewelry.

rocks found

Rockhounding finds including crystal, grape agate, turquoise, ore with silver & fools gold.

Although she and her husband may generally roam alone, they meet incredible people along the way. “That’s probably one of the best things I like about this ... you make so many friends. We all have that same interest and we’re all looking for places to go, so we say let's meet there, and the lifelong friendships form,” said McGarey.

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