The Real Gold At Bodie

The author leads a search for hidden treasure in the amazingly complete documentary history of a California ghost town

The road to Bodie, California, turns to gravel as it meanders upward from U.S. 395 on a thirteen-mile climb through sagebrush to an elevation of almost eighty-five hundred feet. I paused at the crest of a hill where a small sign marked the entrance to Bodie State Historic Park. The air was still, and the silence absolute; but I was most struck by the intensity of the light and colors. A spectacular June sunrise illuminated the imposing wall of the Sierras to the west.Read more »

Get Rich Slow

In the Yukon with G. C. Hazelet

February 17, 1898. Left home this day for Alaska 4:35 P.M.” Thus did a thirty-four-year-old Nebraskan named George Cheever Hazelet note in his diary his departure for the Klondike. Gold had been discovered along the Yukon River two years earlier, and thousands of prospectors were spilling into the immense, empty reaches of Alaska to get some. Hazelet thought it beat teaching high school.Read more »

California: The Art Of The State

California has always been as much a state of mind as a geographical entity. For the better part of two centuries, artists have been defining its splendid promise.

BEFORE THE DISCOVERY of gold at Sutler’s mill in 1848, the population of California was too small and too scattered to produce much painting. In modern times the history of art has paralleled the rise of cities and new wealth, and it was gold that made San Francisco large enough and rich enough to support California’s first art community. Read more »

American Gold

Solid-gold coins were legal tender for most of the nation's history. In their brilliant surfaces we can see our past fortunes.

NOWADAYS MONEY SEEMS to have become a pure idea, a universally agreed-upon fiction conveyed by pieces of paper, plastic cards, computers, and coins made of nearly worthless metal. But until just fifty-one years ago, money meant solid gold, that precious, rare, beautiful, glamorous, and nearly indestructible element which had stood throughout history as the invulnerable guarantee of financial security.Read more »


The saga of Kip Wagner, the first modern American to grow rich from ancient Spanish treasure

The stretch of sand that runs along for miles at the margin of Cape Canaveral was irresistibly reminiscent, I thought, of Cape Cod. But then one sandspit is very like another, except for the temperature surrounding it. That day the sea was remarkably peaceful though not very blue: it reflected a gunmetal sky. Here and there a family party sat on the sand and ate, but the place was by no means crowded, if you didn’t count the seagulls, and nobody seemed eager to go into the water.Read more »

Freezing Time

The Klondike Photographs of Clarke and Clarence Kinsey

In the words of historian William Bronson, it was “the last grand adventure,” and there is no denying the dimensions of the event: in 1897 and 1898, at least one hundred thousand people took passage to the scruffy little towns of Dyea and Skagway in the Alaskan Panhandle, inched over the mountains through Chilkoot or White passes, then floated, walked, and dogsledded the remaining five hundred miles to a new Golconda called Dawson in the heart of the Klondike gold fields. Read more »

“Go It, Washoe!”

Granddaddy of all desert mining discoveries was the Comstock Lode, which sent the Far West on a silver stampede to Nevada’s Washoe country a century ago.

Into the mountain-bound mining camp of Grass Valley, California, rode a weary traveler late in June, 1859. He had jogged more than 150 miles over the massive Sierra Nevada from the Washoe country in western Utah Territory. With him, mostly as a curiosity, he carried some odd-looking chunks of gold-bearing ore.