Bryant Shock, owner of Gold Prospecting Adventure in Jamestown, takes a call at his office Thursday afternoon from a prominent newspaper based in New York.
“New York Times,” Shock tells his employee, Frank Powell, who is talking to someone else on a phone at a separate desk.
“Oakland news,” Powell responds pointing to his phone’s receiver.
The two men pause, stare at each other for a moment and burst into laughter before switching phones and beginning to answer questions about an 18-ounce gold nugget that was discovered last month in Woods Creek in Jamestown.
“With the Internet now, it’s just unreal how fast the word spreads,” Shock said.
Oscar Espinoza, a gold prospector who lives in Modesto, discovered the sizable hunk of gold on Aug. 18, according to Powell.
Powell said Espinoza brought the piece into Gold Prospecting Adventure three days later unsure of what to do next.
“He was scared,” Powell said. “He had disappeared, and we didn’t know where he was for three days.”
Powell saw the opportunity to help his friend get the best price for his rare find and get some exposure for the business, so he shot a video and posted it to the company’s official Facebook page on Aug. 31.
The video has since received more than 163,000 views and 1,000 shares.
“I didn’t expect it to get on the AP (Associated Press) so quick,” Powell said.
The nugget is believed to be worth between $20,000 to $70,000. Powell said the total market value would be at least $20,000, but the historic value of an intact piece of gold mixed with quartz could drive the price up higher among collectors.
Powell has known Espinoza for the past couple of years working at Gold Prospecting Adventure. He said Espinoza has been prospecting for a few years.
“He’s pretty much a newbie, but he’s done his homework and knows what he’s doing,” Powell said.
In the video, Espinoza explains that he found the nugget in a crack in the creekbed at an undisclosed location along 16-mile Woods Creek. He moved a large boulder that he believed no one had likely moved in the past, reached in the crack and found his small fortune.
Powell said he’s seen what he believed were large finds in the past, but nothing as big as what Espinoza discovered.
“He’s the luckiest prospector I’ve ever met,” Powell said, adding that there was no question the mass that Espinoza brought to him was actually gold based on the weight and appearance.
“There’s no mistaking what a piece of gold looks like and feels like. A good miner can tell you what side of the mountain it came from.”
Shock said this isn’t the first time in his life that a large amount of gold was discovered along Woods Creek, which he called the richest with deposits in all of Tuolumne County.
A pair of men dug up 300 ounces, or nearly 19 pounds, out of hole along Woods Creek in the mid-1980s. Another hole close to that one around the same time yielded another 502 ounces, or about 31 pounds.
Woods Creek originates in the Stanislaus National Forest, north of Columbia State Historic Park, and flows south through Sonora and eventually into Don Pedro Reservoir. A 150-pound quartz-gold mass that yielded 75 pounds of gold was discovered along the creek in 1848, leading to thousands of eager miners descending upon Tuolumne County in search of instant riches.
Some news outlets, including European newspapers, have suggested that Jamestown is preparing for a modern-day Gold Rush following Espinoza’s find, but Powell said they haven’t received any bookings since the news broke.
However, others in town are optimistic that news of the find will attract more tourists to the area over the next year.
“I had a guy call and ask about parking,” said Charlie Morgan, owner of the Jamestown Hotel. “I told him we have plenty, and he said the gold thing has been all over the news and newspaper here.
“I asked him where are you from? He says, New York.”
Morgan is friends with Espinoza and agreed to hold onto the gold for safekeeping while he secures a buyer.
Espinoza has been trying to keep a low profile since the news went viral across the globe, according to his friends. He couldn’t be reached for comment Thursday.
Although it’s a relatively valuable piece of gold, Morgan said that leaving the hotel he bought four years ago and running away wouldn’t be the most financially wise decision.
“I’d be running away with a dime and leaving a dollar,” he joked.
People have been coming in to see the nugget and take pictures with it, Morgan said. He stores the piece off-site in a secure location.
Amy and Brett Smith, owners of the Red Barn in Tuttletown, stopped at the hotel for lunch and asked if they could take a look.
“It feels heavier than I thought it would be,” she said.
The couple said they know people pan for gold around the area all the time, though they have never done it themselves.
“We will now!” Amy Smith said.