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Flooding was the downside to California's heavy rain. The upside: gold

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

OK, now, consider this - a lone figure, knee-deep in a creek, bent over a metal pan, sifting through dirt and gravel in search of gold. No, not a scene from the 1800s. It's California today during what some are calling gold rush 2.0.

ALBERT FAUSEL: Since our big rains this summer, the rivers and the creeks have really flooded and brought a lot of new material off the banks into the river, which has made kind of like a little gold rush going on here.

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

That's Albert Fausel. He owns a hardware store in Placerville and sells equipment for searching for precious metals.

FAUSEL: I've got people from New York coming over. I've got people from San Francisco just taking a day trip up here. People from even Idaho coming down here.

FADEL: These conditions for prospecting gold are like nothing Nick Prebalick has seen before.

NICK PREBALICK: What it used to be like - we'd have to dig for a lot longer just to get down to the gold. Right now, we're able to get down to where the gold is real easy without even digging hardly at all.

MARTÍNEZ: Prebalick's family has been gold mining for generations. He spoke to us while he was out at Wood's Creek, near Jamestown, Calif.

PREBALICK: You're looking at the creek right now. It's real peaceful, you know, just to hear the running water. You know, it's kind of meditative. At the same time, it is a lot like fishing. It's a mixture between fishing and playing a slot machine - you know? - 'cause you could hit some money just all of a sudden, too.

FADEL: Prebalick is known to his friends as Nugget Nick. He says he hits the jackpot a lot, as recently as last weekend.

PREBALICK: I found about $250 worth of gold. I was out here all day, but I might have done a couple hours' worth of digging the whole time. That's $125 an hour. That's a pretty good wage.

FADEL: Nugget Nick also teaches people to pan for gold, though he says it's not the way to get rich quick.

PREBALICK: The thing about doing it for a living is that if you don't find gold that day or enough that month, how are you going to pay all your bills? It's a much better hobby. If you're counting just on the gold to pay your bills, I wouldn't count on that.

MARTÍNEZ: Hardware store owner Albert Fausel agrees, but says some people do get lucky.

FAUSEL: I'd say you're joining a lot of people, and it's tough out there. It's not as easy as it looks. But some people do get lucky on their first try. And I think you could, you know, find that pocket of gold or you could hit that vein or you could even maybe hit some, you know, lost artifact, like a $20 gold piece that a miner dropped out of his pocket.

MARTÍNEZ: Hey, as long as I can turn that gold piece into a chain, it'd be worth it.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.