She traveled 1,800 miles to find it. She knew it was there. And by cracky, in just one morning of panning the creekbed, Janet Gilray had a handful of gold flecks in her hand.
"Woo-hoo!" she screamed. "Gas money!"
There's a 160-year-old reason California is called the Golden State, and people like Gilray are making that reason fresh again.
A new gold rush is in full gallop all over California.
Driven by the record-high gold prices - $1,056 an ounce on Friday, double that of just three years ago - and the lure of easy money, prospectors are flocking to the state's 1849 Gold Rush fields with pans and sluice boxes.
They all have dollar signs in their eyes.
Some want to beat the punishing recession, some just want a quick buck for fun. Some are with big companies, some are lone folks in sedans.
Gold mining permits, or claims, on file with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management for California have shot from 15,606 in 2005 to 23,974 this year. They're popping up in every corner of the state, from the Stanislaus River outside Yosemite National Park to the Klamath River near the Oregon border and the deserts of Southern California.
Nowhere is hopping more than the Sierra streambeds from Sutter Creek to Jamestown, where the original 49ers carved their notch in history - and where Gilray was found with a pan in her hand last week.
"There's a real thing to gold fever. I feel it right now," Gilray said as she waded in Woods Creek, which produced millions of dollars of yellow stuff more than a century ago and is drawing thousands of the new 49ers this year. "You can really make money doing this."
Gilray is on sabbatical from her elementary school-teaching job in Indianapolis, and when she launched on a cross-country trip to put together an American history project for next year's class, she had no doubt where she'd end up.
She had heard of the commonly held estimate that only 20 percent of the Gold Country's treasure was ever coaxed from the ground, and she was determined to scratch at that remaining 80 percent.
"I might be able to fund my whole project right here," Gilray said excitedly. Her handful of the morning was worth about $20, and there was plenty of day left.
Locals know better
The pair of brothers teaching her how to gold pan, Brent and Bryant Shock, tipped back their weathered bushman hats and sighed as they heard her words.
Like virtually every other prospecting tour company in the Sierra, they've seen their Gold Prospecting Adventures business on Jamestown's Main Street explode, doubling to 6,000 customers in the past year alone. Most come just to have fun, such as school groups - but the ones hot to make quick cash have jumped from a couple a month to at least one a day.
Nobody seems to be daunted by warnings that prospecting is a back-breaking grind of kneeling in rocky water or in dank mines for years on end to eke out what usually amounts to a hand-to-mouth living. They've heard stories like the one - true - about a hobbyist who stumbled across an 8.7-ounce nugget near Bakersfield in May. They've seen "Gold Fever" and other popular documentaries on cable TV.
"Guys call me up all the time and say, 'How can I get enough gold to pay my bills?' And you know what I tell 'em?" said Brent Schock, who with sporadic teeth and a bushy gray beard looks like the lifelong prospector that he is at 57.