I think that my best bet at making a successful blob than some one would be likely to actually read is to simply do what I do best. If you were to ask some one who knows me, what I am like when we go any where, they would likely say that I am an educational fellow. At most times I can not help but point everything out and explain it, be it edible wild plants, rock formations, wild animals and the likes. As such I am going to continue ramming educational tidbits down people's throats! :)
My absolute favorite past time in prospecting for gold and other valuable minerals. The most available mineral in America to prospect for fun would certainly be gold, so I'll start my treasure hunting series there.
Before we get into where to look we must know a few tidbits about the nature of gold. Gold is 19 times heavier than water. This makes it behave very differently from all other minerals around it. Where you find gold you will always find quartz, but not always the opposite. Small pieces of gold can and will float on water and right out of your pan if you're not careful. (I'll explain in a little bit)
Perhaps the most abundant deposits of gold are found in alluvial deposits. An alluvial deposit is simply anything that settles out of water, like sand, mud, and rocks. If you are in an area where gold has been found before then there is a good chance there is still gold there today. You only have to know where to look to find it. Due to it's weight issues, gold is a very lazy element. By this I mean it tends to only move in a straight line from river-bend to the next.
Any thing along this path that is heavy enough to not be moved by the flood waters will act as a trap for gold. This is because right behind the object is a small vortex in which the water slows down momentarily. (the shaded area behind the rock) As soon as the water slows even slightly, the heavy gold will drop right out of it and settle to the bottom. This is also true of holes in the bed rock. These holes are often known as "glory holes" and some lucky bums have pulled ounces of gold out of them. So if you manage to find holes or even cracks in the bedrock it would behoove you to take a look.
Now that you have some idea of where to look in a stream I'll get into the practical method of getting the gold out. This can be down with a simple pan. They make gold pans fairly cheaply, but really with some practice any kind of pan will due, even a frying pan. If you go the frying pan route, get a cheap one that does not have the Teflon coating as it will not have that Teflon by the end of the day any way. Also never use a pan that you have actually cooked in unless you have completely degreased it. This is important because gold will actually bind to grease very easily and will actually float out of your pan as the grease goes out. This was a very common mistake by new prospectors during the gold rush era.
This is perhaps the most common gold pan on the market. I have one and a smaller black one for concentrates, but the con pan isn't really necessary. What you want to do it fill the pan with the material you want to separate pick out big rocks after you've cleaned them off. (gold loves to stick to them with the mud) then while holding the pan just under the water you shake it vigorously back and forth until the dirt actually becomes fluid in the pan. This is called liquefaction, which is also what happens during earthquakes that causes buildings and telephone poles to sink into the ground. During this state, any gold in the material will sink straight to the bottom of your pan while the lighter of the materials will start to float out of the pan down stream. Once a sufficient amount of the lighter material is out of the pan you want to do what is known as "fanning" This is the stage where the riffles built into a real gold pan can give you an advantage. Shake the material until liquefaction once more until all the material is resting on top of the riffles. Then at a slight angles dip the pan into the water and slightly push the pan back and forth from you. This will cause the water to wash over the top of the dirt in the pan and peel away the top most layer. Once you start to see black sand, stop fanning and shake the material again to get the black sand back to the bottom. Black sand is actually iron ore and you will usually find it along with your fine gold in any material. Once you have most of the lighter material out of the pan, you can stop fanning and with a small amount of water in the pan make a swirling motion slowly so that the iron sand peels away from any gold in the pan. With luck you will have a bit of yellow in your pan. This is the point when gold fever usually kicks in!
If you have any interest in panning for gold I suggest checking for online maps of any gold deposits in your area. There is no real need to travel to other states as most states have had some amount of gold found in them. Always check local regulations though. Many states allow recreational panning, but when you break out a sluice box and start diverting the stream they tend to get upset.
I hope this article finds some one who might be interested in it and good luck out there.