Gold! That shiny yellow metal. People have killed for it. People have died for it. Families have been destroyed by it. And now, you want some of your own. Well, there has never been a better time. At prices rapidly approaching $1000 an ounce gold may go as high as $2000 an ounce within the next two years. And remember, gold is heavy; it takes a very small piece to weigh a troy ounce. I once held an ingot of dore (dore, pronounced doe-ray, is refined, but unsmelted gold usually about 95% pure) weighing over 90 pounds. With enough arm strength you could have held it on one palm easily. Now you need to know where to find it.
My fourteen year old daughter says that's easy. Look in grandma's curio cabinet or in mom's jewelry box. Guaranteed a sure thing!
If you have now exhausted the curio cabinet and jewelry box it's time to look farther afield. I live in Nevada, which year to year ranks either third or fourth in the world for gold production. Most other western states have had significant historic gold production. Especially in the west the Bureau of Land Management is a great resource for locating potential gold prospecting sites. USGS maps are available and also area maps which show locations of historic and active mines.
For most amateur prospectors the search for gold means looking for nuggets. This is the most immediate gratification method. Look for areas where historic mines have been. Remember, most placer areas are a function of upstream lode deposits. Placer gold is free, almost pure gold, found in the form of nuggets and flakes. Lode deposits are deposits of particles of pure gold of various sizes trapped in the crystal matrix of larger rock formations. When, through natural erosion processes, pieces of the gold bearing rock formations break off and subsequently further decompose, usually due to water action, the particles of gold are released. Erosion then carries them to, and down, nearby streams. In historic mining areas the active streams have usually been mined pretty thoroughly. However, remember streams change course all of the time. Look for areas that look to have been previous flow courses. Get out the metal detector and check them out. In many arid areas of the west streams flow only short distances and then subside into the ground. Follow the channel farther into the valley where gold may have been deposited in flood years and check those out. Most of the successful nugget shooters look down in the valleys at historic flow areas. Before metal detectors water was almost always required to pan for gold. Look in areas where water flowed centuries ago, but no longer flows there.
Always remember too, it has been said many times and it is still true "Gold is where you find it, and one never knows". Most live streams in the west have been pretty thoroughly prospected, but due to the difficulties of dry panning many dry washes are still pretty much virgin territory. With the advent of newer, better metal detectors these hold the possibility of being very rewarding.
Barrick Gold's Goldstrike Mine has historical production, current reserves, and inferred resources of well in excess of 20 million ounces of gold (various estimates put Barrick's total Cortez and Carlin holdings well over Newmont's). Newmont Mines' Carlin complex is probably well over the 50 million ounce historic and current reserves mark. The "discovery" claims for these huge deposits were staked by regular guys. With a little knowledge, and a real passion for prospecting, these guys started in motion the exploration that defined these massive deposits.
Arm yourself with a little knowledge. These huge deposits contain no gold that can be found with a metal detector. All of this gold is microscopic in particle size (the exception being a very few vein gold deposits defined well after initial discovery, mostly at depths which were only being tested to advance the known lower grade deposits). Get the USGS maps. Look at areas similar to historic mining areas. Learn a little about minerals. If you are an area where you are just sure there is gold, you could be right. Look for "leaders". Most gold deposits in an area occur with well known associated elements. Here in Nevada some minerals that are looked at very carefully are realgar, iron pyrite, antimony, and various other minerals and elements. If you find visible presence of these minerals, grab some samples. Assaying the samples could be worthwhile.
Finally always remember, someone is going to find an entirely new type of deposit, somewhere everyone else says it can't exist. It will happen. Someone this year will locate a large, profitable deposit. It may take years to develop, but it will be found. It could be you.
GOLD IS WHERE YOU FIND IT.