ST. GEORGE — Is there gold in them thar hills? Treasure hunting experts in Southern Utah think there might be and they can often be found combing the red dirt and rocky slopes of the area with the latest and greatest metal detectors in search of their next big find.
But even if there isn’t a hidden stash of gold or rare objects in the desert, metal detecting can be a fun activity for the whole family. And whether you come home with a pocket full of rusted old nails and loose change, or a cache of valuable coins, there can be a huge intrinsic payoff to getting outdoors with loved ones.
Aided by popular television programs like the History Channel’s “The Curse of Oak Island” and “Legend of the Superstition Mountains,” and coupled with a large social media presence, treasure hunting and metal detecting have seen a huge surge among hobbyists and families.
With that in mind, the creators behind Treasures in America – an expert treasure hunting team based in Southern Utah – want to help get more families out finding their own treasure … be it money or memories.
Timothy Draper, founder and CEO of Treasures in America, has been treasure hunting for over 20 years. He is an official historical treasure hunter, meaning he uses historical data to research possible treasure sites.
“When I go out and look for things, I’ve usually spent a lot of time researching the area,” Draper said. “I already know that there is a historical significance of a possible find of either relics or artifacts or treasure.”
He is an expert in his field and he, along with the Treasures in America team, have been featured on The Travel Channel’s “The Legend of… with Chris Jericho,” searching for the lost loot in Butch Cassidy’s famous Castle Gate payroll robbery.
But while historical data can get a person to the right place, it takes other equipment to find an actual treasure.
Once he has researched an area, combed through maps and studied geographical monuments and other symbols that might indicate a possible find, Draper said he often turns to the technology of a metal detector to search where his eyes cannot see.
Draper said he has been using metal detectors to help pinpoint objects for just as long as he has been treasure hunting and he has had some really fascinating finds.
Among his favorite relics and treasures found with a metal detector are a rare coin – which experts that Draper has had examine the coin agree is of Spanish origin – and a Spanish sword.
Unwilling to give up all of his secrets, Draper said the artifacts were found somewhere in Southern Utah. But that is as much as he was willing to share.
That said, Draper does want to share his passion and knowledge with others in hopes that it helps get families playing in the outdoors.
A father himself, Draper said that his 13-year-old son – like most kids his age – is obsessed with video games and computers.
“He’s really good at computers, he’s really good at playing games, but that’s all he does,” Draper said, adding that while he recognizes that is typical behavior for a teenager, he would rather see his son spend more time outdoors.
“I’m an outdoorsman,” he said. “I know how good it is for the soul, for the mind, to get away from the house and just get out and hike.”
In an effort to get his son out more, Draper said, he has been encouraging his son to accompany him when he goes metal detecting. He hasn’t pushed too hard, he said, and once his son got his first valuable find – an old quarter worth several hundred dollars – Draper said his son was hooked.
Of course, not all metal detecting outings end with a valuable find, but that doesn’t mean they are not successful.
Treasures in America lead climber and vice president of the southern division Shaun Fotheringham said that it is the adventure of the hunt that keeps him coming back.
“For me, it’s the adventure of going out there, getting your family out of the house and off of the couch,” Fotheringham said. “It’s just the simple act of looking for something and making those memories with your family.”
Fotheringham added that he loves digging in the dirt and his children love it too.
In order to reach out to beginners and share their passion for metal detecting ,Draper and Fotheringham shared some tips to get people started.
What equipment do you need?
Draper said that beginners don’t need to spend a lot of money to start having fun – decent metal detectors for kids start at around $100 and you can buy a basic adult detector starting at $150, Draper said. He suggests beginners start with an inexpensive, lightweight machine that will do the basics and not overwhelm the user.
There is always room to upgrade once a person has outgrown the capability of their machine, Draper said.
Metal detectors can be purchased from stores such as Cabela’s, Walmart and Dick’s Sporting goods, online sites such as Amazon.com and they are also sold on Treasures in America’s website where a purchase also comes with a free consultation about how to use the equipment.
Other suggested gear includes a shovel or some type of digger/scoop, sand sifters, bags to collect possible finds, gloves for digging and any necessary safety gear for the climate and area.
Where can you go?
In Southern Utah, Draper said, there are many places to go metal detecting. He prefers to stick to the outskirts of cities on public lands.
Each public land managing entity has different rules and regulations regarding the use of metal detectors and the retrieval or removal of certain finds.
Both Fotheringham and Draper said to reach out to the land use entity prior to taking a metal detector out. This includes but is not limited to state parks, national forests, Bureau of Land Management lands and other recreation areas.
Likewise, if metal detecting is taking place on private land, it is imperative to get the land owner’s permission to be there and possibly dig holes or remove objects.
Fotheringham and Draper also said it is important to them to leave an area looking the same or better than when they arrived by filling in all holes they may have dug and removing litter they find.
Who can you go with?
Fotheringham and Draper said that they have people reach out to them asking about metal detecting all the time, so Treasures in America has created an adventure membership program which will bring together treasure and adventure hunters.
Though it does require a yearly fee, membership gives the user access to personal consultations and discounts on gear and shipping, hands-on learning opportunities, meet ups and more.
Draper started the program to help like-minded individuals find a place to go for tips, maps, gear, friendship and adventure, he said.
“I have such a passion for treasure hunting,” Draper said, adding that he really wants to help families find their own personal treasure and something that has value to them.
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