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How do you find treasures at the bottom of a lake if you don’t have diving equipment? Just search when the water is gone!
Ponds and lakes are drained or lowered regularly, and when that happens, things appear. I’ve seen it happen, and this treasure hunting secret makes the top of the list below.
Previously I’ve covered how to go on a treasure hunt without leaving home, and various ways to find treasure in thrift stores, hotel rooms, old mines and mountain streams. I’ve even covered dumpster diving and garbage picking, which fit my definition of treasure hunting.
But that’s just a start. Here are some more of the best treasure hunting strategies, locations, and true stories.
1. Discover Valuables at the Bottom of the Lake
A few years back, a pond was drained in a park near our home. People had thrown coins in it for 50 years, and I quickly found a few in the drying mud. A treasure hunter with a metal detector already had his pockets full, and he told me that some of the hundreds of coins he found were rare enough to be valuable.
I first read about this strategy in a little treasure hunting newsletter thirty years ago. Various bodies of water are emptied every year on purpose or due to drought, and if you know when this is happening you can pick up valuables that have been hidden underwater for years.
Here are a few news reports on this phenomenon, along with some examples of what was found by treasure hunters:
- California Reservoir Levels Dropping – Revealing arrowheads, a car, a town, and a locomotive.
- San Antonio River (Texas) Drained for Maintenance – Old bottles, skateboards, a cell phone and Mardi Gras beads.
- Drained Lake Delhi (Iowa) Reveals Treasures – An old radio, 50 antiques, and three rings.
Okay, that should get you inspired, but how do you find out which bodies of water are going to be emptied next? Start with Google and follow this three-step routine:
- Search various relevant terms like “pond will be drained,” “lake to be drained,” “reservoir almost empty,” “lake to be emptied,” and so on.
- Each time you search click the “Tools” button.
- Where it says “Anytime,” pull open the menu and choose “Past month” or “Past year.”
The last two steps eliminate many old news stories so you can focus on upcoming events. You can narrow the results further by searching using the name of your state and any other states within an easy driving distance.
Three minutes of searching this way turned up a lake soon to be drained and a reservoir at the lowest level in years here in Arizona, where I currently live.
Once you have your targets, get prepared for muddy conditions. And for best results, bring a metal detector.
2. Find Cash Hidden in Books
My mother told me about an uncle who stashed money in books. When he died his kids found currency hidden in many of them, and it added up to thousands of dollars.
In Massachusetts a man found $20,000 cash in a book at a used book swap event.
We humans like to hide things, and paper money fits nicely in the pages of books.
Besides leafing through the pages of books in your grandfather’s attic, you might also look through books in used book stores and at rummage sales. Beside cash, you might find old postcards, letters, and other interesting papers.
3. Hunt for Precious Stones
There are parks and commercial operations where you can go treasure hunting for gems and valuable minerals for a fee. And yes, valuable discoveries are sometimes made.
For example, at Crater of Diamonds State Park, in Arkansas, about two diamonds are found each day. In recent years there was a 6.19-carat white diamond found by David Anderson, and a 5.16-carat diamond found by 12-year-old Michael Detlaff (worth $12,000 to $15,000).
Here are some of the places where you can go prospecting for a modest fee:
- Emerald Hollow Mine, North Carolina – $10 to $18 for various prospecting activities.
- Crater of Diamonds State Park, Arkansas – $10 per day, camping available.
- Cherokee Ruby and Sapphire Mine, North Carolina – $25 includes two buckets of gem ore and the tools to search them..
- Gem Mountain, Montana – $20 per bucket of “sapphire gravel,” all tools provided.
- Herkimer Diamond Mines, New York – $12 per day, tools provided, and you’ll find quartz crystals resembling diamonds.
4. Dig for Buried Treasure
Why are there valuables buried all over waiting to be discovered? Because people like to hide things, and sometimes they forget about them, or they pass away without telling anyone.
For example, when we moved from Colorado I left behind a small chest full of various items, including a bag of Ecuadorian coins. It was part of a treasure hunt I set up for a website, and as far as I know it hasn’t been found.
In case you’re interested, it’s a fifteen minute hike up a canyon by the Sand Gulch Campground north of Cañon City, Colorado. It’s buried shallowly behind a large rock.
Yes, this is more about fun than striking it rich, but big finds are possible. Perhaps you read about the California couple who, while taking a walk behind their home, found $10 million in gold coins buried in rusting cans.
They just happened to see the edge of a can poking out of the dirt, but there some things you can do to search more actively for buried treasure.
For example, watch for shallow depressions where they don’t belong. The loose dirt thrown on buried items often settles and leaves a dip in the ground.
Look under rocks, watch for things sticking out of the ground, and see if there is any sign of digging around cement slabs (things are sometimes hidden just under the edge).
5. Try Coin Roll Prospecting
As kids my brother and I often bought rolls of coins from the bank and then sat sifting through them for hours. Occasionally we found coins old enough to have numismatic value, including Indian Head Pennies (minted from 1859 to 1909).
But with rolls of dimes, quarters, and half-dollars, it was the silver we searched for. Any of those coins minted before 1965 are 90% silver (and 40% silver from 1965 to 1969). At the moment that makes them worth about 12 times face value.
A Reddit thread on coin roll hunting suggests that valuable discoveries are rarer now, although still frequent enough to keep treasure hunters looking. One Reddit user says he was searching through $20,000 in coins weekly until the price of silver dropped.
Most banks will sell you rolls of coins whether or not you have an account there, and there is no extra charge. That means it costs you nothing but your time to try this (and gas money if you make a special trip to the bank).
The other way you can make money with coins from the bank is to get rolls of pennies and pull out the ones dated 1982 or earlier. Those are worth more than a penny due to their high copper content.
A couple years ago I purchased a bunch of penny rolls from banks in two Florida cities to see if it was worth the time. One batch had 15% pre-83 pennies, and the other 8%.
I also found four dimes accidentally mixed in with the pennies, and two or three pennies that were old enough to be worth more than a penny. It was interesting, but tedious to search and re-roll all those coins.
As a money maker this really only works on a large scale, and only if you use a penny sorting machine that separates out the pre-1983 pennies for you.
You can’t legally melt down pennies for their copper, but you can sell them to penny hoarders who are waiting for the day when it is legal (when pennies are discontinued). If you search “pre-1983 pennies” on eBay you’ll find people selling them there right now. As I write this 10,000 pennies ($100 face value) sells for about $165 plus shipping.
6. Discover the Lost Dutchman Mine
Now that live in Arizona, I may have to go look for the famous Lost Dutchman Mine, in the Superstition Mountains east of Phoenix. It’s said to have piles of gold nuggets.
The story, while probably embellished over the years, is based on the true story of Jacob Waltz (who was German, not Dutch). He and a friend mined gold and spent it around Phoenix in the 1870s and 1880s.
The friend disappeared after a few years, but Waltz spent the rest of his life going to the Superstition mountains and returning each time with more gold.
You can find many stories of treasure hunters looking for the mine since then, but apparently without success. There are also stories of people mysteriously dying while searching for the treasure, so be careful!
7. Search Anywhere and Everywhere
Treasure hunting is more about mindset than location. If you’re always looking for things just out of sight that might be valuable, you’re treasure hunter, and you never know what you might find. Here are a few more examples to inspire that mindset:
- A California man found an old penny worth $250,000 in a desk.
- A British man found a statue worth £20,000 buried in his garden.
- A Texas man found a violin worth $50,000 in the trash.
- A Pennsylvania man found a $200,000 cache of rare coins in a wall.
- A Berlin student found a $27,000 painting in an old couch at a flea market.
- A British man found old coins worth £30,000 in an old toolbox.
- A Pennsylvania man found a $1 million Declaration of Independence at a flea market.
- A Arizona man bought $6 watch at Goodwill and sold it for $35,000.
My wife and I found $4 in cash lying on the ground at the theater this week, and a few months ago I found a brand new four-man tent that floated out of a mountain canyon (still in the box) during a summer storm.
Among the dozens of other treasures I’ve found none yet have been worth more than $100, but I’ll keep my eyes (and mind) open, and I suggest you do the same.
If you have your own treasure hunting strategies or stories, please share them below… and keep on frugaling!