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Intermediate English
USA:  Still looking for Gold

There are still prospectors searching for gold in the American Far West

 GOLD has always attracted people. At the start of the twentieth century, and during the nineteenth century, thousands of men went to the West of the United States, looking for gold. The "Gold Rush" lasted, on and off, for, sixty or seventy years, then it finished.
But today, there are still men and women out in the West, looking for gold, as  Andrew Rossiter  found out.

Atlantic city WyomingIt was a blistering hot day in summer. The track leading to "Atlantic City" (Wyoming) was dry and bumpy, and great clouds of dust blew up behind the car. In 1870, Atlantic City was a prosperous town, with several thousand inhabitants, mostly men. It was a strange place to find a town, mind you, hidden in little gulch in the middle of a wide scrub desert.

Atlantic City began life as a staging post on one of the transcontinental trails, taken by emigrants en route for California. Soon however it became a roaring gold town, where people could make (or lose) their fortunes in a day. Few did make a fortune; many found enough gold to keep them happy, but a lot found nothing, or nothing much

Then, about seven years after the gold rush began, it finished. Suddenly, it seemed that there was no gold left in the ground. The miners packed their tools, their pans, and their bags, and went off somewhere else, to try their luck again. There were no more emigrants either; as soon as the first transcontinental railroad had opened in 1869, the old emigrant trails had been completely abandoned.

The hotels closed, the shops closed, the bars closed, the jail closed; and before long, Atlantic City was a ghost town, uninhabited except by the occasional rancher or hunter, and the wandering coyotes. I didn't expect to find much in Atlantic City. I knew that a few people lived there again now, some of the old houses had been restored, and others had been built. But I didn't expect much.

We drove round a dusty bend, and there in front of us lay the town, a couple of dozen wooden buildings, some old, some new, and mostly pretty plain.

Surprisingly there was a fire-station; then, in the middle of the town, a wooden "saloon". A drink, I thought, something to drink at last.

The historic saloon in Atlantic CityI stopped the car in a cloud of dust, and we walked up the steps and into the saloon.

Well if I'd wanted to do a bit of time-travelling, I couldn't have done much better; walking through that door was like walking back eighty years in time. Inside, the old Western saloon was still intact, with its big long wooden bar, and enormous mirrors on the walls. Apart from the electric light, the juke box, and the tables set for dinner, it was almost perfect.

And there in the corner sat the prospector, with his wife. If he'd been wearing a red gown, I'd have taken him for Father Christmas, but he wasn't. This old-timer wasn't in Atlantic City to bring presents, but to find gold.

He said his name was Brad, and he'd been looking for gold in Atlantic City for some time now. Yes, he'd found some too; not enough to make him a millionnaire, but enough to make him happy.

Gold prospectorWhen the Gold Rush ended in Atlantic City, he told me, it was not actually because there was no more gold, but because gold was too hard to find, or not valuable enough.

Today, gold is a lot more valuable than it was a hundred years ago, and modern techniques allow people to find gold more easily. And that was why Brad and his wife were in Atlantic City, digging for gold.

They were not the only ones, said Brad; quite a few of the "concessions" are now being worked, and some old mines are being opened up again. In some places, mining for gold has become commercially profitable again; but in most cases, the miners, like Brad, are just amateurs.

No, Brad hadn't spent all his life digging in tunnels and panning in streams, to find a few ounces of gold. In fact, he was a retired businessman, looking for gold as a hobby, and a nice way to pass the time in a wild, lonely and beautiful part of North America.

More than gold, no doubt, Brad was looking for a way of life, a dream of the past. If he had found no gold, he would not have been too worried.  Few of today's amateur gold prospectors are there for the money; they're there for the fun, the isolation, and the nostalgia!. The legend of the west will go on inspiring people for many many years.

Word guide
: corner- Blistering: very hot - en route for: going to - expect: think that - gulch: valley - jail: prison - mind you: please note - on and off: from time to time - ounces: grammes (1 ounce = about 25 grammes) panning: looking - plain: ordinary - prospector: person looking for gold - retired: a person retires when he/she stops her working life - roaring: very active - scrub: small bushes - staging post: place where people stopped for the night, bought provisions, etc. - trails: tracks - worried: anxious 

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Still looking for gold - Classroom ideas

1. Telling the story. Students should read through the article, then try to write a third person account based on the events narrated in the article.

2. Language point: Indirect speech. Note how most of the latter part of the article mostly reports information given by Brad. Students should pick out the ways in which the writer shows that this is all reported speech.

3. Complete the dialogue:

An interactive exercise that can be completed by students on their computers; students can then print out their dialogues foir correcting by the teacher.  This exercise is in its own file.

More.... Jump to   Looking for Gold - interactive exercise

Other ideas?
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Reading comprehension in the English class
(Version française : Petite méthodologie de la compréhension écrite )

Intermediate level EFL resource

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USA: Who was Buffalo Bill?
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Advanced level reading :
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The story of the jet plane
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Selected grammar pages
Online English grammar
Noun groups in English
Word order in English
Reported questions in English
Language and style 
Word stress in English
The short story of English

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