Treasure Hunting Beachside Resorts
By: David Finnern
Just about any map will show that people have always congregated around water. In years past, there was some necessity for this, but that doesn't fully explain why generations have traveled many miles just to be near the sea, a lake, or river, nor does it offer an explanation as to why many of the most exotic contemporary resorts are constructed alongside a body of water.
Regardless of the reasons, beachside resorts offer a spectacular arena for treasure hunting, both on the beach and underwater. One of the main reasons for this productivity is that tourists rarely understand how easy it is to lose jewelry or valuables in and around water. A spilled purse in the sand, a loose ring on a finger slathered with suntan lotion, a necklace casually worn while frolicking in the surf— these are just a few of the circumstances which can lead to a tragic loss. Another obvious reason for the success experienced is that the areas surrounding a resort are replenished each tourist season, sometimes year after year after year.
Although this may seem a temptingly easy type of TH'ing, there are a few basics which can help to ensure success, and a few questions to ask yourself prior to breaking out the ol' detector. Probably the first question on your list should be: What do I want to search for? While this may sound overly simple, it's not. One resort might provide an abundance of coins on the beach, yet yield very little jewelry for the water hunter due to year-round cold water, pollution, or other water-related problems. Obviously, a newer resort won't offer much in the way of antique bottles or artifacts, while the caretakers of an older resort may have dumped all their trash right in the adjacent waterway.
It's hard to beat the beach area at just about any resort for coins. The areas in front of concession stands or stairways, or near the lifeguard towers or umbrella/lounge chair rentals are always a good bet. If in doubt, a reconnaissance trip during a busy summer day will reveal the most vital part of the beach. Always keep in mind that resort beaches may be located on either public or private property. In either case, it's a good idea to check with a lifeguard or superintendent to obtain permission prior to any hunting.
It's been my experience that during the off-hours or off-season is by far the best time to search for two reasons. First, there is simply no way to properly cover the beach with any type of search pattern with towels, umbrellas and bodies covering it. Second, digging right next to a sunbather and scattering sand everywhere will do little to endear you or the hobby of metal detecting to the public. It is both disturbing and intrusive, and should be avoided at all costs.
While most coins may be relatively shallow in the sand, deeper targets must be dug since jewelry, in particular, can work itself far down into soft sand in a relatively short time. Because digging with a sand scoop is so easy, I prefer to use no discrimination, rather than risk missing that small gold engagement ring with the very large diamond.
I've noticed over the years that many treasure hunters don't hesitate to fill their holes at a park or other site, but not at the beach. This is a mistake. It's only a matter of time before a city or county gets sued because someone was injured from stepping into a hole, and that will be the end of detecting at the beach.
Detecting in the swimming area is always my personal preference at resorts, and the easiest way to accomplish this is at low water. Whether it's in the fall of the year at a lakeside resort, at a minus tide along the ocean, or during a drought or when a dam is closed along a river, there is usually some time of year when the water is exceptionally low. The advantage of detecting at low water is pretty basic; you may not have to get wet to reach the location where most people congregate in the water.
When looking for that special area, keep in mind that most tourists do not swim, they wade— usually no deeper than waist high. It's true they may dive in and take the plunge once in a while to cool off, but the water is likely only 3-4' deep. This is the place where necklaces and rings fall off and swimsuit pockets are emptied.
There are two other locations in a swimming area that may prove productive: offshore swimming docks and water slides. However, these areas usually require diving equipment, unless the water is extraordinarily low. Diving certification is the first course of action when doing any scuba or surface-supplied diving. Experience in limited visibility and with underwater obstructions is also fundamental since both are commonly encountered at swimming areas.
As in beach hunting, I personally choose to use no discrimination while detecting most of these areas underwater. Once again, only a wisp of sound may indicate a piece of jewelry that has sunk relatively deep in the sand, and it may not register with the discrimination turned too high. Keep in mind that if the bottom is too soft, such as mud, detecting may not be worthwhile at all. While it is a risky maneuver, one can slowly slip his hand through the mud to see if there is a hard-packed bottom. Gloves must be worn for this, and watch out for broken glass just below the surface. Better yet, use a stick or probe. Hunting is only worthwhile if the hard-packed bottom is within your detector's depth capability.
Old newspapers are one of the best sources to discover the location of older resorts, since most resorts ran ads in both local and distant newspapers. Of course, searching for older resorts can be either simple if they are still in existence, or extremely difficult if they were torn down many years ago. It's been my experience that while there may be few telltale signs on land from a resort that was torn down years ago, artifacts may be plentiful just below the surface of the water.
An example of this occurred recently. We had traversed back and forth by boat along a lake's coast, knowing full well that a major resort had been built in the area in the 1800s. The antique photographs we had obtained through research lined up with the existing mountain peaks, yet we couldn't see a conspicuous straight line, a broken bottle, or any scrap of evidence to indicate that any manmade object had ever been there.
Finally, as a last resort (pardon the pun), I slipped on my diving gear and descended. At 30' I landed directly on top of a sunken rowboat identical to the ones in our old photos of the hotel complex. With a little underwater exploration, I soon found remnants of the steamship pier, which could be lined up with landmarks to ascertain the location of the original structures.
Scuba equipment is not always required to search the immediate coastline, if the water is clear and shallow enough. Free diving equipment (mask, fins, and snorkel) allows one to swim casually on the surface while exploring the bottom for signs such as piling stumps and antique bottles. However, a wetsuit or drysuit is usually required for protection against the cold.
While a sandy bottom is relatively easy to search, a rocky bottom may conceal almost everything from view. Once, while searching for a lakeside resort, we discovered that the entire offshore bottom consisted of boulders. The first dive yielded nothing to indicate we were in the right area. I took my underwater metal detector on my second dive. Suddenly, the earphones blasted crazily as I waved the coil over a relatively small fissure in one of the rocks. I slipped my knife into the crack and gently pried a 1917 quarter from the fissure. I ran my coil over the same area and was again rewarded, this time with two Mercury dimes and an Indian Head cent. Subsequent dives proved that just about every crack was filled with coins and tokens from a pier which had once stood in the exact area we were searching. Now, the pier and the adjacent resort were little more than memories, yet the bottom was filled with remnants of all the activity that had once taken place.
Just about all underwater areas near resorts have to be searched carefully. While diving offshore an older resort, which was still in business, I noticed that there were numerous treasures seemingly in layers in the sand. My first dives produced only newer coins and a few pieces of jewelry, but as I continued working the area, deeper and older targets began to emerge. I began fanning small trenches. After allowing the sand to clear from my excavations, I started detecting. Numerous hits began to register in the crevices I had created, all of which were from the late 1800s and early 1900s, about the time the resort began its operation.
Some great items were discovered during that outing, including pocket watches, antique rings, gold medallions, and coins dating back to 1894. Quite possibly, though, my best discoveries have yet to take place, for many more treasures lie on the beach and just beyond the water's edge at the countless waterside resorts throughout the world.