Virtual Prospector

Virtual Prospector is a free map interface including placer gold locations, USGS topo maps,  BLM surface ownership maps, mines and prospect locations, interactive geologic maps, geographic surveys (T/R/S), water flow and snow depths, platinum group and rare earth metal deposits, and much much more!

Virtual Prospector is highly dependent on javascript and may not run correctly on some older browsers. Also, there is currently no version of the GE plugin released for Linux so Virtual Prospector currently runs only on PCs and Macs. The data overlays are streamed over your internet connection so there may be a few minutes delay after enabling a layer if your internet connection is slow. Older or slower computers may also experience slower operating times. Your browser must have both javascript and the Google Earth plugin (once installed) enabled for Virtual Prospector to load and function.

If you already have the Google Earth Web plugin installed you may: Launch Virtual ProspectorOr click here to read the tutorial.

Otherwise, please take a moment to read the plugin installation instructions located below.

Step 1:

Visit the following link in a seperate window:

Step 2:

If you are missing the plugin then a link to download the Google Earth Plugin will appear. Press the download button. (this graphic is for illustration purposes only, you will see this in your window).

Step 3:

Once your download completes you must run and install the downloaded program. Follow prompts to allow the program to install completely.

Step 4:

Refresh your browser and then click on the “Launch Virtual Prospector” link above. The following tutorial will walk you through the program function.

Quick Start Tutorial:

Upon loading, you will now see the Virtual Prospector app. There are two navigation features: navigation controls and data overlay controls. You should now see the following on your screen:

virtual prospector overview


Let’s take a look at the navigation controls first. If you have used Google Earth previously then you find these controls familiar as they are identical.

The “rotate” dial may be clicked and dragged in a circle to change the North orientation of the map.

“Tilt” (up/down arrows) allows for a 3d look when zoomed in. Left/right arrows perform same function as rotate north dial.

“Pan” moves map left/right/up/down. You may also click, hold, and drag and point on the map.

“Zoom” allows you to zoom in and out (change the scale) of the map.


Next, let’s look at the data overlay controls.

The data tree is arranged like the KML browser in Google Earth, and similar to any normal file browser. 

Folders with an arrow next to them can (and should) be expanded to reveal the layers they hold by clicking on the arrow.

Individual layers may be selected by clicking the box next to the desired layer.

That’s all there is to it!

Be aware that some data layers are very large and may take a few minutes or longer to download, depending on the speed of your internet connection. The state-level geology (high bandwidth) layers are particularly large. The (low bandwidth) geology layer is provided as a quicker alternative, but it is not interactive so clicking on a formation will not bring up data for that formation.


FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)

What is Virtual Prospector?

Virtual Prospector is a visual Google Earth interface to a large array of useful and openly available geologic and geographic datasets presented as map overlays. Data is currently sourced from the BLM, USGS, and NOAA and includes both cached KML datasets and streaming WMS mapserver network links. The WMS and networked KML data relies on the operation of external government servers and may be prone to discontinuation without notice and this is not under our control. If an overlay stops working please notify and we will search for an alternative data set.

In simpler terms, Virtual Prospector overlays features such as historic mines and prospects, geologic maps, water flow data, and geographic survey data over the standard Google Earth aerial imagery. One can simply fly about in the program and locate potential prospects using this data, simplifying the process of research greatly and making it easy to find new places to mine or rockhound.

How accurate is the data?

We make no guarantees with respect to the accuracy of the data. Data is presented as provided by the respective agencies and does contain occasional errors. For example, the MRDS (Mineral Resource Database) is known to have issues where coordinates using multiple datum (NAD27, NAD83, WGS84) are entered into the same geodetic reference which causes certain mines and prospects to be incorrectly located on the map. Additionally some placemarks can be grouped together in a clump when exact coordinates were unknown or just not properly entered. In some cases locations may have just been subject to data entry errors.

Why isn’t Virtual Prospector working on my computer?

You must have the Google Earth plugin installed in your browser. Try reopening or refreshing the Virtual Prospector page and insure that you are running a browser compatible with the GE plugin and that the plugin is both installed and not disabled in your browser options. The plugin should install when you browse to a page incorporates it, such as the Virtual Prospector homepage.

Virtual Prospector does not currently work on Linux browsers.

Virtual Prospector may have issues with older outdated browsers. Please ensure you are running an updated browser.

You must have Javascript enabled in your browser.

Why is Virtual Prospector running so slow?

Some Virtual Prospector data sets can be quite large so load times will vary greatly depending on the bandwidth of your internet connection. It is highly recommended that you first zoom into an area of interest relatively close before enabling data layers. This requires both less computing power and less bandwidth and will speed up the operation of the application.

The GE plugin is both CPU and memory intensive so this application may run poorly on older computers that lack modern computing power.

Why do some data layers show up intermittently?

Some data layers will not show up until you have zoomed in past a certain threshold. Most sets will be visable when the scale bar indicates a distance of a mile or less. Particularly large data sets may require large load times depending on data size and your internet bandwidth and will not refresh instantly.

As many of the data layers are hosted on external servers they may experience intermittent outages. This is beyond our control but if you notice a non-functioning layer you may contact us at and we will make an outage inquiry.

3 Comments to "Virtual Prospector"

  1. Mike Hoff says:

    Is there some way I can install this on my computor so I can pull it up when I need it. Thank You Mike

    • admin says:

      Mike, I don’t currently offer it as a standalone app because it would be impossible for me to update it properly as a free service.

      Many of the map overlays are networked links, which is to say that they require internet connectivity wether one were to use the app on my website or on their computers.

      All of the data is free though through the BLM, USGS, and a couple other government and education agencies if one wanted to build their own map overlays on their personal computers though! These are the same data sets that many of the “pay to play” programs use.


      • admin says:

        I should also mention that the amount of data contained in the maps is so large that it would prevent Google Earth from running properly if loaded onto a personal computer. That is another reason many of the map overlays are network linked. It’s not possible to use it all locally as it’s probably over 1 terabyte of total data at this point, and growing.

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