I thought I’d visit the front trenches of the gold boom by dropping in on the Hard Assets Investment Conference in San Francisco. I planned on spending one hour, but stayed eight. It proved incredibly fertile ground, not just for gold bugs, but also of enthusiasts for silver, platinum, uranium, rare earths, and base metals. A nearly football field sized conference hall was filled with booths from over 100 participating companies. Of course the coin dealers were out in force, flogging maple leaves, silver eagles, and krugerands. The gold miners alone had reps from Africa, Canada, Peru, Brazil, Argentina, Guyana, Mongolia, the Congo, and Burkino Faso. I gravitated to the tables manned by grizzled old mining engineers with dirt under their fingernails who gave me the hard data on yields, processes, and costs that I was looking for. I pawed ore samples and core drillings of every possible description. The newsletter publishers also had a large presence. It turns out that there is no environmental movement without rare earths, and we are entering the golden age of nuclear power. One guy even offered to drink the runoff from pure yellow cake to make his point. The financial leverage of the junior miners is spectacular if the price of the barbaric relic keeps going up. I even learned about the fascinating world of collectable gold nuggets. By the end of the day my back finally gave out, and I went cross-eyed poring over a topographic map of lithium deposits in Chile’s Atacama Desert. I’ll delve into each of these areas in detail in the coming weeks, once I have had a chance to sort through the wheat from the chaff. The early preview: the price of everything is going up. The next conference on May 10-11 at New York Marriot should be a real whopper.