He steps over a dead tree trunk, rounding a rock wall to reveal the black entrance of a 200-year-old gold mine framed by mossy tree roots. The pick marks from its excavation still adorn the walls, revealing in them a hundred spider webs grasping water droplets under the glitter of Finlay's flashlight.
"It's one of the prettiest mines in the state," said Finlay, 51, manager of the Alabama Gold Camp, which straddles the border of Clay and Randolph counties in the heart of the state's crystalline belt.
Out of the woods, Finlay and his 14-year-old black squirrel dog, Mikey, stroll Randolph County Road 5 as they're hollered at by John and Michelle Kemp. Perhaps the camp's most loyal customers of the last three years, they fly by, waving and smiling from their old red SUV with the enthusiasm of a homecoming.
People visit the camp year-round from all over the country, more so to have fun than out of hopes of striking it big, said Finlay, more affectionately known as "Miner Mike."
An Ashville native, John makes weekend trips to the camp to pan, dredge and high-bank for gold year-round whether it's hot or freezing. He said looking for gold isn't something he takes seriously, but the hobby is addictive.
Michelle, who, along with her husband, is known by the staff as one of "the Little People" because she's short, said she'll have all the gold she's found made into wedding bands her children will one day wear.
"We're not here to get rich," John said.
Finlay knows more about making gold serious business. He has hunted it ever since he was a small child in Chambers County, when he chopped off the handle from a Boy Scouts-issued skillet and used it to pan for gold.
"I got my butt whooped for that," he said. "That handle just gets in the way."
Finlay mines around the country, it has paid off well, but he said he finds the work just as interesting as it is lucrative.
Gold and other valuable minerals on the property appeared there in the Cretaceous Period some 65 million years ago. As the continent experienced monumental changes, the area that would become Alabama rose out of the shallow sea leaving rich mineral deposits underneath it, Finlay said.
Thirty-eight gold mines dot a five-mile radius surrounding the camp, most of which weren't too productive and were only used for a few decades before prospectors bailed for the California Gold Rush in 1849. Finlay said the last time any of them was used was during the Great Depression, when poor miners could maybe make a buck a day for their trouble.
"A lot of people look at this as a pile of rocks," he says pointing beneath him at the bank of Crooked Creek, a pan full of gold flakes, garnet, quartz and mica in his right hand. "I look at this as a history lesson."
Arkansas native Mike Henson was also roaming the banks of Crooked Creek recently, but in a wet suit, listening to the hum of his dredge as it swayed back and forth in the water.
Henson, a 10-year member of the Gold Prospectors Association of America, said he won't part with any of his finds, sneering at the thought of using the hobby to get rich.
"If you don't get lucky, what have you done?" he said. "You've had a good time."