Click on photos for larger views- photos will open in a new window.
August 6th dawned
clear and warm, just right for a road trip north. I had dropped
off two of the dogs at Mom's the night before, and Trick and Kylee
were heading north with me.
My plan was
to drive more than 500 miles to a gold mine a bit north of Fairbanks.
I had multiple reasons for going - I wanted to check out the tracking
areas up there in preparation for an upcoming tracking test, and
I just needed to get away from a bit after a very hectic July. But
mostly I wanted to visit my friend Rick and see his gold mining
operation. He'd described it to me, but I wanted to see it for myself.
It had been a long long time since I'd panned for gold - I can vaguely
remember going with the family when I was about ten years old and
doing a bit of panning.
| I left the house
by 8 a.m., which is amazing considering how much I dislike mornings.
It was a good feeling heading out of town. It was late enough in the
season that there wasn't much tourist traffic. The trip to Anchorage
was quiet. Along Turnagain Arm, I slowed down to look at the mountain
sheep on the cliffs along the highway. There were several grazing
fairly low on the cliffs, so I was able to get a good look. I didn't
stop to take pics though as the road was narrow and winding, and stopping
could be hazardous.
Trick poses in front of Denali
(Right) The mighty Denali mountain
About 130 miles
north of Anchorage, there was a great view of Denali (Mt. McKinley).
This is the highest mountain in North America. I stopped with the
girls and took pictures. Trick was her typical show-off self, and
posed happily on a concrete pillar about 5 feet high. The tourists
got a kick out of that - everywhere Trick goes, people think she's
This was the
second time I'd seen Denali this clear. Typically it's clouded in,
but the last time I drove to Fairbanks (about six years ago) it
was clear. People come to Alaska just to climb that mountain - some
succeed, many don't.
I reached Fairbanks
nearly ten hours after I left home. It was hot and kind of muggy,
with a slight smokey haze. At this time, wildfires had burned over
4 million acres across central Alaska, and many were still burning.
I drove out
to the mine, some 12 miles north of Fairbanks. Pulling into the
driveway, I stopped to watch for a bit. The guys were actively working
at the time and it was interesting to watch. Finally I pulled forward
and drove across the small creek that meandered over the driveway,
and then up the hill to the camp area.
Parking, I looked
out at the crane and saw Rick wave to me. I waved back, and he finished
what he was doing and jumped out, heading up the hill. We met halfway
and hugged. It was wonderful to see him - he's a great guy, warm
and friendly and sweet.
Tillicum Gold Mine
Swinging the dragline bucket out into the pond
Dumping the bucket
The gold mine
was a fascinating place. It's a blend of old-fashioned work and
20th century equipment. It's easy to think of gold mining with romanticized
notions and visions of giant nuggets, but the reality is that it's
a slow steady process that involves some big equipment and some
old techniques. The mine is located in a dry riverbed. To reach
the level of dirt/rock that should contain gold, they use a cat
to push the dirt around. The dragline (boom/crane) is used to swing
a huge bucket out into the pond to scoop up dirt, which is then
deposited near the sluicebox. A backhoe picks up the dirt and sprinkles
it into the top of the sluicebox, which uses a combination of water
and vibration to separate the dirt into different sizes of rock.
The small sized rocks and dirt move down through the sluicebox to
end up in the lower boxes.
Pulling up the dragline box and
letting it drain
The lower boxes
are later broken down so that the guys can remove the dirt, which
is where the gold will be found. Using a hose and an old bathtub,
the dirt is carefully washed down across a plastic trough which
has grooves in it that catch the gold. Once that's done, the trough
is emptied into gold pans and the last dirt is panned out by hand.
The photo at the top of the page is of gold panned from some of
the sluicebox dirt.
The guys work
long hours. Rick would turn the pump on at 6 a.m. to drain down
some of the water in the pond (it fills from a natural spring).
Fred (the backhoe guy and one of the partners) was there a few hours
later and sometimes one of the other guys, and they often worked
until midnight or later. And sometimes it pays off - but they never
know what they'll get and how much! You have to have a lot of faith
to work a gold mine. They didn't hit the mother lode while I was
there, but I'll keep hoping that they do - they sure work hard enough
to deserve it.
(Left) The gold I panned one day
- doesn't look like much, but it's actually a good amount!
(Right) Rick stands inside the
dragline bucket - kind of puts the size of things a bit into perspective!
the trip wasn't all about visiting the gold mine though. Rick and
I did the "tourist thing" and went to the museum and wandered
around Fairbanks. We even saw a burlesque show at Alaskaland! The
photo to the right shows a field full of sandhill cranes and Canadian
geese - we stopped there to take photos. This field was specifically
set aside for the waterfowl, and these birds were not the least bit
worried about people being around.
adored being on the mine property, because there was a lot of room
to run and several ponds to play in. These last few photos are of
her just enjoying life. On the left, she's standing on the hill
overlooking the mine equipment. You can see her favorite toy on
the ground in front of her - a stick!
On the right
she's having a great time in one of the ponds. She swam frequently
while we were there. Trick's always been a water dog! The weather
was hot, with temps up near 90F. I even took Kylee down and made
her get into a pond to cool off. There's nothing quite like a wet
disgruntled chow though - she was NOT impressed when I did that.
headed back home on August 10th. I didn't leave the mine until about
4:30 p.m., which put me home about 2:30 a.m. It was a long drive
home. I chose a good time to leave though, as the wildfires had
kicked back up and the smoke was getting bad again. It was hazy
for three hundred miles of the drive home - Denali wasn't even visible
as I drove past the spot where I'd taken such great photos just
a few days before.
The trip was
great, Rick was a blast and I came home with enough gold to make
a couple of nice necklaces. I'm ready to go back!
HERE for the second trip to Fox!