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.

(Left) Trick poses in front of Denali


(Right) The mighty Denali mountain (Mt. McKinley)

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 great.

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

The sluicebox

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!

Well, 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.

Trick absolutely 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.

I reluctantly 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!

Click HERE for the second trip to Fox!