Published: May 31st 2012May 31st 2012
After the Yukon Gold Rush the quest for gold moved into the interior of this huge state. It is so large, that if you cut it in half, each piece would still be larger than Texas. We started our tour of the interior in Alaska's second largest city, Fairbanks. At first blush it looks much like any other suburban city in the lower forty eight. You see a conglomeration of fast food joints and convenience stores on every corner. But, on closer inspection you start to detect evidence of a harsh environment in the look and feel of the buildings; along with a rugged determination in the personality of the permanent inhabitants. Many people only come for the summer tourist season and then leave when the temperature drops. And drop it does. Last year set a new record for number of consistent days at 40 degrees below zero. For over a month it was at least that cold, with several nights at 70 degrees below zero! With cold like that very few people can tough it out. The ones that do are a special breed.
So, it is a short season to search for gold
before everything freezes over. But, back in the 1920's and 30's the interior of Alaska was inundated with prospectors and fortune hunters. We visited the gold fields and panned for gold in an area known as Foxtown. Jane and I combined our efforts and had thirty six dollars worth of gold after just 30 minutes of panning. It was great fun and I can see how people get gold fever real easy. Of course, tourists are given dirt and gravel from a known productive source location that has already been dug down to. Thousands of tons of overburden must be removed before you get down to the good level along the bedrock and the expense of getting to "the good stuff" has bankrupted many a would be treasure hunter. We visited the huge "Gold Dredge No. 8" and it was fascinating to see the scale of it's operation. Look closely at the picture and you will see the people standing on the front arms under the boom. For 31 years this derdge worked the gravel valley around Fairbanks and extracted millions of ounces of gold. The company dug a ditch to bring water from 10 miles away. This was used to float the dredge and wash millions of tons of overburden out of the way to get down to the placier gold that rested on top of the bedrock. But, eventually it became too costly to for the amount of gold they were getting and the operation was abandoned.
There are still working gold mines in the surrounding area. Now that the price of gold has gone up so high I'll bet other big operations may try their hand soon. As we were leaving the area we walked under the other treasure in the state, black gold, flowing through the Alaska Pipeline.