Gold Rush! Panning for Gold

9 miles north of Fairbanks lies the small 'town' of Fox, Alaska. Once a thriving mining hub, Fox is now mostly inhabited by the tailing piles dumped from gold dredge #8 which operated in the valley before 1959. Below is a color infra-red image of Fox. The yellow box indicates the current position of Dredge #8.

Dredges are basically barges (floating in their own ponds) with 1500 pound buckets on a boom that scrape up the earth, separate different sized rock and run particles less than 1.5 inches through sluice boxes to recover the gold. Liquid mercury was used to ensure optimal recovery. Since statehood in 1959, the dredge sat silent. Now it thrives with tourists during the brief summer and is owned by Holland American Tours.

The best picture I have of a dredge is Dredge #3 in Chatanika, 30 miles north of Fairbanks on the Steese Hwy. Unfortunately it is black and white--a reminant of high school photo class. You can see that Dredge #3, unlike #8, is in tact and looks as it would during operation.

Below is a close-up of the bucket system. Dredge #8 was called a 6-foot bucket which means that each bucket hold 6 cubic feet of earth. A dredge operating around the clock could move a huge amount of ground.

When you don't own a dredge, you simply pan for the gold like the old-timers. Except, of course, you don't have to hunch over a pan while sitting on rocks or tundra, covered in mosquitos with your fingers going numb in 40 F water like the old-timers.

Eureka! We hit the mother load!

Of course for the really big stuff, you can't rely on salted pokes from the tour have to wander into the gift shop.

In today's fast paced world, which includes the break-neck pace of tour companies trying to expose their clients to "everything," we forget a lot about the history of the gold rush that brought men to the Canadian Klondike and to Alaska. They had to endure incredible hardships in the pursuit of the mother load!

"I wanted the gold, and I sought it;
I scrabbled and mucked like a slave.
Was it famine or scurvy--I fought it;
I hurled my youth into a grave.
I wanted the gold, and I got it--
Came out with a fortune last fall,--
Yet somehow life's not what I thought it,
And somehow the gold isn't all....

There's gold, and it's haunting and haunting;
It's luring me on as of old;
Yet it isn't the gold that I'm wanting
So much as just finding the gold.
It's the great, big, broad land 'way up yonder,
It's the forests where silence has lease;
It's the beauty that thrills me with wonder,
It's the stillness that fills me with peace."

Service, Robert. 1989. "The Spell of the Yukon," The Best of Robert Service. New York, NY: Perigee Books.

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