Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Hope and Resurrection

Twenty miles outside Anchorage as the crow flies and almost 90 as the bus drives is the village of Hope. This is, though little known and even lesser publicized, the actual location of the first gold find in Alaska. Both lode and placer operations existed outside the sleepy and quaint little village for many years, and in fact, Hope Mining Company still holds, maintains, operates, buys and sells mining leases to this day. This post will introduce you to some of the players in the company, but you can get a lot more information by using the link provided to their web site.
In the photo that follows, Gary and Judy, our friends from Anchorage, who actively operated a claim on the Hope Mining property for thirteen years before reducing their exposure to the day to day operations to a more relaxed use of the claim as camp and a place to share good times and activities with friends, took us for our first ATV (scooter) ride ever- from the gold claim camp to the village of Hope. Here we sit on the edge of both the village and the Turnagain Arm. If you go there looking for beauty, adventure, and even gold - I can pretty much guarantee you will find all of the above. Gary and Judy are shareholders in the mining company.
We had a scooter of our own to use on each of the two four day weekends they shared their camp with us. Before I actually used one, I never really understood the thrill that they seem to garner among enthusiasts of the vehicles. But now I do! They have the amazing capability to carry you nearly anywhere you would care to go in the outdoors. You could do the same thing hiking, but you'd never be able to see so much in a limited amount of time, and besides, it's much easier to ride across those little streams and keep your feet dry than it is to wade in and come out soaking wet and cold. They are also marvelous as mini tractors. We used them to haul our mining equipment, our water, and even our fishing poles when we ventured out for the day. The rush of the wind in your face is akin to the thrill of the motorcycle, but it's more for an off road adventure AND it has four wheels which makes staying upright a whole lot easier.
In the next photo behind Marilyn, and the real reason I included the photo, is a pile of "tailings." Tailings are what's left after the mining operation has extracted the gold from the ground. Basically, it is a pile of rocks. The ones in this photo, like most of the ones up near Fairbanks and also in many other parts of the state, were left behind after the water canons were used to wash away the overburden and the smaller gravel that contained the gold. While many of the techniques used to recover gold are similar to those used in the old days of mining, the equipment and the technologies have improved- at least in part- and have become more efficient. This is why today we can re-work the tailings piles and still find enough gold to keep things interesting. Of course I should not fail to point out one simple truth. The gold pan- the choice of miners old and new alike- is still the single most efficient and effective tool in the recovery of gold. How you get the dirt for panning? That's where things have changed a bit with time.
There's more than mining to the Hope Mining Property Claims land! They have some guest accommodations that will take you back to the olden days. Literally. Here's the Honeymoon Log Cabin. Yes! It's for real.
Al Johnson, President of Hope Mining, set up a highbanker for us to try. The highbanker is a sluice box with a twist. It can be used on the actual site where the material is being mined rather than having to lug the material to the stream to use the sluice there. It does this by the use of a pump which brings the water to the equipment. It can wash any size gravel or rock that fits into the hopper, and it moves far more volume of dirt than does panning or manual sluicing. Basic process: dirt and rock in the hopper up top, large tailing out the back, small tailings out the front, water out everywhere but mainly down the sluice shoot and out the front; as for the gold- it's supposed to stay in the sluice box- and yes it does!
Meet Bob, Jackie, and pal Charley. Friends of Gary and Judy they shared time and camp with us at the Hope Claim. Here they try out our little sluice box, which seemed to work very well for them. Charley and Abby became good friends. It was great for the dogs to get a chance to be off the leashes and play a bit, and certainly there's no better place to do it.
This artsy shot is of the rubber mat, the first stage of the sluice box, with water flowing over it at a pretty good clip. The mat comes first, the several sets of "rips" that create eddies for the heavier-than-other-materials gold to settle out in. The bottom of the box is covered with a rough indoor-outdoor like carpet and a metal wire grid that also serves to trap the gold. If you didn't know better, you would think that the gold would wash right through the box and out the other end. But it doesn't. In fact it is so much heavier than the other material being fed into the sluice that it drops out and onto the mat almost the second it hits the flowing water. Once it sticks to the mat or the carpet behind the rips, it will stay there all day while you feed in more and more material. It won't come out until the process is complete and you "clean up" for the day by panning or picking depending on the size of the gold recovered. Click on the photo to enlarge and you will be able to see the small "flakes" of gold on the mat.
Meanwhile back at the stream, "Juneau" Judy demos panning to Bob and Jackie. This is part of the clean up operation from the sluicing. There's gold in that there pan!
Al pans out the concentrates from the high banking operation under the ever watchful eyes of Marilyn. Show me the gold! Gary supervises.
Al makes some adjustments to the snuffer bottle. It is used to pick up gold far too small to use the fingers on! In order to capture the gold without spitting it back out, the neck of the bottle must be "Just right," says Al.
Al Johnson, President of Hope Mining Company helps Marilyn display the gold taken during the high banking operation for the day. It's a lot of work for a reward that is never known until after the cleanup, but it was a great learning experience and excellent exercise. There's gold in this pan too!
All this mining makes a girl thirsty!
Gary runs the dozer to move the tailings pile and an inoperable piece of equipment out of the way so the day's mining operation can begin in earnest.
Look closely into the water. Maybe they're not easy to see but there are both King (Chinook) salmon and Humpies (Pinks) starting to run up the Resurrection River to spawn. Honestly, can you think of a better name for a river in which the salmon spawn. The adults die after spawning but the frye are newly "resurrected" and the cycle of life begins again.
Hey! That's no salmon. Where'd she come from??
Here we are, all dressed up and ready to go mining, or riding, or fishing....
When the mining was done for the day, it was time to catch a few fish for the fry pan. Here's a beautiful 6 pound Humpie (look at that back) we caught in the river. Actually , we caught quite few of them but it's easier to appreciate the fish in a single shot so that's what I used. It doesn't get ANY fresher than this!
There are still several of the trams used to cross the Resurrection River in service on the claims. The old cars and cables are good for a long, long time. Only the pull ropes need to be replaced from time to time. Crossing over the river in this manner is great fun and very practical as well.
On our first weekend on the claim, we were the last ones to break and leave camp. We mined a few extra hours in the solitude and quiet of this beautiful place. Then we packed up and headed back to camp. Only moments after I snapped this picture, a moose and her offspring walked up the road behind us. That made for quite a picture, but one I didn't stop to take. Posing a threat in any way shape or manner to a large cow moose with offspring in tow is a really bad idea! But that's a shot I don't need to have on film- I'll have it forever etched in my mind's eye.

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