Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Gold That Tastes Like Chicken?

You've all heard it said before. What does that taste like? Well, it tastes like chicken. Everything we can't describe otherwise "tastes like chicken." So when we announced a change in plans that would take us to the Original Gold Camp" at Chicken, Alaska, of course the question came in from son Derek: "Hey, Dad, does everything up there taste like chicken?" And while it was a question asked with tongue in cheek, I suppose the answer should really be, "Yes, it does." The town, you see, all five or so businesses that call the place home, play on the theme to the fullest extent. You can get a t-shirt with a chick hatching out of an egg that says, "I got laid in Chicken." You can take your picture behind a cutout of an Iditarod sled being pulled by chickens; you can even attend the annual music festival patterned after Woodstock, called, what else, Chickenstock...and on and on.

The town takes it's name from the fact that it was a thriving place during the gold rush days but few if any people who frequented the place could remember how to spell the name of the grouse like bird that was common prey in the area- the Ptarmigan. So rather than try to remember that name and that spelling, they simply referred to them as Chickens and the rest, as they say, is history.

Chicken is clearly one of the premier gold prospecting places left in Alaska. There IS gold in them there hills and you can and will find it if you come to Chicken. That's what we decided we needed to do- take our last best shot at finding our first ever nugget at the place where we figured we would be most likely to do just that, before heading out of Alaska to end our first visit to a truly great and amazing state. We pulled in to the Original Chicken Gold Camp upon arrival.
We had expected the isolated road to Chicken. We knew not to expect much if anything in the way of services once we got there. We knew power was generator driven and was limited to certain times a day. We knew water would be at a premium. We knew there would be no "full hookup" RV connections in that region of the state. We had expected and prepared for a bare necessities kind of week while in pursuit of the nugget. So imagine our pleasant surprise to find one of the most well laid out (sorry, chickens, no pun intended), attractive, well run camping and activity operations we have come across anywhere in the state. The water is priceless; the power is limited, etc. but in compensation for that, the staff is knowledgeable, openly friendly and helpful. The place is whistle clean, the firewood is available for the taking (none of this 5 bucks for 5 sticks like many other campgrounds have). Access to everything you need is easy. The gift shop is superb. The kitchen cafe is offering daily gourmet treats that bring Chicken up to the level of sophisticated dining that you can enjoy in coveralls and a flannel shirt at the end of a day at the mine. Want to see the wine list??? I am going to follow all this with a few of my photos, but please note the link to the Chicken Gold site above as that will provide much more info and photo gallery than I will do for this post.

And I'm putting my final comments ahead of the the add on stuff because I think it's the thing to do. We went to Chicken looking for gold. You know, that yellow ore that so many value so highly. We found lots of gold. We found flour gold, fine gold, flakes of gold and, yes, Chicken delivered up our first nugget- actually we got more than a few of them following our week there. But somewhere along about mid week, the whole value of this monumental trip we have undertaken came into focus for me. I realized that you spend your whole life prospecting for things that matter to you- happiness, love, friendship, comfort, experience, maybe even a little real gold. Some things you find along life's trail are but small tokens of these great values, so you pick them up and gather them up, dust them off, and put them in your little vial. Occasionally, there are nuggets to be found, in a friend who would share your Hope for gold, in the sun bouncing off Denali on the clearest of days, in the glistening chards of ice as the lake opens to the Spring, in the twinkle of the eye of the bear who knows you are there but will pretend, at least for now, that you are not bothering him all that much. Soon you discover that all those tiny particles of gold you have gathered, when combined with the larger pieces and maybe even a few nuggets life has provided you, has given you that full vial of gold you have been looking for all along. Your treasure is complete and satisfying when you realize you have already found it...and not before. So to everyone along the way, thanks for helping us find our treasure in you and with your help. To the super team at the Little Chicken That Thought He Could Gold Camp that helped to put the final pieces to the puzzle together- salutations one and all. Like all the others who made contributions before you, you will always travel with us in our hearts.

It was quick and easy to get comfortable here. Plenty of space, great vistas, a warm campfire...
You can pan all day without ever leaving camp if that is what you want to do. The pay dirt from the camp owned mining operation is very rich. This is the view out the front of the coach from our campsite.
The dredge that owners Mike and Lou Busby bought and restored to amazing condition is also right in the heart of the campground for all to inspect.
Outhouses for Roosters and Hens and Handicapped. Hey! This is Chicken ____!
It's a two mile drive or so to the off premises gold claim if you want to make a mini claim of your own while you are there. Then make a 1/4 mile hike in, toting your gear. Wow! What a place!
Here's your first ever look at Gundy Mountain- our claim for a week, working a hole with a floor of basalt (fractured bedrock) about 20 feet up the bank and 100 feet or so from where we operated our sluice box.
Those 5 gallon buckets full of rock and gravel are darn heavy. Down the hill as far as possible by rope, then hand lugged to the sluice. We finished the week in much better physical shape than we started out, believe me. Now that's what a call a high banker!
The tons of tailings from our screening (called "classifying") eventually made such a pile that I could walk up and down the hill to the claim.
Gold Guy Gary stopped by to check on us regularly, as did Bob and Lynn. They are a wealth of knowledge and do their utmost to ensure that every one has two things: fun and success. Gary's named his gun: American Express. Never leaves home without it. I asked him if it was for protection from bears or claim jumpers. His answer: "I don't much worry about bears!"
Whisker week at Chicken Creek. Gotta try and fit in ya know.
Lynn and Gary check out our gold finds as Marilyn does some more clean up in the background. Note grill- used for drying the gold in the metal pan to get ready for weighing.
What the gold wheel can't separate- the finest gold and the black sand, must be done by hand. Every little bit counts. You worked hard for it!
Lynn shows off his best take ever- 9 hours shoveling time into his high banker over a three day period. Someday I hope to have a day like that myself!
Here it is again. Can you lip read? "Greg, honey, why didn't we have a day like this? Do you think we can do this tomorrow?"
This family worked a claim just a little further down Chicken Creek from our claim. This a great family place! And a great family activity. When mom and dad weren't driving the 4 wheeler, the girls were. "Not too fast, dad, gotta keep the hair lookin' good!"
Owner, hostess, chef, bottle washer, buyer, sales clerk, server, bookkeeper, guide and minister of information, Lou Busby smiles from behind the kitchen window. Like the successful small business owners she and her husband Mike are, they open early, close late, and keep close tabs on everything that gets done in between...then goes on call for after hours issues. Their energy, their expertise, their effervescent personalities, combined with a like minded support staff, make this a first class, not-to-be-missed operation.
The staff and some close friends dine together at the end of the day and nearing the end of the season. We were honored to get to join them. They made us feel like part of the crew, and that my friends, is the way it ought to be.
Mike prepares to make the official weigh in from the Gundy Mountain Gold Claim weekly operation. 1/4 OZ! And some nuggets to go with it. That's Marilyn and Garry watching the scale and Judy and Lou in the background.
Take for the week. Note nice nugget lower left portion of tray. What a week it was!!!!

No comments: