Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Playing Catch-up

Here are some catch up items for the That Was Then series from the 200 7 trip:

On The Way To Valdez: a look at some of the best of Alaska- the trip to and around the port of Valdez, steeped in history and modern infamy, Valdez is a wonderful place to visit and perhaps some of the best fishing in the state.

The Hired Gun OF Valdez: On board The Outlaw with Captain Scotty out of Valdez - perhaps the best day fishing of my entire life full of fishing trips. You want fish? This is your boat! This is your port! This is your captain! Tell Captain Scotty that "Team Greg" recommended him big time!

Maggie To The Rescue: Alaskan Fish Scientist Maggie helps me find the treasured "otolith" bone from my trophy halibut. Did you ever think you could get "ivory" from a fish? Read how here! Jewelry from halibut? You bet your otolith bone!

Good Looking Material

Good looking material! That is what one prospector says to another prospector when they peer into the cavernous hole being dug in a valiant effort to find the yellow metal- gold. Especially, and most particularly, that is what one says when the digg-er is not finding as much gold as he/she expects.... Really? Boy! That is some good looking material! Good looking material not withstanding, gold is where you find it and not necessarily where you think it should be based on the good looking or not so good looking material you are digging in. You know me. And Marilyn. Digging our fool hearts out up on Gundy Mountain. That "bench" has produced a lot of gold for a lot of miners, us included. But so far this year- not so much! Even though at the close of last season, it produced a 1.4 oz nugget- the largest nugget we know of that has come out of the Myers Fork Claim of the Chicken Gold Camp. What's that worth? Oh 2500 dollars, give or take a cool grand. Once you have seen it- you want it. You want it bad. You want it bad enough to dig through many feet of overburden (top soil and worthless dirt that does not carry any gold.) Through the coarse gravel and river sediment. Where are you digging to? Why the good looking material, of course! In Alaska, good looking material may be a layer of clay that holds (we call it "carries") the gold on the top of the clay. But we like to look for bedrock which also and more assuredly carries gold atop the bedrock. This is not the bedrock of the lower 48. No large, smooth, flat, sheets of limestone or granite here. Alaskan bedrock is often referred to as basalt.

Basalt (pronounced /bəˈsɔːlt, ˈbeisɔːlt, ˈbæsɔːlt/)[1][2] is a common extrusive volcanic rock. It is usually grey to black and fine-grained due to rapid cooling of lava at the surface of a planet. It may be porphyritic containing larger crystals in a fine matrix, or vesicular, or frothy scoria. Unweathered basalt is black or grey.

In Alaska, any basalt layer that has taken the position of bedrock in the geological order of things, has already been subjected to eons of freezing (remember this is an area of perma frost) and thawing - complicating things a bit as this repeated process fractures the bedrock, thus creating a fractured basalt or fractured layer of bedrock. Now lets be clear about this. Basalt is beautiful to behold. It is black, grey, blue, purple, rather opalescent from time to time- shiny, glimmering in the light, reflective on occasion and radiant in almost any light as you chip its broken little pieces out of its berth and expose it to the light of day. But in addition to its own specific bit of beauty- it carries heavy(er) pieces of gold deep in the cracks and fractures of its surface layer- making it a prize when you dig deep enough to find it, with the potential to hold the grand prize, that nugget we are all out there searching for. But with our without the gold hidden amongst its many cracks and crevices, it is a lovely mineral in its own right in which to dig, pick, shovel, and mine. It is, as we say- good looking material!

The last three days, we have been locating and working the basalt layer on the new diggings on Gundy Mountain. No big time payoffs to date- at least not in the form of the elusive nuggets. But we have some good gold, some coarse gold, some colorful variations of range that gold comes in- and until we find the right spot, the special spot, the paydirt spot- well, at least everyone knows we are digging in some mighty good looking material. Nothing wrong with that!

Now a word about gnats! I ride the "wheeler", the ATV, the bike, the quad, back and forth to the claim quite few times a day. Sometimes to guide clients into the claim, some times to make deliveries of materials for the claims caretaker or the supply trailer on site, sometimes to go mining for myself, and sometimes just to take a nice ride after hours to check out who us doing what and where. (gotta know where the good looking material is, right?) There is always one particular spot along the two mile path to the claim that holds swarms of insects. Travel fast enough and they pelt you in the face like heavy rain hits a motorcycle rider who's not wearing a helmet. A few days ago, I caught one of those litter buggers in the right eye and it went up under my eye lid before I could dig it out of there. I suppose to show his great displeasure with the event, he decided it would be appropriate to bite the underside of my eye lid in protest. Can you say swollen? Can you say "ugly"? This is apparently a normal occurrence here in Alaska. No one thought to tell me as much and learning trough experience has always been the best method, but from now on the wrap around glasses go over the regular glasses for the ride back and forth to the claim. Hey, I'm a writer of sorts, so good looking material can be dirt in the hole- that's OK with me- but an ugly, swollen, purple eye- not so good looking material, even if it provides material for the story!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Lonnie's Miners

We meet some exceptionally fine people traveling this country and some of the creme de la creme comes from the associations we make with people who like recreational mining- aka gold prospecting. The last couple weeks we have been working side by side on "Gundy Mountain" (or what's left of it after we shoveled much of it into a highbanker) with Lonnie and his extended family- his wife, his three great kids, and his wife's parents. If you can get better neighbors in a mining pit next to yours I'd be surprised- although the people that came in after him have been absolutely great as well. The kids were bright, inquisitive in a good sort of way, hard workers, easily entertained and self occupied. If you need a helper, any of them are glad to jump in. The oldest, nicknamed Bubba, is a soft spoken young man who can dig a hole with the best of the adults and that boy has a nose for gold that few adults have. The first day that Lonnie set up, his oldest son had two pieces of gold on the dredge mat before Lonnie was even ready to run. If I ever work beside them again I will try to "lease" out Bubba just for his sense of gold discovery. Great kid! Danielle was always all smiles; how she did that when 99 % of the time her boots were off stuck in the mud somewhere while she danced back and forth in the 34 degree water of Myers Fork Branch of Chicken Creek I'll never know excepting to say it is good to be young! The family worked long and hard and did exceptionally well. On one occasion, Lonnie was working the bench and a beautiful nugget just fell out of the gravel he was working and dropped right in front of him. No way is that typical, even here, but oh how I hope that happens to me one of these days. Just for the sheer thrill of it happening! The gang took off before I had a total weight for their take for their stay with us, but for sure it was an excellent return on investment as well as a great family vacation...and even though we were working in short proximity- their take was running well out in front of ours at the time of their departure. Not to worry- our day will come. Gold tends to pocket up, not run straight and constant which would make it all too easy to find and thus not so valuable. We work hard to find it and the reward is well worth the wait and the effort. So here comes a nice portrait of the family up on Gundy Mountain and a slide show of their time with us at Chicken Gold Camp. In the slides of the kids all gathered around the mine hole taking some interesting lessons- that is Gene, our claims director/caretaker, working with the kids.

From the That Was Then department, here is what was "shakin'" two years ago on our tour of the great state of Alaska:

A Blessing From Denali our first ever visit to the mighty mountain, a delight that I carry in my mind nearly every day since then. That monster of a mountain, IF you get to see it, will give you memories for life....

On The Way To Valdez
our visit to the village of Talkeetna, the Musk Ox Farm, and a close up look at some Reindeer (caribou) and a couple of really cool Elk. We fished the river for King Salmon, but as you'll see, we still hadn't tied into any salmon as of that point in the trip. Talkeetna? Well worth checking out!

Well, that's the roundup for another day. Marilyn just finished cleaning up our gold run for today- came in at .9 pennyweight. For reference, it takes 20 pennyweight to make an oz. Since we are dealing in Troy ounces, there are 12, not 16 ounces to a pound.

In case any of you will be doing some prospecting and don't have a reference chart for all the very confusing weights we deal with in gold mining and production ( I thought the metric system was bad!) here is a handy dandy chart you can print out for yourself:

24 grain= 1 pennyweight or 1.55 grams
20 pennyweight= 1 ounce or 31.10 grams
12 ounce= 1 pound or 373.24 grams

"Pure Gold" (AU) = 24 karat or 1000 Fine

If you're like me, you might as well write it down...no way are you going to remember it right off the bat!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Raw Footage, The Sequel

Here's a note to the last post: I have no idea how it ever posted. I'd waited until well after 11:00PM, the hour at which we don't get FAPPED for file uploading etc. I worked for over two and a half hours on the combination of the photo loading and the text for the post. But when the time came to actually put the post together- nothing. No uploading. No internet availability. No response from Blogger, even though I was connected. Zero. Zip. I tried over and over every trick I have to get reconnected and finish the process, but early in the morning I gave up (something I hate to do- ever) and went to bed, disgruntled with the idea that the entire piece would need to be re-written in the morning and the photos dealt with as best I could. The night felt like it had been a total bust. But this morning when I turned on the computer, everything "resumed" on auto pilot where I had finished trying last night. Not only that, but when I checked mail I actually had a comment on the piece I had intended to post- Raw Footage. How that ever went to post I have no clue. Even the photos began uploading without prompt. That just doesn't happen! Only it did on this occasion. So stopping just short of miraculous, there was no raw footage (that is to say the slide show I had worked on), so here it comes now. I think! I hope. maybe a prayer thrown in for extra assisitance.....

I only repositioned one shot for the show- the rainbow that will appear (he said hopefully) at the end of the show. I was shooting with multiple cameras at various times and weather conditions so the sequence is broken on a lot of the material. But the rainbow really did come at the end of the festival and it was fitting. Not because the rain was ending necessarily but because of all the hard work that will justly benefit the people of Eagle as a result of the generosity of many, but most especially on the part of the Busbys who own and operate The Chicken Gold camp and Outpost. Whether there is a pot of gold at the end of their rainbow, even here in gold country Alaska, noone can say for sure. But one thing is certain: They have some mighty fine people up here who care a lot about them and will do what they can to help.

Raw Footage

Sometimes when the news or a good story is happening way too fast for editing the network puts what they call "raw Footage" on the monitor. They tell you a little bit about what is going on and the pictures tell you the rest of the story. That's pretty much how it feels in Chicken right now. We've been busy. First getting the camp ready for the official opening. Then making sure planned improvements get made. Then taking care of guests...and within two weeks of the official opening pulling off one of the main events of the season: Chickenstock, Music Festival on the Top of the World ( a play on Woodstock Music Festival for those of you too young or too old to get it). Except this is a Bluegrass event and not rock and roll, heavy metal, psychedelic, or any of that other stuff. And even in this tiny town, yes, it IS a big deal. People came from hundreds of miles away, not to mention those from the lower 48 who traveled thousands of miles to attend this high energy but laid back concert. A year of planning on the part of Mike and Lou and most especially Josea came to fruition with the aid of many of their friends, the entire staff here and a lot of other community volunteers. Some sunshine. Some rain. A bit of wind. Some warm. Some cold. And none of that mattered because everyone was just plain having a genuinely fine time of it all. I don't know the financial numbers for the festival itself, but judging by what we saw all went well. I know that part of the profits were to benefit the Rebuild Eagle Fund and on that account I am sure we did well. Any of our readers that would like to contribute to this cause - helping to rebuild not only the homes and businesses but the lives of these very fine folks, most of who lost just about everything they had built over a lifetime and beyond can go on line for more information to:


I will tell you that after meeting and speaking with some of these strong but hurting individuals from Eagle, that our own check went in the basket and we set out to see what else we could do to help. You say times are hard? Because it hurts to fill the gas tank, or buy the heating oil, or maybe you even lost a job? Just imagine if you car was gone, your house was gone, your business was gone, your job was gone.... Get the picture? Trust me there are no FEMA trailers here. If you can find a way to help, please do so. If you don't wish to do so on line, you can send a check or whatever you can to:

Chicken Gold Camp Rebuild Eagle Fund
C/O Postmaster
Chicken, Alaska

But back to Chickenstock. What a concept. A music festival on the Top of the World! Where it's light all night long. You can play and dance til three in the morning and not even have a clue what time it is. A big deal? Sure but nothing that can't be handled if everyone involved is willing to put in a couple 18 hour days to get ready and hold the event. And so we did. And what a fine time we all had. As for the "raw footage"-if I can just get the photos to upload, I'll give you the slide show, pure and simple, blurry shots and all just so you get a feel for the event....because right now I don't have whole lot of energy to do anything else. Raw footage it is!

Monday, June 8, 2009

The Moose's Caboose

When I was kid, we lived in a small cottage, for lack of a better word, in the countryside of Pennsylvania. We had a coal furnace and running water but you took your showers in the basement by the furnace to keep warm during that exercise. Eventually we had "inside plumbing" too but there was an outhouse (yes, to the Sears Catalog thing) outside. Most all of us have become spoiled by our comforts nowadays and I can't help but wonder if a simpler time may have been a better time. I suppose perspective is the controlling factor. Here in Chicken, life is a lot like it was for me in the old homestead. I like it like that. Maybe not all year long and in the winter, but for now it is exceptional. Power to the camp is via a generator during the day. 20 Amps each- like one plug in the sheet rock in the wall of your house. You must be selective about the appliances you need and the appliances you want. There is no waste. Because there is no extra for the "extras." If you want water, you can go fetch it from the generator driven pump on the water tank which we tote in every day from a well nearby by truck. There is no wasted water, or you're out until we fill the tank. Brush teeth fast. Wash quick. Take a shower in the quarter driven, propane heated shower house- ah luxury! Shower quick. Most of us dry camp. Only a few sites with even the 20 amp electric. The nice thing about the out house is you don't have to flush; just close the lid and exit when finished. The seat may be a tad cool in the early morning hours, but they are kept oh so clean- even to the point where tourists comment about "the cleanest outhouses in the world." Well, yea! This is Chicken! Everything is special, even if it is simple, basic, the old-fashioned way.

But back to my point. Back in the Oley Valley, there was a caboose that was used as a residence down in the valley. For reasons I no longer recall (but mother and dad will refresh my memory when they read this for sure) we called it the Moose's Caboose. Maybe just because it rhymed and sounded nice. Like I said, those were simpler times. And that was the first thing that popped into my mind this morning when the moose and her newborn calf came dashing across the camp parking area, right smack down the side of the coach and disappeared with lightning speed into the willow brush at the back (the caboose, don't you see?) of the coach. It happened at high noon. Which, by the way, is only slightly "lighter" than midnight now, since sunset tonight was scheduled for 11:59 PM. I'd come back from the Myers Fork Gold Claim operated by the Chicken Gold Camp and Outpost. I had taken some folks up and guided them to some producing spots earlier in the morning in the cool drizzle and rain. I was wet for sure and a bit cool when I returned and had come back to the coach for some dry duds and the bottoms to my rain gear. With one foot in the pants to the rain suit and hopping on the other foot while trying to suit up, it is NOT possible to bound across the floor quickly enough to grab a camera and take a picture of a mother/daughter moose team moving at full tilt. Trust me, I now know this to be true. But it was another special moment on the Chicken Tour and if you were here and paying attention at exactly the right moment- you caught the action as well. Even if you didn't see the moose coming...perhaps you might see the moose's caboose!

I gave quite a few panning lessons today in the afternoon. We have a lot of European clients passing through and I enjoy them all. Gold panning is new to most all of them so helping them find gold in their pan is very rewarding all the way around. But sometimes something gets lost in the translation, as they say. So today when I finished my lesson with a very lovely German couple, and told them to give it a try on their own while I observed, the gentleman went and took a big shovel full of dirt off the paydirt pile, carried it over to his pan, but instead of depositing the load into the pan he proceded to dump the full shovel into the panning trough.
Too late. Gold sinks to the bottom of whatever it can when placed in water and this was no exception. We all had a big laugh! I have a new line to my panning lessons now. The gold gets "washed" in the pan, not the trough!
As I was finishing up with lessons for the day around 8 o'clock, boss man Mike came out and said he wished to do one more demo for all those at the panning troughs with me. That was something new. He said he knew I had already taught them to pan, but he wanted to do a "speed lesson" for them. So with a rather rascally smile on his face he carried his pan to the dirt pile and put a shovel full in it, came over to the trough, and said- "You don't have to pan slowly, you can go fast and the gold will stay in the pan." Well that's more than true for experienced panners but for novices- not so much. They are scared that they are throwing the gold out of the pan...and in fact some do. Anyway Mike panned his pan in under a minute, much to everyone's amazement. But what really sent them hooting and a hollering was that there was an ounce and a half nugget in the bottom of the pan when he was finished. Now this is a place where the panning dirt is NOT salted. There are no "fixes" here. It's real mining- you either find gold or you don't (trust me, though, everyone does!) But this was a nugget- the biggest that has been found here by tourists, by "pay to play" customers and Mike, in a masterful display of showmanship, dropped it in the pan for the sheer joy of the moment. I took it as a stroke of genius and personally I hope he repeats the event at least weekly. You see a nugget like that once in your life, you will think about it for the rest of your life. Ain't no doubt in my mind! No one that got Mike's demo quit panning until well into the wee hours.....

Continuing our That Was Then series, two years ago we were in Fairbanks seeing the sites and taking it all in. Some of the best values for your buck and some of the best all Alaskan introduction activities to be had in the state are in Fairbanks, so if you're headed North To Alaska, this should be on you "must read" list:

Fun With Fairbanks

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The Fire Is Out!

Fire? Did someone say fire? I didn't hear anything about no stinkin' fire! Well, no, you didn't. Because I chose not to mention it until we knew what course it would run. No need scaring folks and making them change their travel plans out of fear of a forest fire that may or may not continue to grow. And I can now tell you- it's out and all seems well here in Chicken. Having just only a short while back written of a fire that, 5 years ago, threatened the village and burned 1.3 million acres of timber land, we were all a bit nervous a week or so back when a thunder storm passed through and a lightning bolt touched off a fire some three miles away from us. The fire was noticeable within minutes of the strike. The billowing smoke told us it was catching and spreading rapidly. A day later it had gotten much bigger and two days later it was getting downright scary. But then came the airplanes dropping fire retardant. And the Alaskan Fire Brigade. The Tok Fire Keepers. And Alaskan Fire Fighting Elite troops known as the "Hot Shots." The helicopters with their water dipping baskets gliding below the whirling blades. And so round the clock for days the epic battle between fire fighter and fire raged only miles away. Nature picks a winner in such struggles and on this occasion- Fire Fighters 1 , Fire 0 - game over. Now a smaller crew watches over the hot spots to make sure what is out stays out. We sleep better now, although it never felt like the danger was immediate.
"Shall we be nervous yet?" I asked several days into a growing fire.
"Not yet."
And so we never did. Get nervous, I mean. But the charcoal covered faces of the men (and a woman) who fought the fire when they came off the front lines for a break and a hot meal told a different story. They were dealing with the fire face to face. Taking the heat. Slapping it in its face with whatever they could hit it with....and this time winning. You could see the seriousness on their faces. The smell of smoke came along with them on their short respites. A hint of fatigue was brushed aside as they readied to go back in to do whatever it took. Being around them felt very special. They risk it all to protect a lot, and it makes them quite special.

Continuing with the That Was Then Series from our trip two years ago- here is what was happening then...

Frost Heave The Snowman - a piece on road conditions.

Midnight At The Oasis - a look at late night light in Alaska.

Odds and Ends - some interesting tidbits about Alaska and things Alaskan, like mosquitoes, caribou and PIGS?.

Back in the present day Alaska, this team of three of our early prospectors worked a section of "Gundy Mountain" and came up with some really nice course gold including a heart shaped penny weight nugget. Ain't that just purdy?