Friday, August 28, 2009

Just Touching Bases

Wanted to do some blog work the last several days but not able to because someone in camp was eating all the bandwidth with whatever they were doing on line. Computer was slow to NO... so nothing got done. The problem seems to have been corrected as today things were back to the dependable normal we usually have here in camp. All is well, season winding down. Mining portion of the summer finished strong so once again "sticking to it" pays in the long run. Hopefully more real soon- But NOT tonight!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

August Roundup Part 2- TWT

Here's a few from two- years ago that is....

Ninilchik Hub: a look back at our visit to this part of the Kenai Peninsula

Red At Night:
something a bit different in the way of an eagle photo...

Barn To Be Wild: a look at state fairs and high stakes piglet racing

It's Always Something: yet another dose of reality as mother nature finds you no matter where you try and hide...

OK This time I mean it. Now I really am finished for today!

August Roundup

Busy, busy, busy! Time is flying with camp projects, mining activities, sight seeing - leaving no time for the weary. But here's a roundup of things going on the first part of August. A bee-keeper rolled into camp a short while back. He was shutting down his 11 hive operation for the season and taking the last hive and the remaining bees out for a ride in the back of his pickup truck. It gave us all a chance to grab a plastic spoon and take a taste of the fireweed only honey product he produces directly off the honeycombs. Pretty neat- for us that is. But for the bees it's a swan song as they do not winter well here. Actually they really don't winter AT ALL here. Alaska has few if any honey bees as you know them in the lower 48. What hives operate here do so by importing bee colonies annually, shipping them via plane (they cannot cross Canadian borders via vehicle transportation) and dealing both with high cost and high rate of loss owing to cold and altitude during transit. For the bees, this is the "final flight" of the season. When the honey truck (as opposed to the honey wagon which is not the same thing- trust me!) has finished its rounds, most of the bees will have blown out the back and will fall to the mercy of the weather as Fall, then Winter approaches fast here. Already nighttime temps have dipped below 30 and soon they will plummet beyond the bees' ability to survive. The Flight of the Bumblebee will become the Plight of the Bumblebee and only a season's worth of honey in a jar will remain to attest to their ever having been here at all. That- and these photos...

While bee season was drawing to a close, caribou hunting season was just opening. The fast and furious three day season brought many many hunters to our camp which they then used as a launching point for hunting the entire area. Caribou hunted in this area are those of the "Fortymile" herd, so called from the name of the river system and the mining district of the same name and historically very significant to many aspects of life in Alaska. Hunters brought all size and manner of ATV with which to carry themselves and their gear into the deep woods for the hunt. And for that matter, the hunters themselves arrived in all sizes and manner. One in particular caught my attention and while it would have been easy to plaster the post with pictures of hunters, their gear and the game they took out with them, I decided to go with HER to tell the story. Seven (and a half, to be exact) year old Dawson rolled into camp at the close of the season with her dad. One of the largest caribou racks I saw this season was strapped to the bike and the back of the truck they arrived in.

Half jokingly, OK all jokingly, I asked the pint sized hunter, "Did you shoot that big caribou?"
"Yes, sir."
"For real?"
"Uh huh."
"All by your self? With a rifle almost as big as you?"
"Well, daddy knocked it down with his shot, but my shot hit it in the lungs and made the kill..."

"Dad, can I please take her picture with the antlers for the blog I write? Maybe we'll just make her famous?"

"Oh, she's already famous, they named a city in the Yukon after her- Dawson City."

Some hunters are successful in the hunt but some are not. Maybe because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time, or more aptly the caribou were in the right place at the right time. Who knows? But there is always some poor frustrated hunter out there who can only answer the challenge of a non moving target and takes out a road sign or two in frustration. I thought this 40 mph sign taking a hit in the Fortymile herd range was the perfect way to make the point. What a trophy, Mighty Hunter!

Now about the time all this was happening, another season was coming right up. Lou and her sister Debra were getting ready to celebrate Papa Gene's birthday, and while there was only one candle on the cake after that delicious salmon and halibut meal, I'm thinking it was celebration number 88. Always upbeat, full of vim and vigor, Gene helps out all around camp and his time here with us was real blast! Here's a little slide show from the celebration dinner...

But while day time temps remained pleasant enough for an occasional outdoor dinner or get-to-gether, the nighttime temps started to indicate a change of season in the air. Same thing happened back in Maine but not this ealry and not this extreme. Temperatures at 27 degrees the beginning of August - brrrrrrr. That called for emergency (however temporary) plastic covering of the cold frame part of the greenhouse complex (make it sound big, don't I???) Think of it as "hurry up cold frame emergency procedures..." Hardly air tight, certainly not pretty, but adequate none the less and as of this writing, everything is still producing the way we intended.

So yes it's been pretty busy around here. Always the day to day stuff to keep up with and of course there's always a pocket of gold up in them thar hills that needs finding, but there are long range projects in the works as well. Pedro Dredge is slowly being readied to float to its new position perched overlooking the panning troughs, and we've started building a new log cabin as part of another project to be reported on at another time, but Mike, a consummate collector of all things mining related and Chicken mining in particular, has begun to realize the dream of creating a museum on property. It's fun to be even a minute part of that realization. Old Chicken may yet live again through the display of his collections of machinery, buildings, equipment, articles, antiques and just plain cool junk - as one less than proper antique dealer once displayed on his signage. To that end, he recently acquired and moved an old miners shed from the nearby Bygland Claim. I have been fascinated by that building for two years as I drove past it on daily trips to and from Myers Fork Claim of Chicken Gold Camp. Old. Dilapidated to some degree. Fascinating in every regard. Now it's here..and already it is breathing new life with the TLC it has already received. From the ingenious use of a bucket loader turned fork lift, to its delicate moving proposition, its site preparation and resettling, this has been yet another addition to the now in-full-progress development of the museum to be. Here's a look at the transition of the old shed:

I suppose I could keep going with news from August, but here's the deal: I started all this today at 11:00. Photo management, slide show production, uploads, writing, organizing, what have you...and here it is after 7:00 already- non-stop blog production from Chicken, Alaska. There are places in the world where this could certainly have been done faster. But I'm not there, am I? So that's it for now from Chicken. The cluck stops here!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Splish! Splash!

It sounds more like a bath on a Saturday night than a mining term, I know, but "Splashing" is just that. Splashing refers to "running and gunning" your operation to make use of extremely limited supplies of water when highbanking or dredging. You dig a hole to give yourself as much of a body of water as you can- then you run your equipment until the water supply is nearly spent. Then shut down and wait for the supply to replenish itself- however long that may be. At one point we were running ten minutes and then shutting down nearly an hour for the uptake hole to fill back up- and that was after a day of digging out the hole in the first place. And of late, that's exactly what we have been doing here in Chicken. Streams went nearly dry there for a bit. Now of course, Rainmaker Choan has sent us rain, ice, sleet, hail and has things running fairly well again for the time being. Thanks. I think! Although this 27 degree business in the beginning of August has GOT to stop, Rainmaker!

Below is a look at one of the creek crossings on Myers Fork. The rocks are usually under water. But only a trickle was barely running a couple days ago. Fortunately it is a bit better now and we hope the drought is ending, or at the very least easing up a bit. As of the day this picture was taken, you could cross the usually ice cold stream in your sneakers. No boots necessary! That is for sure not always the case.

But splashing is not JUST a mining term either. With temps high (not now, but a few days ago) the moose were gathering in the ponds that still held water and drinking and bathing to keep cool. This cow and her twin calves were at a roadside stop (moose style) on the Taylor Highway just outside of camp a couple days ago. Moose lovers: here's your slide show!

But splashing was definitely NOT happening in this odd looking RV that came by camp the other day. The Condo RV, looks like half bus and half hen house, so I suppose its showing up in Chicken was not all that out of character. Mike and I gave panning lessons to all 18 "inhabitants" who each have their own berth in the back of the big rig and a bus seat in the front. Is there a shower in there? Nope. Is there a bathroom in there? Nope. Just lots of stops as needed along the way. I asked one of the tourists on board (all German visitors) what it was like to sleep in those tight quarters. She answered that it felt a bit like sleeping in a coffin. Oh, yuk! Not for me! Mike asked if she could hear everyone else snoring at night. That was an affirmative. Way too up close and personal for me. I'll catch the Greyhound thank you very much...

For those wondering, those are dredge line buckets on a sled in the foreground.

Friday, August 7, 2009

That Was Then Again

It's all about the moose right now, but two years ago on the spit in Homer, Alaska it was all about the salmon and the eagles. We took a day trip to Seldovia as well and it was all worth another look to be sure: Salmon On The Spit

S'More Friends: Big kid Marilyn makes friends with the triplets in the Prevost next door on the Spit in Homer and the gang whips up some campfire specialty sweets!

Cold, Wet, and Clammy: We take our "clam gun" and head out onto the flats of Ninilchik stalking the wild Alaskan Razor Clam and come back with a heap o' good eats!

It does my heart good to be recalling these special moments from our 07 trip. Sure hope you are re-enjoying the adventure as much as we are....

Riding Chicken Ridge

Been hot! Been dry and getting drier by the day. There are some days when you just can't prospect in a particular manner of choice because there isn't enough water running in the creek. I have a friend (yes, you "Choan") that I call "the rainmaker". Usually she sends us way too much rain and it got to the point where we had to tell her "Enough already!" Although now, Joan, you need to quit holding out on us because time is running out big time and I NEED the water in the creek if there is to be even a chance of completing the appointed mission of gold acquisition for this summer. So now, going the other way please: "Enough already! And yes, it IS a no win world at times and first we want it one way and now we want it another way, but after all, YOU are the rainmaker, so please to get with the program!

But no mining; no problem! Trail riding. So we headed out of Dodge (that would be Chicken Dodge) to ride the Chicken Ridge or at least the first 8 - 10 miles of it. Venture further away as time and comfort permits. First we headed down to the valley to see the Mosquito River below camp. Low water, but beautiful none-the-less. Clear. Cold. Then headed down the Taylor Highway for a mile or so until the trail headed off and up the hills to the ridge itself. First through heavily treed forest. Then through a section of burnout from the 04 fire- still mostly unrecovered excepting for the fireweed. Eerie and beautiful surroundings all at one time. Moose on the trail, the road and even in the burnout stands. Vista views of the Mosquito where we had launched our ride only an hour or so ago. Perspective changes with elevation. Macro and micro combine to provide the full picture of the time and place. Here's a little sample of the ride up Chicken Ridge:

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Moose Airlines

A ride down to "Chicken International" Air Strip almost any day of the week, any hour of the day will provide a good opportunity to visit with one of the local "flight attendants" - a moose! Not sure if there is any organized airline other than the private planes and choppers that come and go from here, but for sure if there are, they should be named "Moose Air." If I were talking about a real airline (which I'm not) what would the flight attendants wear? Goofy hats with big ears and antlers? Furry brown costumes with long beards, knobby knees and hoof shoes? Who knows! The point here is that whenever a plane does come or go there is nearly always a moose standing by to meet and greet. If they are in the brush or the ponds that line the far side of the runway, I think that's pretty cool. But if they decide to wait for the next scheduled arrival mid runway, then I hope and pray I am so not on that flight. If a bird in the engine forces a plane to land in the Hudson River, where on earth does a plane wind up that smacks into a moose upon touchdown?

Anyway, we took the quad down to the strip on a quiet morning, and sat as close as we could for nearly a half hour just watching and listening in the otherwise silence to the moose wading around one of the ponds and munching vegetation. If you've never had the opportunity to be this up close and personal with a munching moose, maybe I can help you out...assuming of course that at some point in your life you went down on the farm and fed a carrot to a horse out of your open outstretched hand. Well, the moose sounds a lot like the horse chomping on the carrot- only add the sound of doing so at or below the surface of the water. Sort of a combo of chomping down a carrot and bobbing for an apple at the same time. If there are no other sounds at the time, this is a perfectly symphonic sound of nature and a joy for the eyes and the ears all at once. I can't do sound on the slide shows yet, but what I tried to do was shoot a relatively unencumbered and unedited series of the moose migrating around the pond and having a splendid time doing lunch. She kept tabs on us, but never really paid us much attention and we made a point of being quiet and leaving her to enjoy the meal and the cool water in relative peace and harmony. So imagine the sounds as best you can...and watch the flight attendant for moose air take a lunch break....

Sunday, August 2, 2009

A Dredge named Pedro

Chicken Gold Camp is home to the gold dredge that once pushed its massive barge like body up and down these valleys capturing the gold that was lodged below in the most of the time frozen ground below it. Originally named gold dredge #4, it was renamed to reflect the name of the first creek it was designed to mine: Pedro Creek (when it was apparent that another company operated another dredge that was also designated as number 4). Personally I think in this day and age it is better to have a name instead of a number anyway. Unless of course you have the number that happens to be the next winner of the mega lotto in which case it is better to have the number and keep your name out of matters at least for a while.

But Mike Busby invited me to accompany a group on the on-site tour a couple days ago, and what a great tour it is! Mike's lived and mined in these parts for 30 plus or minus years and he's just plum full of all kinds of information a person would just be loving to learning about if gold or anything to do with it is right up there on your list of things you are interested in. It's not my intention to give the history of the dredge here, just a look at the enormous by relatively simple piece of machinery that helped to tame the goldfields of Alaska and the Yukon, and for that matter, many other placed in the world as well. You can look at the Gold Camp web site for a summary article on the dredge which also provides a link to a very informative article with a lot more "meat" that Mike authored. It's an amazing piece of machinery and what it could do in the worst of climates and conditions is a marvel to behold.

Here's a slide show from the tour:

"great" Grandparents

Certainly I had some wonderful time and experiences spent with my grandparents as I was growing up. They were "great" grandparents. Not the twice removed variety; no, I just mean to say that they were great people of great character. They were simple and hard working. They were caring and loving. Something I did not get from them was a love of travel. For the most part they stayed close to home and if they even went on vacation type trips of any substance I don't remember them. Just that one semi annual trip to Philadelphia on the train with my maternal grandmother to do some Christmas shopping via the Kris Kringle Express. I thought of that as an adventure, yes, but more like an outing, although I suppose all things grow from small seeds planted.

But to be sure, there were no cross country trips, no flights to Europe, no explorations to the Caribbean Islands, no safaris, no summer long trips to Alaska. That was beyond their means and perhaps beyond their dreams- I really can't say. And while I loved them dearly and can't think how I could possibly have loved them more, I find myself increasingly pleased with grandparents who take their grandchildren on trips (I know my parents did that with my own son). Not because they are doing something "more" or something "better" but just because they are making family time and memories that are the kind of experiences that last a lifetime and foster the kinds of adventure that can be life changing.

We've had quite a few grandparent/grandchild visitors at Chicken Gold Camp, from Grandpa Gary and Grandson Josh who teamed up to find the largest nugget ever found here by a recreational miner (as far as I know), right up to this soon to be eighth grade granddaughter who arrived a few days ago to take panning lessons for a short while and didn't leave until days later after some really serious success at the panning trough. I gave them their first lesson...and it was off to the races. From that first peek at a speck of gold at the bottom of the first pan- the fever was on, it was infectious and there was joy and laughter for several days to follow. What a wonderful world of adventure these grandparents are able to open for their legacy. Was there more to this adventure than just gold fever? Would you think a young girl catching her first ever King Salmon (32 pounds) on the Kenai River sounds impressive and memorable? Or getting to steer the glacier tour boat LuLu Belle out of Valdez through icy waters on a whale watch excursion to be pretty special? Just a few of the glimpses into the world grandparents are opening for their grandchild.

This youngster was a real joy. Bright. Happy. Eager to learn and quick to pick up on what worked and what didn't. She was having the time of her life! And I don't mean "The trip of her life." Because with experiences like these under her belt, the world will call to come and see more and more as time and circumstances allow. Much more likely this is the first of many, as opposed to the one and only. I hope she knows and underdstands what a marvelous gift her grandparents have given her...and I told her as much. Little sister is on deck for next year and she's talking California here I Come. No problem. There's gold there too!

Thank you guys for staying with us in Chicken, You were great guests. Great Grandparents! We enjoyed your stay as much as we hope and think you did. Oh and one more thing: Go Wildcats!