In case you haven't heard, there's still GOLD in them thar hills surrounding Fairbanks.
And when I say GOLD, I mean lots of it. To give you an idea of what I'm talking about, around five years ago the Fort Knox Gold Mine open near Fairbanks. -- We're talking about a multi-million dollar state of the art facility. And if I remember correctly, at the time of it's opening they were estimating that they were going to extract upwards of a billion ounces of gold from the strip of land that the plant is located on.
All over the place just north of Fairbanks the country side is dotted with hundreds of small backyard gold mining operations and thousands of gold mining claims notices. Now while you can't pan for gold or operate a gold dredge on a place that's posted, there are public places you can try out your luck. Or if you up to the task pilgrim, you can go into the back country.
Now the realities of this are there are no overnight millionaire stories that I can tell you about. -- But there are a fair amount of people in the area that either make a living or supplement their income by panning for gold.
One funny story happened in the spring of 1995 during what is locally called break-up. During March and April as Winter loses it's icy grip on the local terrain, and it seems like everything is either thawing out or melting. Understandably during this time of year low lying area's tend to flood. Anyway during all of this, there was this man in living in downtown Fairbanks, with a dirt floored garage that got flooded out. Not having a pump handy he used his 2 1/2 inch gold dredge instead to pump it out. And much to his surprise and the consternation of local experts he found that his dirt garage floor was laced with several ounces of gold.
In 1997 I met this man living in a cabin along Farmers Loop that was supplementing his income by assisting local mining claimants, by working their claims for them during the summer.
It seems that when you have a mining claim on federal land that every so many years you have to work your claim and report how much gold you recovered in order to keep the mining claim open. His experience in working these various claims was more or less a crap shoot. I say that because while working one person's claim he got $35,000 dollar in gold in a month, and on another one he only found only $1,700 working all summer long.
Also I might mention that there are no standard deals or formula's in this kind of work some times he gets fifty-fifty while other times he gets 100% of what he finds.
Since I'm talking about this, I don't want to give you the impression that working other people's claims is an open position to the general public. Far from it, this is an old boy network thing, where you only get hired if you've lived in Fairbanks and vicinity for most of your life and you are a known quantity in local mining circles. Think of it as a father son union you can only get in if you have a blood relative or longtime family friend in the biz.
Ok now lets talk about what exactly Fairbanks area gold looks like. Nuggets are extremely rare in the Fairbanks area instead what you will find is called "Placer" gold, whatever you do when you're visiting here, don't pronounce this word like "Place", locals will look at you like you rode in on a UFO. Instead pronounce it like the word "Placid" and everyone will assume you know what you're talking about.
Placer gold is gold that was carried by glaciers. At one time Fairbanks was completely covered by glaciers and once they retreated what they carried in them was left behind and deposited into the local landscape. Because this is glacial or placer gold it is in the form of fine flakes or dust. That may well be why they call the residue in the bottom of your gold pan color.
Gold Dredge #8
As to the casual gold panner who just want's to try it out for a day or so, and have a small fluid filled vial with something to show your friends and neighbors, you can go drive twenty-minutes north of Fairbanks along the Old Steese Hwy to a state run facility called: Gold Dredge #8.
Costing approximately $19 per person Gold Dredge #8 is a state run historic mining park the center piece of which is Gold Dredge #8. This gold extraction machine is literally the size of a barn and looks a lot like steamboat. Acting like a giant self-propelled snow blower this steam powered monstrosity somehow dragged itself around as it excavated soil, sorted out the rocks and debris, and then ran the gold laced soil over giant riffle plates where it separated the placer gold from the soil.
And along with Gold Dredge #8 there are also acres of other historic pieces of equipment to see here. All of which were used in Fairbanks during Fairbanks Great Alaskan Gold Rush.
One other bit of good news about this place is that if you want to do some serious gold panning, once you get in through the gate you can pan there to your heart's content. Phone: (907) 457-6058
Another place just a few minutes north of Fairbanks is this 150' pull over along the side of Old Steese Hwy. Partially hidden in the pull over is a Marker commemorating the spot where Felix Pedro made his historic gold strike that began the Alaskan Gold Rush. And in case you hadn't realized it yet, the City of Fairbanks built as a direct result of Felix Pedro's discovery of gold. Spartan, this place is not by any stretch of the imagination a park, but none the less it is a nice peaceful place with a small babbling stream by the side of a hill.
Working the stream, are usually half a dozen friendly people, hand panning and operating small dredges. When I was there on more than one occasion these people always seemed more than willing to answer questions, and explain exactly how it's done while they work.
Came from The Eldorado
Other places open to the general public are The Eldorado Gold Mine.
Located on the Elliott Hwy, for around $20-$30 dollars per person gives you a COOL tour of their mining operation on an antique steam locomotive on a narrow gauge railroad. After the tour they then give you a poke filled to the rim with gold laced soil that you pan out on site. And when you're finished they weigh what you found, put it in a fluid filled vial and tell you how much it's worth. Taking a few hours this is definitely a lot of fun and worth your while. Phone (907) 479-7613
Another place is the Chatanika Gold Camp.
Loacted on Old Steese Hwy, this place has cabins and rooms you can stay in. It also has a restaurant where they offer a variety of local and traditional dishes. And more importantly for someone with a case of the gold bug that needs some serious scratching, you can go out back on their property and pan for gold.
Phone (907) 389-2410
Located minutes away in Ester Alaska The Ester Gold Camp offers more of the same. But for those without transportation there are buses going to and from the camp daily from Alaska Land. Phone: (907) 479-2500 http://www.alaskasbest.com/malemute/ or http://www.alaskasbest.com/ester/
You can find out more information about these places and others by either by dropping by or calling up in advance one of the following:
The Fairbanks Visitor's Center -- Located at 550 First Avenue along the Chena river, the Fairbanks Visitor Information Center has dozens of brochures describing all the thats available in and around Fairbanks. They also have community calendars listing up coming events, and of course they are there to answer you questions.
Phone (907) 456-5774
The Fairbanks Northstar Borough's Noel-Wien Library -- This is a very nice library and it has a wealth of local history, and gold mining information, including historic maps, topographical maps, historic newspaper articles as well as those all important local history accounts. Phone: (907) 459-1020
The University of Alaska Fairbanks Library --This has more of the same as the Noel-Weems Library, but more importantly since the library has year round gold and mineral mining course offerings it has a far broader collection. And they have lots of staff that can help you find what you're looking for. http://www.uaf.edu/library/Phone: (907) 474-6692
In another one of my little asides in Old Dominion University Main Library (Norfolk Virginia They have a complete set of hundreds of Department of "The Interior Department's Mining and Mineral Reports" covering the entire Alaskan gold rush. Published annually by regions these books have complete write ups including the names, dates, location maps, and figures, that you can not find any place else.
There is also Alaskan Prospecting & Geologist Supply located on 504 Collage Road in Fairbanks This place sells and rents a variety of gold panning and dredging equipment, metal detectors, rock hound supplies, as well as maps, magazines, books, and mineral samples and fossils. Phone: (907) 452-7398
Panning for Gold
Jan. Feb. Mar. Apr. May June July Aug. Sept. Oct. Nov. Dec. Tourist Season 15th 15th
NOTE: While you probably could crack the ice open and thaw out some paydirt to pan I find most people prefer to pan while the water's flowing. You might also consider that in May and September the water may be colder than you want to stick your hand in and work with for an extended period of time.