Monday, July 11, 2011

Fairbanks Fun

We have done two fun things in the last two days in Fairbanks:

Yesterday we boarded the Riverboat Discovery, an authentic stern-wheeler paddle-boat that travels up the Chena River to the Tanana for a three-hour cruise (that phrase always makes me want to pack some navigational charts, coconuts, a radio, and an evening gown - the latter just because Mrs. Howell did).

As the boat travels, Alaskiana is highlighted:

  • We watched a bush pilot's float plane, a staple in inner Alaska transportation, take off and land next to the riverboat:
  • We visited Susan Butcher's musher camp and learned about the Iditarod dogs:
  • We visited a traditional Athabascan Indian fishing village:
  • We learned how they lived (and how to fillet salmon):
  • And we saw how they dressed for the minus 50 degree winters:
(My astronomy friends will appreciate the resemblance to the Eskimo Nebula!)

When we boarded, we followed friends' advice to "sit on the left." We will now pass this on to others -- sit on the left!

After dinner, John and I were taking a walk through the campground when we came upon this musical trio, surrounded by a caravan group of RVers in their lawn chairs. They invited us to join them, and we quickly discovered that the music was fantastic. Marty Robbins, Willie Nelson, and Waylon Jennings were sung to perfection, and there was even a recitation of "The Cremation of Sam McGee." It was one of those unexpected campground experiences that "find" you every so often!

Today we did another touristy, but fun trip -- to the El Dorado Gold Mines. We boarded a replica of a gold miner train that would take us to the mines. As we were listening to the conductor tell us about mining, and Alaska, and how he liked to play guitar and sing as we traveled we felt that ... something ... seemed way too familiar.

He was the lead singer from last night! Turns out his name is Earl Hughes, "Alaska's Ambassador of Country Music."

So we got the pleasure of listening to him again as the train took us to the placer gold mine.

Placer gold (pronounced plah-SUR) is gold that has been washed down from the mountains by streams, along with the gravel, dirt and silt that are collectively called alluvium. Because it is loose and crumbly, it cannot be mined by digging tunnels. Instead, it is retrieved by water and panning.

First, they showed us how placer gold is extracted. The water comes pouring from the flume (on the left in photo) as the alluvium is dumped in its path by the front-loader. As the water -- now laden with silt and rock -- washes down the center section, the smaller rocks and the gold fall to the bottom and are caught by baffles.

Workers were placed at intervals to take a few handfulls of this dirt and show us how to pan. It basically involves shaking the pan so the gold settles to the bottom, and then using waves of water to remove the rocks and silt that are on top. When the six or so panners were done, this was the gold they had retrieved:
Then it was our turn.

We each got a bag of dirt and a pan, and sat at long water troughs to find "our" gold:

How did we end up? I got about $11 worth of gold, and John about $13. Its weight was measured in grains, and it didn't take up much space! The woman across from us wound up with $65 worth. Some people had theirs put into pendants or bracelets -- we just brought it home and set it on the table where it will stay until we toss it in a closet with our other souvenirs.

1 comment:

Diana said...

I'm with you - I get nervous any time someone offers a "Three Hour Tour."