Monday, July 25, 2011

Little Susitna River and the Independence Mine

We took a day trip today to the Independence Mine on the Hatcher Pass, near Wasilla, Alaska. The day was drizzly and overcast -- what the English like to call "wee misty." On the way, we stopped to see the beautiful Little Susitna River, a rocky, fast moving waterway that empties into the Susitna River (where we took the jetboat ride a few days ago).
We arrived at the gold producing Independence Mine, now a State park, and signed up for the tour.
Our tour guide, who did not introduce herself so will remain nameless, began by giving us a little history. "Little" being the operative word.

"The mine was operating from 1937 until 1941," she began. "It was around 1941 that Pearl Harbor happened, and everyone got nervous, because, if you know your geography, Alaska and Hawaii are real close."

Silence. What did she just say? "Around 1941"? How about exactly December 7, 1941? And Alaska DID feel threatened, but not because they thought the Japanese might make a lefty at Hawaii and beeline for the Hatcher Pass in Alaska -- but because Japan was just 2000 miles away from the Aleutians, that curving string of islands that juts out from the southwestern edge of Alaska and almost reaches Russia. Landing in the Aleutians (which they did in June 1942) would give them a base in North America from which to launch further attacks. And the mine didn't close in 1941 -- it operated for a couple years under a war-time exemption (other gold mines were deemed non-essential in wartime and closed) because, in addition to gold, this mine was a source of tungsten which was deemed essential. It was, however, eventually closed in 1943, not 1941.

Tokyo to Honolulu: 3860 miles
Honolulu to Anchorage: 2780 miles
Move men and planes 6640 miles or 2000 miles? Which would you choose?

So we were off to a humorous, if unbelievable start. Fortunately, she knew a bit more about the mine than she did of what was, from her 20-something perspective, "ancient history," but she lacked even that information unless it was in her tour. Her stock answer to most questions was, "I don't know" accompanied by a quick return to her script.

Still, we enjoyed seeing the dining room and living quarters, and we got a feel for what a miner's life was like. The mine housed and fed around 200 men, each earning $8 a day for 8-10 hours of hard work. Unless you managed the mine, the best job was the chief cook, who got his own sleeping quarters, bathroom (with a tub), kitchen, and sitting room, all with no deduction from his pay. The miners had a cot in a barracks-like room, showers "down the hall," and communal dining for which they paid $1.50 per day.
When we got to the school building (it was for 8 children from miner families who lived in nearby Boomtown), we gave up all pretense of following our guide -- she stood at the front listening while John used a wall map to explain the mine's relationship to the Cook Inlet:

And I used a classroom globe to show a curiosity that can be found on many old globes: manufacturers used to fill that huge empty space in the Pacific Ocean with an analema. An analema looks somewhat like a figure 8, but is actually a representation of the path that the sun transcribes in the sky. If you were to take a photo of the sun at the same time each day for a year, the resulting pattern would be the analemma:

We finished the tour, and as we returned to our car this little ground squirrel was eating vegetation:
Consider this your "Obligatory Cute Mammal Shot"!

1 comment:

Sharon Del Rosario said...

So glad you got to take the tour! We got there too early in the year, as you know. That tour guide was a big disappointment! It's hard to get good help. Thanks for reporting. We're putting that on our bucket list for the next trip to Alaska.