Alaska, the Last Frontier - Summer 2012 travel blog

2am at the campground

Gold Panner's game

learning how to pan

gold dredge

dredge buckets

gold specks

giant gold piece

stadium sign

Frosty Bottom band

pipe line

The longest day of the year started with a tour of a giant gold dredge. We boarded a train for the site and along the way a narrator filled us in on the history and process of gold mining here while overhead screens displayed old photos illustrating his comments. A very slick tour. Most of our fellow tourists were taking a land tour package along with their Alaska cruise so many people had to be managed efficiently. The train allowed everyone to see and hear and the dredge was so huge, no one could miss it. Once it was known that there was plenty of gold here, large companies brought in million dollar operations to suck it out of the ground. In the fall men inserted giant probes into the ground which would insert water into the permafrost. In the winter the men would mine beneath the ground, filling buckets with the gold laden gravel. Once summer arrived a giant dredge would scoop up the gravel/gold mix and spit out the gravel after the gold had been separated from it. There is still plenty of gold in the Fairbanks area and while the price of gold is so high, there are still many people and companies here mining it.

On the tour we were taught how to pan and given a small packet of gravel sure to contain some precious grains. My pan yielded a sample worth $12 according to the official weigh in. Many bought bezels as containers for these specks, which make lovely necklaces and keepsakes from this experience.

Along the way we passed the oil pipeline, an engineering marvel. There were many environmental conners when it was first built in 1977, but for the most part it has done the job of safely transporting the oil from Prudhoe Bay to Valdez perfectly. The supply of oil has diminished greatly and some day soon it will all have to be dismantled. Hopefully they can do as good a job of taking it down as they did putting it up. Once we leave Fairbanks we will see the pipeline regularly as we drive along side it south to Valdez.

The evening began with a free concert given by the Frosty Bottoms in the botanical garden of the University of Alaska-Fairbanks. The band was worth what we paid for it, but on such a glorious evening, sitting on the grass surrounded by lilacs blooming was a pleasure indeed.

Then we headed to the stadium to attend a Midnight Sun baseball game featuring the local Gold Panners team. Although the stadium has lights, this game started at 10:30pm and the lights were not to be used, because the sun did not set until 1:45am and would come right up again. It never got dark. The stadium sat about 1,000 and we were told that they would keep selling tickets as long as they could, so we got there early to get good seats. Many folks brought lawn chairs and sat along the fence so there truly was room for all who wanted to celebrate the Solstice in such a special way. It felt strange to be yawning so hard when the sun was so bright in the sky. We made it to the 7th inning stretch and called it a night, even though the night was nowhere to be seen.

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