In Alaska, visitors revisit the gold rush

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FAIRBANKS, Alaska -- Always wanted to see if you could find gold in them thar hills? Interested in a taste of what prospecting was like? Craving a history lesson? Try visiting Gold Dredge #8, the only gold mine in Alaska open to the public.

Meal time in an Alaska gold mine. Upon arrival at the Gold Dredge, visitors view a 20-minute film, which gives them the history of the dredge and shows some of the hardships the miners faced.

The film, shown in theaters that are converted bunkhouses, provides visitors with a taste of how difficult the miners lives were. It also highlights various methods miners used to thaw the earth before gold could be harvested.

This includes driving hollow metal poles into the frozen earth inch by inch. Water was then poured through the tubes to melt the ground.

After the film, guests are taken on a guided tour of the premises. Visitors are then encouraged to roam through a historically preserved bunkhouse and the dredgemaster's house-cum-museum.

Artifacts on display include old photos of the miners, their tools and many years of dredge records. There is also a room devoted to fossils, which were uncovered by the miners. (It is a truly fascinating reminder that camels and mammoths once roamed in that region).

Afterward, guests explore the dredge, where they can see the mining process from beginning to end.

The dredge is almost 100 feet long, and the bucket line, which did the actual dredging, consists of 68 buckets with a capacity of 6 cubic feet. The buckets moved in a continuous loop, dumping their contents into a funnel shaped hopper. The gravel was washed through the hopper into a perforated rotating trommel that sorted the gold by size. After the gold was separated, the water, gold and remaining debris fell on to sluice boxes or "gold-saving tables." Following the gold removal, the tailings were sorted into either coarse or fine gravel and conveyed off the stern.

During its 30-year operation, the dredge moved only 4.5 miles and uncovered more than 7.5 million ounces of gold. Prices for gold remained steady from the mine's opening in 1928 at $35 an ounce until its close in 1959. Today, the gold's estimated value would be more than 1 billion dollars.

After the dredge, visitors are ushered to a panning shed so they can get hands-on experience panning for gold. A bag of dirt, a pan and a water trough are provided; guides are available if anyone needs assistance.

At this point, guests get the chance to learn such technical panning terms as "levarite" (leave it right there), "deadpan" (no gold) and "panned out" (you accidentally dumped all your dirt into the trough).

The soil is so rich in gold that everyone turns up a few flakes. Guests can have their gold weighed and find out its value at the gift shop.

Clear lockets and chains can be purchased so visitors can show off the take.

Of course, an assortment of other goodies are available there too, including an $800 gold chunk.

After working up an appetite, guests are treated to an old-fashioned miner's luncheon. It includes Pioneer Stew (beef stew with vegetables) biscuits, muffins and a choice of soft drinks. The lunch is served family-style on long tables in a large mess-hall setting.

Gideon Garcia, general manager of the site, says the facility is unique because it provides hands-on interaction and feel people leave the site enriched by the experience.

Garcia's enthusiasm has even expanded to the outdoor decor. He is in the midst of setting up a "gear garden," using old pieces of equipment for flower borders, objets d'art and the like.

Although the dredge is closed during the winter months, Garcia lives there year-round. He makes sure there are no intruders, does damage control and takes care of future bookings. To amuse himself, during the long Alaska winter, he cuts his own ski runs.

Gold Dredge #8 is owned by Holland America-Westours, and operated by Gray Line of Alaska. The Gold Dredge is available for drive-up as well as to those who take a Holland America Westours or Gray Line of Alaska tour.

Travellers who arrive at the Gold Dredge on their own can purchase admission for $20 adults and $13 children which includes entrance to the Gold Dredge, touring the dredge, introduction video, exhibits, gold panning. The Miners Lunch is sold separately at the entrance and is $8 adults and $6 children.

The Discover The Gold Tour includes motorcoach transportation from Fairbanks hotels, and all the above including the lunch for $58. This full tour is included in the HAW and GLA tours.

The facility does have a private mess-hall that can be reserved for groups.

Gold Dredge #8
Phone: (907) 457-6058
Fax: (907) 457-8888
Gray Line of Alaska
Phone: 1-800-544-2206

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