Monday, June 28, 2010

Day 15 Heading Home

We were told a really interesting story about an Alaska Air Line airplane that had been hit by a salmon an eagle dropped so they painted the plane like a salmon.
We got to see the salmon plane. We were so excited. While the story might be an urban myth it is the only one like it. It took 30 people, including 3 Hollywood set designers a month to paint a Chinook salmon on both sides. It is supposedly the most intricately decorated air plane in the world.
Heading from the 49th state to the 50th state.

A sun set! We haven't seen one of these in awhile.

Day 13 Fairbanks

Fairbanks was set up as a trading post in 1901 by Capt. Barnette, a Yukon riverboat captain, banker and swindler. He got the idea to set up a trading post where the Tanana River crossed the Valdez-Eagle Trail but ended up between the Tanana and Chena Rivers when his steam boat ran aground. He named the trading post after the 26th VP, Charles Fairbanks. The Tanana Valley turned out to be an important agriculture area. Fairbanks is known for an ice fog in the winter as well as the aurora borealis. Our first stop of the day is the Trans Alaska Pipeline. The 48" diameter steel pipeline moves 650,000 barrels of oil per day the 800 miles, across 3 mountain ranges, 800 rivers and streams from Prudhoe Bay in the north to the port of Valdez in the south in 14 days.
The difficulty in building the pipeline involved moving hot oil across the permafrost. The pipeline had to be elevated to keep the permafrost from melting. It also had to be built to withstand forest fires, earth quakes, and gun shots.

This is a pipeline pig. It runs the whole length of the pipeline to clean it, it can also detect corrosion, irregularities in the pipe such as bending and buckling.
Next stop was the El Dorado Mine which was operated by the Swede Brothers in the early 1900's. It is currently owned by the Binkley family.

We rode on a replica of the Tanana Valley Railroad. The original picked up supplies arriving on sternwheelers which had been hauled up the Yukon and Tanana Rivers then transported them to over two dozen gold camps scattered throughout the Interior Alaska. The relationship between the sternwheelers and the train was a close one.
This is an example of placer mine where miners would shovel dirt then wash it with water.
We traveled through a permafrost tunnel and learned about underground gold mining called drift mines which followed the veins of gold-bearing gravel. Miners observed the way soil, rocks, and mineralization lay then sampled with a gold pan. They would then estimate which way a tunnel should go. Rock formations created natural collection areas for gold. Soil, gravel, or ore that contained gold and yielded a profit was "pay dirt."
Creek miners used the flowing waters of a small stream. The principles are the same whether panning on your hands and knees or operating a 30' sluice box.

With winter, mining activity came to a halt which the water supply used to wash gold bearing gravel turned to solid ice but the work of drift mining-tunneling into frozen soil several feet underground-went on. Shafts were used to haul gold bearing dirt and would be amassed into large piles which would be processed in the summer.

This is a typical drift mining operation. Ore is removed though tunnels during the winter season and stockpiled for summer clean up. The gravel is loaded into the bucket which is pulled across on the wires then dumped. In the summer the gravel is then washed in the sluice.
This is a modern day operation. The bucket is larger, the sluice is larger, and more dirt is processed but it still follows the same basic principle. The final step still uses a metal mining pan. Dexter and Yonda Clark have spent many years with the back breaking labor of mining in a remote camp.
After our tour we got to pan for gold with our own little poke filled with pay dirt.
Owen even had some help from Dexter.
Afterwards we headed to the cook shack and trading post to have our gold weighed, enjoy fresh baked cookies and hot chocolate.
Next stop was dredge #8. In the 1920's dredges used placer techniques to recover gold. They replaced the smaller operations. The dredge weighed hundreds of tons, floated on their own ponds and operated only in the summer. They could process tons of paydirt per day and were profitable when gold was less than $35 per ounce.
In 1898 Charles Binkley hiked over the Chilkoot Pass with other stampeders he was not in search of gold but to chart and navigate the Yukon River, Tanana River, and their tributaries. He became a well known boat-builder and river pilot memorizing thousands of miles of river and delivering thousands of tons of freight. Charles Binkley and his son lived among Indians, Eskimos, trappers, traders, miners, missionaries, prospectors, and adventures along the rivers.
To the boys great excitement, free homemade donuts and hot chocolate was on board.
We got to see a bush pilot take off. Much of Alaska is not connected by roadways and can only be reached by small air plane. Travel in the remote areas is done by dog sled and bush plane.
We went past Susan Butcher's Trail Breaker Kennel. Susan Butcher won the 1,100 mile Iditarod Dog Sled Race from Anchorage to Nome four times. In 1988 she won every race she entered. She also is the only person to mush a dog sled team to the top of Denali. Susan died of leukemia in 2006. Her husband and two daughters still live and run the kennels. Sled dogs are some of the most best cared for athletes. They get great food-salmon and get to do what they love most-run. I thought sled dogs were only kept as racers but many people in Alaska, especially people living in remote areas and trappers keep dogs as transportation in the winter time. Dog teams are more reliable that snow mobiles in the Alaskan winters plus they provide great companionship in such remote areas.
This is where the clear spring fed waters of the Chena River and the glacial silt laden Tanana River meet continuing until they meet up with the mighty Yukon River.
This is an Athabascan Indian fish camp which is their summer home. It is very much like the original Chena Village that was here in the early 1900's. Athabascan Indians were nomadic people following caribou and moose which would supply their clothing and food.

The difference between caribou and reindeer....the fence!
Original Athabascan garments.
These beautiful wild pink roses were everywhere.

This is a traditional log house with a cache that was used for storage. It was raised to keep animals out.
A trapper's cabin.
Chief Sila's cabin from the original Chena Village.
Sled dogs.

We then headed off for a salmon bake. It was SO good. afterwards the kids got to play.
I had to take a pick of this old steam shovel, it reminds me of the book Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel.
We walked around Pioneer Park which is a group of houses from the early 1900's that were moved to a single location.

These purple flowers smell amazing.
To cap off the day we saw the Golden Heart Review about Sourdoug life in the origional Palace Saloon. Such a great day!

Day 14 66° 33′ 44″

The kids got to go to the Dog Mushing Museum.
I then headed up past the Arctic circle 66° 33′ 44″...I got to be co-pilot!

We got to see a heard of caribou.
The pipeline is pretty important in the remote areas of Alaska-which is pretty much all of Alaska. Trappers and people who live out in the bush like to travel via sled dog on the road that runs along the pipe line. The pipeline is monitored 24 hours a day, should travelers get into trouble they would most certainly be rescued.
We landed at Coldfoot. Coldfoot started as a mining camp, it is one of the few stopping places along the Dalton Highway-414 mile Haul Road which connect the oil fields of Prudhoe Bay with Fairbanks. It is Alaska's most remote and challenging roads and all gravel. The road was made famous in the tv show Ice Road Truckers. The population of Coldfoot is 12 and is 260 miles north of Fairbanks.
The beautiful Brooks Range.

We then headed north to Wiseman, a historic mining town 3 miles off the Dalton Highway on the middle fork of the Koyukuk River. There are several interesting historical buildings where I got to see the traditional log cabins. The moss can be seen on the inside as insulation between the logs. The population of 22 is a mix of Eskimo and non-native people. There are just 9 villages in the Far North of Alaska and I got to see two.
Wiseman is on the boundary of Gates of the Arctic National Park. The village of Anaktuvuk Pass is located in the National Park. The Nunamiut, an Eskimo people used the broad, treeless pass as a camp while they were following the migrating herds of caribou. In 1938 they established a permanent settlement there. The remote village, accessible only by bush plane has a population of 308. Know what the difference is between an Eskimo and an Inuit? Eskimo is the collective term referring to Inuit who live on the northern arctic coastal regions and Yupik primarily live in the remote northern inland areas.
Also around these parts the greatest temperature differential occurs with -40 to -60 in the winter to 100 degrees in the summer.

A more modern house. There is no electricity or in door plumbing.

The Dalton Highway.

One last dandelion.