Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Alaska: The Last Frontier, Part III - Crow Creek Mine

I wanted to find out what there was to do and see after we arrived in the Anchorage area so I perused many different brochures, booklets and magazines . There was one place that stood out because of the colorful pictures. I wondered if it was all hype and no substance but, nonetheless, along with the Alaska Wildlife Center, the Alaska Sealife Center and the Reindeer Farm, it became a place worthy of the list. I just had to wait for my sister to arrive.

So off we went to see Crow Creek Mine.

Just south of Anchorage, located in the town of Girdwood in the Chugach Mountains, mining began at Crow Creek in 1896. It was once one of the largest hydraulic placer gold mines in south central Alaska. It is said that the mine produced 700 ounces each month during its peak. When production stopped sometime around World War II, it was believed that more gold remained than was ever mined.

The Toohey family purchased the property, including the gold claim, in 1969. They have made it their mission to preserve the natural beauty and scenery of the mine as well as its history. The gold resources that remain allows visitors to experience what it was like for the prospectors who first arrived at Crow Creek—the awesome beauty and the backbreaking work which placer mining and gold panning is.

As was usual, the clouds were low and gray but rain did not threaten. This made every color found at the mine fully saturated. It was a feast for one's eyes. We stopped at the gift shop, which was just a rough and rustic little building with a few trinkets for sale, to pay our fee and get the low-down on the place. We were told we could pay a fee for a seeded bag of dirt, meaning we'd certainly find gold in it, and we could go to the creek itself and pan for gold. We decided against making the purchase but taking the walk down to the creek was a sure thing.

Pamela and I walked in and out of and past the old buildings and antique equipment of the mine camp until we came to a fork in the path. We decided to take the long way to the creek, which allowed us to find some lovely wildflowers and small waterfalls along the way. We made it to the creek and found some folks trying their hand at gold panning and these folks seemed a bit serious about it. We walked downstream along a path and around some large trees and found others also trying to pan for gold. These folks were definitely tourists who didn't know the first thing about it. (Now, mind you, our great grandfather once made a living at gold panning and my sister has his old gold pans and has done a bit of it herself). One little boy was shoveling up surface sand and rock with his little trowel and obviously wasn't finding any gold. Pamela advised him, "You have to dig deeper. No, deeper! And dig around the big rocks." He looked at her like she was nuts. I think I told him to listen to her because she knows what she's talking about. Then she decided to put her hand into the creek water to scoop up some sand. Within about 5 seconds she said her hand was just about frozen—the kind of cold that feels like needles assailing your skin. And the miners did this during winter, too. Brrrr!!!

Pamela and I started to head back to the trail leading to the mine camp when we spied a wooden bench around a small copse of trees and bushes. We sat for a bit and were chatting about this or that when Pamela bumped my arm and said, "Look!" I leaned forward to see around her to where she was looking and to my utter delight, behind some bushes at the start of and on the very path back to camp, stood a magnificent, beautiful, and very wild, black bear—all of about 15 to 20 feet away. We knew it was standing up but all we could see was its head. Its head was perfectly round and its fur looked healthy and shiny, and its ears were perked up with curiosity. My sister did exactly what the bear books tell you to do: Speak calmly in a low friendly voice. This usually scares the black bears away. I started saying something like "Hello, baby. Aren't you gorgeous," just as I was scrambling to get my camera up and focused. And, although Pamela did speak in a friendly voice, it held a bit of excitement versus calm and it was not quite what I would call low. I may have been guilty of this, too, I'm not sure, but it was in her normal, when-we-see-adorable-animals, high, aren't-you-so-cute, squeaky kind of voice. It still scared the bear away—right up the path. And way too effectively, too. I never did get a photo of it. And it would have been a great photo because this bear's face was just that magnificent. Sigh. Better to have the memory than nothing at all. Then, just two or three minutes later, two women and a little girl appeared from the path. "Did you see the bear?" we asked. "What bear!?" was the response. Guess not.

Pamela and I set off up the path and as we were wondering aloud where the bear went, we saw off to the left a wide swath of flattened grasses, bushes and twigs. That's where the bear went when it heard the women coming down the path. So glad it was a black bear rather than a brown bear aka Grizzly! Things might have turned out quite differently. But, wow, we couldn't have asked for a better day, to which the photos will attest.


I can't help it. I love old trucks.

Pamela photographing some of the colorful flowers found at the Crow Creek Mine.

This building was the cookhouse.

A very rusted typewriter found when the Tooheys were clearing the site for restoration.

I loved this old picture of dogs that was found amongst many of the items left behind when the mine closed down during World War II.

A pitcher and wash basin in the bedroom off the main gathering room of the cookhouse.

The wood stove used to make thousands of meals.

The prep area and drainboard. I think the steel box at the left was an icebox.

The honor system was at work at the Crow Creek Mine. Leave your $2.00 in the bucket and take a soda out of the ice cold water running from one of the many streams.

An old wood stove that was once used to heat one of the many miner's cabins. I love that craftsmen made an effort to make the mundane beautiful.

This lovely area was located adjacent to one of the log cabins which is currently occupied by a member of the Toohey family. It couldn't be a prettier setting for a wedding.

A wildflower found on the long path to the creek.

Pamela with her hand in the creek, digging in the sand. Her fingers would've eventually snapped off if she'd continued to seek gold this way.

The rushing creek as seen above turned into this narrow gorge. It was loud and churning and looked very dangerous if one fell into the creek and was swept away. Yikes!

One of the miner's cabins.

Have I mentioned Fireweed, yet? But, of course! I did in the last blog post. It's beautiful, versatile and a favorite of many people.

And the bees! They were everywhere being busy as bees should be.

My very favorite bee photo to date.

Crow Creek Mine was nothing if not charming.

Good use for old equipment.

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