ALASKA REVISITED: Part II
Through the courtesy of Lester and John Lines, the owners & operators of the Aurora Mining Company, Tim Sawyer and I had set up our camp on Harrison Creek in the East Crazy Mountains of east-central Alaska.
This being grizzly country, we armed ourselves accordingly, carrying a high powered rifle and a .44 magnum wherever we went. A couple weeks before our arrival, seven grizzlies had been spotted ambling down the grassy slope of Mastodon Dome (so called for the prehistoric remains once unearthed on the site). All seven bears eventually made their way to the Lines’ camp, passing through without incident. An avid hunter, Tim had seen the big bears up close, the previous year taking a grizzly measuring nearly nine feet.
Also in camp was “Pete” the German shepherd. A few years earlier a friend of John Lines noticed a puppy that had its snout wrapped with duct tape to keep it from barking. John's friend removed the duct tape and threatened to tell the authorities before leaving with the dog. The dog was then placed with John and the two became best friends.
Prospecting was a lot of work. Tim donned a diver’s dry suit and vacuumed the bottom of the creek, sending rocks & sediment up a hose and onto a small floating dredge where it was deposited onto a small sluice. Gold, being the second heaviest element, sank to the bottom of the sluice before it could be washed out the back.
While Tim worked the dredge, I used a pick and shovel along the creek bank, shoveling rocks, mud and sediment into five gallon pails until they were half full. Adding water, I swished it around some, before pouring the contents into a sluice set up in the creek. Sometimes, after the cloudy water passed through, flecks of “color” were visible on the bottom of the sluice. That was gold. We then washed off the sluice pad into another bucket, before transferring it into a pan. Using a little bit of water, you gently tilted the pan back and forth, allowing the water to wash away silt, exposing the gold. Generally, in a streamside operation, any gold left in the pan was so small you needed an eye dropper to pick it up. It was then transferred into a glass vial.
Though our work yielded minimal returns, it had been a good experience. Still, I was ready to try something else. There were grayling in Harrison Creek and after ten days of prospecting I was ready to go fishing.
Ten days into our stay the weather turned and Tim thought it a good idea to take a field trip. We backtracked the fourteen miles through the East Crazy Mountains, only now there was a slight difference. Three days of rainy weather had reduced the graded secondary road to muddy ruts – three hours worth – until we reached the Steese Highway once again. Not so surprisingly, we weren’t on the highway long when we hit dry weather once again.
We traveled to the settlement of Circle, Alaska, on the banks of the Yukon River. There we came across one of the locals selling books out of a large tent. For $1.25 I purchased two books, one being Hemingway’s, The Old Man and the Sea, the other was Phillip Keller’s, A Shepherd Looks At Psalm 23.
Our next stop was just down the road, at Circle Hot Springs, and a relaxing swim in water over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Outasight! Just what the doctor ordered. The next morning we made one final stop before returning to base camp. We had breakfast in yet another tiny settlement, this one called Central. This was a real treat, as breakfast in camp each day had consisted of oatmeal and half an orange.
It was also in Central where I spotted a pay phone. It was eleven o’clock in the morning. That meant it was 7 am in Batavia and Claudia hadn’t left for work yet. The phone rang twice before she picked up. “Hello?” It was good to hear her voice. “Hi Honey. I miss you. Can we have cavatelle, meatballs and sausage when I get home?”
Next stop: the Arctic Circle.