Our family’s trip to Alaska had been plotted and planned for months in advance. All airline tickets procured, houses and hotels not only booked, but scrutinized to the ‘nth’ degree. Activities chosen with back up plans if needed as fillers or replacements. So it was surprising we found ourselves with a ‘free’ day.
“Let’s go panning for gold”, was the resounding cry we heard from the male members of our group. “Ok”, our ‘tour director’ agreed. “But instead of going to one of those cheesy touristy places, let’s buy supplies and pan for gold in a local creek ourselves.”
So that was our plan. We let ‘Mr. Research’ google a local creek, then stopped off at the Sportsman Shop to pack in our supplies. Once we entered the store, everyone scattered in different directions. This store was better than any Cabella’s or Dick’s!!! One of our group immediately headed to the Go Pro display, another was found perusing the gift section. Who knew where in the store ‘Mr. Research’ wandered off to… as he is known for his disappearing. Eventually we all met up in the Gold Panning aisle… an aisle you WON’T find in New Jersey.
Pan, pick, and vials in hand… we checked out and headed on our way. We were assured by ‘Mr. Research’ that creeks were not that far away. After missing a turn off and driving a few extra miles before realizing the mistake and turning around… we ended up at the intersection of Fish Creek Rd… and Fairbanks Creek Rd. Sounds perfect, right? We thought so.
Pulling in to the dirt parking lot we quickly realized we weren’t in Kansas any more Toto. Mud covered diesel pick up trucks and Rvs were haphazardly parked and each one had an empty flat-bed trailer which looked like it carried an ATV.
A fella was talking on his cell phone… dressed in muddy boots, dirty jeans, and hooded sweatshirt… and was sporting a few days worth of facial hair and uncombed mess on his head. We ‘city folks’ were dressed in our LL Bean and Columbia backpacking best. Oh… and the clouds were rolling in fast as the wind picked up.
The executive decision to continue on our mission was made… and we put one foot in front of the other and began walking down the dirt road. Our first sign was to beware of heavy equipment using the road… which started us giggling. How funny would it be to stumble upon hard-core panners using machinery who take this mining activity seriously… as we unpack our little pans and travel pick??? Visions of shotguns being aimed at us danced through our heads.
The dirt road went on forever… with no sight of a creek anywhere in the area. ‘Mr. Research’ ran ahead of us to check things out. We began to worry about him when he didn’t return… but we kept on walking. It began to sprinkle, and got cold… then the sun would come out and it would get hot. More rain and cold, more sun and heat.
Guys in pick-up trucks bumping down the road in the opposite direction smiled and waved at us as they passed. We waved back in return… and kept walking… wondering if their smile meant they knew something we didn’t.
Hark! We finally have cell service!!! The ‘tour director’ tried to call ‘Mr. Research’… but his phone either wasn’t on, or didn’t have cells where he was. Checking our co-ordinates we realized there wasn’t a creek, or any other body of water for that matter anywhere near us so another executive decision to abort our mission was made. We split up in to two groups. The ‘tour director’ and myself would head back and get the car… while the remaining two continued on the road to meet up with ‘Mr. Research’. Just as we turned and walked about 20 paces… he returned.
Ok… so venturing out on our own to a creek we couldn’t find was not the ideal situation. However, after sitting on boats, busses, trains, and planes… the fresh air and exercise was a welcomed activity. A trip to the cheesy, touristy, gold panning place would be added to the next day’s itinerary to satisfy the guys need to do something ‘macho’.
Suckers for good marketing… we chose to go to GOLD DAUGHTERS because their advertising flyer appealed to us. Metallic gold cardstock with matte black ink… in addition to using a heart in their logo… PLUS a guarantee you would strike GOLD… AND you could PAN ALL DAY had us excited.
What a HOOT!!! We let the guys do the panning as we watched. Originally we girls were planning on laughing while taking pictures, but we quickly became fascinated with the process.
One of the owners, Jordan stayed with us and taught the guys the subtle way to dip the pan to wash away the rocks and dirt… and then swirl the pan with a quick flick of the wrist to uncover the gold pieces.
The process takes patience and concentration. When finished, you use a dry finger to touch the gold which then sticks to your finger… then you touch it to water in a small vial and it easily drops to the bottom. When finished, you have the option to grab a shovel of rocks from the huge pile, and continue to pan… for as long as you’d like.
All in all… Jordan made this a fun experience. She has been panning for gold as a hobby since she was a little girl. Her passion for this fun pastime just oooozed out of her. She was a great and patient instructor, as well as a wealth of information about the area and local geology. The tractor trailer of fossils was a happy surprise… as were the rustic machinery displays placed around the grounds.
By the end of our visit the guys each had a vial of gold, smiles on their faces, we had photos, and a memory of a wonderful day.