Click on photos for larger views- photos will open in a new window.
Stormy weather on the highway
I was looking
forward to heading back to the peace and quiet at Fox. It had been
such a hectic summer, with so many guests at the fishing lodge in
July, and the first trip had been a fantastic break from the hustle
and bustle of work.
Imagine a week
without phones, computer, electricity, running water (unless you
count the stream at the bottom of the hill!) and you'll get an idea
of what it was like at the gold mine.
We weren't completely
without amenities - I brought a TV/VCR that ran off of the cigarette
lighter, and a pile of movies. I also took along a port-a-potty
that I set up in a shed. Okay, so I'm spoiled! There was a shower
up the road about five miles, and Fairbanks was just 12 miles away,
so it was a perfect mix of wilderness and convenience. The dogs
loved the freedom too - Trick especially.
The Kenai Peninsula
was blanketed with a layer of smoke from a fire just south of Soldotna,
so I drove through the haze on my way out the morning of August
26. It was hazy most of the way to Anchorage, and north of Anchorage
the Mat-Su valley was really smokey. About 100 miles past Anchorage
I ran into rain - violent rain at times, pouring down with a vengeance.
It was as if Mother Nature was trying to make up for the extreme
dry conditions that Alaska had been in for the entire summer. It
rained for about 150 miles, then shortly after that I hit the smoke
from the wildfires in the interior. What a strange summer it had
Ten hours after
leaving home, I pulled into the driveway to the mine. I could see
the guys working down at the sluicebox. I let Trick out and she
immediately went in search for a stick. That crazy dog is happiest
with a stick in her mouth! She really enjoys her time at the mine.
stayed for about a week, and spent a lot of time searching through
rocks and playing in the mud and water. It almost felt like a
regression into childhood! The rocks were fascinating. There was
a large variety .. big chunks of quartz laced with dark and shiny
lines, large flat rocks that shimmered silver, and thousands of
pieces of iron pyrite - also known as fool's gold. Everywhere
you looked, something would catch your eye. I searched through
piles for anything that might have gold (dreams of a gold-laced
chunk of quartz were wandering through my mind). But no such luck!
brought home three buckets full of rocks, mostly for my Mom's
rock garden. I also brought home a full bucket of gold-rich dirt
from the end of the sluicebox. Did I mention that I'm spoiled?
photo to the right is the view from the campsite. We estimated
the amount of smoke by how visible the far hill was - it ranged
from slightly hazy to completely invisible. Most of the time it
looked like it does in this picture, although the morning I left
it actually cleared up enough to be almost clear of smoke. People
that live in that area were blanketed in smoke from mid-June through
August from the wildfires that burned over 6 million acres in
Alaska that summer.
ever-present smoke gave the sun an eerie appearance. I snapped
a picture late in the evening, about 9 p.m., as the sun was just
dipping down behind the trees across the highway (below left).
or no smoke, work at the mine goes on. Above (middle) Fred and
Rick work on the cat. Equipment is run hard there at the mine,
and a lot of time is spent on maintenance and repair. At the right,
Rick views the mine from the top of the sluicebox, where he was
doing some welding to repair screens. The screens categorize the
rock into different sizes, and move it out of the back of the
sluicebox, leaving the gold-bearing dirt to come down the front
(photo is of the front of the box).
even had a lesson on the dragline this time. The dragline is the
big piece of equipment with the crane that swings a huge box out
to scoop up dirt from the riverbed (see the first
trip for photos). A cable attaches to the top of the box,
and another to the front of it. Each of the cables is controlled
with a lever and a brake - so you have both hands and both feet
working simultaneously. The brake pedals are very heavy and you
have to use a lot of pressure to push them down. Rick had me swing
the box out and drop it into the pond, and then pull it forward
to drag a load of dirt up. I'm used to driving a stick shift,
but still .. it would take a long time to get very good at managing
the dragline! Rick is really impressive on it, and makes it look
Kylee had a
great time at the mine too. I don't let her loose to wander much
anymore, as she is nearly 13 years old and doesn't hear very well
these days. But after being there a few days, I felt comfortable
in taking her for walks along the mine property without a leash
on her. I had to really watch though, as she blends in so well!
I loved watching her trot around through the grass - she moves so
fluidly for an old dog.
spent most of her time running around chasing sticks. She enticed
everyone that showed up at the mine to throw sticks for her. I
kept her confined when the equipment was running, as I didn't
want her to get in the way of the dragline or backhoe (and she
surely would!). But being the great shepherd that she is, I could
always depend on her being close by if I had her loose, and so
whenever things were quiet she had the run of the property.
started limping on about the fourth day. There were so many large
rocks and she had been racing around so I suspected that she slightly
sprained or strained some muscles. I restricted her freedom after
that, much to her disappointment.
headed home on the 31st of August. The fishing lodge was scheduled
to have twelve guests on September 1st, and I'd promised that I'd
be back in time to help. It's always so hard to leave when you're
having a good time, and it was nearly 3 p.m. by the time I drove
away. I knew that would put me in the dark for the last part of
my drive home, but it was just so tough to leave!
Just a few miles
down the road was an access to the Trans-Alaska oil pipeline that
transports oil from the North Slope to Valdez (southern port). I
stopped and took pics of Trick underneath the pipeline. There were
several tourist buses there, as that is a regular stop for tourists.
Everyone got a kick out of Trick, especially when she ran down into
the small stream next to the pipeline and attacked a giant stick.
I love Trick's enthusiasm! If I could just bottle
it, I'd be rich ...
I let Trick
play for awhile in the stream before calling her back to the van.
I was tempted to head back to the mine. It's a ten hour drive
home from Fox to Kenai, and I really didn't want to go.
south of Fairbanks is full of rolling hills and the sky had cleared
to provide a touch of blue color to the browns and greens. I had
driven the road enough to have a rough idea of where all the rest
stops and towns were - Nenana, Talkeetna, Denali, Tatlanika. We
stopped briefly at Troublesome Creek where the dogs and I took
a bit of a break. I was feeling pretty stiff from sitting for
so long! Troublesome Creek is part of the Denali State Park system.
Kylee did a quick search for squirrels while we were there.
The scenery for more than 100 miles south of
Fairbanks consists of many hills like these to the left.
Kylee explores at the camping
area near Troublesome Creek, 225 miles south of Fairbanks.
one more stop on the way, to gas up in Anchorage, and we drove the
last 150 miles without stopping. I didn't get home until after midnight
and well after dark. The days of nearly 24 hour daylight were long
gone and it was pitch dark as the Kenai Peninsula was still smokey.
here and the summer nearly over, this trip to Fox would be my last
of the year. It was a good summer, with three fantastic trips (Whitehorse
dog show and the two trips to Fox).
I am already
making plans for next year's trips!
for the first trip to Fox!