For this post we’re still at our happy place – Williwaw Campground in the Chugach National Forest. But we had so much to report that I had to break this post into two parts. Too many good pictures, and I just had a hard time choosing.
Gold Fever, Baby!
Pat had panning for gold on his list of things to do in Alaska. But not your run of the mill panning, in a trough, salted with gold for the tourists. Oh, no. We’re going prospectin’ like real miners. Crow Creek Mine in Girdwood seemed just the ticket. This historic site from 1896 has the original buildings from the mining camp that produced 700 ounces of gold per month as late as the 1940s. That’s $1,000,000 per month! It is believed that half the original deposit of gold still exists here, and people still prospect successfully. One tourist years back found a chunk of gold the size of a chicken egg.
Here’s Pat with the tools of the trade. They give you a pan, salted bag for practice, and a shovel. I put Pat in charge of the shovel.
Crow Creek, Pat searching out that promising digging spot, and the high creek bank.
We took our trainer’s advice to dig by a big rock above the current streambed. Pat heaved out a big dirt chunk and plopped some in my pan and some in his. Instructions are as follows:
- Rinse your pile of dirt until the water runs clear
- Pick out rocks bigger than your fingernail
- Add more water and shake, shake, shake (gold drops to the bottom)
- Then gently swirl the rest of the dirt to the bottom of the tilted pan leaving the gold at the top
Easy, right? Well, the washing part took flat forever! So much clay. Just when you thought you had it cleaned up, you grabbed what appeared to be a rock bigger than your fingernail only to crush another chunk of clay. And then washing starts all over. After about 30 minutes of this we realize we’d just starve to death if we had to make a living this way. Way too labor intensive and the bugs were rabid that day. No, we did not strike it rich, and as I read recently, failure IS an option.
The old buildings and abandoned miner’s items were left just as they were back in the day. Old trucks, oil lamps and stoves were scattered about the grounds.
The only wildlife we saw were the ducks, but earlier that day, a black bear ran out of the woods and swiped a kid’s backpack. They were in the process of putting bear spray in strategic places when we browsed in the gift shop. They young man who worked there said a bear broke into a local woman’s house and they shot it in her kitchen! Lots of bear activity this year.
And the flowers. We keep marveling at the brilliant colors.
These flowers were amazing. Hot pink bulbs that opened into purple blooms that looked like cupcake frosting.
More beauties and berries
Mt. Alyeska with the ski lift, and our view at lunch before the big panning expedition. This is the top spot for winter skiing in Alaska. This whole area, including Portage Valley is in what’s called a sub-arctic rainforest. For some reason we equated rainforest with hot. Not so, just has to do with the amount of precipitation. Oh so lush and green. We met some locals who told us it doesn’t really “rain” here. For the most part, we’d agree. It’s just damp as though the clouds breathed on you with a little weeping mist for good measure.
Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center
So if we can’t see all the big wildlife along the roadsides, we figure we’ll just visit a place that rescues and takes care of them. The Wildlife Conservation Center is between Girdwood and our Williwaw campground. An easy stop, so we spend a few hours here after panning for gold.
I am fascinated by the Muskox, an Artic species. They have the warmest fur of any animal in the long part of their coat that hangs down from their bellies. The Eskimos use it to make warm clothing. These beasts wander the tundra and the male has a roar similar to a lion.
One of the big boys decided to eat right by the fence and I got close enough to smell him. Imagine some really, really bad body odor. He didn’t appreciate the gawking that close, or my comments about his personal hygiene.
We’ve only seen cow moose so far, so this bull was really grand with his antlers and chin “belt” hanging down.
These reindeer have lost all that scruffy fur now that it is warm. The earlier ones we saw still had bits of winter coat and looked a little mangy. Mangy or not, there is something about a reindeer that makes you smile. You saw them, you smiled.
Meet JT. He was chilling out laying in a hole in the dirt. He’d pop his head up occasionally when a small child would cry out thinking, “I can eat that in two bites”. This guy showed off his brown bear foot pad and claws as he lay there like he was taking a bath.
More of my raven obsession.
Random Stuff I Forgot
There’s a bird that makes a call just like a referee’s whistle. The first time we heard it was in Seward and I honestly thought some kid was blowing a whistle. But it kept on and on into the night, or twilight I should say. Pat went outside at one point to confirm that it was some sort of wildlife. We learned at the Kenai Wildlife Refuge that it’s the Varied Thrush that makes that whistle. If you ever hear one you’ll know just what I mean. Time out!
Fun to see how others do this camping thing on land and on sea Not your run-of-the-mill Winnebago. No, this is a “Sea bago”. If we ever down-size, maybe we’ll just truck camp. This takes the tiny house phenomenon to a whole new level.
And poor old Poop. We did manage to take him out for a photo op in Homer, but I forgot to include him in that post. He’d get to go out more, but if you ever wake that thing up, he won’t shut up with his sneezing and laughing and talking. Pat has threatened to take his batteries out.
So that’s it for the Chugach National Forest & Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula. We’re headed next to Anchorage. See you on the way!