I made a few videos about our trip to Chicken Alaska this year. Here is episode 1:
By Steve Herschbach
This gold prospecting and metal detecting story takes us all the way back to the beginning - my beginning that is. I was fortunate enough to be born in the Territory of Alaska in 1957. Alaska was still very much on the frontier back in those days. My father was a farm boy from the midwest who headed for Alaska in the early 50's with not much more than an old pickup truck. He worked as a longshoreman offloading ships in Seward, Alaska for a time. He decided to get some education and earned his way through college in Fairbanks, Alaska by driving steampipe for the fleet of gold dredges that were still working there. He spent some time in Seldovia, Alaska working the "slime line" in a fish cannery. He met my mom in Seldovia, the two got married, and finally settled in Anchorage, Alaska.
I came along in 1957. My father had taken a job as a surveyor but money was tight in the early years. I was raised on wild game and garden grown vegetables, and as soon as I was old enough to handle it, I was walking a trapline every winter with my father. Dad was a hard worker however, and Alaska was having one of its many booms at the time - the construction of the oil and gas fields in Lower Cook Inlet. This was the Swanson River oilfield, discovered the year I was born.
The state was prospering and my father along with it as a surveyor on the new Swanson Field. He got the bug for flying early on, and by the time I became a teenager he finally got his dream plane at the time - a Piper Super Cub, the classic Alaska Bush airplane. Super Cubs equipped with oversize "tundra tires" can land just about anywhere you can find about 300 - 400 feet of open ground. A great little airplane and the one I ended up flying to get my own pilot's license.
Super Cub N1769P parked on knoll in Talkeetna Mountains, Alaska
It was in this same timeframe that dad got me hooked on gold prospecting. In 1972 I saw an ad in a magazine "Find Lost Treasure" and had acquired my first metal detector, a White's Coinmaster 4. This must have got discussions going about gold, and my father did have some knowledge on the subject having worked around the gold mines in Fairbanks. He took me to a little creek south of Anchorage, Bertha Creek, and I found my very first flakes of gold! By the ripe old age of 14 gold fever was in the air, I had my first metal detector, and already wanted a gold dredge. My first dredge, a 3" Keene with no floatation, was on the way to me in 1973.
Keep in mind that the price of gold had only recently been deregulated from the old fixed price of $35 per ounce. In 1972 it was around $60 per ounce, and in 1973 made it to just over $100 per ounce. The money was not my motivation at all. I already just loved finding gold, and the connection to the prospectors of old and the historical quest for gold were more compelling than any dream of striking it rich. I just wanted to find gold!
My first metal detector and first gold dredge (my 3502 had the older aluminum header box & a power jet)
A young man with a new detector, new gold dredge, gold fever, and a father willing to fly him anywhere in Alaska on adventure. How great is that? Now there was only one problem - where to go? There was no internet then, so it boiled down to libraries and research. In short order I discovered the United States Geological Survey (U.S.G.S.) bulletin series and the number one Alaska title of the series, Placer Deposits of Alaska, U.S.G.S. Bulletin 1374 by Edward H. Cobb. This one book and the references contained in it became my prospecting guide to Alaska. My desired target? Remote locations with large gold nuggets!
I read the book and certain places just jumped out at me. One was the Iditarod area and places like Ganes Creek and Moore Creek - tales told elsewhere. This paragraph of page 114 caught my eye:
"Placer mining in the Chisana district, first of creek gravels and later of bench and old channel deposits of Bonanza and Little Eldorado Creeks, has always been on a small scale with simple equipment. The remoteness of the area, shortages of water on some streams, and the small extent of the deposits all prevented the development of large operations. There has been little activity since World War II; the last reported mining was a two-man nonfloat operation in 1965."
Wow, that alone sounds pretty good. Nothing really about the gold however. The secret to the Placer Deposits series is not so much the books themselves, though they are great for getting ideas, like I did. The key is to use the references listed and in this case the main one is The Chisana-White River District, Alaska, U.S.G.S. Bulletin 630 (1916) by Stephen Reid Capps.
It turns out I had stumbled over the location of the last actual gold rush in Alaska in 1913. It was a small rush and did not last long, but it did mark the end of an era. The world was on the brink of war and the age of gold rushes was soon to be history. The history of the area is covered in the report starting on page 89. It is fascinating reading, but it was this note on page 105 that really sealed the deal:
"The gold is bright, coarse, and smoothly worn. The largest nugget found has a value of over $130, and pieces weighing a quarter of an ounce or over make up about 5 per cent of the total gold recovered. The gold is said to assay $16.67 an ounce."
Gold nuggets a quarter ounce or larger make up five percent of the gold? And that $130 nugget at $16.67 an ounce? Somewhere over seven ounces. That's all I needed to know. Very remote, worked by simple means, and large gold - I wanted to go to Chisana in general and Bonanza Creek in particular. Even the creek names scream gold - Bonanza Creek, Big Eldorado Creek, Little Eldorado Creek, Coarse Money Creek, and Gold Run. Now all we had to do was get there. But when I said remote, I meant remote. Chisana is practically in Canada 250 air miles from Anchorage.
To be continued.....
Chisana, Alaska location map
By Steve Herschbach
Edit: I chronicled this trip to Alaska first, and then told the story of my earlier 2013 Alaska Trip after the fact. I did well enough in 2013 I did not want to tip anyone off to what I was up to until I had a chance to return in 2014. Therefore this story got told first, as if the other had not happened. And then the years story was told at the link above.
My history with the Fortymile Mining District of Alaska began in the 1970's and has continued off and on ever since. Last summer I spent considerable time in the area and have decided to return again this summer.
Here is the basic plan. I leave Monday to drive from Reno to Alaska. I am stopping a day to visit family in Olympia then will continue to Anchorage, where I will pick up my brother Tom who is flying up from the Lower 48. Then we will backtrack to Chicken, Alaska and pitch a tent site at the Buzby's Chicken Gold Camp http://www.chickengold.com
Main building at Chicken Creek Gold Camp
Last year I mostly camped around but did spend a period of time at the Buzby's operation. When I was out and about I had to activate my satellite phone to stay in touch because there is no cell phone service in the Chicken area. The nearest cell phone access is a couple hours back along the road at Tok. There is WiFi access at several locations in Chicken however, one of them being at Chicken Gold Camp. The WiFi access is included in the price of staying there. I am getting a dry camp site for $14 a day (6 days get seventh day free) but it saves me $300 activating my satellite phone, and WiFi allows me to keep on the forum and stay in better touch with my wife than the sat phone. Bottom line not activating the sat phone ends up paying for nearly a month of staying at Chicken Gold Camp. Right now I am booked from June 15 until July 20 but may extend.
Since I will have pretty much daily Internet access for the entire trip I am inviting you along via this thread to see how we are doing plus to perhaps answer questions for anyone planning to visit Alaska. The Internet access in Chicken is not the greatest even at its best, as the satellite dishes point straight at the horizon just trying to get a signal. That being the case plus I will be busy I will not be posting on other forums for the duration. If you know anyone who might be interested in following this point them this way. I will report in at least a couple times a week and probably more often as time allows or something interesting happens.
My brother and I will be commuting to various locations from our base camp in Chicken, with a lot of attention paid to Jack Wade Creek about 20 minutes drive up the road. I have access to mining claims on this and other creeks in the area, but we will also spend considerable time on the public access area on the lower 2.5 miles of Jack Wade Creek. Visit this link for more information. This area is open to non-motorized mining and we will of course be metal detecting.
I have detected on Jack Wade a lot, and I can tell you it is an exercise in hard work and patience. It is all tailing piles full of nails and bullets. The nuggets are very few and far between, with even a single nugget in a day a good days work. However, the nuggets are solid and can be large so can add up if you put in a lot of time. Or not as luck does have a bit to do with it. You could easily spend a week detecting Wade Creek and find nothing. So do not be surprised when I make lots of reports indicating nothing found on a given day. We fully expect that to be the case but hope we hope a month of detecting here and at other locations will pay off.
I plan on relying mostly on my GPX 5000 but will also be using a Gold Bug Pro for trashy locations or for when I am tired from running the big gun and want to take it easy. I usually run my 18" mono coil on the GPX unless in steep terrain or brushy locations and dig everything. And that means a lot of digging! The Gold Bug Pro eliminates digging a lot of trash and is easy to handle in thick brush. My brother will mostly use my old GP 3000 he bought from me years ago. I am also bringing along the Garrett ATX kind of for backup and also to experiment around with. It also will be easier to use in brushy locations than the GPX. Finally, I hope to possibly have a new Minelab SDC 2300 get shipped to me somewhere along the way to use on some bedrock locations I know of that have been pretty well pounded to death.
Chris Ralph will be arriving in Fairbanks on July 8th so I will drive in and pick him up. He will be staying with Tom and I until I return him to Fairbanks on July 21.
High on the list is to visit with Dick Hammond (chickenminer) and other friends in the area.
The road to Alaska is just another highway these days, with the only real issue being the lack of gas in northern Canada in the middle of the night. The pumps there still do not take credit cards so when the gas station closes you are stuck there until it opens in the morning. Do not try to get gas at Dot Lake at 2AM! I will drive to Olympia to spend a night and day with my mom (12 hours) then on to Dawson Creek/Fort St. John (16 hours), then to Whitehorse (15 hours), and then to Anchorage (12 hours). Four days driving, about $500 in gas for my Toyota 4-Runner. Pick up Tom and some supplies and then back to Chicken (about 8 hours).
Anyway, you are all invited along at least via the internet to share in the adventure. You have any questions about Alaska in the process then fire away.
This post has been promoted to an article
By Steve Herschbach
Back around 2008 I was involved with the use of the White's TDI in a very big way at my mine at Moore Creek, Alaska. I made various posts at locations around the internet on our success with the TDI but never did get around to collecting it all together in one place. Until now. I just made a belated entry on Steve Mining Journal titled White's TDI at Moore Creek, Alaska - Summer 2008. Lots of gold nugget stories and photos there - check it out.
Also added a page about the TDI itself I am still working on but a ton of information there at White's PulseScan TDI Metal Detector already so went ahead and posted it.
0.31 ounce Gold Specimen found with White's TDI
Is their gold to be found in the area of Clear Alaska and if so, what type of gold is their to be found. I have a friend who has a homestead in this area and want to visit them next year summer.
Would appreciate any information of forum members who know the area and did gold prospecting over there.