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GANES CREEK, ALASKA
Nugget Hunting June 22-July 5, 2003
"MY LIFELONG DREAM -- PROSPECTING FOR GOLD IN ALASKA!!
That dream is now a reality!! I have returned from my two week gold hunting trip at Ganes Creek and what an adventure it was.
WEEK 1 22 June-28 June, 2003
*Note: My week one and two should not be confused with the first group at Ganes which was one week prior to my arrival.
The first and only time I had ever been in Alaska was in 1969. I was on a stretcher homeward bound from Vietnam aboard a medevac or "Freedom Flight" !! I didn't even get to see the scenery as I was tucked away among the other casualties in the back of the aircraft. It had always been my dream to return and experience the Alaskan wilderness firsthand and perhaps find a bit of gold while I was at it.
My departure from Oklahoma City was filled with incredible excitement and anticipation. As I winged my way northward over the mountains and snow capped peaks of Alaska I could hardly contain my enthusiasm for the upcoming adventure. The quaint settlement of McGrath, the last stop before flying into Ganes Creek, really set the mood for being in the wilds of Alaska. Derelict aircraft had found their final resting place among the weeds along the runway. The airport terminal had a small gift shop and six-foot timber wolf skins adorned the walls. Mud swallows flitted about amongst the thousands of mosquitoes that welcomed us. The locals made us feel right at home and after a cup of expresso we were on our way to Ganes Creek aboard a Cessna 207.
Twenty minutes later after a low level flight among the valleys and peaks of the vast wilderness we set down on a runway dozed out from among the tailings left from almost a hundred years of mining. Visions of gold, bears, and wolves danced in my head as we made our way to the rustic cabins that were to be our home for the next week or two.
VIDEO: "Arrival at Ganes Creek" - arriving in a Cessna 207 - 27seconds
We were greeted by Doug Clark, the owner, his wife Kathy, daughter Sarah and son Dan. Also Dave Rankin, an assistant, was part of the welcoming group. The first group for the week of 22 June-29 June included myself, Gerry McMullen and his crew and seven others. A quick lunch, a brief of the area and ground rules, and off we went to find that elusive gold!!
Less than two hours after I started searching, using my White's GMT, I uncovered a 1.48 ouncer!! It was right in the middle of the road about 100 yards from camp where I'm sure a hundred others had walked over it. My elation and visions of uncovering vast amounts of gold were short-lived however. For the next five days, as others found 5+ ouncers and many other sized nuggets I searched fruitlessly for the gold and came up empty-handed. I particularly liked the iron ID function of the White's GMT but believe I got caught up in thinking I should cover lots of ground rather than listening to the detector for deeper targets. I'm certain I passed over lots of gold that I should have been listening for and digging. I changed techniques later in the week and started finding nuggets. Finally on Friday I found a heart-shaped .31 ounce piece. I was back in the game!! The first day Tris found a 5+ ounce quartz specimen, her first find!! The third and fourth day, Dale found two 5+ ouncers, some of his first finds as well. And then Friday, Mark Tisler made his big find, and of course his first and with a used and borrowed detector no less!! . He uncovered a 51.6 quartz specimen that is estimated to have at least 3-4 ounces of gold in it. I particularly enjoyed watching the folks that made the big finds attempt to be humble, something I 'm certain I wouldn't have been able to do. And for you Mark, it couldn't have happened to a nicer person, except for me of course!! Not counting the big specimen Mark found, the group found over thirty ounces of gold my first week .
VIDEO: Dales' first large nugget, 5.55 ounces 27 seconds
Doug congratulating Mark on big find 40 seconds
Group from my first week 24 seconds
As regards the weather at Ganes Creek, I could have sworn I was still in Oklahoma!! With 50 degree swings, rain, and wind, it was no different there than in Oklahoma. If you don't like the weather, just wait a few minutes, it'll change!! I did like the around the clock daylight, however, there was more daylight than I had energy to keep my detector moving across the ground.
The wildlife should be mentioned as well. I saw plenty of beavers and their dams. Loons and ducks inhabited the many ponds and creeks, or "Cricks" as Doug called them. One day as I was detecting near a creek a Mallard hen jumped up from behind me and landed in the creek feigning a broken wing. I immediately looked for the nest and sure enough, just inches away was a nest with eight large eggs in it. When that duck jumped up I just knew a bear had me it startled me so bad!! There were plenty of fresh bear signs and I must admit, when I was off by myself, I spent a bit of time looking over my shoulder trying to not look like bear food. When you visit Ganes Creek be sure and have Doug relate some of the bear tales he told us. Tree swallows, or mud swallows as the locals call them, were in abundance as well as other swallows that made their nests under the cabin overhangs. Dave Rankin made a swallow house above the greenhouse door that was home to a few of the beautiful black and white tree swallows. And even though they flew around the clock, I don't think they made a dent in the skeeter population. Ospreys were seen building a nest in the superstructure of one of Dougs' drag line machines that was sitting off the edge of the runway.
Have you ever seen a mastodon tusk? Well, I hadn't until my visit there. Doug had a few specimens from his other mine that he had uncovered. Natives use the ivory tusks to make carvings.
Another fascinating aspect of the Ganes Creek mine is a machine shop and old barge along the creek. A couple of miles down the road from the end of the runway is an old tin-roofed building. I took refuge there during one of the rainy mornings. Inside, an old 1928 Buick and a complete machine shop that looks like it's ready to go but has probably not been used in over 50 years. Then a mile or so beyond that is an old barge, a rusting relic of days gone by. It's best days may be over but the thousands of swallows making their home there may not agree.
VIDEO: Doug showing Mastodon tusks 34 seconds
old barge 12 seconds
There are two folks I would like to mention. Gerry McMullen and Dave Rankin. Gerry was a tireless hunter and was very free with his expertise gained from years of metal detecting. He took time out from his own pursuits to ensure all of us were doing our very best. I credit him with helping me to hone my own techniques which was instrumental in the success of my second week in finding a lot of the small nuggets. Dave was always eager to participate and his enthusiasm for the hunt was inspirational. He was most helpful and a lot of fun to search with. Kudos to both of you.
WEEK 2 29 June-5 July, 2003
With a less experienced and smaller group than my first week, and with such a remarkable first two weeks of finds prior to that we knew our work was cut out for us. The group included myself, Wayne and his son Troy, Paul from Palmer Alaska, Tom Gray, Rick and Lynn and a spirited old-timer, Francis Oline. Francis was definitely an inspiration as due to an accident he requires the use of oxygen and had to tote a bottle with him at all times!! And at the age of 82 he never slowed down and I think, shamed us all into greater efforts.
We hunted for all it was worth but the findings were slim. After a couple of days Rick and Lynn decided to do some hard-rock mining with the help of Dave Rankin and got some decent looking color and tucked it away in a vial. Troy struck paydirt the first day with a nice nugget and then like me on my first week he ran dry for awhile. Paul picked up a beautiful one ouncer on Friday along with a couple of other nice nuggets. Thanks to a suggestion from Gerry from the previous week and Dave Rankin I started working a bench past the end of the runway and started finding nice small nuggets. On Thursday we all decided to work an area above that, that Doug had mined and when we got out of the truck I started swinging my detector on the hillside and immediately unearthed a 1/3 ouncer. One more was found there by Dave before we returned to the camp. On Friday it seemed we all wound up working the bench again and everyone found small nuggets and Dave hogged a one ouncer that I was supposed to find!! (Just kidding Dave!!). Francis finally struck paydirt there as well and uncovered 8 small nuggets. The total take for the week was a little better than 6 ounces. Not great by the previous weeks standard but gold nonetheless.
For myself, I wound up with a total of 3.14 ounces for the two weeks. Not a great find but at least I didn't get skunked. I can say that no matter how small or large the nugget was that I found, the same thrill went through me each and every time I unearthed some of that shiny glittering gold. I left Ganes Creek with a certain sadness that the adventure was over but with a tremendous feeling of satisfaction at the same time. I'm afraid that "Gold Fever" is here to stay.
As a final tribute to the Ganes Creek crew, I left a momento. Not wanting to be a litter-bug I collected all the .22 shells, cartridge cases, foil, and various pieces of metal that I uncovered while searching for gold. Then on my last evening, in the middle of the night, while all was quiet in the camp, I executed my plan. With the help of Dave I procured a white board and some silicone glue and went to work. I very neatly glued the various metals onto the board and spelled out "Ganes Creek" and with a small thank you penned in on the end of the board, I glued it just over the doorway leading to the fridges in the back room of the kitchen. In fact, I used enough glue so that they would have to tear the building down to remove it if they didn't like it!! Hopefully this will prompt others to leave even more grandiose momentos, thus making Ganes Creek a litter free and friendly environment.
In summary, I think we would have liked to have found more gold but I went for the opportunity to fulfill a lifelong dream and that I did. Finding the gold was gravy!! As regards the owners I can say that I was immensely pleased with the welcome we received, the hospitality that was exhibited and the fun we had. The Clark family are very genuine folks and one thing is for certain, Doug can spin a yarn with the best of them!! The cuisine was sumptuous and plentiful thanks to the efforts of Kathy and Sarah. I also had the good fortune to meet Juanita, the wife of the late Dan Wiltz. She is from Louisiana and so am I and we had some great Cajun cooking that I hadn't experienced in a long, long time. Thanks Juanita for showing me a great time and sharing your "Cajun" influence during your short visit. Allison, Juanita's niece, was there for a short visit as well. Having indicated a desire to go metal detecting I rigged up my spare detector for her and off we headed to the other side of the runway to pick up some of that gold. About an hour later, after doing battle with the skeeters and finding a lot of trash Allison opted for the confines and sanctity of her quarters back in camp!! I'm certain she will return at a later date with a bad case of "Gold Fever". I would also like to point out that Doug and his crew did everything possible to assist us in finding gold. From digging tailings, to providing transportation and taking us to new areas, he attempted to optimize our chances of success. Dan kept us in fresh dirt to dig in. Those big machines can sure move some ground in a hurry. One thing Doug did tell us was that he couldn't tell us where the gold was and if he could, he would go get it himself. Now that makes sense!! I would not hesitate to go again and truly hope I have that opportunity.
To peruse the Ganes Creek website use the following link http://www.clark-wiltz.com/
White's Metal Detectors: http://www.whitesmetaldetectors.com/
Gerry's Metal Detecting: "Swing It Slow, Keep it Low" www.gerrysdetectors.com
For a list of nuggets found at Ganes Creek go to http://www.akmining.com/mine/nuggets.htm
To learn about nugget hunting, to read some good stories and to purchase books on nugget hunting be sure and visit Jim McCulloch's web site at http://www.goldhunter.com/
A great forum for Gold Bugs: http://bb.bbboy.net/alaskagoldforum-viewforum?forum=2
Good luck and hope you find the Mother Lode!!
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