Posted by: Michelle Mitton | June 16, 2008

Crow Creek Mine–and a Brush with Death

Crow Creek Mine Girdwood, AlaskaLast Friday morning the alarm went off as usual and I ignored it–as usual. It always goes off at 6:30 but I figure I have a good 30 minutes before Lillian knocks on the door, wanting to know what’s for breakfast, and the boys knock pictures off the walls in the hall with their wrestling. Andrew, however, did get up and he opened the curtains then said “Let’s do something. I don’t think I’ll go into work today–“

Just like that.

I was thrilled though I did wish in a not-so-subtle-rather-grumbly way from under my pillow that he’d waited another hour to announce his intentions. Another hour would have felt good . . .

The weather was sunny and beautiful so we decided it was a good day for checking out Crow Creek mine, a gold mine 30 minutes south of Anchorage in Girdwood, which began back in 1898. That in itself is interesting because I honestly stand of awe of anyone gutsy enough to come to Alaska and stake a claim in the middle of nowhere 100 years ago (though I’m well aware people have lived here without the benefits of cable t.v. for thousands of years).

Crow Creek Mine in Girdwood, AlaskaAnyway, we got there before noon and paid our fee at the entrance shack ($5 per kid, $15 for adults) because apparently there are actually people who go down there to pan for gold professionally. As in that’s their job–no really, I’m completely serious, there are guys that go to the mine and look for those pretty little flakes all day long. They must only do it in summer because I can’t imagine trying anything with the water and ground frozen. No one could want gold that badly.

We took our gold pans, shovel, bucket and complimentary little Ziploc bags full of dirt (guaranteed to have actual flakes) and headed to the creek to seek our fortune.

According to the pamphlet we were thoughtfully provided with at the entrance, at its height the mine was producing 700 ounces of gold per month (which in real dollars would be worth approximately the same as 10 gallons of gas) but those days are long gone.

Crow Creek Mine in Girdwood, AlaskaI showed the kids the basic panning technique then when they were ready I dumped their Ziploc baggies of dirt into their pans to give it a go and sure enough, each pile of dirt produced half a dozen or so authentic tiny flakes of gold but I’m afraid that’s all the gold we ever saw the entire time. (To see a video clip of our panning in action click here).

There were a few people panning along with us and no one ever found anything–I’m guessing the creek was panned out completely sometime back in 1949 and the only gold you’ll see are the bucks the tourists pay to play prospector (I wanted to know where that practice dirt had come from). But it didn’t really matter because the kids found that throwing rocks in the water was a lot more fun anyway. Soon the real entertainment was the rock-throwing contest across the creek to see who could get their rocks to shatter against the boulder followed by the Ultimate Test of Manliness aka “Let’s see who can keep their hand in the cold water the longest” (Spencer won).

Gold Panning at Crow Creek MineWhich brings me to the brush with death part–this is the point where Andrew saved David’s life. While I sat in the warm sun the guys walked across the creek via a tree trunk that made a bridge and hiked up a cut bank forming a cliff so they could push boulders down into the water below (I believe this is the first game ever invented and dates back to prehistoric times).

David was pushing on a boulder with his foot when the gravel below gave way and he slipped, lost his balance and started to go down to the waiting rocks below. Somehow Andrew saw it happening and like a superhero, with lightning-fast reflexes, snatched him back by the arm at the last second as he was falling to his death. Pretty amazing and I’m very glad I wasn’t there, it would have given me a stroke. Though I suppose if I was there they probably wouldn’t have been allowed to be standing at the top of a dangerously shifting cliff playing among boulders above raging glacial waters of death. Moms spoil all the fun apparently.

Andrew was breathing pretty hard by the time they got back (I think he was afraid to tell me that he almost lost one of the kids along the way) and David was complaining that his left arm was now longer than his right but overall a very nice day. And we have 14 flakes to show for it.

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