Monday, August 01, 2011

Gold-Panning in Juneau, Alaska

     It was wet and misty in the afternoon when we arrived in Juneau, Alaska aboard Holland America Line's  Zuiderdam. Due to a last-minute schedule change with sister ship Westerdam, we were relegated to anchoring in the bay, and had to take a tender boat ashore. The ride was smooth, though, and we were quickly whisked to the pier where we met our Gold Panning Adventure tour guide, Dig-In Dave.

Gold Panning Adventure this way!

     Dave was hard to miss in his prospector's hat, red plaid shirt, suspenders and knee-high rubber boots. Just in case, though, the Zuiderdam's shore excursion staff, dressed in red raincoats, were holding signs to direct us to our minibus. Soon we were on our way to Gold Creek, where we would learn the fine art of gold panning at the very spot where Chief Kowee led Joe Juneau and Richard Harris to strike it rich in 1880. During the short bus ride, Dig-In Dave told us about the history of Alaska's Gold Rush, and pointed out some of Juneau's landmarks along the way.

     Once we arrived at Gold Creek, where the Alaska-Juneau Gold Mining Company (AJGMC) once operated, we joined the other busloads of modern-day gold-seekers along the banks of the swiftly-flowing creek. The tops of the mountains around us were covered by low-lying misty clouds and a light rain fell as we made our way down, surrounded by run-down buildings left over from the AJGMC's operations.

Prospectors at Gold Creek

Dig-In Dave
     Our group gathered around Dave at the edge of the water, and watched carefully as he waded in, shovel in one hand and gold pan in the other. He filled his pan with dirt from the creek bed, and demonstrated how to add water, then shake the contents of the pan back and forth, allowing the heaviest particles (GOLD!) to sink to the bottom of the pan. He washed off the top layer of dirt and gravel in the creek, then went back to shaking. After repeating a few more times, it looked like he had washed everything out of his pan. But then, an experienced swirl of his hand, and - voilà! - like magic, tiny flakes of gold were scattered all over the bottom of his pan! The whole thing had taken him between 5 to 10 minutes, detailed explanation and demonstration included. He then waded out of the water, and handed us each our dirt-filled gold pans. We were off!!

Dig-In Dave demonstrates how to pan for gold

     We joined the other gold panners crouched along the water's edge, and started shaking. Unfortunately, this was a lot harder than how Dave had made it seem. The cold creek water and non-stop shaking of the heavy gravel-filled metal pan had caused my whole hand to go numb before I finally got down to the last few teaspoons of fine dirt. So where was the gold? I carefully dipped my pan into the freezing water, tipped it slightly and allowed the water to flow out slowly, carrying most of the dirt with it. Then, I gave a little swirl, just like Dave - and amazingly, there were flecks of REAL GOLD lying on the bottom of my pan!


      I rushed over to the wooden table on the side of the creek where Dave was helping my fellow "Sourdoughs" to harvest their hard-found grains of gold. We used eyedroppers to suck up water (and a few flakes of gold), then transferred them into small plastic vials to take home. Dave awarded each of us a "Gold Claim Deed" on our way back into the bus. Next stop for the hungry gold prospectors: dinnertime at the Gold Creek Salmon Bake!

Collecting our gold

This article recounts our experience on the first portion of the "Gold Panning Adventure and Alaska Salmon Bake" shore excursion in Juneau, Alaska on July 18th, 2011. It was purchased through Holland America Line on board the Zuiderdam, and cost $79 per adult, $54 per child. This excursion lasts approximately 3 hours in total, and we spent about half of that on the gold panning expedition to Gold Creek.

Related Post:
Supper at the Gold Creek Salmon Bake in Juneau 

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