Camp life near Chicken, Alaska flagAlaska

Kurt Friehauf - 2011

Melania, Jeremy, and Ken at campMelania, Jeremy, and Ken relax upon arriving at camp.  Jeremy was a Kutztown University student hired as an employee of the company.  He got paid for his work, but poor Melania, Ken, and Dan, ... well, ... our work was done on a shoestring budget and in the world of research, salary is a luxury we could not afford. 

tents in campThis was a wonderful camp.  We lived in very sturdy cabin tents like these.  The barrels contain kerosene for heaters in the tent.  The temperatures during the summer are plenty warm, but early spring and fall can be a lot chillier. 

rock sawThe camp had a nice rock saw, too, for cutting drill core and rock samples the geologists brought back from the field.  Rock saws use a spinning, circular blade with no teeth.  The blade is actually more like a round file that wears its way through the rock.  The barrels contain fresh water that cools the saw blade that heats up due to friction.  Cut surfaces of rock reveal a lot of fine details that are otherwise difficult to recognize. 

trash barrelsAs with all Alaskan camps, the camp's food waste needed to be burned in barrels like these so the smell of the trash wouldn't attract bears and other wildlife.  Burning trash isn't a glamorous chore, but camp manager Jeff was always on the ball - a very efficient and motivated fellow!  Jeff was a great camp manager.  The guy was like a horse whisperer - always listening to the sounds of the camp - in tune with the hum of every generator, water pump, and vehicle.  Having a competent person making sure camp runs smoothly frees everyone else up to focus on their jobs. 

climbing wallThe geologists in the camp built a climbing wall so they could practice rock climbing in their spare time.  The wall has small knobs that mimic rock features and is set up as an overhang, requiring geologists to climb up while hanging on the underside of the cliff. 

mosquitoWe were not alone in camp. There were a few mosquitoes to keep us company.  Our project was early enough in the season to be cool and relatively mosquito-free.  There are many different species of mosquitoes.  This is a jumbo.  The annoying ones are the little ones, though, because they're small, very cautious/paranoid, and can sting a bit when they "bite."

Dan and Ken use a portable sluice boxThe main recreational activity at camp was gold panning in the stream.  Here, Dan and Ken have set up a portable sluice box

Ken digsThe first thing one needs is gold-bearing sediment.  The gold originally forms in veins in the surrounding mountains.  As rain, wind, sun, and ice wear the mountain rocks into cobbles, sand, and silt ("sediment"), gold grains are liberated from the bedrock and wash into the streams.  Because gold grains are much heavier for their size ("high density"), gold particles travel more slowly down the stream than the other, lighter sediment.  This concentrates gold in stream sediment forming "placer deposits."  Here, Ken digs old stream sediment from the bank of the creek and shovels it through a coarse screen (green rim on the blue bucket).  Large pebbles are unlikely to contain significant gold, so the screen removes the lowest priority material.  Most gold grains in this area are sand size.

sluicingOnce you have some gold-rich sediment, you still have many thousands of grains of regular sand for every gold particle.  To separate the rare gold grains from the common silt grains, the sediment is washed over a rippled channel called a sluice box.  sluice box

Heavy gold particles sink down and get stuck behind the riffles, while the rest of the mud washes through the chute. 

sluice boxThe black patch near the opening of the sluice box is a rough carpet with fibers that efficiently snag gold particles. 

sluice boxOnce the students had run a whole bucket of sediment through the sluice, they washed the really good stuff out of the sluice riffles and carpet. 

Melania panningThe "concentrate" contains particles of other heavy minerals, such as garnet and magnetite, in addition to the gold.  Good old-fashioned panning is the most efficient way to separate the "wheat from the chaff."  Melania had a real talent for panning (see below). 

Jeff and Melania panningCamp manager Jeff was also a fine gold panner.  Because Alaskan summer days have such late sunsets, people could pan until 11:30 at night without flashlights or other artificial lighting. 

Melania's goldMelania's winnings after her first evening of panning.  This is the gold from roughly 15 gallons of sediment.  Gold is pretty rare stuff, eh?  Gold is pretty remarkable stuff, too.  Gold doesn't form by simple fusion during the life of stars, but only by cataclysmic explosion of dying stars.  Gold doesn't rust like other metals and is wonderfully malleable. 

Chicken saloonDowntown Chicken only has four buildings:  the mercantile, liquor store, cafe, and saloon.  The interior decorators of Chicken have a unique style of their own. 

Midnight in Chicken - June 2, 2011This is the sunset in Chicken a few minutes before midnight on June 2, 2011.  Sunset would get even later in the night after we left!  On the summer solstice, sunrise is at 3:00 am and sunset is at 12:00 midnight.

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