Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Trail to Eldorado, Chatanika Valley, Alaska

Last post I published a drawing of an old building at Little Eldorado Creek and talked about the area’s history. This time I’m putting up some photos from my hike out there a few years ago.

Chatanika Gold Camp
Dredge No. 3
As I said in the last post, the area I was headed for (about half way between Chatanika on the Steese Highway and Olnes on the Elliott Highway) is boggy and almost impossible to get to in the summer. Winter snows would have obscured the building I wanted to see, so I planned to hike out after the first snow in mid-October.  No-one lives in the area and there were no roads.

 I drove the 25 or so miles from Fairbanks to Chatanika and parked at the Chatanika Lodge. The Chatanika  Gold Camp is on the hill above the highway just before the lodge. It was a support camp for Gold Dredge No. 3, which is located just beyond it. 

Old Chatanika Outhous
Log Cabin at Old Chatanika
The trail in to Old Chatanika begins right across the highway. Old Chatanika is what’s left of the early townsite, located on Lower Cleary Creek before it empties into the Chatanika River. The Fairbanks Exploration Company bought up the town in the 1920s and moved its dredge in, digging up most of the town. The dredge now sits where the town used to be.

 Old Chatanika is about a mile across the tailings, on the hillside above the dredged area. There isn’t much left, just a few log cabins, some collapsed frame buildings, and various bits and pieces of equipment.

From Old Chatanika I followed the abandoned right-of-way for the Tanana Valley Railroad, a narrow-gauge operation that shut down in the 1930s. The right-of-way is still used as a winter trail but since it had just snowed I beat the snowmachines into the area. (In Alaska they’re snowmachines, not snowmobiles.)
Old car near Ruby Creek

Disturbed area near Ruby Creek
 About a half mile beyond Old Chatanika I neared Ruby Creek, which was another mined-over area. There’s lots of evidence of mining activity, abandoned equipment, etc. One of my favorites (although the photographs never turned out) was a 20-foot tall birch tree growing up through the bottom of a rusty white-enameled pan. 

Ore bucket and gin pole
Bunk house upstream from gin pol
At Ruby Creek is the old Sampeii drift mine. The bunk house, boiler shed and gin pole are on one side of the creek. The old ore bucket sits on the other side.
The land beyond Ruby Creek starts to get muskegy so that was about as far as I had gone on previous hikes. From there on it was new territory for me. I had the trail all to myself, and the only sounds were of my boots crunching through the snow and the chickadees singing in the trees. The sky was clear, it was about 15 degrees above zero and I didn’t have a care in the world. Well—almost no cares. I was by myself and there were probably moose in the area. There had also been reports of wolves near town, so I was packing a 44 magnum revolver.

EldoradoStation from the front
Side view of building
About three miles later I finally arrived at Little Eldorado Creek where the building that may or may not have been a train depot was located. I’ve shown the front and the side of the building so you can see how it leans, and the poles propping it up. I didn’t dare go inside. I spent as much time as I could there but the days are starting to get short by mid-October so I reluctantly retraced my steps back to civilization.

I just want to finish by saying I had permission from the land owners to cross their property. Before going on jaunts like this make sure to check land status and get permission.

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