Friday, March 2, 2012

Found Art/Earthwork Art - Dredge Tailings in Springtime

Gold dredges have majorly changed the landscape around Fairbanks. At one time or another there have been about eight dredges operating in the area’s valleys. These dredges, which floated in their own man-made ponds, would scoop gravel from 40-60 feet below water level, screen it though on-board equipment to separate the gold, and deposit the gravel in tailing piles at the back of the pond.

The dredge would be tethered to the pond shore with cables and anchored to the pond bottom with a “spud pole,” and the entire structure would pivot as the dredge buckets tore up the pond bottom. This also meant that the tailings would be deposited in an arc behind the dredge. Once the dredge had reached the limits of its arc, the spud pole would be retracted, the dredge moved forward and anchored, and the whole process would start again.

Consequently, many of the valleys around Fairbanks were filled with long, arcing ridges of tailings. These ridges were especially evident in spring, when the ridge tops were bared by melting snow but the depressions between ridges were still snow-bound. 

I thought the designs created by the man-made ridges and snow-filled depressions were fascinating. These photos were taken at least 10 years ago. Some of these areas are unrecognizable now. The sorting screens on the dredges would only separate out the material under about ¾” for sluicing, which meant larger nuggets would often end up in the tailings piles. With the increasing price of gold, it has proved profitable to re-mine these tailings, changing the landscape once again.

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