Thursday, July 20, 2017

Swirly clouds swinging over Fairbanks tonight - 7-20-17

Interesting clouds I saw while at the Georgeson Botanical Garden tonight. These ripply, swirly clouds were at the leading edge of storm clouds moving into the area. They only lasted a few minutes.

Misty, moisty morning along Chena River in Fairbanks - 7-20-2017

Looking northeast towards Birch Hill from the William Ranson Wood pedestrian bridge in downtown Fairbanks. I took this photo in a slight drizzle at about 6:00 AM.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Monkshood in our front yard - Fairbanks, Alaska, July 2017

 Mixed in with the highbush cranberries in our front yard are a few native monkshood plants. Just one plant appeared a few years ago--don't know where the seeds came from. There are now two or three plants, tenaciously clinging to existence among the cranberries and associated duff.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Chistochina area has brief but rich gold rush history

This historic cabin is one of the few remnants of the Chistochiona Trading Post, which burned down in 1999

Gold was discovered along the Chistochina River in late 1898 by argonauts originally headed for the Klondike gold fields via the Valdez Glacier Trail.

Between 4,000 and 5000 gold seekers attempted the treacherous trail over the Valdez and Klutina glaciers and down the Klutina River to Copper Center in the Copper River Basin. Only a fraction succeeded. Many who did were ill-equipped to proceed, losing most of their supplies to the glacier crossing or along the tumultuous Klutina River.

Few gold seekers had the will to continue on to the Klondike, and only a handful completed the trip. Others returned to Valdez. The rest fanned out across the region in search of new opportunities.

George Hazelet and his party were a few of the fortunate ‘98ers who made it to Copper Center. Befriended by an Ahtna Athabascan guide, they became the first prospectors along the Chistochina River. In early winter of 1898-99 they struck paydirt on the Chisna River, near the Chistochina’s headwaters.

The Upper Chistochina is inhospitable to placer mining‚ with no road access, inclement weather, brief summers and undependable water supplies. Emil Goulet mined in the area during the 1930s and wrote in his book, Rugged Years on the Alaska Frontier, that snowpack had to be excavated before mining could commence, that being wet and cold was the normal state of being during the mining season, and that miners could expect snowstorms any time after Sept. 1.

Copper Center was 100 miles south of the Upper Chistochina mines. The hamlet of Chistochina, near the confluence of the Chistochina and Copper Rivers, grew into the closest community. A 1902 U.S. Geological Survey map of the area does not indicate any settlement there, but does show the Valdez-Eagle Trail along the north bank of the Copper River just south of Chistochina’s present location, and the Washington-Alaska Military Cable and Telegraph System (WAMCATS) lines about two miles to the north.

According to National Register of Historic Places documents, Ahtna Athabascan Indians, who had previously utilized a seasonal fish camp in the vicinity, established a permanent village at Chistochina in 1903 (The area's population is predominantly Ahtna, and the Chistochina Native village is still in existence. The village is governed by the Cheesh'na Tribal Council.)

Also in 1903, a Washington-Alaska Military Cable and Telegraphy System (WAMCATS) telegraph station was constructed nearby. Wireless telegraphy replaced WAMCATS landlines by the 1920s, and one of the first sections of line to close was the one from Gulkana to Eagle. That section, including Chistochina’s telegraph station, was abandoned in 1911.

Chistochina probably would have remained a tiny Native village had it not been for a new gold mine opening during the 1920s at Nabesna, 70 miles to the east. To reach Nabesna, the Alaska Road Commission (ARC), beginning in 1926, upgraded the trail from Gakona to Slana into a wagon road, and in 1933 began work on a road from Slana to Nabesna. By 1932, the ARC, which was also responsible for civilian airfield construction in Alaska, had built a landing strip at Chistochina. This strip was used by Bush pilots, including Bob Reeves, to fly supplies into Chistochina, Nabesna and Chisana gold camps.

Chistochina is about mid-way between Gakona and Slana and was a convenient stopping point for freighters headed to Nabesna. Sometime in the mid-1920s or early 1930s (sources differ), Chistochina Trading Post was established. Over time, the trading post morphed into a roadhouse — comprised of a long 1½-story log structure with numerous additions that housed cafĂ©, bar, and bunkhouse, plus outbuildings.

Unfortunately, the trading post burned to the ground in November 1999. A new establishment, the Red Eagle Lodge, replaced it. The cabin shown in the drawing, now used for guest housing, was one of the trading post’s outbuildings. According to the Red Eagle Lodge’s owners, Richard and Judy Dennis, the 18-foot by 20-foot log cabin, with dove-tailed corners and simple gable roof, still retains its original cabin logs and front-porch decking. It is one of the oldest structures on the site.

  • “Chistochina Trading Post – National Register of Historic Places Registration Form.” Deborah A. Smith & Joan M. Antonson. National Park Service. 1997
  • Conversation with Richard Dennis, co-owner of Red Eagle Lodge
  • Rugged Years on the Alaska Frontier. Emil Oliver Goulet. Dorrance & Company. 1949
  • “Topographic reconnaissance map of the Central Copper River Region, Alaska.” T.G. Gerdine. U.S. Geological Service. 1902 

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Knik, Alaska: Little survives of early Cook Inlet commercial center

About 14 miles southwest of Wasilla on the western shore of Cook Inlet’s Knik Arm lies the hamlet of Knik. Its history may be most linked with the 1910 Iditarod Gold Rush and the Iditarod Trail, however, Knik’s recorded history dates back to about 1880.

Knik was originally the site of a Dena’ina Athabascan Indian village. According to exhibits at the Knik Museum (operated by the Wasilla Knik Historical Society), one of the first American traders in the area was George W. Palmer. He established a trading post along the eastern shore of Knik Arm at a Dena’ina village called “Old” Knik (now known as Eklutna). In the 1880s he moved his business across the inlet to “New” Knik. U.S. Census records indicate 46 Athabascan Indians lived at the village in 1880.

Palmer’s move to New Knik proved fortuitous. Gold was discovered along Cook Inlet’s Turnagain Arm in the early 1890s, and the 1896 Cook Inlet Gold Rush brought an influx of prospectors to the region. Those fortune hunters fanned out over the countryside in search of gold, including to the Talkeetna Mountains north of Knik, and to the base of the Alaska Range to the north and west.

The Alaska Commercial Company soon moved to Knik. By 1905 the community found itself the commercial center for the Upper Cook Inlet, supplying goods to trappers and homesteaders, to miners in the Willow Creek Mining District, to government exploration parties and other adventurers.
Knik did not actually have an ideal location to be a commercial center. Because of Cook Inlet’s high tides and Knik’s lack of a good anchorage, freight was unloaded onto skiffs at Fire Island (near present-day Anchorage) and lightered to Knik. Docks were eventually built out across the mud flats into Knik Arm so deep-draft vessels could unload at Knik.

The town’s fortunes were lifted considerably with the discovery of gold in the winter of 1908-1909 in the Iditarod area, 375 miles to the northwest on the far side of the Alaska Range. The first stampeders into the area were from the Fairbanks area—miners taking the first steamers headed downriver in spring. They were joined by other gold seekers, many who journeyed north out of Knik, and soon the towns of Iditarod and Flat, both with more than 2,000 residents, sprang up.

A 2011 Alaska Geographic Association publication about the Iditarod Trail states that more than 65 tons of gold were mined in the Iditarod region. Most of that gold was transported by dog team through Knik. Photographs from that period show convoys of dog teams being used to haul gold—sometimes carrying more than a ton of gold in one shipment.

By 1915 the town had about 500 residents. The 1985 book, Knik, Matanuska, Susitna: a visual history of the valleys, states that the town boasted four stores, four hotels, three saloons, a movie house, barbershop, pool hall, U.S. Commissioner’s office and jail.

Prosperity was not to last, though. The federal government’s decision to route the Alaska Railroad through the Susitna Valley brought ruin to Knik. Railroad tracks reached Wasilla by 1917. Businesses relocated either to Wasilla or Anchorage, and Knik quickly withered away.

Most of Knik’s buildings disappeared — moved or scavenged for building materials. Knik Hall, shown in the drawing, is one of only two remaining buildings. Originally the Fulton-Hirshey Pool and Billiard Hall, it was constructed in 1910, and was later used as a roadhouse. It was donated as a historic site by Lois Bjorn Birdsall and rehabilitated in 1967 by the Wasilla Knik Centennial Committee. It is now operated as a museum by the Wasilla Knik Historical Society.


  • Conversation with Diane Williams, docent at Knik Museum
  • Exhibits at Knik Museum
  •  “Iditarod Historic Trail.” Alaska Geographic Association. 2011

  • Knik, Matanuska, Susitna: a visual history of the valleys. Matanuska-Sustina Borough. 1985

  • “Knik Site – National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form.” William Hanable. U.S. Park Service. 1973

  • “Town of Knik epitomized mining boom-bust cycle.” Laurel Downing Bill. in Senior Voice. Vol. 31, No. 7, July 2008

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Livengood Placers and its vagabond gold dredge

Warehouse at Livengood constructed by Livengood Placer, Inc as it looks today

The building depicted in the drawing is an old warehouse near Livengood. Of heavy timber-frame construction, it has ship-lap siding (except for the gable ends which are board-and-batten), a metal roof and is painted blue. About 40-feet-wide and 80-feet-long, there are offices/workshops located on one end, a large parts room in the middle and an even larger storage area at the far end.

The warehouse is in remarkable condition considering how long it has sat vacant. It is one of the last remnants of Livengood Placer’s two-decade-long struggle to develop and operate a gold-dredging operation just north of Livengood.

Clark Spence’s book, The Northern Gold Fleet, states that in 1924, a Livengood mining engineer tried to interest the Fairbanks Exploration Company (FE Co.), which was bringing dredges to the Fairbanks area, into expanding its operations to Livengood. Those talks never came to fruition.

Not until 1934 did Outside interests pay attention to Livengood and conduct tests that showed the potential for profitable gold-dredging. In 1936, Goldfield Mines of Reno acquired an interest in Livengood claims, formed Livengood Placers, Inc., and began construction of a dam on Hess Creek northeast of Livengood to provide water for a dredging operation. It also began excavating a 3,200-foot tunnel from Hess Creek to the head of Livengood Creek. Later that year the Interstate-Callahan Company acquired a 75 percent interest in Livengood Placers and advanced funds to continue work on the dam and tunnel, as well as build support facilities such as the warehouse.

Unfortunately, unsteady economic conditions during the 1930s brought investment in, and work on the fledgling project to a standstill. In 1939, Livengood Placers finally received a $1,050,000 loan from the federal government’s Reconstruction Finance Corporation (RFC) and resumed work on the project.

While work was being completed on the water supply, along with ground thawing and stripping, a diesel-powered Yuba gold dredge, with six-cubic-foot buckets, was trucked in an assembled. It began operations in October 1940 and operated through 1941 with less-than-anticipated yields. The company was forced to borrow additional funds to cover construction costs, and ended up owing the RFC $1,500,000.00.

Unfortunately, in 1942 the federal government shut down all gold-mining activities across the nation for the duration of World War II. According to Audrey Parker’s book, Livengood, the Last Stampede, the dredge did not start up again until 1946.

Livengood Placers operated the dredge through the summer of 1954, but was never able to dig itself out of debt.

Even before the dredge resumed operations after World War II the RFC had urged the FE Co. to take over Livengood Placers, but FE Co. officials declined. According to Spence’s book the RFC threatened foreclosure, and in late 1954 followed through on that threat.

The RFC put Livengood Placer’s assets up for sale, and the FE Co. bought the dredge and extra parts, thawing and stripping equipment, and machine shop equipment for $150,000. The FE Co. wasn’t interested in the Livengood claims.

The dredge, with its on-board diesel power plant, was designed for remote operations. According to John Boswell’s history of the FE Co., the dredge was disassembled and trucked to Fairbanks where its pontoons were re-assembled in the Chena River to use as a barge.

Laden with supplies, the pontoon/barge was then pushed 750 miles down the Chena, Tanana and Yukon Rivers; and up the Koyukuk River to the Hogatza “Hog” River. At Hog Landing it was disassembled, and everything trucked 26 miles to Bear Creek. After reassembly, it started dredging in 1957. After successfully operating for many years, it now sits amidst Bear Creek’s dredge tailings.

The Livengood warehouse is on private property. Before exploring the area please check out land status and get permission from land owners.


  •  Conversation with Karl Hanneman, Fairbanks resident with experience mining in Livengood area
  • History of Operations of United States Smelting, Refining and Mining Company. John Boswell. Mineral Industries Research Laboratory, University of Alaska. 1979
  • Livengood, the Last Stampede. Audrey Parker. Hats Off Books. 2003
  • The Northern Gold Fleet, Twentieth-Century Gold Dredging in Alaska. Clark Spence. University of Illinois Press 1996