Alaska Still a Big Gold Draw

(Jarful of Alaskan placer gold.)

A Simple Algorithm

There's a simple mining algorithm that goes something like this: when the price of spot gold moves upward the general public's interest in small-scale gold mining increases accordingly. As an oldtimer I've seen 'em come and go, but in over 30 years as a small-scale placer miner I've never seen this high a level an interest in all things gold mining.

The overly dramatic and patently idiotic reality TV show, "Gold Rush" (which is a HUGE commercial success, by the way) provides a classic example of the public's current gold fever. Never mind the fact that the Hoffman crew is about as laughable a wannabe mining consortium as ever stumbled down the greenhorn garden path...truth is, they're laughing all the way to the bank on Discovery Channel dollars while I'm just sitting here writing about it.

Good and Bad

Due in great part to Discovery's "Gold Rush," the public at large has narrowed its interest in gold mining to that last, great bastion of the American frontier...Alaska. Although a great deal of the small-scale mining opportunities in the Lower 48 states are pretty much "played out," Alaska is still wild enough and "rich" enough in gold to fuel the dreams of any miner worth his or her salt, let alone the legions of novices out there whose expectations of striking it rich haven't been crushed by mining reality yet.

As an adjunct to all this gold fever, memberships in gold prospecting and mining clubs are up, something both good an bad. It's good from the standpoint that more folks will be joining the small-scale mining ranks and carrying on the torch for future generations and bad because it affords the hustlers, claim scammers, and dream merchants ample opportunities for "salting the works" and shearing the sheep.

200 Million Troy Ounces 

Despite all the frenzy and madness, there's still quite a bit of gold (and platinum) out there and Alaska contains a healthy share of that precious metals wealth. In the past 20 years alone, nearly 200 million troy ounces have been discovered in Alaska and the state's leading geologist believes that over 200 more million ounces remain to be recovered there.

Granted, the bulk of all those ounces recovered in Alaska in the last 20 years were recovered by commercial placer interests operating with budgets that would probably break the rest of us in a week's time. However, many "mom and pop," family run, and small-scale mining operations have done pretty well in the "Land of the Midnight Sun," not to mention some outstanding big-nugget scores by electronic prospectors and nugget shooters.

(A bit of Alaska's inherent beauty and wildness.)

Placer mining applications have nearly doubled in Alaska since the big upsurge in gold prices and nearly $10,000,000 has been spent on mining claims there in the past 5 years. Facts and figures like this fuel the mining dreams of the uninitiated who throw caution to the winds, sell off their holdings, and head north with golden expectations of hitting the big one or at the very least, making a living through mining.

Most Fall by the Wayside 

Most of these folks fall by the wayside due to any number of factors, including outrageously false expectations; little or no mining experience; the remoteness of many claims; the sheer amount of hard work involved in making a go of small-scale gold mining; and the fact they don't have the Discovery Channel backing their play. As one Alaskan oldtimer put it, "It's pretty tough when you're bent over for hours on end after hiking or snowshoeing to a claim carrying all your equipment on your back."
This same oldtimer says that newcomers in his area are always asking him if they can find enough gold to pay for their new life in Alaska. He tells them, "You better not count on that. Sure, there's gold in these creeks up here but it ain't easy to come by." He says that he never sees many of these mining novices again."I figure they just didn't like to work."

That's all for now. My thanks to miner "Rattlesnake Jim" for providing me with the basic fodder for this post.

If you liked this post, you may want to read: "More on Gold Prospecting"

(c)  Jim Rocha (J.R.)  2011

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