Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Alaska Trip: Part 3

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The Alaska Railroad connects Anchorage to Fairbanks, but was not used for the second leg of our tour, north from Denali. This reflects, I think, the growth in traffic generated by the cruise ships. It is easy to add capacity by buying old buses: trains would be a much lumpier investment.

On the way up the Park Highway we stopped at a place with a gift shop and an odd collection of old stuff – but of course it turns out that everywhere you go on one of these tours there’s always a collection of old stuff, and a Gift Shop.

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Fairbanks is a nice little town but we did not get to spend a great deal of time there. They took us on a tour of an old gold dredge. Panning for gold in gravel that has been dug out with hand tools is labour intensive. After the gold rush, serious placer gold mining was mechanized. The permafrost was melted with high pressure jets of water and the gravel was scooped out by a continuous bucket chain which also removed the gold on board and sprayed the rest out the back with a conveyor belt. We did get to try panning and some gold was guaranteed, which caused many to state firmly that the samples of “pay dirt” had to have been “salted’. Actually I do not think that is necessarily true. Placer mining continues using excavators and more modern extraction techniques. Large scale mining using dredges became uneconomic in the 1930s when the US government changed the law to monopsonise the market and fix the price. Although those policies have since changed, the percentage of recoverable gold in the abandoned claims is largely uneconomic. Tourism now pays more people, much better.

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We did end up with an old film container with a few flecks of dust estimated to be worth US$37.

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That evening we chose to go to a Salmon Bake which was located in Pioneer Park and then a very well produced live stage show that celebrated the history of Fairbanks. The salmon was silver salmon – not a type I had eaten before – and actually barbecued rather than baked. Even so unbeatable value for money.

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Written by Stephen Rees

June 10, 2018 at 12:27 pm

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