The Golden Sands of Nome

Nome Travel Blog

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Shacks near Cape Rodney
 

Before turning in the company-rented Dodge Nitro, I cruised the beach west from town. Soft sand and gray driftwood bogged the rocky shore but four-wheel drive kept the small SUV moving - just barely in some places. It was mind-boggling to see driftwood and spruce logs up and down the beach because the nearest trees to Nome are out near Council, more than seventy miles away and far inland.

 

When most of the stampeders arrived after the initial gold strike on Anvil Creek, most of the high-yield claims had already been staked. It was the discovery of fine gold on Nome's beaches in July of 1899 that sparked the biggest rush. More than 40,000 people filled the tent city to mine the stretch of beach from Cape Nome to Cape Rodney - a distance of 30 miles.

Tattoo works his sluice box
By the end of 1900, they had recovered more than $3 million in gold. Today, dozens of prospectors from all over the world continue to pan the 'golden sands of Nome'. 

 

I stopped to chat with some of the gold seekers. Their equipment ranged from simple shovels and pans to sluice boxes to elaborate underwater suction dredges. 'Tattoo' and Brian came from Hawaii to work the sands. Their equipment cost less than $2,000 and included a Briggs & Stratton water pump with a hundred feet of two-inch hose, a grated header box, a small sluice box, and several buckets, gold pans, shovels, and sniffer bottles. Tattoo had worked the beaches for more than seven seasons and learned proven techniques from an old-timer.

 

He pointed out the reddish-colored ruby sand layer just beneath the beach sand.

Typical beach panner's shelter
For testing, he makes random scoops by hand from the upper inch of that layer and swishes it in his green gold pan. A hundred or more tiny specs of gold dust is not an impressive amount by itself but a shovel-full would produce a thousand or more specs. He looks for areas with a hundred or more - any less would not be economical. Coarse chunks and nuggets like I had found on Colorado Creek are non-existent on the beaches.

 

Small shovels-full are dropped into the header box where the sample is washed. Fine pay-dirt drops through a grate into the slanted sluice box. Black sand (magnetite) and gold is heavier and is trapped in the ridges of the sluice while the lighter materials wash away. A length of coarse, green plastic matting which looks like Scotch-Brite catches any black sand and gold that may happen to escape the sluice.

Panners comparing notes
Black sand does not always contain gold but gold is always accompanied by black sand. After 12-14 hours of testing and shoveling they recover three-quarters to one-ounce of gold in a day. Now that sounds inviting but it may take several days to find a 'hot spot' and more days are lost by stormy weather. Regardless, they earn a comparable wage to their regular jobs back in Hawaii.

 

Like most of the summer miners, Tattoo and Brian live in a crude shelter along the beach. When the weather is bad, they huddle around a driftwood fire and pan buckets of black pay-dirt taken from the sluice. Occasionally they make the three mile trek into Nome for a fine meal, a night at the saloons, or to do laundry. Others live in weathered tents along the beaches and some have the luxury of a 4-wheel ATV. The modern-day panners still eke out a living from the golden sands of Nome but it is a rugged existence.

 

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Shacks near Cape Rodney
Shacks near Cape Rodney
Tattoo works his sluice box
Tattoo works his sluice box
Typical beach panners shelter
Typical beach panner's shelter
Panners comparing notes
Panners comparing notes
Tattoo doing a test pan
Tattoo doing a test pan
Driftwood and bear tracks
Driftwood and bear tracks
Nome
photo by: rotorhead85