The Golden Sands of Nome
Nome Travel Blog› entry 29 of 38 › view all entries
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.
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.
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.
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.