September 18th, 2009 – by: X_Drive
Some of the signage at the Pipeline.
Up pretty early again today for the two tours we had scheduled for the day. Showered and dressed and down to breakfast and then quickly onto the tour bus to our first destination, the El Dorado Gold Mine, where we would be shown how the gold mining industry has changed over the years.
On the way out there we stopped at the only place along the entire 800 mile length of the Alaska oil pipeline that runs from Prudhoe Bay to the Valdez Marine Terminal, where you can walk right up to it and take pictures and learn a little about it, according to our bus driver. He said security is pretty tight both where the line is above ground and below ground and a couple of times while we drove he mentioned another security truck moving along.
We only spent about fifteen minutes there and he tried to answer as many questions as he could and the boards answered other.
At the El Dorado Gold Mine we boarded a small open train and rode the rails in what was a very short and small circle. The first stop about a quarter of the way around was into an old tunnel where they showed the rock formations that were looked for in locating the best gold deposits. Then on out of the tunnel to where they showed how individual gold panners worked. Then how steam powered mining worked, and finally they demonstrated the gold panning process. Several of the crew panned the freshly dug dirt and came up with several small pieces of gold. Then they gave each person a small bag of dirt and set us at a heated water troth with our own pans.
Every person on the tour panned from $7 to $40 dollars worth of gold. Yep, one person found a small nugget worth $40 but my wife and I combined only got about $16 worth of small flake-like pieces. They dried and weighed each person's haul and even asked if we would like to have it inserted into a pair of earrings, or a locket, or other nice piece of jewelry they just happened to have there just for that purpose and would sell us for about three or four times what we had dug. How amazing that they could be so thoughtful! They also sold several other souvenirs, and had free coffee, hot cocoa, and fresh baked cookies. After everyone had had a chance to spend all their money we were back on the little train and whisked off to the parking lot to get back on our bus.
After getting back to our hotel for almost an hour, just enough time to eat lunch at their very expensive restaurant, we were back on the bus to our second tour of the day.
This time a triple-decker stern wheeler for a cruise down the Chena River, past several nice homes, and several old not so nice homes. A small sea plane demonstrated how take offs and landings were done on the river. Then we stopped for a sled dog kennel demonstration and watched the older retired dogs help teach the pups how to pull properly and turn left or right on command, and how and when to run and when to stop. Fun and interesting, but I don't think my Chihuahuas will cut it on a sled dog team.
On down a little ways there was a reindeer farm where the owner had brought out a couple of small branches of their favorite tree and as we approached he let loose one large male, one female and two youngsters. They came out very close to the river in clear view to eat their treats.
The pipeline itself. Four feet in diameter running 800 miles.
Then on further down stream to a Chena Indian Village. At this stop we all went ashore into the small village area they had built just for this tour. The young female Athabascan Indians showed us several interesting things about their culture. I took lots of pictures.
On down a little ways further we came to where the Chena River joins another, but a sand bar has been created over the last couple of years so the big stern wheeler couldn't go any further.
Instead it backed up, made a turn around and we headed back up stream to the Chena Indian Village. This time we pulled into the dock and everyone got off in order to see the full presentation that the two girls had for us. But as we docked a beautiful golden eagle stopped everyone in their tracks. This golden eagle flew up the river to where the front of the large sternwheeler was and perched himself on the top of the tree right where everyone would see him and sat magnificently quiet while everyone took pictures of him. And he sat there until everyone had seen and photographed him, maybe five full minutes, and then he flew off back down the river and disappeared on the far side of the river just as if the whole thing was as well planned as the rest of the voyage. I teased and suggested that who ever trained him had done a wonderful job, but I was really thinking that he was a robotic eagle and someone was using the electronic remote control to make him do everything.
It was amazing.
In Chena Indian Village the girls showed us the wonderful clothing, and then took us to a sled dog area where several young dogs were playing and being frisky, and then to a third area where they showed us some reindeer and spoke of how to tell the different between reindeer and caribou. It’s the same animal, just that one domesticated and the other isn’t. The last area the girl took us to was a typical home, and food keeper, high off the ground. They explained quite a bit about the kinds of fur each pelt was. Finally we made our was back aboard the sternwheeler and headed back to the dock where we started. On the way we had free coffee and donuts and could buy several other food and drink items. At the end we had time to visit the souvenir shop and empty our wallets some more.
Then back to the hotel where we ate fish and chips for dinner in the Pub and Grill. Off to bed early. Never did get the wake up call for the Aurora Borealis., but then we really didn’t expect it. The forecast had been a zero for the last two nights.
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