Thursday, July 16, 2015

North to Alaska: Part 3: Dogs, Pipeline and Gold

After our flight to Denali we were ready for tamer activity so we headed back to the Visitor Centre and hopped on the bus for the free Sled Dog Introduction.

I thought that when three (!) bus loads of strangers entered the kennel area there would be a lot of barking, so I was surprised when there wasn't a single woof. All the dogs were kenneled outside with cozy doghouses and access to water. The dogs that enjoy visitors were available to pat. Others who are still friendly but have had enough patting have more private quarters in dog runs. One was nursing pups.


The dog yard was extremely clean. Nuff said?

I was amazed that they didn't get tangled up in those chains. A boxer would have been wrapped and trapped pretty quickly. 


They all seemed pretty laid back. I suppose they're used to visitors.The rangers doing the presentation told us that the dogs work hard all winter long in the Park helping with maintenance duties, so by springtime they are somewhat rundown and ready to relax. 


Although they are resting, daily training continues. The rangers did a "dry land" run with the dogs, using a wheeled sled. The moment they brought out the harnesses and started choosing the dogs that would participate, the silence ended and all hell broke loose. A cacophony of barking! As soon as the last dog was harnessed in, the dogs not chosen lost interest and went back to sleep.

This is the best shot we got of the quick run they did.


While dogsled racing is extremely popular in both Alaska and the Yukon Territories, these particular dogs do not race. Exactly. They are working dogs in the Park, but at the same time, dogs in harnesses attached to sleds do not have a range of speeds. It's either all-out or stopped. 

An excursion, which some members of our tour group told us about, visited a premier racing kennel. Dogs are raised and trained there for the Iditarod, the annual well-publicized 1130-mile race between Anchorage and Nome. The Iditarod Race began in 1973 to commemorate a 1925 event when dogsled teams transported life-saving diphtheria serum to epidemic-stricken Nome. The route is completed in about 9 days, with regular checks of the dogs' conditions. 

The other famous dogsled race in the north is the Yukon Quest which uses a 1000-mile historic mail delivery route between Whitehorse and Fairbanks. The mid-point of the Yukon Quest is Dawson City and all racers are required to have a 36-hour layover to rest and prepare for the second half of the race. 

After all the fun stuff in Denali, it was back on to a bus for the ride to Fairbanks, with a stop on the way to visit a gold dredge and to pan for gold. The site of the gold dredge also happened to be right on the Alaska Pipeline. This colourful character told us all about both the Pipeline and mining for gold before we were loaded onto a small train to visit the dredge nearby.


We must have been sleeping at this stop. I can't find any pics of the little train or the dredge, but here are a couple I found at the Gold Dredge #8 website.

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A large gold dredge uses a mechanical method to excavate material (sand, gravel, dirt, etc.) using steel "buckets" on a circular, continuous "bucketline" at the front end of the dredge. The material is then sorted/sifted using water. On large gold dredges, the buckets dump the material into a steel rotating cylinder (a specific type of trommel called "the screen") that is sloped downward toward a rubber belt (the stacker) that carries away oversize material (rocks) and dumps the rocks behind the dredge. The cylinder has many holes in it to allow undersized material (including gold) to fall into a sluice box. The material that is washed or sorted away is called tailings. The rocks deposited behind the dredge (by the stacker) are called "tailing piles." The holes in the screen were intended to screen out rocks (e.g., 3/4 inch holes in the screen sent anything larger than 3/4 inch to the stacker). (Wikipedia)

Dredge No. 8, a ladder dredge,  cut a 4.5-mile (7.2 km) track and produced 7.5 million ounces of gold.


The Gold Dredge #8 website also had some good info about the dredge:

Described as either a floating workhorse or a mechanical gold pan, Gold Dredge 8 extracted millions of ounces of gold from the frozen Alaskan ground. Today, Gold Dredge 8 National Historic District serves as a monument to the hard working miners who built Fairbanks. Gold Dredge 8 is also a National Engineering Landmark.

Gold Dredge 8 operated between 1928 and 1959 and played an essential role in mining and the economy of the Tanana Valley. It is said that dredges and mining saved Fairbanks. In 1942, gold mining suffered a serious setback; the War Productions Board issued it’s famous Order L-208 which forced the closure of all gold mines in the United States for the duration of World War II. After the war was over, very few mines re-opened. By the time the war ended, the miners that once ran the gold mines were in other professions and their wage levels had increased too high for gold mining to support. But Gold Dredge 8 was one of the few mines that did re-open and ran successfully until it was shut down for economic reasons in 1959.

In 1984, the dredge was opened for tours. The Binkley family has run a successful sternwheel attraction for over 60 years and added gold mine tours in 1994.  They have been working to share our rich gold mining history with visitors ever since.

And here we are panning for gold. What they do is package up old tailings for visitors to pan and sometimes it's surprising how much gold they find. Everyone is guaranteed to find some and  a bunch of kids, all local, work there in the summer to help out. Don managed to find quite a lot, compared to most people - he seemed to get the knack of it better than I did. We brought it home - heaven knows why! It's not enough to do anything with. 


The Alaska Pipeline was very interesting to see. I had been hoping that we would see it at some point and it was a bonus to have that chap tell us about it. It's much larger and more technical than I had thought. 


Here are a few interesting facts:

  • The pipeline is often referred to as "TAPS" - an acronym for the Trans Alaska Pipeline System.


  • The Trans Alaska Pipeline System starts in Prudhoe Bay and stretches through rugged and beautiful terrain to Valdez, the northernmost ice-free point in America.


  • The Trans Alaska Pipeline System is protected by three separate leak detection systems that are monitored at the Operations Control Center in Anchorage.


  • Some 420 miles of the 800-mile-long pipeline is elevated on 78,000 vertical support members due to permafrost.


  • Telluric currents caused by the same phenomenon that generates the Northern Lights can be picked up by the pipeline and zinc/magnesium anodes. The anodes act like grounding rods to safety return these currents to the earth reducing the risk of damage to the pipeline.


  • The Operations Control Center (OCC), located in Anchorage, monitors and controls pipeline and terminal operations 24/7.


  • Booster Pumps are located at all pump stations to move oil from the storage tanks to the mainline.


  • Cleaning pigs sweep the pipe of built up wax, water or other solids that precipitate out of the oil stream. They also prevent the built-up of corrosive environment and makes the oil easier to pump. Here's a cut-away of the pipe so we can see a pig.



  • Controllers can stop pipeline flow within four minutes.


  • Crosses three mountain ranges and more than 30 major rivers and streams.


  • 71 gate valves can block oil flow in either direction on the pipeline.


  • The pipeline project involved some 70,000 workers from 1969 through 1977.


  • Construction began March 27, 1975 and was completed May 31, 1977

  • OCC Controllers can stop pipeline flow within four minutes.


  • Diameter: 48 inches.


  • Alyeska Pipeline Service Company was established in 1970 to design, construct, operate and maintain the pipeline.

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  • Oil was first discovered in Prudhoe Bay on the North Slope in 1968.



This is one of the points where the Pipeline goes underground. The pipeline is cradled on its supports but is not attached to them, allowing for minimal effect from seismic activity.

After our afternoon at the Gold Dredge it was time to head for the hotel in Fairbanks. The next day we hopped onto a charter aircraft to Dawson City. 

That part of the adventure will be in the next post.