|Mark Patton panning the Fairbanks Placer deposit|
In the first week we met with groups involved with the promotion of Alaska’s natural resources, a core store housing some USGS core, the Wishbone coal prospect operated by Usibelli Coal, the Pogo underground narrow vein gold mine, the Hilltop Gold Prospect, Fort Knox open pit gold mine and Fairbanks Creek Placer Gold Mine. (A placer deposit is where the gold eroded from a vein has been concentrated by a stream and deposited in the sand and gravel on the stream bed). Not one of the mine operations was on a main road. In fact the road to the Pogo mine was 50 miles long and had been put in by the mine to access the operation from the highway. At least that one was wide enough for more than one vehicle. The Hilltop Gold Prospect could be described as ‘unsuitable’ for the hire cars we took along it. The fact that two of our three hosts for that visit were carrying side arms for bear protection just added to the excitement.
|Underground drill bay, Pogo Mine|
Pogo mine was the highlight of the trip, with a visit to the mill where the ore is processed in the morning, followed by a trip underground in the afternoon. We saw a face getting prepped for blasting, the underground grizzly, a rig, roof support rods getting put in and heard the paste backfill glugging overhead in its way to backfill a stope. Pretty much the full underground package.
|Fort Knox opencast gold mine|
|Fairbanks Placer Deposit with historic placer barge|
The final mine trip was in the second week to the Usibelli Coal Mine. This is the only coal mine in Alaska which, given the coal reserves the State has, is pretty surprising (until you remember what the weather is like and how little infrastructure there is). Our guide was incredibly enthusiastic about the company and the importance of coal in Alaska. Given that 40% of U.S electricity is generated by burning it, it’s easy to see why someone so ‘on message’ was our host for the day.
|Polychrome Pass, Denali National Park and Preserve|
Mark Patton is the Minerals Geologist for the Geological Survey of Northern Ireland (GSNI).