An ounce of gold brings about $1,600 these days. That doesn't impress the manager of Crow Creek Gold Mine. "If I wanted to get rich," he tells me, "I wouldn't be running a gold mine."
Late in the 19th century, when Crow Creek was one of Alaska's richest mines, men built dams upstream and piped water down, using the built-up pressure to blast away hills and banks in their hunt for precious metal. They pumped and dug and sifted. They built long wooden sluice boxes in the bed of the creek. They erected buildings—a blacksmith shed, a bunk house, a cook house—some of which still stand.
But they did not get all the gold. The miners missed some spots altogether. Gold sneaked through their sluice boxes and returned to the creek bed.
The leftovers are part of what draws modern visitors to Crow Creek, an off-the-beaten-path attraction in southern Alaska where anyone can crouch on a sand bar with a gold pan, surrounded by spruce and the willow thickets that grow just below tree line. They can keep an eye out for bears while looking for gold using tools and methods that would make perfect sense to the miners who flocked to Alaska when California's gold fields of yore lost their luster.