We spent the last few days along the Steese Highway. This is Alaska Highway 6 that travels northeast from Fairbanks and ends at the town of Circle. There are both paved and gravel portions of this road. We only traveled as far as Twelve Mile Summit, which is about halfway, but we found the portion of the road we drove to be in pretty good condition by Alaska standards.
Our original plan was to drive to a campground on this highway and camp there because they allow recreational gold panning in a couple of creeks nearby. When we pulled into the campground and attempted to get into a campsite, however, we were swarmed with more mosquitos than we have ever seen in one place. In times like this, it is great to be able to be flexible! We quickly decided that we did not want to stay here, and some friendly folks we had met a few days before had mentioned that they camped at Twelvemile Summit and loved it. That was another 25 miles up the road that we hadn’t intended on traveling, but we figured we had nothing to lose. We are so glad we took their recommendation! The camping area at Twelvemile Summit is informal BLM camping (free!) and has gorgeous views of the surrounding mountains. There was only us and one van in the camping area, and we were able to be far enough away from each other that we really never even noticed that they were there. It was so peaceful!
There are two trails nearby and the one looked really wet, so we opted for a walk along the Circle-Fairbanks Historic Trail. This is actually a road that is utilized by four wheel drive vehicles and accesses some back country cabins, but it was great for a walk, too. We were hoping to walk for a good distance, but after about 40 minutes we saw some pretty fresh bear tracks and decided that it might be wise to turn around. Of course, there is always the threat of running into wildlife along any trail you are on around here, but we try to be wise about it and not continue along a trail with fresh tracks or scat, especially when there are no other people around. At any rate, it was great to get out and get some fresh air and stretch our legs a little, even if we weren’t able to go as far as we would have liked.
On our way back to civilization, we stopped at Gold Dredge #3. Unlike #8 that we talked about touring in our Fairbanks post, this one has not been made into a tourist attraction. It is privately owned, and you are not allowed to get on it, but you are allowed to walk out to areas where you can view it. To get to it, you walk on top of huge tailings piles, and it remains in the location where it last ran. Nothing has been done to restore or maintain this dredge. In fact, there was a fire on it some time ago, so all the wooden structure is gone, and all that remains is the steel skeleton. Not to worry, though, it is still a super impressive structure. As the matter of fact, we both agree that we enjoyed visiting this dredge more than #8. We liked that we were the only ones there, and the walk across the tailings to view it in its work environment was amazing. We were not prepared for popping up over the tailings piles to our first view. Pictures will never do it justice, but take our word that it is an absolutely massive piece of equipment!
Finally, one last stop along the Steese was a must for us. The whole goal of our visit to the Steese was to do some gold panning, and while the trip took a different turn, we had to at least give it a little bit of a go. Luckily, we found an area just off the highway, along Pedro Creek, that allowed recreational panning. For a couple of hours we gave it our best shot and were rewarded with two tiny gold flakes that would more accurately be described as specks, dust particles, nano-nuggets, or dang near microscopic bits. They were seriously tiny, but it was our first Alaskan gold we found all on our own!
We loved our time on the Steese Highway! Once again, Plan B turned out to be even better than the original and we were shown that being adaptable can really pay off.
This video contains footage from Gold Dredge #3!
Until next time!