After our family cruise from Vancouver to Alaska we embarked on a 5 day land tour that finished in Fairbanks where we went on a full-day excursion that included a cruise on the Riverboat Discovery (a stern-wheel river boat) as well as a visit to El Dorado Gold Mine.
El Dorado Gold Mine is a family-run business that is designed to teach visitors about the history of gold mining in Alaska. The two hour tour commences with a narrated ride aboard a replica of an engine from the Tanana Valley Railroad. The original Tanana Valley Railroad operated in the Alaskan interior in the early 1900s to deliver supplies to the gold camps that were scattered throughout the region. The train journey transports visitors through a permafrost tunnel where a miner explains the history of underground mining and point out the kinds of mineral and rock formations that tend to produce the most gold.
At the end of the train ride, guests are treated to a demonstration of sluice-box mining by a husband and wife prospecting team. Following the demonstration, everyone gets a chance to do some panning for gold.
Guests are set up on comfortable benches in front of a trough of warm water and then each person is provided with their own "poke" - a pan filled with dirt from the sluice. The pan is rinsed in water and shaken so that the gold slowly separates from the dirt and the dirt can be washed out. There are several guides on hand to assist anyone who is having difficulty uncovering their gold.
Each guest takes the gold that they have uncovered inside to the Cook Shack for it to be weighed. There are a variety of keepsakes available to be purchased to display the gold. The most popular (with the women and girls at least) seem to be necklaces with the tiny bit of gold inside a clear pendant. Coffee and homemade cookies are served while everyone makes their purchases or waits for other members of their party to shop.
The El Dorado Gold Mine tour was definitely a touristy experience, however, it was entertaining for the kids and was actually more informative with respect to the gold rush and the business of gold mining than I had expected it to be. Most importantly, everyone leaves El Dorado happy with the tiny bit of gold that they panned as a keepsake of the day.
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