One day several years ago, Daniel Hurtado knelt at Gold Creek, put his hands in the silt and watched a gold flake run between his fingers.
“I decided after that I’d better go pick up a gold pan,” he said. “Gold prices starting going up, and I started noticing. It’s a ‘maybe I’ll get lucky’ kind of thing.”
He’s not alone.
Over Labor Day at the panning grounds in Last Chance Basin, off the Perseverance Trail, dozens of people — both locals and tourists with Alaska Travel Adventures — swirled silt in pans and buckets.
Local Jerry Kennedy prospects with his son, Trevoer Williams, 18, and Trevoer’s girlfriend Cristina Santos, 19.
“It’s a heck of a lot better than sitting in the house all day long,” Kennedy said. He looks at gold panning as family time, as well as a hobby that will eventually pay for itself. Williams said he enjoys the “rush” of seeing gold.
Hurtado said how much gold he finds depends how seriously he’s panning. One of the most recent times he and his wife Amy went out, they found 1.3 grams in a day.
“Gold actually washes down all the time,” Hurtado said, though adding, “the stuff we collect now ain’t nothin’ compared to what the old-timers had. Juneau sits on tailings.”
In gold panning parlance, panners can find flour, flakes, pickers and nuggets, in ascending order of size, Kennedy said.
“And then you have ‘Eureka!’” Hurtado added.
What will they do with the gold they’ve found? Kennedy’s saving it to make a five ounce bar. Hurtado is holding onto it until the price of gold is $2,000 or $3,000 an ounce. Right now, gold is worth around $1,400 an ounce. Over the last five years, it has ranged from a low of under $800 to a high of more than $1,800.
Ron Wilfert, who’s in Juneau working but is from Illinois, said he’s saving up enough so that he can show his friends back home.
If you’re interested in panning for gold but have questions about where, when or how, Department of Natural Resources Environmental Engineer David Wilfong is the guy to ask. “When it comes to recreational mining, the state is pretty lenient. We don’t require permits for anything … that’s loaded with a shovel,” Wilfong said.
There are also a few places where, like Last Chance Basin, people aren’t allowed to use a sluice box for water quality reasons.
Wilfong said Gold Creek is probably the best place to go panning, though prospectors can also find “a lot of color” in Montana Creek. As neither is open to claims, “nobody owns the gold there. It’s public gold,” he said. People also pan at Sandy Beach, but that’s somewhere prospectors have to be careful of claim-jumping.
“Most people are looking to go out and have a good time, find a little color,” Wilfong said. “If they’re sticking to a shovel and a pan, as long as they’re on public property, they’re good to go. Once you start talking about getting a motor on something, they need to come talk to me, and we can work out when and how they’re going to do their mining.”
WHAT TO BRING
Bill Wilcox, owner of Southeast Mine Supply, said people mostly buy gold pans from the store. Other options, like a battery-powered automatic pan, are more expensive, so they’re less popular. He also sells the occasional sluice box and dredge.
Gold panner Daniel Hurtado uses a Gold Rush Nugget Bucket. Other materials prospectors bring include a shovel, a bucket, and a classifier.