Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Juneau’s Last Chance Mining

Hiking Trails throughout the Last Chance Mining Basin
From Hoonah we motored to Auke Bay and filled up the tanks with diesel, the Juneau area has much better fuel prices than the more remote outlying villages and Got d’ Fever was thirsty after her hours of motoring in the Gulf of Alaska.   We found moorage space on the breakwater at Auke Bay Marina and then walked around the docks looking for Uno.  To our surprise, a “For Sale” sign was attached to her starboard window.  After talking to Phil and Uno, we learned that they decided to purchase a different boat once they sell Uno, perhaps a vessel that is larger and newer. We spent one night at Auke Bay and then motored along Douglas Island and headed into Juneau to spend some time resting up and enjoying more of the local sights.  The Last Chance Mining Museum in Last Chance Basin was on our list of things to see.  
Compressor Building, A.J. Mining Company, Juneau
The Museum is housed in the compressor building (used from 1912-1944) of the historic Alaska Juneau Gold Mining Company in the hills above downtown Juneau.  Gold, silver, and lead were mined for over 60 years in the Basin around Mt Roberts and Gold Creek.  In 1880 two prospectors, Joe Juneau and Richard Harris, led by Koweee, a Tlingit chief, found a creek bearing pea sized nuggets of gold.  By 1881 the swarm of prospectors who followed had staked 300 more claims along Gold Creek, calling themselves the Last Chance Group.  Miners extracted nearly $100,000 worth of gold that year which lured more people to the town of Juneau.  
Numerous Waterfalls, Mt Roberts Area, Juneau
A wooden crib dam was constructed across Gold Creek in 1900 that fed into a large-scale wooden flume running the entire length of the valley.  Miners washed the hillsides above the dam with streams of high-pressure water diverting the gravels into the wooden flume.  After draining the water they scoured the flume for gold flakes.  In later years Placer mining gave way to Hard Rock mining as companies began using underground methods.  Hard Rock mining begins with the drilling and blasting of gold-bearing quartz veins, then crushed and later ground very fine in preparation for extraction.  The longest lasting of these hard rock mines was the Alaska Juneau Gold Mining Company.  
A. J. Mining Air Compressor, Last Chance Museum
A huge air compressor was used to run the pneumatic drills to make holes in the rock for dynamite.  Stamp mills were built to crush the ore and engineers designed dams and flumes to provide water to power the mills and to process the ore.  The “last chance aquifer” still provides most of the drinking water for downtown Juneau and Douglas Island. 

Remaining buildings at A.J. Mining Company
The Alaska Juneau Mining Co. (the A.J. Company) was running at a profit, mining 13,000 tons a day at a cost of only 80 cents per ton in 1928.  By 1934 the A.J. Company owned the holdings of both the defunct Treadwell mines and the Alaska Gastineau claim. 
The 60's-70's Tourist Excursion through the Mine Tunnel 
Closed Mine Tunnels
Due to high costs and labor shortages during WWII, the Alaska Juneau Mining Co. closed in 1944 after 60 years plus of operation, having produced over 6.5 million ounces of gold valued at $158,000,000.  During the 1960’s and 70’s, tourists could ride through the tunnels in a battery operated locomotive that pulled historic mining cars between the Last Chance Basin and A.J.’s Gold Mining mill; the tunnels have since closed but what a thrill that must have been.  There are actually more miles of underground tunnels around Mount Roberts than there are roads in all of Juneau!

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