The Dome Creek Ice Mines

Scroll down for photos or jump to new photos from 2004

    On Saturday I set out on my bike for the small town of Fox and points north, the original plan was to find the Dome Creek Dredge and camp there overnight, as well as possibly locating the Davidson Tunnel under the intersection of the Elliot Highway and Old Murphy Dome road. After getting  into Fox I biked past Dredge #8 ( the tourist attraction and historical monument), climbed a tailings pile and took some pictures, then headed out another road past the back end of a “keep out” sign. I also stopped briefly to photograph the Alaska Pipeline where it came out of the ground, it burrowed under to the south to pass beneath some roads, and to the north to go over and through a hill. I circled around the Steese highway and Goldstream road to look at a closed “mining camp” tourist attraction, they had part of a rail loop and some tour train cars, plus some kind of tunnel. Then I continued up the Steese past the NASA station (a log-cabin checkpoint with razor-wire fencing blocked the road to the big dishes) to look for a turnout where I’d seen some kind of tunnel last year. After biking a few miles up this I hadn’t seen it, so I turned around and went back to the junction with the Elliot Highway. I took a few photos of Fox on the way through, it just confirms my theory that the entire town is composed of gravel pits, salvage yards, and open pit mines. The place must have the most dead cars and old mining equipment per square foot of any place near Fairbanks.
 I stopped off briefly to fill up my water bottles at the Fox spring, then follwed the Elliot highway (mostly walking the bike due to my heavy pack slowing me down too much) up to the sharp left-hand turn where my map showed the Davidson tunnel ended. I went down the bank and followed a road a ways, but stopped when I appeared to be walking into someone's front yard. Then I went back, biked farther up, and went down through the trees to the road past the house, I saw the end of it from this side and walked closer, it turned out to be a storage shed full of junk. I then followed another road down to the real house (cabin really) which seemed to be unoccupied judging from the lack of tire tracks in the road snow. From here I followed a ditch, which the tunnel was supposed to supply water to, around to a series of collapsed timbers and a promising dark spot in the side of a small embankment. I found the tunnel, which even had rails going in (I'd thought it was only a water tunnel) but it was collapsed, with pits and subsidences showing its path towards the hills. Dissapointed, I headed back up the hill to my bike and continued up to the summit of the road.
 At the top I passed Old Murphy Dome road, then another two miles down the other side of the hill I spotted the probable road down to the Dome Camp area (I’d lost my map printout that showed this area). I bounced down this through the slush and mud to a gate at the bottom, which I easily lifted the bike over (there were four padlocks in a chain arrangement, apparently 4 different people have access to whatever is down there, but none had bothered to put up any trespassing signs).
 I’d seen some water and dredge-like ponds off to the left on the way down, so I first headed in that direction, I got stuck in bushes so I went  back and followed the road farther. This brought me to a gravel pit area with a tunnel into the hillside across a creek, I stashed the bike just off the road and headed down to take a look. First I climbed a tailings pile to check for the dredge off to the right (towards the Pedro Dome radar site), but no sign of it. I checked out the tunnel briefly, it had some freakishly huge ice crystals and a sloped floor coated in ice that could have sent me skating to the bottom if I’d gone past the berm partway up. (this separated the first, corrugated-metal section from the excavated section, and trapped some frozen water in the corrugated part). I didn’t go further than the berm, but I plan to come back sometime (although it looks like this is an active mine at least part of the year, there’s a cabin and some old sheds and a bus).
 I then headed up the hill behind the tunnel, and after getting nearly lost in a series of odd intersecting and crosshatching trails and old roads I found a small cabin and another gravel pit. I followed the gravel pit north, past another active open-pit mine and another cabin, until the sun started to go down over the ridge to the west. I then gave up on finding the dredge in that direction and set up camp in a small stand of trees. I cooked my chili and went to bed, read for a while and then went to sleep.
     I woke up early and dozed in and out for a few hours, it seems that my campsite had sprouted several sharp pointy rocks directly below my tent during the night.  Eventually I got up, broke camp and headed back. I found the mine and my bike again withough too much trouble after crashing through some more woods. I figured that I had time to follow the dirt road past the mine a little farther, so I dropped off the bike and most of my gear part way since it was weighing me down, then kept walking past the apparent end of the dredge tailings towards some dirt piles. Rounding one, I finally spotted the dredge in the distance, I eventually reached it and found the hull and half the lower deck entombed in ice. This didn’t stop my boarding and exploration, in fact it made for some really cool photos. As I explored the upper decks some pissed-off ravens screamed at me, I later saw their nest on the bow gantry. I spotted another old bus parked near yet another gravel pit to the east, up towards Pedro dome. It must be a law of nature that you can’t go for more than a few miles up an Alaskan dirt road without finding an old bus that some redneck, hippy, or miner has lived in.
     After checking out the dredge pretty throughouly, and running the digital camera’s batteries down, I returned to my bike, pushed it back up the hill, and had lunch at Hilltop Truckstop (a "Gold Dredge Cheeseburger" and enourmous slice of chocolate pie). I then rode and pushed to the real summit of the highway, and spent the rest of the day on the way back to campus.

Dredge #5:

Gold Dredge # 5 was moved to Dome Creek, north of Fairbanks, in 1955. This was the 2nd move for this dredge, originally constructed in 1929 at Cleary Creek and moved to Little Eldorado Creek in 1947. All parts of the dredge were labeled, and it was then taken apart, moved, and rebuilt. The markings labeling each piece are still visible on the hull and structural components.

Dredge #10, with better photos of what these look like.

Number 5 now rests in a small pond, with the hull sunk into mud and water, the stacker collapsed, and many parts missing or taken by salvagers. In the winter the water runs over and through the lower level, turning the floor into a big industrial ice rink.

The interior and upper deck (well patched). Lots of large parts are mysteriously missing.

The bow and stern areas, the last two photos show the fallen and ice-filled stacker conveyer.

Some sheds and remnants of the dredge's support camp.

If you go more than a mile up any dirt road in Alaska, you'll find an old bus.
It's just one of those facts of nature (there were two old busses near the dredge)

The Ice Mine:

There were quite a few gravel pits and small mining operations in the area.Near the dredge,
a tunnel descending into the permafrost and coated with giant fractal crystals. The first
dozen feet are corrugated pipe holding up the roof, a dirt berm causes water to pool in the pipe.
Past this point the tunnel sloped down, the sloped floor appeared to be an ice-coated slide,
which I didn't walk on for fear of taking a quick trip to the bowels of the earth.

New photos from 2004:
These were taken a year after the photos above, when the slightly warmer weather had started to melt the dredge ice early. We checked out some additional nearby mines but found the ice mine tunnel sealed up for some reason.

Mmm... Ice....

Inside and outside

Local dredge wildlife. The raven nest was still in the bow gantry and now features some blue eggs. The raven was pretty pissed off at us and kept harrasing us the whole time we were there. Porky appeared while we were trying to determine the origin of some apparent moose droppings inside the dredge, it looks like something tried to grab his ass and got a mouthfull of pain.

Mmm... macro...thingy...

Old Grafitti. Thanks for showing us yer shootin' skills Ed.

Nearby mines. The busses serve as cheap housing for workers. We felt the need to rummange through their cabinets looking for interesting artifacts, but the only thing we took was a 5-year old cookie from an open package (I don't know why Nopantsmonkey felt he needed to eat that) and some stale candy corns.

Old hydraulic-mining water canons. The thing in the second photo is a big scoop that can be pushed up against a hill by a bulldozer, and then used to guide the soil washed down by the water cannon into a sluice.


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