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by Wildcat Dianne
August 26, 2010
There was an old hotel at the turnoff we needed to take to go to Independence Gold Mine that Larissa had visited in the past, but signs of the recession had made its way all the way up here, and the hotel was still boarded up for the winter and showed no sign of opening up for the summer tourist season.
Ed, Larissa and I arrived at Independence Mine and pulled into the parking lot at the bottom of the hill we would be climbing to get to the mine. We could see some of the mine's abandoned outer buildings from where we were standing figuring out our next plan of attack. The road leading to the mine was roadblocked with a locked barricade, but we were in good enough shape to conquer the fifteen-minute walk up the hill to the mine. However, one man in a truck went up to the gate and wasn't happy that it was barricaded and said he had a bad back and couldn't walk long distances. I said to Ed I had issues with the man's story and thought the man needed to lose some weight and maybe eliminate his back problems. If you do have breathing problems or other serious health issues, you might not want to attempt walking up the hill to Independence Mine. At 3,500 feet above sea level, it might be a problem for you.
The history of Independence Gold Mine was a short one but a rich one. Lode gold was first discovered by Robert Hatcher (of whom Hatcher Pass was named after) in 1906, but it was expensive to mine by hand and gold mining was not attempted in this area until 1938 when two gold mining camps were built in the Palmer area. One was the Alaska Free Gold Martin Mine on Skyscraper Mountain and the other was the Independence Mine which is located on Granite Mountain. Both mining camps were set up by the Alaska-Pacific Consolidation Mining Company (APC). Over 83 mining claims were discovered near at the Independence Mine.
In 1941 the APC employed 204 men to work at the Independence Mine where 34,000 ounces of gold valued at then $1.2 million was mined. Many of these miners had families and wanted to be with them, so the APC built Boomtown where the 22 miners' families could live and the children (eight in all) could go to school.
By the end of 1941, the USA was at war with Japan and Germany and by early 1942, gold mining was considered as "unessential to the war effort" and gold mining was pretty much stopped altogether in the USA except at the Independence Mine in Alaska. Why? Lode Gold in Alaska contains Sheelite which is a source of Tungsten, an important metal, that could be used to make weapons and other thing vital to the war effort. But, unfortunately for the Independence Mine, the amount of Sheelite coming from the mine was very low, and the government shut down Independence Mine in 1943.
Independence Mine was reopened after WWII in 1946, but gold mining in the USA was slow in recovering from WWII and gold was only worth $35 an ounce. Independence Mine went on mining gold at a low rate until January 1951 when it was closed for good. In 1974, Independence Mine became part of the National Register of Historic Places and in 1980, the title of the mine went to the State of Alaska.
Ed, Larissa and I finally made it up the hill to Independence Mine, and I was totally blown away by the haunting beauty of the place. Standing still, I could imagine what life was like for these miners and their families the 10 years Independence Mine was in existence. The mine itself is in ruins in the center of Boomtown, but the state of Alaska has reconstructed and painted many of the buildings that made up Boomtown including the school and several homes. There was also a general store for folks to buy goods but big shopping trips were made in Palmer once a month or so to stock up for winter or other times.
After touring the mine, Ed and I became separated from Larissa and wound up climbing the hills on Granite Mountain. I do not recommend this for anyone in bad shape, but I managed to keep up with Ed, the hardcore outdoorsman, for quite a while. Katie, the little butterball, kept up with her Daddy, too, but once the rocky hills got more vertical, Ed and I took a break and chatted a while. Ed was ready for more climbing and said I was free to come along. I told him if I couldn't make it, I would turn back and go back to Boomtown. I thought I would keep up with Ed but not long after we started hiking again, I kept falling and after one wonderful slip and Jacoby Ellsbury like slide down the hill into some snow, I gave up my hike of Granite Mountain and headed back to Ed's truck while Ed and Katie continued on. The one good thing about that little slide was that I discovered my Army Navy Store camo pants were waterproof and dried pretty quickly along with my hiking boots.
After maneuvering my way down Granite Mountain I finally hit flat land and Boomtown and hiked down to Ed's truck and had to wait about 30 minutes for Larissa and Ed to come down. I threw a few snowballs around to keep warm and kicked myself royally for not bringing the camera. This was the best trip during my Alaskan adventure, and if I come back to this beautiful state, I want to come back to Independence Mine.
Independence Mine is open from May-September and when it is open for the season, they ask for you to drop $4 into the admissions bucket at the entrance. Make sure you are in good shape, bring water and good shoes and enjoy the haunting beauty of Independence Mine.
From journal A Couple of Wicked Wooly Trips Outside of Anchorage
March 5, 2006
From journal Alaska Trip 2005