Photo by Michael Cogliantry
By 1900, gold had turned Nome was turning it into the biggest city in what was then the Alaska Territory. Three nuggets found in 1904, and worth almost $700,000 today, give an idea of the wealth to be won by the lucky.
The “golden sands” of Nome still catch people’s imagination, even if the numbers coming are now much smaller. I walk along the beach by the freezing Bering Sea, where the hopeful have set up big homemade tents in preparation for the planned months of hard panning ahead. Inventive pumps, dredges and sluice boxes lie on the sand. Those who arrive are interesting, unusual characters and they make all kinds of contraptions in the hope of finding gold. Nome does not try to be beautiful but it is original and exciting, a frontier town surrounded by spectacular scenery. As the local saying goes there is “no place like Nome”.
Jeff was originally a truck driver from Oklahoma. “I built my own dredge and shipped it up here. I decided to come after watching a TV show on gold fever and thought ‘Heck! I’m going’,” he says. For weeks on end the sea can be too rough for gold and then it is just a matter of waiting for the weather to turn. Jeff came with two friends but they left, unable to put up with the harsh life. He was also ready to quit but then staying on and now goes crab fishing and caribou hunting with locals when it gets stormy.
As the poet Robert Service writes about this part of Alaska: “You come to get rich, you hate it like hell for a season, it twists you from foe to a friend.”
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