Waking from a wet and rainy night in my dry tent at May Creek, I dressed and hurried over to the main cabin for breakfast and news of the day. The Gulkana hangar radioed that clouds were on the deck at the airport, it was raining hard and flights would be delayed. There was enough visibility at May Creek for the helicopter, so the crews flew back to their work locations. The May Creek volunteer offered to take me, as Artist-in-Residence, on the park service 4-wheel ATV for a ride up the gravel trail to the historic Chittitu Gold mine. I packed for rain, but mercifully we were spared. Mud and wet bushes were the order of the day. My feet were wet and cold encased in soggy tennis shoes, but I stayed dry during the trip.
I’ve been to the Chittitu before, many years ago and it looked much the same. There were less artifacts and many roofs and floors were partially collapsed, but otherwise it was still amazingly intact. Everything was so overgrown it was like a jungle and very hard to photograph. We were able to explore almost all of the buildings, the mosquitoes were fierce in the windless, cloudy, damp environment. The Chittitu was the largest gold producer in the Nizina mining district, and was active from 1902 through the 1950’s. It was a private 907 acre inholding at the time and not a part of the Wrangell-St. Elias national park until it was purchased in 2007. On the ride back we located a ”secret” gold panning spot and washed one pan that produced a few flakes.
A flight from Gulkana was able to arrive by late afternoon, I hopped aboard and again was disappointed that the cloud ceiling was so low that the Wrangell mountains were not visible. We flew below the cloud cover following the rivers, first the Kennicott then the Copper all the way back to the Gulkana airport. It was a memorable experience and gave me much insight into the history of this wilderness region of Alaska and a lot of material for future paintings.
Gail Niebrugge, Alaska wilderness artist