Russian explorers had established themselves in
southern Alaska by 1784, but the English explorer Captain James Cook is
credited with first exploring and describing the Anchorage area in 1778
during his third voyage of discovery. Mistaking one of the arms of
the inlet for a river, Cook named it "River Turnagain", later renamed
Turnagain Arm by a subsequent British explorer, George Vancouver.
Until the advent of the Alaska Railroad, gold-mining activity throughout
the Turnagain Arm and Kenai Peninsula promoted a steady influx of new
inhabitants to southcentral Alaska.
The area of Turnagain Arm is a photographers paradise.
Small groups of Dall sheep and mountain goats are found in many of the
mountainous areas of the Kenai Peninsula. Although these animals are
usually high on the sides of mountains during the summer months, several
opportunities for viewing are available from the road.
A short three miles from Girdwood lies a small rocky
valley whose grounds have been shaped and molded with the advances of
glacier movement. A movement which brought gold in its trails, and
miners to harvest the riches.
It's said the first claims at Crow Creek were staked
in 1897. Mining operations started thereafter, and the original
buildings of 1898 Blacksmith's Shop, Barn, Ice House, Commissary, Mine
Owner's Cabin, Mess Hall, Meat Cache and Bunk House which made up the
camp, still stand today.
A group of eight partners known in the Valley as the
"Crow Creek Boys" could be credited with starting it all. During the
early 1900's Crow Creek was the most productive camp in the Turnagain-Knik
region. The early mining methods quickly switched from pick and
shovel to hydraulic operations.
The crews pushed the gold-bearing gravel through
sluice boxes by using powerful streams of water from the hydraulic
giants. Water from the flume was carried down the hillside in 22
inch steel pipes and fed to the giants under great pressure. Streams
of water from these hydraulic nozzles rolled large boulders through the
boxes with great ease. At the lower end of the boxes, a miner
operating a 6 inch nozzle stacked the tailings to one side or the other.
The lower end of the boxes had to be kept clear and free running at all
times to prevent a back-up of material.
The gold was removed from the gravels in a series of
sluice boxes over 200 feet long. Each box was about twelve feet long
and four to five feet square. The first three or four boxes were
water tight, as gold, heavier than the associated gravel, would fall out
in the initial washing.
There is no record of the total amount of gold taken
from Crow Creek. But since Arnie Erickson took over ownership and
mined the claims until World War II, the mine yielded on average 700
ounces a month. Today at $400 an ounce, that would equate to
$280,000 per month.