Cook points to a couple of gold flakes found within minutes of beginning his panning for the day.
Glenn Cook pans for gold in Gold Creek. Cook lives only minutes away from the creek and he says gold panning is the perfect hobby for him to get away from town and enjoy the outdoors.
Story last updated at 5/20/2009 - 11:35 am
JUNEAU - A bucket, strainer, shovel and pan are all that Glenn Cook needs to perform his favorite hobby: gold panning. He grew up in Arizona and began panning when he was seven years old under the wing of his father, a gold enthusiast. Whenever his family had time to get away, they would head for the hills and streams to see what they could find.
Cook moved to Juneau about a year ago to work as the State Archivist. Though he has spent most of his life seeking gold, he said Juneau's rich mining history didn't play a part in his relocation.
"It's a coincidence, but it was a good coincidence," Cook said.
Since he has been in Juneau, Cook has collected about half an ounce of gold from Gold Creek, his preferred panning spot. At nearly $1,000 per ounce, gold panning isn't a bad way to spend one's spare time. But Cook doesn't have plans to cash in.
"In Juneau, you're not going to get rich," Cook said. "It's more just to go out and have fun."
Cook said that there are a few other regular panners that he sees from time to time and plenty of tourists who make their way up Basin Road to try their luck panning in the creek. He often finds himself posing for photos and giving pointers to those who are less experienced.
"You can turn somebody from half a world away on to something that they never thought they'd do," Cook said. "They find a couple little pieces and they're just ecstatic and they go home happy about it."
The first thing Cook does when he gets to the creek is pick a spot and dig up a bit of the creek bed. He uses a sieve to separate larger rocks out from the sand and pebbles, then plops some of it into a pan.
Whether bending over or crouching down, the next step is to submerge the pan under the water and begin to shake it. Through shaking the pan to the left and right, the gold sinks to the bottom. Then, moving the pan forward and backward allows the water to wash off the top layer of sand and rock until all that's left in the pan is gold.
"Let the water do all the work for you," Cook said. "Once you get good at it, you can go fairly quickly. As long as you're not washing the gold out of your pan, you're doing it right."
Though he has quite a collection of old and new equipment, Cook prefers to use newer plastic pans that are equipped with ridges on the inside to keep gold from washing out.
Though the pioneers of Juneau's early days found bean-sized nuggets in Gold Creek, all that's left now are very small flakes, only slightly larger than the sand in which they are found. After heavy rains, new sediment gets washed down from the hillside, which often brings gold along with it.
On average, Cook said a person can get one or two flakes per pan in Gold Creek, though sometimes he finds more. Last year, he hit a spot where he collected nearly 30 flakes per pan about 15 times in a row.
"It's seldom, but you will get a few pans with nothing," Cook said. "If you're not finding gold it means there's either nothing in the area or you're not doing it right."
FOR LOVE OF THE SPORT
Cook said his favorite thing about gold panning is being outside and enjoying nature, rain or shine. He lives within minutes of the creek and loves how easy it is to "get away for an hour."
"There's nothing better than listening to the water while everybody else is out in the stores spending their money," Cook said. "It's so serene out here. Even when there are tourists out, it's not that crazy."
Cook doesn't have plans to do much with his gold besides simply keep it in his collection. His father took one of the nuggets he found and had it melted into a wedding band for his wife as a 40th anniversary gift. Other panners and miners make watches or other jewelry out of their finds.
Cook's advice to aspiring panners is to "be patient, work on the whole process and don't worry about how long it takes."
Libby Sterling may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org