By Brad Jones
An Alaskan summer just wouldn’t be complete without sightings of grizzly bears, musk oxen, a few moose, scenic wildflowers in bloom, the taste of fresh salmon and, of course, GOLD!
But it was more than the allure of gold, scenery and wildlife that beck.oned 37 Californians to go north to AkAu Alaska Gold & Resort last sum.mer. It was the hospitality.
AkAu is run by Augie Krutzsch, his mom, Betty Krutzsch-Johnson and Tony Johnson who are also members of the Gold Prospectors Association of America and Temecula Valley Prospec.tors, a local GPAA chapter.
When Betty invited TVP chapter members a chance to visit the camp at a special group rate, Don and Linda Starr jumped at the chance.
“We had been talking to Betty for a couple of years to put together a group-rate price,” Don said.
Linda, who was TVP treasurer at the time, organized the members and collected the fees for weekly lodge and ATV rentals. Then, in mid-August, the group headed to AkAu Gold & Resort.
The camp is located seven miles north of Nome in the foothills near An.vil Mountain. Early gold miners named the landmark of exposed bedrock at the top of the mountain Anvil Rock because it looks like a blacksmith’s anvil from almost any angle. Similarly, the creek where the first big gold strike happened in 1898, was named Anvil Creek. Even the Alaska Gold Rush boomtown that sprang up on the beaches of the Bering Sea below was called Anvil City, until late 1899, when it was officially named Nome.
The AkAu property is the legacy of Augie’s father, August Krutzsch, who was born in St. Louis and moved at the age of seven with his family to San Diego in 1922. As a young man, he headed north to Alaska in the early years of the Great Depression in search of gold. Krutzsch served in World War II, but returned to Alaska when the fighting ended. The Krutzsch family mined their claims near Nome, Alaska for many years under the name of Krutzsch Mining.
In the early ’60s, the elder Krutzsch who had worked for years as an un.derground gold miner near Fairbanks, Alaska, bought the property which now includes 147 patent mining claims on 400 acres. There he met his future wife, Betty, who was operating a laundromat in Nome.
Years later, August Krutzsch met GPAAfounder George Massie in Nome when “The Buzzard, was building the Cripple River Mining Camp.
Though August died in 1988, Au.gie built and runs the camp with the help of his mom, Betty Krutzsch-John.son, who remarried after August passed away, and his stepdad, Tony Johnson.
Augie grew up in the San Diego area but has spent many summers and a few long winters in Alaska. It was his dream to create the AkAu camp which opened in 2011 with four clients and two walk-ins to become what it is to.day.
“We’re a gold mining adventure camp. There’s great gold and chunky nuggets,” said Augie, who named the resort “Ak” for Alaska and “Au” for the periodic table of elements symbol for gold.
Besides comfortable lodging, the camps offers multiple mining claims and areas for metal detecting, high-banking, sluicing, and dredging. It also offers ATV rentals, fishing (equipment provided), day excursions to Nome, as well as historical and cultural tours upon request.
While some participants stayed one or two weeks, a few stayed for three, from Aug. 18 to Sept. 7. The GPAA members were mainly from the TVPchapter, but the Hemet Valley Prospec.tors and the Treasure Seekers of San Diego were also represented on the ad.venture.
By all accounts, AkAu offered the complete package.
While Don and Linda Starr did their fair share of highbanking, they stayed a full three weeks at the camp and set aside some time for sightseeing.
“It was a total Alaska experience,” Linda said. “It wasn’t just a gold min.ing camp. There was so much more to do besides prospecting.”
The lodge itself holds more than 20 guests at a time with two people per room with beds, sheets, blankets, bath.rooms with flush toilets and hot show.ers. There are also cabins for rent.
A common area in the lodge is a perfect spot for relaxation and camara.derie—a place to swap mining tales or fish stories, unwind and read a book or watch a movie. The aptly named Great Room was another highlight for the Starrs.
Linda recalled sharing a few laughs and having an enjoyable time mining with other participants.
“It was just very, very relaxing,” she said.
The Nome area is teeming with salmon and other fish, and to a lesser extent Arctic grayling—another golden opportunity for visitors who enjoy an.gling.
And, the best part is the resort sup.plies all the fishing gear, so there is no need to pack your rods, bait and lures.
“The thing I enjoyed the most about the trip was going fishing,” Linda said. “I hadn’t been fishing since I was kid, and didn’t know if I would enjoy it or not.”
But, it wasn’t long before she dove right in, so to speak, and caught her first fish.
“Augie took us out fishing. He took us out on a boat ... to catch silver salm.on, and within an hour we all caught our limit, which is three salmon per day for each person,” she said. “I just got hooked on it. I loved the fishing experi.ence.”
While Don and TVP President Jack Barber stayed back at the mining camp, neither minded the result of the fishing trip. After a long day of moving ma.terial, nothing beats the taste of fresh salmon on the grill.
“On two nights, we had barbecued salmon that had just been caught,” Bar.ber said.
When in Nome ...
When in Nome, do as the Nomans do, and who better to follow than the Nome Mayor Richard Beneville?
“On Saturday nights, we went into town for the VFW Steak Dinner,” Bar.ber said. “There was likely more than a hundred people there and probably the biggest steaks you’re ever gonna see, covering your plate.”
Beneville is well known for wel.coming GPAA members and entertain.ing prospectors with song and recitals of Robert W. Service poetry. And, the good mayor was not about to disap.point this group of prospectors.
“It was a lot of fun,” Barber said.
Beneville donated the use of his van to help drive the group back to camp following the dinner, Barber said.
The mayor is also known for his lively, informative local tours of Nome and the surrounding areas.
Trip to Teller
AkAu also offers day excursions to nearby attractions. Upon request, Betty, being a gracious host, drove her guests on an all-ay excursion to the small town of Teller about 75 miles from the camp.
Inupiaq Eskimos from Brevig Mis.sion came by boat across Norton Sound to sell their wares to the miners in the neighboring village of Teller. The Alas.kan natives brought an array of art, in.cluding seal and musk oxen fur, bead work, ivory carvings and artifacts.
“They live a subsistence lifestyle. By carving, they make spending mon.ey, so we’re helping them out,” said Augie. “There’s some great carvers from there— a lot of artists.”
Labor Day in Nome
On Labor Day, Nome celebrates its annual Great Bathtub Race in which competitors push bathtubs full of wa.ter with a driver in the tub down Front Street.
“They had a big deal in town,” Linda said.
The Last Train to Nowhere
Some of the group took a tour of the Last Train to Nowhere about 33 miles from Nome. Just across Bonanza Bridge, three rusted steam locomotivesand some rolling stock can be seen sinking into the tundra.
“Dubbed “The Last Train to No.where,” they are all that remain of a dream to build the most extensive and prosperous rail system on the Seward Peninsula,” according to the Alaska.org website. “In the early 1900s, Chi.cago investors backed construction of the Council City & Solomon River Railroad in an effort to link the region’s major mining centers by rail. But as the gold rush faded, the project became mired in debt and after five years of construction, the line extended only 35 miles. The project was abandoned in 1907 and the locomotives left to dete.riorate. Today, the popular attraction is equipped with viewing platforms and interpretive signs.”
The group also stopped at the last checkpoint of the Iditarod on the tour.
Cruise ship fever
“There was a cruise ship that came in, and the City of Nome has different events for passengers of cruise ships to go to, and gold panning was just one of them,” Barber said.
So, he and some other GPAAmem.bers volunteered to lend a hand at the panning trough in Nome, where more than 800 people learned how to pan for gold.
“We would give them their gold, tape it to the back of a Nome postcard and on their way they went,” he said. “The passengers were from all over the world—almost every nationality ... It was fun.”
Barber isn’t sure if any of the pas.sengers caught gold fever, but said he wouldn’t be surprised if some felt the gold bug’s bite.
“You never know,” he said. “It doesn’t take a lot sometimes for it to kick in, so we’ll find out if any of them contact AkAu within the next year, and if any of them were on that cruise ship.”
Barber enjoyed the variety of pros.pecting opportunities the most and rec.ommends renting an AkAu ATV.
“An ATV is the way to get around, but there is always a van going to town if you want to jump on,” he said. “You can pretty much go wherever you want to go on an ATV.”
Adredge is also available for guests to use, though Barber warns prospec.tive guests dredging is not for the faint of heart.
“Quite a few people dredged. Most of them hadn’t dredged before, but they wanted the experience. But af.ter discovering how cold the water is, many stuck to the highbanking. Au.gie brought in loads of gold-bearing paydirt from gold-bearing areas—sev.eral dump truck loads of material for us to run on the highbankers,” Barber said. “There was something going on from morning till night prospecting wise. I spent the majority of my time highbanking because that’s where ev.erybody was getting good quantities of material.”
Though Barber has been to Cripple River Mining Camp two previous trips to Nome, he prefers prospecting with a smaller group of people.
“This was more of a hands-on ex.perience,” Barber said. “Augie was showing us where he has found gold in the past and the best methods for find.ing gold in that area.”
Barber is right. As is most often the case in gold mining, the more material one moves, the more gold one will find.
“They have an operation that’s called a slick plate. They don’t run it all the time, but they did because our group was there,” he said. “It’s great big huge sheets of steel and Augie pushed four dump truck loads of dirt on the steel. You stand there with a firehose wash.ing the dirt out, and the gold runs down the steel sheets. It drops off and goes through sluice boxes. You’re moving a lot of dirt in a short period of time.”
A group of 16 miners, taking four-person shifts for three hours for four mornings recovered about an ounce of fine gold and a half-gram nugget, Bar.ber said.
“Augie makes it easy for you to find gold. He put’s the dirt that has the gold in it right in front of your shovel. All you have to do is clean it, ” he said.
Judging by the number of mining claims and hundreds of acres of AkAu property, there is plenty more gold where that came from, he said.
“The biggest nugget I remember seeing on the highbanking operation was a 2.3-gram nugget, a .7-gram nug.get and a good handful of .5s to .2s, and a lot of gold, period,” Barber said. “If you worked on the highbanker, you had gold.”
He estimates that close to 10 ounc.es of gold was recovered by the whole group in about two weeks.
But, as much as Barber loved to spend his time mining, he admits there is much more than prospecting to see and do in the Nome area.
“The experience is more than just gold. It’s the people you meet, the places that you see and the things you do,” he said. “Yeah, you’re there for the gold, but there’s a lot more to a trip like that than just getting the gold. Some of the history in that area is amazing.”
For example, the history of beach glass that washes up from the Bering Seas and is often collected by tourists, dates back to when the city of Nome burned, Barber said.
“Before the town burned, that same beach had thousands of miners on it looking for riches in gold.”
Metal detecting was also popular at AkAu, Barber said. If you go, you’ll want to bring your own small hand picks and scoops for metal detecting.
“I brought my metal detector and one gold pan I like using,” he said. “That’s it. That’s all I brought. They have everything else there. They have all the shovels and equipment.”
The Starrs and other members of the group went detecting and a few nuggets were found, Linda said.
“One guy found a nugget bigger than my thumbnail near the highbank.ers. It’s an awesome nugget,” she said.
“Prospecting was great,” Don said. “We all got gold. I found a 1.3-gram nugget.”
The Blueberry Bounce
While exploring some old miners’cabins, Don and Linda discovered a blueberry patch and began to nibble at the fresh berries.
“We started out metal detecting by the cabin,” said Don, “And, the next thing you know, we were a hundred yards away from the cabin just picking and eating blueberries.”
Hiking to Anvil Rock
One day, the Starrs hiked up to Anvil Rock, where they met some lo.cal children. Though Linda and Don didn’t feel like they were overdressed for the occasion, they soon found out they were, and how acclimated they are to the weather of Southern California.
“These kids were running around in short-sleeved shirts,” she said.
According to the Alaska.org web.site, the hike from the base of the mountain to the Anvil Rock takes about an hour there and back. Visitors have a good chance of seeing musk oxen, a variety of birds, possibly even reindeer
“The scenery was gorgeous,” Linda said. “We saw the musk oxen ... graz.ing on the tundra,” she said. “And, they almost walked through camp.”
When one of the TVP members, Ryan Romaine, launched a camera-equipped drone over a herd to capture some video, the musk oxen formed a protective circle—as they are known to do—to shelter their young from the strange object in the sky.
To watch the YouTube video by Ryan Romaine, search for “Temecula Valley Prospectors at AkAu Alaska Gold & Resort - Nome, Alaska 2017” or go to: https://youtu.be/ENJJpxGx.cag
Linda also spotted a couple of griz.zly bears on one of the adventures.
“That was really exciting,” she said.
Trip of a Lifetime
“If you are only going to Alaska one time, it is the total package. We’ve probably been to Alaska a dozen times over the years. It was the best prospect.ing trip without a doubt,” Don said. “We thought it was exceptional. When you take an ATV ... or just drive out into the middle of nowhere there is a profound sensation. You look out over the tundra and you don’t see any build.ings, no houses, no city and no roads,” Don said. “It was just a total pleasing experience, a wonderful vacation and I highly recommend it for any couple who wants to have a one-time experi.ence in Alaska”
For anyone who hasn’t yet ventured to Alaska,“You gotta do it at least once. It’s a different world. It’s a different ex.perience. A different culture,” he said.
That’s why they keep going back.
“We enjoy Alaska so much that we took our grand-daughter and daughter there on a cruise ship last year so they could experience a little bit of it,” said Linda.
The couple extended their trip and spent at week in Fairbanks and also toured Denali National Park.
“We have a big bucket list,” Don added.
AkAu’s camp provides some op.tions for those GPAA members who miss going to the Cripple River Mining Camp in years past.
“It’s kind of an alternative camp for people who have a lot of interest in Alaska,” Augie said. “They’ve sent people up to Alaska for years, so this is an opportunity for people to still have the Alaskan adventure.”
Known for nuggets
Though the camp is set back from the Bering Sea, Anvil Creek has yield.ed some of the largest gold nuggets ever found in Alaska.
“It’s one of the biggest nugget Creeks in Alaska,” Augie said. “Out of 20 of the biggest nuggets found in Alaska, about 10 of them have been found on that creek.”
The amazing finds on Anvil Creek are well documented and images can be easily found online with a quick Google search.
One of the sure-fire ways to find gold is not only to do your homework and practice your prospecting skills, but to learn from experienced prospec.tors. And Augie, though he has been prospecting since he was a boy, was also a professional gold miner from 1988 to 2004.
AkAu’s mission is to create an op.portunity for guests to experience both the beauty of the Alaskan landscape and show them a glimpse of Nome’s history as the most famous town of the Alaskan Gold Rush.
The AkAu Alaska Gold & Resort has been so popular that the family has plans for expansion and making the cabins near the lodge more comfort.able. The lodge already has heating, but heating will be added to the cabins, Augie said.
Booking up for the 2018 season
The AkAu Gold & Resort is open from June 15 to Sept. 15 and most people book for one or two weeks at a time, Augie said.
After word-of-mouth reports about last summer, the camp is booking up.
“They had a great time. It’s pretty rare when I have customers who aren’t happy. Most people find in very adven.turous,” Augie said. “Everybody I’ve talked to were very content and happy about their experience.”
Already, TVP members and the Route 66 Gold Prospectors have begun planning their trips for next summer, but there’s still vacancies.
“We’re still taking reservations for individuals and clubs,” he said.
“Augie, Betty and Tony are just great hosts,” Barber said. “I felt it was a lot more like a home away from home type of atmosphere. There was no stress ... If you didn’t want to do some.thing one day, you didn’t have to do anything. It was the first time I’d been there, but it’s not gonna be my last. I’ve already signed up to go next year ... It’s worth it.”
For more information about AkAu Alaska Gold & Resort, go to www.AkAuGold.com, or call (760) 500.1329 or (760) 855-2855.
Brad Jones is a GPAA member and freelance writer based in California. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Website: www.WebslingerMultimedia.com.