It takes a Leap of Faith to Pan for Gold at Porcupine Creek

Excerpts from RGA Tour Guide, Holly Jo Parnell at HainesAlaskaTourguide.blogspotcom

With gold sky rocketing over $1700 an ounce recently, our Gold Rush to Porcupine Creek Tour is starting to be more than mere entertainment to our tour guests. Even small gold nuggets are worth something. Young and old, People want gold!

John Schnabel telling young prospectors; Mike, Farris, Errol and Matt how to pan for gold.

I have become a pretty good gold panner since I get to show tour groups how to pan for gold almost every time we visit Big Nugget Mine at Porcupine Creek. In fact, I became a little over-confident about my gold panning technic and lost my gold in the water trough on one of my tours. My happy tour guide persona quickly vanished and was replaced by a gold fever lunatic who just lost their fortune. I rolled up my sleeves and told all the guests to step back while I franticly panned the mud at the bottom of the trough. Everyone kept silent as they could tell I meant business. It only took me seven times of scrapping mud from the bottom and panning it to recover my lost gold nugget. I breathed a sigh of relief as I dropped my sweet gold nugget into my “poke” and came back to Tour Guide mode, all fun and games and happiness again.
I was pretty embarrassed about that incident until a few tours later when John Schnabel himself (Big Nugget Mine owner) lost his gold during a panning demonstration. He looked at me and said, “In 25 years I have never lost the gold”. He didn’t bother panning it back out of the trough, he just went to his safe and got some more gold. I noticed him eyeing the area he lost the nugget though. I’m sure he panned it out after we left.


Rainbow Glacier Adventure Tour Guests; a couple from Canada and locals Kim & Hunter get a rare gold panning demo from a “real” Gold Miner of Porcupine Creek,
John Schnabel of Big Nugget Mine

This last tour I found out that losing my own gold is not the worst thing that could happen…..losing one of my guests gold is. I was panning with a nice couple, Julie and David, from Virginia when I saw a gold nugget come into view in Julie’s pan.
I exclaimed, “Julie, you got gold!”
She said, “Where?”
“Right there!” I pointed excitedly at a beautiful round yellow nugget that looked decidedly different than the one I had discovered while giving them a gold panning demonstration. That was why she didn’t believe it was gold I guess, it looked really yellow, my nugget had more iron in it and caused it to have a reddish tint. Julie’s gold looked very pure.
She said, “That is just a yellow rock.”
“No, it’s gold, and a pure piece of gold…less iron in it than mine!”, I exclaimed.
She looked at me skeptically.
“Its gold alright, look here, see…”, To convince her, I picked her gold nugget out of the pan and started turning it over in my fingers when – PLOP – down it fell, out of my fingers and into the watery trough! Oh My Goodness! We both looked at each other in dead silence, then down at the murky water.
“Ah…hopefully your right Julie, maybe that wasn’t your gold” I backpedaled, wishing I hadn’t made such a big deal about how pure and pretty her gold looked compared to mine.
“That looked like my gold.” Julie proclaimed with a 180 degree turn from a few moments ago.
“Don’t worry, I’ll get it back” I said as I started digging into the bottom of the trough with my pan.
“You better”, she said, somewhat teasingly, somewhat not.
I cleared my throat and confidently told her, “No problem, we will get it back in no time.”
We both started panning the bottom of the trough to no avail. After multiple attempts we asked David to join us in the search and I mentioned to Julie that if we couldn’t find her gold she could have the nugget I found. She said she wanted “her” gold piece, not mine. Oh shoot, any gold nugget was not going to appease her. She wanted the pretty round yellow nugget that was meant for her. Ugghhh. I panned more furiously.

My gold nugget to the right there – the one I offered Julie as a
consolation prize, but was rejected. Mine is long and flat
with more red coloring, hers was fat and round and pure yellow.

After scraping the mud from the cold water over twenty times my hands started to feel numb. We are on a real Placer Mine at Big Nugget Gold Mine in Porcupine Creek….we don’t heat our water.
I began losing hope, and started talking seriously about the possibility she may have to take my gold nugget as a consolation prize and when I found her gold I could mail it to her. The look on her face told me that was not an option. I was going to find “her” gold…or die trying.
So I said a little prayer. I know, this is not really a praying matter, but I could not think of anything else to do and my back was getting sore, my hands were pass the numb stage and starting to grow icicles. I just wanted the nightmare to be over, so I prayed a silent little prayer in my heart to help me find this reluctant gold nugget.
Presto! Like magic, that round yellow gold nugget appeared on top of the mud I had just scooped up from the bottom of the trough. I didn’t even need to pan it out. It was gleaming on the top of the panned mud like it was King of the Mountain! How cool is that?

Julie’s shy little gold nugget safely found at last!

Now I don’t want to turn this into a religious blog or anything, but I believe in giving credit where credit is due. That is how I got Julie’s gold nugget back to her. She was a happy gold panning tourist again. All was well in the Tour Guide World.


Jenny Lyn Smith with her daughter, Sabrina & family,
visiting from Utah – they were all successful at Gold Panning!
Sometimes we Tour Guides have to go to extreme measures to insure the guests have a wonderful experience. This was one of those times…and frankly, I wish I had thought of praying sooner. My hands wouldn’t have froze and I wouldn’t have to be rubbing “tiger balm” on my back every night since then.


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