Golden Sands Beach

Beach in Nome

Sand zero, so to speak, of Nome’s famed gold rush, this beach is still open to recreational mining and all summer long you can watch miners set up work camps along the shore. Some will pan or open a sluice box right on the beach, while the more serious rig a sluice and dredging equipment onto a small pontoon boat and anchor it offshore.

From this Rube Goldberg machine–like contraption they will spend up to four hours underwater in wet suits (pumped with hot air from the engine), essentially vacuuming the ocean floor. Miners are generally friendly, and occasionally you can even coax one into showing you their gold dust and nuggets. If you catch the fever, practically every gift shop and hardware store in town sells black-plastic gold pans. As you’re panning, think about the visitor who, while simply beachcombing in 1984, found a 3.5in nugget at the eastern end of the seawall that weighed 1.29oz, and remember that gold’s now worth around $1300 per ounce.

The beach stretches a mile east of town along Front St. At the height of summer, a few local children may be seen playing in the 45°F (7°C) water, and on Memorial Day (in May), more than 100 masochistic residents plunge into the ice-choked waters for the annual Polar Bear Swim.

Across from the beach, just past the Tesoro gas station, sits a Mine Machinery Graveyard. As no roads connect Nome to the rest of the world, once a piece of equipment makes the barge-ride here, it stays until it turns to dust.