Gold, silver and other metals lace the rocky outcrops in the Alaska Range about 25 miles southwest of Tok, in an underexplored area near the Canadian border with promising potential for prospectors, according to a new state report.
After analyzing more than 500 pieces of rock collected in the two-year project, geologists reported this month that 40 samples contained greater than .005 ounces of gold per ton.
Such amounts could hint at profitable veins of gold to be discovered in the region, and could be enough to attract explorers amid today's prices for the precious metal, said Alicja Wypych, a geologist with the Alaska Division of Geological and Geophysical Surveys.
"It depends on gold prices and how expensive exploration would be in this region," said Wypych.
Gold — considered a safety net for investors against inflation and concerns over the $20 trillion national debt — sold for more than $1,175 an ounce on the spot market on Friday.
The state, which conducted the study with University of Alaska Fairbanks geologists, reported also finding "quite a bit" of silver in samples from the Tok River area southwest of the Alaska Highway community of about 1,200.
Ten rock samples contained greater than 1 ounce of silver per ton, the report said.
"That is very good," Wypych said.
Silver sold for about $16.50 an ounce on the spot market Friday.
The geologists collected rocks from an area of roughly 500 square miles. The report "describes as many as 20 mineral occurrences not previously documented in the public record."
The area is near other known deposits of gold, as well as the zinc, lead and silver of the adjacent Delta mineral belt.
The state also reported finding many rock samples with good quantities of zinc — used to galvanize other metals against rust — and lead — used in lead-acid batteries. The report also confirmed minerals at known prospects in the area, such as finding values of 0.29 ounces of gold per ton at the Shalosky vein.
The area covers a combination of land owned by the state and Native corporations including Doyon Limited and Ahtna Inc. Landowners would be eligible for royalties and other benefits if a mine is developed.
Jim Mery, a vice president with Doyon, the largest private landowner in Alaska with 12 million acres, said the information could help supplement other mineral reviews the corporation has performed on its land.
Mery, who on Wednesday had not yet seen the new report, said such information can help generate interest that could lead to additional work to determine the value of exploration or development.
"They may not all be prospective," he said of newly documented mineral occurrences in the report. "But the geologists do good work and we often incorporate their work into our thinking."
Wypych said that although the area is underexplored, work done in the past by private companies helped stoke the state's interest. That included drilling by a company in the 1970s, allowing geologists to review samples of cores that were provided by Ahtna, she said.
She said a private company is also looking for gold near Tetlin Lake, not far east in the same little-explored region.
The company is Peak Gold, owned by Contango ORE of Houston, Texas, and Royal Gold of Denver.
Wypych said there may be a geological connection between the areas reviewed by the state and Peak's prospect, but the prospect is under exploration and the state does not have access to the data to help address that question.
The report has a potential economic benefit to Alaska if it attracts explorers, she said. It can also help people fill in gaps about the geological history of the region.
Rock samples available from the project will be publicly available at the Alaska Geologic Materials Center in northeast Anchorage.