National Geographic : 1967 Mar
to send it through tunnels in the permafrost. When we get gas, we will raise vegetables in big gas-heated hothouses." Director Melnikov took us about 50 feet down into the institute's experimental cave. The floor crunched as we walked through this permanent natural deep freeze, the walls and ceilings of which were covered with frost. Its tunnels, cut through the frozen earth, needed no shoring (page 300). Layer of Ice Keeps Water From Freezing The director then spoke of mining gold in the frozen ground. "We thaw the ground to dredge out the gold. It is a two-year operation. The first year we melt the surface, sometimes by solar energy. The area is then flooded with water, which freezes down to about seven feet. Insu lated by this top layer of ice, the subsurface water continues the thawing during the win ter. Early in March dredges break through the ice and the mining begins." From the cave our way led through the fog 312 again to the office of the president of this larg est of the Soviet Union's autonomous repub lics. In the Yakutsk A.S.S.R., as in others that reflect ethnic divisions, the people take pride in their racial and linguistic individuality. Herself a proud Yakut, Madame President Aleksandra Ovchinnikova was born of poor, illiterate cattle breeders in the wilderness west of Yakutsk. She completed studies at a technical school, worked as an engineer, took her higher education by correspondence, and finally graduated in history (page 328). Now 52, she told me with obvious pride, "My son is a civil engineer and my daughter is a high school chemistry teacher." Mrs. Ovchinnikova descends from one of the numerous nomad tribes that roamed Sibe ria before the tsarist Russians conquered the land and that gave the city of Yakutsk and the Yakutsk A.S.S.R. their names. Her hand some features are somewhat Mongoloid. Tradition hints that the Yakuts came from the southwest; they are physically Mongol oid, and speak a language related to Turkish.