Posts filed under Alaska

Fires and Storms altered the City and what is found there now, is far from what once was there

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NOME

I can almost see russia from here

Flashback Friday

The Siberia of Siberia

This past summer I got the opportunity to fly to Nome and help out with some fieldwork there. Incredible what roads you can take once you have remote fieldwork experience and an eye for boreal and arctic vegetation. I’ve already written a post about Nome, and mainly the 4th of July celebration. Nome is a very special place, laying in the far west of Alaska with no roads leading to the small community of about 4000 people. This is not an unusual setting, many communities in Alaska can only be reached by plane. With only about 200 miles to the mainland of Russia, that is as close as I have ever been to Russia I think. The history of Nome starts with the three lucky Swedes, well, they were in fact two Swedes and one Norwegian, but same same..or? During the goldrush Alaska became a popular destination when word spread about all the gold that could be found in this remote location of the US. Alaska has not been a part of the US for that long, well everything is relative right? On March 30th 1867 the US bought Alaska from Russia, paying only 7.2 million dollar. If you have visited some of the more southern coastal cities of Alaska you might have seen many of the Russian Orthodox churches and other cultural remnants of the Russian influence. Well, maybe remnants is the wrong word to use, because there is a strong influence still in these small communities on the coast. These coastal villages were formed long before the US bought Alaska. Those remote territories have been called the Siberia of Siberia by some. The history of Alaska goes farther back than that, but that is a whole different story.

“The trail enters a cul-de-sac, climbing higher and higher. The valley seems to end; a precipitous wall of gray rock, reaching into the sky, seems to head off farther progress, seaming its jagged contour against the sky — a great barrier, uncompromising, forbidding — the Chilkoot Pass” - Tappan Adney

Gold Rush and the birth of Anvil City (Nome)

The Klondike gold rush started in 1896 when gold was discovered in the remote areas of the Yukon Territory, bordering to Alaska to the east, thousands of people travelled there. One of the most famous photos (that is also sold as a postcard) is a photo of the Chilkoot Trail that goes through the Chilkoot Pass, a pass that many of the gold seekers had to hike through, choosing the Golden Stairs or the Peterson routes. It is absolutely amazing that these people actually managed to hike these mountains in sub zero temperatures (although, many did not make it) and still come out alive. Yukon Territory is still extremely remote and sparsely populated. The gold rush in Klondike did not last that long, and soon word spread about Nome. In 1898 Jafet Lindberg, Erik Lindblom and John Brynteson struck gold on Anvil Creek. Once the word spread the tiny place of Anvil Creek suddenly had more than 10,000 people living there, and when more gold was found the real Bonanza was on. Fires and storms altered the city and what is found there now, is far from what once was there. Since the city was built along the Anvil Creek it was named Anvil City, something that fast was changed, to Nome, since Nome river and Cape Nome was nearby and the post office did not want any confusion with the town of Anvik in the Yukon-Koyukuk area of Alaska. Most cities and areas in Alaska were named after the people that found or founded it, but the name Nome was originally a mistake. An officer had in the past on a map marked the larger area to the west with “? Name” since it had not been identified. Later on when the map was reproduced, it was thought that the ? was a C, and the a in Name was an O, and so Cape Nome was born and the rest is history.

The Ice Curtain

Outside of the Seward Peninsula (not to be mistaken for Seward, which lays in Kenai Peninsula) lay two islands, Little Diomede and Big Diomede. They are so close, only 2 miles apart, but yet so far away. Big Diomede is in a whole different timezone, 21 hours to be exact, and belongs to Russia while Little Diomede belongs to the US. As you can imagine, the people who lived on Big Diomede and Little Diomede were related to each other. They are so close to each other so how could they not be. The ice curtain here is as thick as it can be. During the Soviet era in 1948 the people living on Big Diomede were forced off their island to the Russian mainland, and this summer (2018) was actually the very first time they got to see each other again, after several years of not being able to reconnect. It wasn’t only between the two islands people used to cross, but also between all islands of course, and Nome. With the ice curtain families were prevented from returning “home”. 

Front Street

Downtown Nome is front street, and it that lays along the ocean. Here you can find the saloon and several different liquor stores. If you want to eat Korean, Vietnamese, Chinese or Japanese food there are several different restaurants to choose between. Many restaurants also serve a wide array of different foods, ranging from American to Vietnamese. I still haven’t figured out why there is such a large influence of Asian food. Front street is not that long and if you zoom into Nome on google maps you will see how small the town really is. After all there are only 4000 people living here. If you ventured out from front street you will find the larger grocery stores. You can find almost anything in Nome, but it comes with a price. There is a reason why there was such a large hiatus when Sams Club (a bulk size grocery store) shut down in Alaska. Many people from these villages do monthly or quarterly trips to Sams Club, and depend on their shelf food from the store, because the prices in the regular store in the village reflects the cost of shipping (and is outrageous). Of course, the layout of Nome is different now from what it was. Fires went through in the past and even more recently, and the ocean has also taken part of the original city during fierce storms in the past.

The Last Frontier - Oil, Mountains and Freedom?

Just like other cities and villages in Alaska, many heat their home with oil, they have a Toyo or alike and you can see the drum outside the buildings that holds a winters worth of heat. But depending on how well insulated the houses are, the house will keep the heat, or leak it like nobodies business. I’ve had friends who literally could see through the walls of their cabin in Fairbanks, and went through several hundres of gallons oil in one winter, just because the cabin was so leaky. The city of Nome is small, and as soon as you leave the “downtown” your eyes will rest on the mountains and muskox, instead of the ocean and Russia. There is a reason why Alaska is called “The Last Frontier”. If you want freedom, solitude and test your survival skills you can move to Alaska and settle down in a cabin in the woods, or in the mountains. Living like that is not for the light hearted, the winters are brutal with the cold and the darkness. Even though those summer nights last forever, and fall with it’s magical colors, and winter with endless skiing and northern light, come spring and death is knocking on your door. There is a reason why the suicide rate in Alaska is one of the highest in the US right under Montana and Wyoming, especially in the villages and the native population, along with domestic violence. Even though the darkness in itself is not necessarily what triggers the suicides (suicides in Alaska spans the whole year with no real seasonal pattern), it surely doesn’t help. Life in Alaska is tough, for everyone. I would be lying if I said that I’d never been depressed while living in Alaska. I can say that I have gotten a handful of emails from the University of Alaska Fairbanks through the years, letting other students/faculty/staff know that a suicide has occurred on campus. This past fall I read about a man who lived not far from where I lived in Fairbanks, he had like many other people in Alaska, withdrawn from society. They found him this fall, dead from suicide, a suicide that had happened several years ago.

If you or a person you know is considering help, don’t wait

Call 911 for immediate emergency intervention.
Call 877-266-HELP (4357) for the 24/7 Alaska Careline.
Go to the closest hospital or medical facility.
Text “4help” to 839863 Tuesday-Saturday 3pm-11pm.

The Beauty of Alaska

Even in the darkness though, Alaska truly is beautiful. I think that is what captures people. Alaska is captivating, like a spell that never breaks. You’ll get spellbound pretty fast, and once that happens it’s hard to go back. The boreal forest in the interior, the glaciers that touches the ocean in the south, the tundra to the west and north and all the mountains in both Alaska and Brooks Range. It was kind of surreal to drive off into the mountains every day for nearly two weeks. I missed it. That view of the mountains. Flying into Anchortown and later Nome I realized I’d forgotten how beautiful Alaska truly is. I should know, I lived there. But photos of this magical place doesn’t do it justice. Reality is always going to be so much better. Driving the roads out to the field site we saw all of these tiny houses, randomly laid out across the landscape. It’s quite remarkable when you see it. You watch those tiny houses with a backdrop of huge mountains. It makes you wonder, who lives there? When did they move there? Do they use these cabins year round? I’ll write another blogpost about that later, and until then you can rest your eyes on these muskoxen and mountains below!

Where No Roads Lead To, Nome

Flashback Friday

There is No Place Like Nome!

    We spent about 2 days in New York before I was on my way to one of my favorite states of all time, Alaska. I had managed to get a short-term job as a field tech, and who in the world would ever say no to a free trip to Alaska? Alaska is one of the most expensive states in the US, along with states like New York, California, and Hawaii. This can partially be explained by the distance to Alaska from the contiguous US, it is far away, and shipping of food cost thereafter. If it is not local, the quality of food is not always that great. On the other hand, Alaska is one of the states that are tax exempt, not that it makes it any cheaper. We landed in Anchortown on July 2nd and had a day to shop for supplies and some food. After some more glacier spotting, we finally landed in Nome on July 3rd. They say that there is no place like Nome! Nome is not even on the road system,  so the only way to get there is by plane. And in Nome, everything is expensive, very expensive.

4th of July Parade

    4th of July was suppose to be our first field day, but who in their right mind would miss a 4th of July celebration in Nome of all places? Not me. I am not familiar with how the 4th of July is celebrated in other states, other than Alaska. But in Alaska I've always gone to a 4th of July Parade, those parades reminds me of nothing else in this world. One year I saw a pig dressed up as Miss Piggy, with a blonde wig. Because in Alaska anything and everything is possible.

Miss Piggy - Ester, Alaska, 4th of July Parade 2014

Nome's 4th of July Parade

    As far as I know, anyone can partake in the parade, and you can (as far as I understand) dress up however you want to! All the participants of the parade also throw out candy for all the bystanders, the kids are always running around collecting all of candies. It is a bit unclear to me why they are always throwing out candy, is that an Alaskan thing, os the parade built around throwing candy, or is that something that has been added on at a later stage? I too secretly hung on to some of that candy this year.

    Have you ever been to a 4th of July Parade?

Posted on September 7, 2018 and filed under Alaska, Flashback Friday.

The Ultimate Roadtrip pt.2

Flashback Friday

DAY 1, 05/21/16: Fairbanks to Lake Creek Campground - 369 miles

    Day 1 on our road trip we drove east, towards Delta Junction, Tok, and eventually into Canada. Fairbanks is an epicenter of the Boreal Forest. Deep forest consisting of mostly the fire-prone Black Spruce, but also the abundant White Spruce, Birch, Alder, and other deciduous tree species. As you drive east on the Richardson highway, you also drive along the Tanana River. It always makes me think about Paul Simons song "Diamonds on the soles of her shoes", in which he sings: 

"He's a poor boy
Empty as a pocket
Empty as a pocket with nothing to lose
Sing ta na na
Ta na na na"

    After you leave the deep forest behind you, the mountains move in closer, at the same rate as the braided stream comes closer to the road, and you are during many miles driving through the mountains, well if you can see them. Eventually, the mountains move away again, and you are left with more of a boggy wetland landscape with dead standing spruce and large mountains in the backdrop.

Crossing into Canada

    About 6:30 in the evening we got closer to the Canadian border, and eventually our campsite. With the midnight sun above us we didn't see any sign of a late evening.  The border crossing into Canada was smooth, they asked about our trip and where we were headed. Then the rhetorical question about fruit and alcohol, oh, and weapons. The only thing we could potentially classify as a weapon was the bear spray. The border crossing agent welcomed us and we continued into one of the most remote areas of our trip, the Yukon Territory (YT). The Yukon Territory has a very low population, only 36,000 people live here, in an area that is almost 3.5 times the size of New York State, which makes their slogan "larger than life" even more fitting. 

White River Lake Creek Campground

    Once you get into Canada and the Yukon we are back into deep forest and mountains for real. Mountains everywhere, just like Alaska. We finally arrived at a completely empty campground later that evening. It seems as everyone had disappeared after the border crossing. We got the tent up, had dinner and then went for a short walk along the river.  Later that evening rain that had been following us all day picked up and we fell asleep with the rain pounding on the tent. 

Day 1 trip Details - Gas, Camping, and gas mileage

  • US: Jacks service Delta Junction, AK, 99.5 miles. Gas mileage: 23.6 miles/gallon

  • US: youngs chevron milepost 1314 Alaska highway, AK, 109.2 Miles. Gas mileage: 26.25 miles/gallon

  • Canada: Fas gas beaver creek 1202 Alaska highway YT, 110.7 Miles. Gas mileage: 25.33 miles/gallon

  • Total about 319.4 miles + 49.6 miles from gas station to campground

  • Campground: Lake Creek Campground

DAY 2 05/22/16: Lake Creek Campground to Wolf Creek Campground, 241 miles

    The next morning we woke up early, it was still raining. At many of the campgrounds in Canada, they provided free firewood, unheard of in the US. Priority number one: coffee, priority number two: get a fire started, so we could get warm, and also try to dry our tent out before continuing. There is nothing worse than a wet tent. 

Summer is the season, for roadwork

    We continued through Canada, the Yukon, and the deep forests, mountains, and abundance of water. Never in my life had I expected Canada to be such an eye-opener. Here I had lived in Alaska for about 7 years and thought that nothing will ever top this. Well, I was of course wrong. With the northern region of North America being underlain by permafrost and the harsh winters, summertime not only means tourist season but also roadwork season. It is not uncommon to have to wait half an hour for a pilot car to guide you through the roadworks.

Hey Bear

    About 8:30AM we spot a car standing still by the side of the road. As we approached we could see the reason why. A grizzly, not only any grizzly, a mama grizzly with two bear cubs. Two bear cubs that can't have been more than a few days old. They even had issues with their coordination, and it was pure joy seeing them play with each other and loose their balance from time to time. Mama bear was of course patiently watching nearby.

Mountains

    The mountains disappeared and appeared as we continued driving through Canada. It's hard to fathom how large Canada is, if you thought Alaska with its wilderness was big, that is nothing compared to Candaland. When you think it can not get any more incredible it can, and it will. Again, and again, and again. We stopped at a rest stop by the Kluane River. Oh my, what a treat for the eyes. Those mountains are just right there, in front of you, and sometimes it gets hard to understand how mighty they actually are. 

Wolf Creek Campground

    We finally arrived at Wolf Creek Campground, after about 241 miles of driving. In comparison to the previous campground, this one was a bit more crowded, as in there were other people than us there. Of course it was still raining. I had been dealing with an early rainy field season, but also rain, rain and rain the past couple of years in the field so I guess I had been hardened a bit. W had not. When the rain finally stopped we put our tent up and tried to dry our sleeping bags that had gotten damp earlier. We even had a fire before going to bed after another late dinner. 

Day 2 trip Details - Gas, Camping, and gas mileage

  • Canada: Petro express Haines Junction, YT 135.9 miles from Lake Creek campground. Gas mileage 31.66 miles/gallon

  • Total driving on day 2, about 135.9 + 105 miles from the gas station to campground (240.9 miles).

  • The grand total of the whole trip: 609.9 miles

  • Campground: Wolf Creek Campground

The Ultimate Roadtrip pt.1

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Flashback Friday

Two Years ago

    It has now been two years since I packed up all my belongings and took the car south, from Alaska, and into the lower 48. Well, I didn't drive all by myself, which was nice, considering that I think we ended up with about 4500 miles or so (7200km). People in Alaska generally call the rest of the US the lower 48, or just straight the US. They say that many people go to Alaska to disappear because you easily can. Alaska is larger than any other state in the US, and it is impossible to see all incredible places in one short trip. 

The Last Frontier

    There is a reason why Alaska is often referred to as the Last Frontier. With only one road going north and south from Fairbanks. The road north eventually turn into a gravel road, and once you hit Atigun pass, it's just you, you and the 18-wheelers. There are many villages in Alaska that have a road system, but a road system that does not connect to any of the major road systems in Alaska. Which mean that the only way to get there is by plane. 

Tundra, Mountains and deep Forests

    I have often wondered why I fit in so well in Alaska, and I am pretty sure one of the reasons are the fact that the vegetation in the interior of Alaska is almost exactly the same as in Sweden. In Fairbanks, you are in the boreal forest, the same boreal forest that covers almost all of Sweden. There are some differences though, I am pretty sure there is no black spruce in Sweden, and the dominant Scots Pine in Sweden (or at least in the boreal forest I connect to over there) is non-existent in Alaska. Then we have the ocean, or rather the lack of ocean in interior Alaska. That is a big difference, and I think I missed the ocean and water in first year or so in Fairbanks.

Packing the Car

    W always talk about this when the move from Alaska to Wisconsin comes up. And lately, he's been pretty forceful about packing up our home in Madison, in preparation for the big move to New York. W flew to Fairbanks a couple of days before we had planned to leave, and as he describes it, nothing was packed. I on the other hand, still believe that some things were packed, while other items such as bedding and clothes you wear were not. I can admit that I probably had not packed as much as I should have, that on top of some things that needed to get done in the lab before I left, made for some stressful last days at the cabin. But we packed the car and departed on May 21st. 

The typical Alaskan Weather

    The weather in Alaska is always changing, and one day it might be rainy and cloudy and the 40's, while the next is full on sun, accompanied with smoke from wildfires that fills your lungs, along with mosquitos from hell. The day we departed was cloudy, and Alaska did not let me leave on her best behavior. I would have wanted a clear blue sky while driving east through the mountains. But, there would be no lack of mountain views on this trip, especially since we also had half of Canada to drive through.