Monthly Archives: September 2019

Pick out the ptarmigan

Hint: There are seven ptarmigan in the rocks

Photo credit: Wrangell-St. Elias National Park & Preserve


STR Nenana

The Last Lady of the River

While out at Pioneer Park on Labor Day, I felt compelled to take a few photos of the STR Nenana.

One reason was that the camera only a couple of years younger than the old sternwheeler, which first started service in Alaska in 1933.

Efforts are still ongoing to find the funding to restore the Nenana. Currently, the interior of the ship is closed to the public.

Camera: Billy-Clack #74; Film: Kodak 120, Ektar 100


Aurora Season Returns

It’s that time of year again. The aurora forecast from UAF’s Geophysical Institute is up and running again. A moderate aurora is being forecast for Thursday, with it being visible directly overhead for Fairbanks, weather permitting.

In Canada, Dawson City, Fort Nelson and Fort McMurray will find the northern lights directly overhead, assuming cloud cover doesn’t obscure viewing.

The aurora will be low on the horizon for Marquette, Michigan and Sundsvall, Sweden.

An equal, but opposite aurora will be taking place in the Southern Hemisphere, as well.

The Geophysical Institute at the University of Alaska – Fairbanks puts out their geomagnetic forecast daily.

All images credit: UAF Geophysical Institute


Cabin Life

Spent some more time out at the lake last week. I did do some work to the place, but mainly wanted to get out and enjoy some autumn solitude.

It was quiet out there, rarely did I see more than one other boat on the water, and we seemed to do a little dance where we kept the same distance between ourselves, as we fished various areas of the lake.

I did experience my first earthquake out there. It’s an interesting feeling as the wave flows through the cabin. The quake was centered down in the Willow area, so I’m a bit surprised I felt one from that distance, but after checking their website, the Alaska Earthquake Center had it rated at a 5.2.

No fox were to be seen on this week, but there were swans. One night, I ventured out to the end of the dock past dusk. Two white blobs were visible, and with the binoculars, I could clearly see that they were trumpeter swans. One swan had its head buried under a wing, but the other was at full alert, with head held high. The lookout was not looking in my direction, but I knew it was fully aware of my presence just the same. A further inspection brought two more swans into view.

By morning, I had 13 trumpeters just past the reeds from the dock. I watched them for much of the morning. None of them seemed to be too worried about me. When they paddled off, if a boat cut across the lake, they came back to where I was sitting.

Not a bad way to spend an autumn week.

A foggy morning


The definition of bad timing


Happy Autumnal Equinox

Autumn has officially arrived. Which for those of us in the north, means snow should be just around the corner.


Queued up

The Rover on the Haul Road

One thing I do like about loading up posts in the queue, is that I can be gone all week and nobody has any idea.

Get out and enjoy autumn!

“Like the River, we were free to wander.”

— Aldo Leopold


Engine 67

Engine 67 on Labor Day.

Camera: Agfa Billy-Clack 74; Film: Kodak 120 Ektar 100


Resurrection Bay in B&W

Sailboat heading out to the gulf

Fishing for pinks at the mouth of Lowell Creek

Abandoned pier

Camera: Agfa Billy-Clack 74; Film: Kodak 120 TMax 100


Walking Poker Flat

Entrance to Poker Flat Research Range

It’s early August and people were starting to think “white stuff”. I had three jobs lined up, everyone desperate for me to start, yet not one of them was ready for me. What to do with the day off?

As luck would have it, Poker Flat Research Range had one of their summer walking tours that day, so I drove the 25 miles out to Chatanika.

“The Blockhouse” or bunker

PFRR is the world’s largest land-based rocket range. The facility is owned by the University of Alaska – Fairbanks. They launch sounding rockets from the range, in order to study the Earth’s atmosphere and the interaction between the atmosphere and the space environment.

Space junk returned to Earth

Study ranges from the Earth’s magnetic field to the aurora. NASA is prominent at the range, but researchers come from all over the world. All of the rockets launched from PFRR return to the Earth’s surface, and the range collects the spent payloads every summer. There is a reward paid out to anyone finding material from Poker Flat.

Poker Flat Launch Pad

The building above is open on the far end. The interior of the building, and the actual launch pad, was off limits to photography. It’s a NASA rule that doesn’t thrill UAF apparently, but we all honored the rule. The sounding rocket is brought in on what is basically an open trailer. The rocket is loaded onto the launcher, which looks like a giant erector set with a large pivot. The building itself is sitting on a pair of tracks. When ready to begin countdown, the building is pulled back away from the pad, and the rocket is spun vertical with the large erector set pivot.

Mission Control

The control center was surprisingly manual in operation. Scientists are extremely fussy about launch conditions, and they often pull the plug with one second to go. An automatic system does not give the flexibility that is needed, so there is still a “launch button”.

Power central

That doesn’t mean there is a shortage of cable, wires, or connectors.

The touring rocket

PFRR does a good job with the tour. It’s pretty relaxed, and a nice way to spend some time outdoors, for the most part, in an Interior Alaska summer. After the tour, don’t forget to stop by the Chatanika Lodge, which is just down the highway.