Category Archives: Alaska

Potter Section House

Chugach State Park:

Potter Section House

The Potter Section House State Historical Site is now home to the Chugach State Park visitor center. The building was built in 1929, and was used to house section workers for this part of the Alaska Railroad. Originally, there were four section houses along the Anchorage section of the railroad. Their use was discontinued in 1978, and the Potter House is the last remaining of the four. It was listed on National Register of Historic Places in 1985.

Alaska Railroad rotary snowplow

A rotary snowplow that once cleared the tracks along Turnagain Arm is also on display at Potter House. The railroad car behind the snowplow, is home to the Kenai Visitor Center. Both visitor centers have been closed due to the pandemic, and remain closed.

The section along Turnagain Arm is notorious for avalanche, although today the avalanches are planned events. Back in the day, the rotary plow revolutionized track clearing. The plow’s steel teeth cut through even the most packed snow, as well as debris from an avalanche, and the occasional frozen moose. The snow was launched from the chute hundreds of feet off the track. Two steam engines pushed the plow, with a crew of seven.

This particular rotary plow was retired in 1985, in favor of track mounted bulldozers. The Alaska Railroad still maintains one rotary snowplow in reserve.

Up close and personal; Rotary plow blades

Chugach State Park, just outside of Anchorage, covers 495,204 acres. It is the third largest state park in the United States, and the second largest in Alaska. It is truly, one of Alaska’s many gems.

A rotary snowplow in action


Burning Increase

Graphic credit: IARC

It may seem like an odd time to think of the fire season here in Alaska. After all, we officially had 29 inches of snowpack at the end of March, and have been adding to that steadily during this first week of April.

In a state that boasts some of the finest summers on this planet, one thing that can ruin a summer in a hurry is a bad wildfire year. Alaska has been trending upward in acres burned over the past 60 years. From 1.6% of the state seeing wildfires during the decade of 1961-1970, to 3.1% of the state going up in smoke in the most recent decade.

2004 was the worst year on record with 6.6 million acres burned. It was a nasty summer here in the Interior. I had hiked the Chilkoot Trail at the end of June, and had made it back to Skagway in time for July 4th, only to find out the embers had really hit the fan. Wildfires were everywhere between Fairbanks and Whitehorse in the Yukon. In Skagway, I called my Dad to tell him not to visit in a few days, because the smoke was so bad, but he came up anyway. We sat on my deck one evening and watched lightning start a fire a couple of valleys over. The next morning air tankers were dumping water over the fresh fire. We climbed to the ridge top in the evening to see a wall of flame across the valley floor.

I couldn’t count the number of dry thunderstorms we saw that summer. I remember standing out on my deck at 2am one morning, lightning was flashing down on the hills all around me, but all I could see was an eerie glow in the thick smoke, followed by the thunder crashing down, rolling across the land. If a fire had started close by, I would never know until the flames were roaring upon the cabin. The smoke was so thick that visibility was down to mere feet.


Potter Marsh

Potter Marsh and the Chugach Mountains

Potter Marsh Bird Sanctuary is a 564 acre fresh water marsh, located at the southern end of the Anchorage Coastal Wildlife Refuge.

The marsh was created in 1917 when the embankment for the Alaska Railroad was built up, effectively separating the fresh water from the Chugach Mountains, and the salt water from Turnagain Arm.

Potter Marsh is often called the most accessible wildlife viewing location in Alaska. The marsh is easily reached by the Seward Highway, and it contains a 1550 foot long boardwalk to keep your feet dry.

This wetland maze sees roughly 130 species of migratory and nesting birds calling it home, for at least part of the year. Moose, beavers, muskrats, eagles and hawks all can be viewed at Potter Marsh. Spawning salmon are often seen swimming up Rabbit Creek from Turnagain Arm in season.

Both brown bear and black bear use the marsh, but they are very rarely seen here. Consider yourself very lucky if you spot a bruin moving through the wetland.


Fairbanks retakes the lead

Graphic credit: National Weather Service – Fairbanks

I do realize that some people find the long summer days of Interior Alaska difficult to deal with. I am not one of those people; I absolutely revel in them. Arguably, the land of the midnight sun has the best summers and we have no shortage of activities to fill the many sunlit hours.

Graphic credit: NOAA

Officially, spring has arrived, but winter is not giving up just yet. Atqasuk on Alaska’s North Slope saw -53F on Sunday morning. The Interior was considerably warmer with Denali Park at -27F, Fort Yukon -13F and Fairbanks a balmy -8F.

As the graphic above illustrates, Alaska and Canada have had a string of amazing northern lights viewing. Even with the waxing moon, the aurora has been dominating the northern skies of late, putting on some impressive shows.


Vernal Equilux

We hit the vernal equilux yesterday here in Fairbanks. That means the past 24 hours had 12 hours of daylight, and 12 hours of darkness.

Another 96 days until we start losing daylight here in the north.


Climbing The Great One

Denali; Photo credit: National Park Service

For the first time in 70 years, no one climbed Denali in 2020. In an average year, 1200 climbers attempt to summit the tallest peak in North America, with around 58% being successful.

The National Park Service has announced that climbing permits have resumed for 2021. So far, most applications have been for domestic climbers, with the number of requests from foreign climbers being down from normal years.

This was certainly good news for businesses in the Northern Susitna Valley, which provides everything from transportation to The Mountain, as well as supplies and accommodations for the climbers.


Ice Alaska 2021

The World Ice Art Championships are back at Ice Alaska in Fairbanks. The event is a competition in single, double and multi ice block carving. The work is always stunning, and impressive. This year is no different. These photos were taken on a beautiful 30F plus degree day. I’ll try to get some night shots later in the event.


March in Alaska

The Nenana Ice Classic:

Visiting the village of Nenana this past summer

The Nenana Ice Classic tripod was raised on the Tanana River this past weekend. The Ice Classic is our annual event, where residents and visitors can guess when the ice goes out on the Tanana. This is the 104th year of the event. Tickets are $2.50 per guess. The ice thickness as of Sunday was 44-1/2″.

The 2021 tripod is in place.

The 2021 Iditarod:

The 2021 Iditarod Trail map

The Last Great Race is seeing a lot of changes for Covid-2021. The race will not end at Nome this year, due to Covid concerns. In fact, to protect villagers, mushers will not be venturing into communities like in a normal year. Due to the new route, which is now an 850 mile long loop, teams will race to the ghost town of Flat, and return to Willow.

The Iditarod Start at Willow, Alaska; Photo credit: ADN/Marc Lester

There was no ceremonial start in Anchorage this year. The 46 mushers and their teams went directly to Willow for the Sunday morning start time. Press accounts have the crowd at starting line at 300 visitors, mostly family and dog handlers. In a normal year, there would be at least 6000 cheering the teams on.


Veniaminof goes Orange

Mount Veniaminof; Photo credit: AVO/Allan Lerner

Mount Veniaminof, which is located on the Alaska Peninsula, erupted last Thursday. The ash plume that exploded from the volcano did not reach 10,000 feet. Veniaminof last erupted in the fall of 2018.

Mount Veniaminof is a rather active stratovolcano, having erupted at least 14 times in the past 200 years. It is surrounded by a 25 square mile ice field. According to the National Park Service, the glacier is the only one known in North America with an active volcano at its center.

Image credit: AVO/Hannah Dietterich

As of 7 March, Veniaminof continued to show an ash plume via satellite imagery. Mount Veniaminof rarely shows itself for the camera. The volcano is visible only one or two days a year, the rest of the time, Veniaminof is shrouded in clouds and fog.


Gaining Daylight

Graph Credit: @Climatologist49

March is one of my favorite months here in the Interior. The temps (usually) are at least above zero during the day, there are (usually) outdoor activities galore throughout the area, and the length of daylight is jumping at clips of around 7 minutes a day.

Currently, the length of day is at 10 hours, 49 minutes, with visible light hanging around for 12 hours and 26 minutes. By the last day of March we will be seeing the length of day at 13 hours and 33 minutes.

Map credit: NOAA

Warmer than normal temperatures are forecast for the remainder of the month for much of Alaska. Fairbanks is right in the normal to above normal range. Much of the Lower 48 looks to be trending below normal in temps for next couple of weeks. Only time will tell how close the forecasters hit the target.

Judging from how active and vocal the birds are around my cabin, I think they are looking forward to spring.