Category Archives: Alaska

Outburst

Public service announcement from the City of Valdez

An ice-dammed lake above the Valdez Glacier is undergoing an outburst event, which started on Friday. Water levels in Valdez Creek and Valdez Lake will be seeing a considerable rise.

This is a biannual event, which usually happens in mid June and then again in the fall. Water builds up in the lake above the glacier until the pressure raises the ice, and the water flows down the mountain.

The dammed lake

The image above shows the lake caught behind the ice dam. The ice wall in the picture is approximately 200 feet high.

First image credit: City of Valdez; Second image credit: National Weather Service


Timing is everything

An eruption plume from the Great Sitkin volcano on the Aleutian Chain

Volcanos world-wide seem to be getting a bit anxious of late, and Alaska has three rumbling right now. The Great Sitkin volcano, which dominates the skyline of Great Sitkin Island, erupted on May 25. Lauren Flynn of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service captured this image as Great Sitkin erupted. Flynn was aboard the Research Vessel Tiglax at the time.

Great Sitkin Island was a fuel depot during WWII. The island lies between Adak and Atka, and is roughly 11 miles long by 10-1/2 miles wide. The Great Sitkin volcano rises to a height of 5710 feet above sea level.

Photo credit: Lauren Flynn/USF&WS/AVO


The return of the Malemute

The world famous Malemute Saloon is set to reopen today. The historic bar, located in Ester, Alaska, has been basically closed for the past 11 years. It would open for a month every summer to keep its liquor license, but otherwise, the Ester institution has kept its bat doors shuttered.

New ownership is gearing the Malemute and the adjacent Ester Gold Camp towards the locals, and tourists who are looking to get off the beaten path and not arrive by tour bus. Live music by local musicians and shows by other local artists are expected to be scheduled for daily events throughout the summer.

The Malemute Saloon in June of 2019, during one of its brief openings

Ester is a uniquely Interior Alaskan community, and it is a trip back in time. Once a thriving gold camp, now it’s a very laid back community reveling in the Alaskan lifestyle. The Malemute, made famous in the poetry of Robert Service, has kept the memories of the gold rush era alive. When my Dad would visit, the Malemute was one of his favorite places to go.

Ester City traces its history back to the early 1900’s serving the small local mining claims. The Fairbanks Exploration Company moved in and enlarged the footprint, building the gold camp in 1936. Large scale mining ended in the Ester area in the 1950’s, but small claims are still being worked today in the area.

The gold camp then became a tourist resort and the Malemute Saloon was opened. The bar in the saloon was obtained from the Royal Alexandria Hotel in Dawson City. The building itself dates back to 1906.

As a local resident, I have to admit, I’m thrilled to see the Malemute and Gold Camp reopening.


An Alaska through-hike

Hiking in Alaska

The idea has been proposed for years: a thru hike from Fairbanks in the Alaskan Interior to Seward on Alaska’s southern coast. The nonprofit, Alaska Trails, really started to push the idea last year, and now the State of Alaska seems interested.

Maybe after the pandemic, Alaska leaders have realized we have put most of our tourist eggs in one cruise ship sized basket. At any rate, support for the 500 mile all-Alaska trail is gaining traction in Juneau.

Most of the proposed trail already exists within the trail system, but there are at least two sections where there is no connection. Money is being earmarked in the state budget to complete those connections.

Personally, I’m in favor of the idea, and not just because it will motivate me to get back in shape to hike the 500 miles. Thru hikes bring in tourism, as the Appalachian Trail and Pacific Coast Trail can attest to, but those tourists are not the cruise ship/tourist bus type of people. It’s a separate subsection that Alaska ironically has never really actively gone after. Our attitude is, “Well, it’s Alaska, and they will come”.

Might as well plant that seed early, and give it some water now and then.


24/72

Map credit: @Climatologist49

On May 16th, Fairbanks entered its 72 day period of 24 hours of daylight or civil twilight. I do love this 72 day window!


Buckland under water

The village of Buckland and the Buckland River

The village of Buckland, which is located in Northwest Alaska, started to see the water rise on May 12, due to an ice dam on the Buckland River. As one can see from the image, the village was quickly flooded out, with over five feet of water throughout the community, cutting the villagers off from the airstrip.

A disaster was declared by the governor on Monday, and water started to recede on Tuesday. The damage will be extensive, but details won’t be known until the water drops further.

Buckland, Alaska

Buckland, or Nunatchiaq in Iñupiaq, is an Inupiat village of approximately 416 people. Residents have lived at different points along the Buckland River over the centuries, but relocated to the current location in the 1920’s due to the villages reindeer herd. The community was incorporated in 1966.

It is mainly a subsistence lifestyle in Buckland, with residents relying on hunting, fishing and trade for survival. Caribou, beluga whale and seal are a major source of food. The reindeer herd of 2000 provides some jobs, where the payment is made in the form of meat. There are also some jobs through the school, city and health clinic.

Map of Buckland, Alaska

Photos credit: The State of Alaska; additional source information courtesy of the Native Village of Buckland


Cruising the Inside Passage

An UnCruise ship looking to sail Alaskan waters in 2021

The cruise ship industry has been arguably the hardest hit industry in Alaska. 2020 saw no cruise ships dock at state ports, and 2021 is shaping up to see limited options.

One business based out of Seattle, Un-Cruise, will bring ships through the Inside Passage with passenger numbers of less than 100 people. They hope to have six ships sailing into the Alaska market, bringing some 6000 passengers to coastal communities like Juneau.

Due to the pandemic, Un-Cruise already had to reshuffle when a scheduled stop in Ketchikan was skipped due to a spike in the town of Covid-19 cases.

I’ve traveled the Inside Passage once, although not on a cruise. It is a remarkable experience, and one I thoroughly enjoyed. Personally, I can see the smaller cruise ships as being far more enjoyable for this experience than the large ones.

Guests leaving the UnCruise Legacy

The Passenger Service Vessels Act states that no foreign ship can carry passengers only between U.S. ports. Since the fleet of large cruise ships are foreign owned, a cruise ship from Seattle will stop at a Canadian port before getting to Alaska. With the pandemic, Canada has closed its ports to the large cruise ships, leaving Alaska high and dry. This situation left an opening for the smaller companies like Un-Cruise.

The United States Senate voted last week to temporarily bypass the act for the remainder of the 2021 season. That bill now goes to the U.S. House. If passed, it would allow some large cruise ships to return to Alaska ports this summer.

For an industry that really plans things out long in advance, I’m not sure how much of a boost this will be for Alaska’s coastal communities, although I imagine they are grateful for anything they can get at this point. There will be a scramble for employees and inventory if/when the bill passes. At any rate, it appears that some large cruise ships will be seen at Alaska ports in the second half of July.

Photos credit: Un-Cruise Adventures


Long Days & Sunny Nights

FAA Weather Cam at Utqiagvik

On Monday, the sun rose at 2:53 am over Utqiagvik, the community formally known as Barrow. The sun will set in 83 days.

Another fun fact: Utqiagvik holds the record for the coldest day with 24 hours of daylight: Temps dropped to -12F on 15 May 1965. Not to be outdone, Deadhorse tied the record in May of 2013.


Green Up!

Graphic credit: NWS-Fairbanks

Green Up was officially declared on Sunday here in Fairbanks. A quirk maybe of Interior Alaska, our tree buds explode with green all at once, due to the wonderfully long days we have this time of year. We literally go from brown tree limbs to vibrant green forests, as if a switch is being flipped.

This is our official declaration of summer. Cheers!


The ice has gone out in Nenana

The Nenana Ice Cam on 21 April 2021

The ice has gone out on the Tanana River in Nenana, Alaska. Officially, the tripod moved enough downstream to trip the clock at 12:50 AST on April 30. The jackpot for the 2021 Nenana Ice Classic is $233,591.

Nenana Ice Cam on 2 May, 2021