With the extension of these unusually warm temps here in Interior Alaska, let’s go back to this past March, when snow was on the ground, and the UAF students were climbing the ice wall on campus.
One reason the Shovel Creek Fire has been such a persistent pain for firefighters and locals alike, is that much of the forested area surrounding Murphy Dome is saturated with black spruce. The resins in the black spruce makes the trees highly flammable; once flames hit the boughs, the flames race up the tree with amazing ferocity and speed. A wildfire can double in size very quickly. That is why black spruce has earned the nick-name: “Gasoline on a Stick”.
The past few days have been brutal, air quality-wise. Fairbanks was way past double the unhealthy level of particulates in the air, and the Murphy Dome area was way past triple on Wednesday. The smoke has been bad enough for my UPS driver to show up wearing a dust mask this week.
Rain is on everyone’s mind, but the forecast is for more lightning than rain drops this coming weekend.
This season, 1.28 million acres have been burned by wildfires. That’s one Rhode Island, every 10 days.
For the first time since records have been kept, NOAA analysis has the July-June (2018-2019) average temperature for the entire state of Alaska at above freezing.
In 1968, Britain’s Ministry of Defense ordered 72 Series IIa 109’s from Land Rover. They were destined for the SAS, Britain’s elite commando unit, for use in the deserts of the Persian Gulf region.
The SAS had been using Land Rover 88’s, but they proved to be a bit small for the task. The 109’s were refurbished for the desert terrain. Fuel capacity was increased to 100 gallons, reservoirs for spare water and oil were added. The chassis and suspension were both upgraded to handle heavy artillery. Sand tires were installed and the spare tire mount was taken off the hood, and built onto the front of the vehicle. A bead breaker, for changing tires, was even added to one wing. The ’68 Land Rover also came with a sun compass, which had become standard equipment, after North Africa’s Long Range Desert Group in WWII.
But the unique feature of the SAS Land Rover was the color scheme. It was painted a mauve-pink. The experiences of the Long Range Desert Group showed that the pink color was remarkably good camouflage in the desert, especially at dawn and dusk.
For armament, the Pink Panther carried a machine gun on the left side of the hood, smoke canisters and grenades, anti-tank weaponry and rifles. The vehicle when fully loaded, weighed 3 tons.
The Series Pink Panther served the SAS from 1968 to 1984, when a modified Land Rover Defender 110 took over. Of the original 72 Pink Panthers, only 20 are known to still be around, with most in private collections. The Dunsfold Collection owns the one above. It has become one of the most sought after Land Rovers ever built.
An evening walk, with friends, through Pioneer Park. It was smokey, but at least the flowers were perky, if the walkers were not.
Fairbanks temps are going to hit 90F again on Tuesday, with a solid 88 degrees for the following day. The Shovel Creek Fire has gone over 12,000 acres, with 15% containment. It was so smokey on Sunday, that there was no air support for the firefighters due to the fact that the pilots could not see anything on the ground to dump water and/or retardant.
Some relief could be coming into the area on Thursday, with a possibility of rain, and a drop in temps back to 80. Thunderstorms are said to be part of the equation, but lightning is something no one in the Interior wants to see right now.
On our tour of uniquely Interior Alaska, we made the drive out to the Republic of Ester. The first stop was the Golden Eagle Saloon, where you grill your own burgers. We sat out on the front porch, mingling with the regulars. But we didn’t venture out to Ester for a “grill your own”. We came out for the Malemute.
Gold was discovered in Ester Creek in 1903. By 1907, Ester had become a thriving mining community with a population of 200. Ester Gold Camp developed into a support facility for the F.E. Company’s gold dredges operating in the Cripple Creek & Ester Creek areas.
With dredging winding down, the F.E. Company sold the gold camp to local investors who turned the historic camp into a resort in 1958.
The F.E. Company used the old building as a garage, but the new resort owners turned it into the “Malemute Saloon”. Robert Service, the poet whose works include “The Shooting of Dan McGrew”, became an honorary patron of the Malemute. The bar inside the Malemute is circa 1900, and came from the Royal Alexandra Hotel in Dawson, YT. It was barged down the Yukon River and up the Tanana.
At its peak, the Ester Gold Camp had all you can eat crab, and meals were taken on long tables like the miners of the F.E. Company. It allowed visitors to interact, and residents were as common as the tourists. The Malemute would be packed to the rafters, with shows dedicated to Robert Service and life in the Interior of Alaska. I took my Dad out there a few times, and it became one of his favorite Alaska hangouts. With sawdust on the floor, Alaskana on the walls, and cold beer flowing, it was a favorite of many locals as well.
On this night in 2019, we ordered our beer at the historic bar, then went outside to sit on the deck, which had a significant lean down & away from the building.
The Gold Camp and the Malemute closed in 2008, although the Malemute Saloon does open on occasion. This year, it was open, serving Alaskan brews for the month of June.
The Ester Camp Historic District was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1987.
The Shooting of Dan McGrew
A bunch of the boys were whooping it up in the Malamute saloon;
The kid that handles the music-box was hitting a jag-time tune;
Back of the bar, in a solo game, sat Dangerous Dan McGrew,
And watching his luck was his light-o’-love, the lady that’s known as Lou.
When out of the night, which was fifty below, and into the din and the glare,
There stumbled a miner fresh from the creeks, dog-dirty, and loaded for bear.
He looked like a man with a foot in the grave and scarcely the strength of a louse,
Yet he tilted a poke of dust on the bar, and he called for drinks for the house.
There was none could place the stranger’s face, though we searched ourselves for a clue;
But we drank his health, and the last to drink was Dangerous Dan McGrew.
There’s men that somehow just grip your eyes, and hold them hard like a spell;
And such was he, and he looked to me like a man who had lived in hell;
With a face most hair, and the dreary stare of a dog whose day is done,
As he watered the green stuff in his glass, and the drops fell one by one.
Then I got to figgering who he was, and wondering what he’d do,
And I turned my head — and there watching him was the lady that’s known as Lou.
His eyes went rubbering round the room, and he seemed in a kind of daze,
Till at last that old piano fell in the way of his wandering gaze.
The rag-time kid was having a drink; there was no one else on the stool,
So the stranger stumbles across the room, and flops down there like a fool.
In a buckskin shirt that was glazed with dirt he sat, and I saw him sway;
Then he clutched the keys with his talon hands — my God! but that man could play.
Were you ever out in the Great Alone, when the moon was awful clear,
And the icy mountains hemmed you in with a silence you most could hear;
With only the howl of a timber wolf, and you camped there in the cold,
A half-dead thing in a stark, dead world, clean mad for the muck called gold;
While high overhead, green, yellow and red, the North Lights swept in bars? —
Then you’ve a hunch what the music meant. . . hunger and night and the stars.
And hunger not of the belly kind, that’s banished with bacon and beans,
But the gnawing hunger of lonely men for a home and all that it means;
For a fireside far from the cares that are, four walls and a roof above;
But oh! so cramful of cosy joy, and crowned with a woman’s love —
A woman dearer than all the world, and true as Heaven is true —
(God! how ghastly she looks through her rouge, — the lady that’s known as Lou.)
Then on a sudden the music changed, so soft that you scarce could hear;
But you felt that your life had been looted clean of all that it once held dear;
That someone had stolen the woman you loved; that her love was a devil’s lie;
That your guts were gone, and the best for you was to crawl away and die.
‘Twas the crowning cry of a heart’s despair, and it thrilled you through and through —
“I guess I’ll make it a spread misere”, said Dangerous Dan McGrew.
The music almost died away … then it burst like a pent-up flood;
And it seemed to say, “Repay, repay,” and my eyes were blind with blood.
The thought came back of an ancient wrong, and it stung like a frozen lash,
And the lust awoke to kill, to kill … then the music stopped with a crash,
And the stranger turned, and his eyes they burned in a most peculiar way;
In a buckskin shirt that was glazed with dirt he sat, and I saw him sway;
Then his lips went in in a kind of grin, and he spoke, and his voice was calm,
And “Boys,” says he, “you don’t know me, and none of you care a damn;
But I want to state, and my words are straight, and I’ll bet my poke they’re true,
That one of you is a hound of hell. . .and that one is Dan McGrew.”
Then I ducked my head, and the lights went out, and two guns blazed in the dark,
And a woman screamed, and the lights went up, and two men lay stiff and stark.
Pitched on his head, and pumped full of lead, was Dangerous Dan McGrew,
While the man from the creeks lay clutched to the breast of the lady that’s known as Lou.
These are the simple facts of the case, and I guess I ought to know.
They say that the stranger was crazed with “hooch,” and I’m not denying it’s so.
I’m not so wise as the lawyer guys, but strictly between us two —
The woman that kissed him and — pinched his poke — was the lady that’s known as Lou.
— Robert Service
From: Songs of a Sourdough; 1907
Record breaking temps hit the southern part of Alaska on July 4th. A large high pressure dome has planted itself over the state, and is moving very slowly north and east. Several communities in the southern part of the state have seen all time record high temperature records broken. Fairbanks probably won’t be seeing any all time records broken, but we are going to see temps in the upper 80’s within a day or two as the high pressure moves into our area. Just what we need with all the fires around the area.
Anchorage Merrill Field: 90F
King Salmon: 89F
These are all-time record highs for our coastal areas; The Anchorage Bowl had never recorded 90 degrees before. When one thinks of King Salmon, you picture wet, rainy, cool weather as you fish for salmon. The coast could be breaking records for the next 5-6 days, as the high pressure takes its time moving out of the area.