Tag Archives: Alaska


Sunset over Quartz

Sunset over Quartz Lake; Camera: Leica M3, Film: Kodak 35mm, Ektar 100


Explorers

1895 Map of Alaska

“Explorers are not, perhaps, the most promising people with whom to build a society. Indeed, some might say that explorers become explorers precisely because they have a streak of unsociability and a need to remove themselves at regular intervals as far as possible from their fellow men.”

A member of the Royal Geographical Society


Warm waters thought to be culprit with salmon deaths

Dead chum salmon found on the Koyukuk River; Photo credit: ADF&G

Salmon carcasses have been found in large numbers from Norton Sound, all the way up the Yukon River drainage.

Reports of children being able to catch chums with their hands in the Yukon are also coming in. The salmon appear to be completely disorientated.

On one bank of the Koyukuk, over 100 dead chum salmon were counted.

Fish & Game officials, as well as residents along the rivers report that when cut open, the salmon still have eggs or sperm inside. That means that they have not spawned yet.

Dead pink salmon along the Shaktoolik River; Photo credit: Sophia Katchatag, Community coordinator for Shaktoolik

The best guess right now is that the high water temperatures have stressed the salmon out before they can reach their spawning grounds. The waters of Norton Sound, the Koyukuk River and the Shaktoolik River are all well above average. The water temperatures for the Yukon River have been at the highest level ever recorded this summer.


FIRE

The smoke comes in from a new fire started by lightning

I knew it before I even went outside the cabin the next morning. I had left a window open to experience the thunderstorm, and now I could smell the repercussions.

Sure enough, when I walked down the boardwalk to the lake, the hills across the water were barely visible due to the smoke. No doubt the lightning from the storm the previous night had started another wildfire. No where in Alaska is safe from the smoke this summer.

It was around noon when I heard the buzz of the planes coming in. Two single engine aircraft flew directly over me at a height of only a few hundred feet. Under one wing, in all capital letters, was the word FIRE.

For the next six hours, the two planes skirted the lake, landing in a bay on the far end on their floats, filled up their tanks on the run, then took off again in the direction that they had come. The fire must have been close, as the raven flies, because the interval between water fills was only 10 minutes.

I went back out to fish, but hesitated from crossing the lake. I had hit the trout fairly hard the evening before on the other side of the lake, but I didn’t think I could cross in 10 minutes in the canoe. I ended up fishing my side until evening, when the flights stopped.


The Eagle

Looking out over the lake at the end of the day

I sat out at the end of the dock, watching a family of ducks float about just past the reeds. The eagle I have seen since my arrival, was riding the thermals up high. The sun was slowly setting, causing the smokey sky to give off its wildfire glow.

After hanging out with me for the better part of a day, the ducks have grown used to me, and barely paddle off when I venture out in the canoe.

Thunder was building tension off in the distance, when I saw the eagle dive. I wondered if it saw a fish. No, I realized almost immediately that it wasn’t diving for a fish. The talons extended out from the golden eagle’s body, its large wings spread outward to slow down its impact.

Ducks. The eagle was in the mood for duck. There was a moment of intense squawking. Then silence. The remaining brood paddled quickly away, and the eagle settled down just past the reeds.

A minute later, I watched a raven come into the kill site. I could see only its black head, as it hopped closer and closer to where I had last seen the golden eagle. One final raven hop, and the great raptor rose up with wings wide and high. The raven hopped just out of range, but continued to harass the eagle while it ate.

The Thunderstorm

We don’t get as many rousing thunderstorms as the Midwest. We simply don’t have the humidity. However, the one that came through as I sat out on the dock was a decent one. Lightning was all around the lake, and the thunder rolled over the hills and across the water. Only a few scattered drops of rain, unfortunately. All show, and no soak.

I went inside more to avoid the lightning than the rain drops.

Propane Lights

I had no intention of even turning the valve open on the propane, but the severely darkened sky kind of forced my hand. It took a little while, but eventually the gas made it down the copper lines, and the familiar hiss of the propane lights filled the little log cabin.

The warm glow of the propane lights from outside the cabin, where the fox stared me down

I’ve missed these lights. They say “north woods” to me, and I have always enjoyed relaxing under their warm glow, and soft hiss. The added heat they bring in the winter is nothing to scoff at either.

So I wrote, and read under the lights as the lightning surrounded the cabin and the resulting thunder pounded down upon the hills.


The Fox

I had seen where a critter had broken through some screening on a porch out at the lake cabin, and promptly jumped down the steps to go check it out. When I looked up, I caught sight of a fox running down the boardwalk towards me.

It was black. And red. A beautiful mix. I came to a halt to admire the fox’s coloring. The fox froze too. Then I said, “You have to be the most beautiful fox I’ve seen today.” I swear, it blushed, but it was only one side of its face. The red side. It was like looking at a springer spaniel, but with large swaths of both colors, equally mixed across the body. And with a pointy nose, ears, and a great bushy tail that was tipped in white.

We watched each other for a moment, when a red squirrel, who apparently could not stand the tension, chattered noisily at the fox’s right. The fox instinctively pounced at the sound, but the squirrel was already off and running under the boardwalk. The fox then pounced to its left, where the squirrel had run, only to suddenly come up short, remembering that I was standing in front of it.

In what looked like a moment of pure exasperation, the fox pounced forward, and then ran right down the boardwalk, straight at me. I back peddled up one step, but then stood my ground. I could not out maneuver it anyway.

At the steps, the fox hopped off the boardwalk, and looked up at me. It really was an absolutely stunning animal. We stood looking at each other, mere feet apart. I had brought two film cameras, and I had the cell phone, but all three were sitting inside the cabin. I knew I should have waited a day before I thought about work.

I slowly edged my way up to the landing and reached the door; the fox had its eyes on me the entire time. As soon as I opened the door, the fox thought better of our proximity, and trotted off into the woods. It did not run off; it trotted. Totally composed, with its head held high, and its tail straight out behind it in defiance.

Photo above: A red and black fox from Unalaska, who claims to have never left the island, nor visited the lake cabin.


A break for the lake

Heading out in a loaded canoe

I took several days “off” last week to head out to a local lake at a client’s request. They wanted me to check the place out, and see if it needs any work, and I wanted to wet a line or two and try for some trout.

Before I made even a dozen paddle strokes from the landing, I had an eagle flying overhead. It was high enough, and the sun bright enough, that I wasn’t sure if it was a golden eagle, or an immature bald eagle, but that didn’t seem to matter anyway. I was just happy to be out on the water, in a newly repaired canoe, away from cell phones, email and texts.

“When will you be back in town?”

My answer: “I have no idea. When the fish stop biting, I guess.”


Maybe just a tad anti-social…


The little creek that started it all…

Flashback to 22 July 1902


Pedro Creek: Looking upstream

Felice Pedroni left his small mountain village of Trignano, Italy in 1881. Upon landing in New York City, as a fresh immigrant, he changed his name to Felix Pedro. Pedro was 23 years old at the time.

From New York, he worked his way across the United States, eventually finding himself in Washington state. From there, Pedro migrated to the Yukon Territory. By 1898, Pedro was working the Forty-Mile Mining District in Alaska. He supposedly struck it big on Lost Creek with his partner, Tom Gilmore. Unfortunately, the creek retained the name “Lost Creek” for a reason. Gilmore & Pedro had to abandon the claim after its discovery, due to running out of provisions. They did mark the spot, but spent the next three years trying to find it again. They never did.


Felice Pedroni, aka Felix Pedro

As it often happens throughout history, the city of Fairbanks got its start due to happenstance, coincidence and a dose of pure luck.

Two things happened that drove the city’s founding. First: The banker, swindler and first mayor of Fairbanks, Elbridge Truman Barnette, booked passage on the sternwheeler Lavelle Young from St Michael, AK in August 1901. After hitting the shallows of Bates Rapids on the Tanana River, E.T. Barnette convince the Lavelle Young’s Captain Adams to try a shortcut up the Chena River. Well, everyone knows what they say about shortcuts. The sternwheeler ran into sandbars only 6 miles from the mouth of the Chena, and the Captain refused to go any further. Barnette, his wife Isabelle, his employees and all his cargo, were unceremoniously dropped off on the south bank of the river.

Captain Adams later was quoted as saying, “We left Barnette furious. His wife was weeping on the bank.”


Looking downstream on Pedro Creek

Second: Re-enter Felix Pedro and Tom Gilmore. The two miners were prospecting in the area, when they saw the smoke rising from what turned out to be the Lavelle Young. They came across Barnette and his predicament and promptly bought a year’s worth of supplies. Barnette could do little with winter closing in on him, so he built a log building that he named “Barnette’s Cache” and decided to stick it out until spring breakup.

On 22 July 1902, Pedro & Gilmore discovered gold in a small, unnamed creek north of Barnette’s Cache. The Fairbanks Gold Rush was on.

Barnette promptly gave up any idea of leaving the area. He named the new community “Chena City”, and by autumn, he was elected the recorder for the new mining district. Judge Wickersham, who had been appointed to the territory by President William McKinley, suggested renaming the community Fairbanks, after the up & coming Senator Charles Fairbanks of Indiana. Barnette agreed to do so, thinking it could gain favor for the town.

During the winter of 1902-03, as many as 1000 new miners came to Fairbanks from all over the globe. They were quickly disappointed to find that one could not mine the frozen creeks during an Interior Alaskan winter. Temperatures were regularly recorded in the -50F range that winter. Barnette made a fortune with his trading post monopoly, and by 1908, Fairbanks was the largest city in Alaska.


Felix Pedro Monument; Steese Hwy, Alaska

Felix Pedro died of what was believed to be a heart attack in 1910. He was 52. His partner at the time doubted the cause of death, believing that Pedro’s wife had poisoned him. Pedro’s body was shipped to San Francisco, and buried there. In 1972, Italy wanted Pedro back, so his body was exhumed, and reburied in Fanano. Before reburial however, an autopsy was performed, and hair samples concluded that Pedro, had indeed, been poisoned.

This past weekend, the city of Fairbanks celebrated Golden Days, the annual event recognizing Fairbanks’ golden start. The celebration is marked by parades, street fairs, a Felix Pedro look a like contest, and the running of the historic steam locomotive No.1. It fact, this year was No.1’s 120th birthday.

Today, a monument to Felix Pedro can be found along the Steese Highway north of Fairbanks. Across the highway is Pedro’s original mining claim on the creek that now carries his name. The claim is owned & operated by the Pioneers of Alaska, Igloos #4 & 8. It is open to the public; anyone can pan for gold in Pedro Creek.