Tag Archives: B&W

Copper River Salmon


Salmon fishing the Copper River near Chitina, Alaska

Alaska’s famed Copper River is seeing a brutal return number of salmon so far this summer. The return is so low, that an emergency order closing the Chitina area to dipnetting was issued last week. Since statehood, Alaska has never closed the river to dipnetters.

This is a blow to Alaskans and their freezers.

During an average summer, 7000 Alaskans head to Chitina to dipnet the Copper River. 170,000 salmon are caught this way every year.

Until 2018.

Dipnetting is an Alaskan tradition, since only residents can get a license to dipnet. It’s how many fill their freezers with salmon for the year, and Interior Alaskans in particular, love making the drive to Chitina for this special personal use fishery.

This really is historic, and it has a lot of people on edge. Biologists have pointed blame at “The Blob”, which was a large mass of unusually warm water that took up residence in the Gulf of Alaska from 2014 to 2016.

Commercial fisheries are also feeling the heat, as they saw the second lowest take in 50 years. The commercial fishery was shut down in May by the Alaska Fish & Game.

There is nothing easy about dipnetting The Copper. The river roars past the steep banks, forcing dipnetters to tie themselves off to rocks or trees to keep from being dragged into the deadly cold water. It’s a helluva workout, holding that huge net out into the flowing water, and if a king hits that net, hold on! It’s quite the experience, and you will sleep well at the end of a long day in the river.


The Chitina River, near Chitina, Alaska. Camera: Kodak 66; Film: Kodak T-Max 120

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Not to be outdone, the Ship Creek King Salmon Derby in Anchorage saw their worst year yet. The contest on Ship Creek has been held since 1993, and they had the smallest king ever win the derby at less than 29 pounds. Only 98 kings were entered into the derby total, when in past years they saw that number entered in a day. The winning angler still walked away with $4000 worth of gold & silver.

Needless to say, the price of salmon will be going up.


Kodiak after Novarupta

Kodiak, Alaska in 1912


Photo courtesy of Katmai National Park & Preserve

The Alaskan community of Kodiak one day after the eruption of Novarupta in 1912. Over a foot of ash fell on the town, collapsing roofs and engulfing the area in near total darkness.


Novarupta: Revisited


Novarupta, still steaming in 1923, 11 years after its eruption. Photo courtesy: Katmai NP&P

On 6 June 1912, Novarupta, located in the Aleutian Range, erupted. The 60 hour eruption would end up being the most powerful volcanic event of the 20th Century.

The people in Juneau, Alaska, 750 miles away, heard the blast from the eruption an hour after it occurred. In the end, 30 cubic kilometers of ejecta blanketed the area. That was 30 times more than the 1980 eruption of Mount St Helens; 3 times more than the second largest eruption of the century from Mount Pinatubo; and more ejecta than all of Alaska’s historic eruptions combined. The ash fall was so heavy, that roofs on buildings on Kodiak island collapsed from the weight.

The pyroclastic flow from Novarupta, filled 20 km of the valley of Knife Creek, turning the v-shaped valley into a wide, flat plain. When it was over, the pyroclastic flow would solidify into an area 120 square kilometers at depths of over 200 meters.


Katmai Caldera, photo credit: USGS

So much magma was expended during the eruption, that the peak of Mount Katmai, which lies 6 miles from Novarupta, collapsed, leaving a two mile wide by 800 foot deep crater. Early investigations had Katmai as the source of the massive eruption.


Novarupta lava dome, photo credit: USGS

It wasn’t until the 1950’s, when investigators realized that Novarupta was responsible for the eruption, and not Katmai.

In 1916, the National Geographic Society sent an expedition to Alaska’s Katmai area. Led by Robert Griggs, it was Griggs who named the former valley of Knife Creek, “The Valley of 10,000 Smokes”.

“Having reached the summit of Katmai Pass, the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes spreads out before one with no part of the view obstructed. My first thought was: We have reached the modern inferno. I was horrified, and yet, curiosity to see all at close range captivated me. Although sure that at almost every step I would sink beneath the earth’s crust into a chasm intensely hot, I pushed on as soon as I found myself safely over a particularly dangerous-appearing area. I didn’t like it, and yet I did.”
— James Hine, Zoologist, 1916 Griggs Expedition
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* geology.com


Murphy Dome Air Force Station


Murphy Dome AFS in 1960

There isn’t much left of the Cold War Era Air Force Station on the top of Murphy Dome, but in its heyday, it was an extensive site. Built in 1951, Murphy Dome AFS was a part of the 532nd Aircraft Control and Warning Group, Ladd AFB . Murphy Dome was one of ten radar sites across Alaska used for air defense and as a warning system against the Soviet Union.

There was a 4500′ gravel airstrip on the dome, along with a power plant, gymnasium, barracks, and other recreation areas. The station even had its own ski slope, complete with a tow rope. All buildings were accessible by tunnel, so one didn’t have to go outside. A tour at Murphy Dome lasted only one year due to the perceived “hardship” of the isolation.


Murphy Dome today

Today, the station consists of the one radar building, and whatever mysteries that lie underground. Rumors abound on that front. The control center station was closed at the site in 1983, and was designated a Long Range Radar under the Alaska Radar System. Today Murphy Dome is active, and is a part of the Alaska NORAD Region.

The Murphy Dome area today is a hotbed of outdoor activities for Fairbanks residents. The Chatanika River valley lies just to the north, and miles and miles of trails lead from the dome into Interior Alaska. Campers can be found in all seasons, blueberries cover the hillsides in late summer, and moose hunters search the trails in September. It’s a great place for ptarmigan too, but if you wound one and it flies too close to the fence, expect to be paid a visit from the watchers inside.


Gooseberry River


Back in Alaska

I spent more time in the Lower 48 than expected, and still I wasn’t able to do several things that I wanted to. Not all was lost, by any means, and I hope I made a difference on a couple of fronts. I did get a gentle warning from a very good friend; he mentioned that it is about time that I get back to my previous, selfish lifestyle. I said I would take the comment under advisement.

At any rate, after what appears to be a long breakup here in the Far North, I’m ready to attack the J.O.B. situation, and restock the coffers.


Bee Fixer Upper