Tag Archives: driving

Queued up

The Rover on the Haul Road

One thing I do like about loading up posts in the queue, is that I can be gone all week and nobody has any idea.

Get out and enjoy autumn!

“Like the River, we were free to wander.”

— Aldo Leopold


Walking Poker Flat

Entrance to Poker Flat Research Range

It’s early August and people were starting to think “white stuff”. I had three jobs lined up, everyone desperate for me to start, yet not one of them was ready for me. What to do with the day off?

As luck would have it, Poker Flat Research Range had one of their summer walking tours that day, so I drove the 25 miles out to Chatanika.

“The Blockhouse” or bunker

PFRR is the world’s largest land-based rocket range. The facility is owned by the University of Alaska – Fairbanks. They launch sounding rockets from the range, in order to study the Earth’s atmosphere and the interaction between the atmosphere and the space environment.

Space junk returned to Earth

Study ranges from the Earth’s magnetic field to the aurora. NASA is prominent at the range, but researchers come from all over the world. All of the rockets launched from PFRR return to the Earth’s surface, and the range collects the spent payloads every summer. There is a reward paid out to anyone finding material from Poker Flat.

Poker Flat Launch Pad

The building above is open on the far end. The interior of the building, and the actual launch pad, was off limits to photography. It’s a NASA rule that doesn’t thrill UAF apparently, but we all honored the rule. The sounding rocket is brought in on what is basically an open trailer. The rocket is loaded onto the launcher, which looks like a giant erector set with a large pivot. The building itself is sitting on a pair of tracks. When ready to begin countdown, the building is pulled back away from the pad, and the rocket is spun vertical with the large erector set pivot.

Mission Control

The control center was surprisingly manual in operation. Scientists are extremely fussy about launch conditions, and they often pull the plug with one second to go. An automatic system does not give the flexibility that is needed, so there is still a “launch button”.

Power central

That doesn’t mean there is a shortage of cable, wires, or connectors.

The touring rocket

PFRR does a good job with the tour. It’s pretty relaxed, and a nice way to spend some time outdoors, for the most part, in an Interior Alaska summer. After the tour, don’t forget to stop by the Chatanika Lodge, which is just down the highway.


Unexpected Selfies

The Rover Dash: I must be going downhill

When I sent in the film from the Billy-Clack, I had one roll of 120 black & white film that I could not remember when I had shot it. Somehow, a roll of film had been forgotten in a pack pocket during one of my travels. It sat around for a bit more, as I waited to get some more 120 used up.

The roll does have some history to it, and it has been a while. It’s from the last time The Rover was down in the Lower 48. Probably right after I swapped out the motor, because there are a few shots of San Antonio.

There was also a shot of some young punk, riding alongside me in the Land Rover, taking a picture of himself as he stuck out his tongue at the camera. He also took this shot of the Rover dash, probably scared at how fast we were moving.

I must have been concentrating on traffic, because I do not remember him sticking his tongue out at me or the camera.

Camera: Agfa Clack (not the Billy-Clack); Film: Kodak 120 TMax 100; Photographer: Minnesota “Moose” Matthew


Robert Frank

Ordinary people, doing ordinary things…

Robert Frank, in his New York home; Photograph by Allen Ginsberg

In 1954, Robert Frank set off across the United States in a used Ford with his Leica camera. He had the idea of photographing America as it unfolded before his eyes. He spent two years on the journey, shooting 767 rolls of film, for over 28,000 shots.

83 of those shots would end up in the book “The Americans”.

Image: “Trolley – New Orleans” 1955, photo by Robert Frank

The Americans was first published in 1959, and it took the photography world by storm. The images were honest and gritty, and most of all raw. It was a masterwork of street photography.

US 285 – New Mexico 1956; photo by Robert Frank

Initially, it did not go over well. America was high on the post war 1950’s. Images showing that not everyone in the country had achieved the “American Dream” were not what the public was shouting for. The book went out of publication after only 1100 being printed.

Rodeo – New York City 1955; photo by Robert Frank

History has been kinder. The Americans has seen several reprints, and few photo books have had as large an influence on contemporary photography.

Frank would go on to make fifty documentary films, but he never abandoned still photography.

Map of Robert Frank’s photo trek

Robert Frank died on Monday; he was 94.


Kenai Burning

The view from the Parks Highway: McKinley Fire

The road to Seward had an unexpected gauntlet north of the town of Willow, Alaska. Severe winds had knocked over a power pole, and the resulting sparks set off a wildfire along the Parks Highway.

The winds were still howling when we went through. Firefighters were on the scene, but things didn’t look good. By the time we made it to Anchorage, we learned that the fire had made the jump, and both sides of the road had flames. The Parks had been closed to traffic behind us.

A smokey Seward Harbor

The high winds continued on the Kenai Peninsula, as we drove south on the Seward Highway. The Swan Lake Fire had been all but contained, but the winds gave it a breath of new life, which closed the Sterling Highway, and left the taste of burning spruce in all of our throats.

Out on Resurrection Bay: Looking back at Seward Harbor

Once on the water, the smoke diminished some, but we didn’t really escape it until we were out in the Gulf of Alaska.

To date, Seward had seen 2.25″ of rain, which is unheard of. They normally see 64″ in a year. The town of Homer had been hit even harder still, with only 1.15″ of rain this season. Needless to say, the Kenai Peninsula is seeing drought conditions.

The fishing was good, and at times great. There was no rain in the foreseeable forecast, so no one had rain jackets. The temps were in the 70’s F, and we all ended up fishing in short sleeves. Out of all my trips to Alaska’s coast to fish, this one may have been the most surreal.


Dry docked

Sitting high along the Erie Canal; Camera: Leica M3, Film: Kodak 35mm Ektar 100


Lockport

Lockport, NY on the Erie Canal; Camera: Leica M3, Film: Kodak 35mm Ektar 100


Land Rover’s Pink Panther


Land Rover’s “Pink Panther”; Photo credit: Atlantic British

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.


The sparse Pink Panther interior; Photo credit: Atlantic British

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.


Pink Panther; Photo credit: Dunsfold Collection

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.


Malemute Saloon

Ester, Alaska


The Malemute Saloon: “Service with a Smile”

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.


“Service with a Smile”, inside the Malemute

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.

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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


Chatanika Lodge


The Chatanika Lodge in the heart of downtown Chatanika, Alaska

When in Chatanika, one really should stop in and see Ron & Shirley at The Lodge. It is a collection of Alaskana; along with some spruce burls, Christmas lights, and a few dollar bills thrown in for good measure.


The bar at the Chatanika Lodge

The Lodge was originally part of the F.E. Company holdings. The current owners bought the building in 1974, the place had a fire in 1975, but was rebuilt and back in operation within three months. They have been adding things to the walls and ceilings ever since.


The Chatanika Lodge Ballroom, or dance floor…

The Lodge has 11 rooms for rent, as well as the full bar and restaurant. The Dredge Burger is quite popular. It’s also a popular place to go for live music on the weekends.


The T-Bird room

There is a 1956 Thunderbird in the back of the restaurant in the T-Bird Room. The car was brought up to Alaska in 1992.

One of the highlights of March in Interior Alaska is Chatanika Days, and the famed outhouse races. Contestants build an outhouse on skis, and a team pushes the outhouse around a “track”. One team member must be sitting on the throne, within the outhouse, as the team scampers about the track. Life is good, if a bit odd, in the Interior.


Chatanika’s historic “Outhouse Race”; Photo credit: AlaskaWx