Tag Archives: driving

Alaska Roundup

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Naknek River; Camera: Leica M3, Film: Fujichrome Velvia 100

The North Slope village of Utqiagvik woke up to -20F degree temperatures on Wednesday morning.  That was a record low for the day for the village.  It was Utqiagvik’s first recording of a record low since 21 December 2007.  During that same time span, the village had set or tied 112 record high temperatures.

 

Alaska has started to “reopen” businesses throughout the state, with everyone seemingly holding their breath as it happens.  Travel restrictions into the state remain in place.  Restaurants are now able to seat to within 25% of capacity, and members at a table are supposed to be from the same household.

The Fairbanks Borough had seen two weeks go by without a new case of Covid-19, but that ended on Sunday with a case in North Pole.  Since then, North Pole has seen another diagnosed case.  The State had six new cases on Tuesday, for a total of 351.  228 individuals have recovered from Covid-19, and nine Alaskans have died from the virus.  Concerning, to me at least, is the first recorded cases in small, isolated, communities like Kodiak, Petersburg and Sitka after a long period of social distancing.

Fishing communities are still struggling with what to do for the summer season.  Valdez has decided to allow fishermen into town without any quarantine, where several smaller communities are demanding a quarantine.  The State of Alaska has agreed to allow fishermen to quarantine on their boats, although a realistic plan for that option remains elusive, considering most fly into these small communities, and air travel between towns not on the road system is off limits.  Travel between communities on the road system is now being allowed.

 

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Denali, and the Alaska Range

Tourism is all but scrapped for the 2020 season.  The two main cruise ship companies have written off Alaska for the year, and have even decided to keep their lodges and hotels closed until late spring 2021.

Denali National Park has now opened the Park Road to Mile 12.  As spring takes a stronger grip on the land, the Park will continue to open up more of the road as conditions allow.  Denali Park is also considering having additional road lotteries in 2020.  The lottery, which allows permit holders to drive well into the Park, where usually only busses are allowed, takes place in September.  Additional opportunities would be extremely welcome.  I’m thrilled with the idea, since the State is all but closed to Outside tourists this year.

No offense.

 

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Moose Crossing: Denali Highway at Tangle River

The Denali Highway, not to be confused with the Denali Park Road, is NOT open.  Yet, people keep getting stuck on the road between Cantwell and Paxson.  The Denali Highway, possibly the best drive in Alaska, is not maintained during the winter.  It is also not paved, which keeps the riffraff numbers down.  Or at least, the tour busses.

 


South Naknek

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Heading across river

It was an overcast morning when we crossed over the Naknek River for South Naknek.  People were still using the ice road, but word was out that time was short.  It would turn out that businesses were in a rush to get heavy equipment across ASAP.

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Pressure ridge

The temperature had warmed up, but it was the tide that had the final word for the ice road.  High tides had been increasing substantially, as the higher water pushes up against the ice, these huge pressure ridges grew.  Some went right across the ice road, which limited access to anything without clearance.  I saw no Subarus crossing with us.

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An available home in S. Naknek

Of my time spent in the region, I enjoyed my day in South Naknek the most.  We picked up a couple of locals for guides, and we had an absolute blast exploring the southern side of the river.  We were welcomed by everyone we met, and had more than one offer to help us out if we wanted to move to the area.

I would love to come back to the region in the summer, but I can honestly say I’d want to spend my time on the south side of the Naknek River.  It’s a much more relaxed way of life here, and we were told that the huge influx of crowds to Naknek & King Salmon do not hit the southern side.  One can still meander down the river’s edge, fishing as you go, enjoying the solitude that Alaska is suppose to be about.

The canneries have all closed up shop in South Naknek.  The killing blow came when a road was built between King Salmon & Naknek.  It no longer made financial sense to process salmon from the southern side.  Grant Aviation still makes daily flights, weather permitting, to South Naknek, and they have a really nice airstrip.

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Driving across the Naknek River

The skies cleared well before noon, and we had absolutely beautiful weather as we traveled throughout South Naknek and the surrounding area.  The Alaska days were already getting longer, and the sun had regained some of the power that we had been missing during the winter months.

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Looking upstream

Now that Covid-19 has us all hunkered down, it’s hard not to wonder if I should have taken that job offer I had after one day in South Naknek.  Regardless, I can not wait for the rivers to open up, and for winter’s grip to be pried from the land.

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By the way, it was -24F at the cabin on Monday morning.  Not too hard to figure out why I’m getting a bit stir crazy, surrounded by nothing but snow.  At 4pm, the temp had risen to +26F: A fifty degree swing.  “Springtime” in Alaska.


Doing the wave

I spent close to ten days in King Salmon and Naknek earlier in the month.  Everyone waves at you out there on the shoreline of Bristol Bay.  They wave when you’re driving; they wave when you’re walking, or riding a snowmachine, or simply standing around enjoying being off the grid.

Now, I am back in Fairbanks, and as predicted, the habit of waving at every car I pass has become a habit.  It would seem that Fairbanks isn’t quite as friendly as I thought.  Or at least not as much as a small fishing community.  Yet, I’m determined to continue to wave at strangers until I get one to wave back.

Social distancing in Alaska.


Kuskokwim Highway

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Breaking trail on the Kuskokwim River; Photo credit: KTOO

The ice road on the Kuskokwim River in southwestern Alaska has reached a record length this year: 355 miles.

The ice road generally starts to take shape, weather permitting, in January.  This year, for the first time, the village of Sleetmute is on the river ice-highway system.

On average, the ice road runs 200 miles long, or so.  With unpredictable air transportation, the ice road can be a boon for residents trying to reach medical care, or to just buy supplies mid-winter.

Ice thickness near Bethel was at 3-4 feet, but it dropped to approximately 2 feet thick near Sleetmute.  One 14 mile section was so rough that it had to be bulldozed prior to plowing.

Thanks to KTOO, Johnny Cash, Rebecca Wilmarth and Corey Nicholai for the video.


Through the Frosty Looking Glass

Film Friday:

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Camera: Rolleiflex 3.5MX; Film: Kodak 120, T-Max 100


Cold Trusses

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Robertson River

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Crossing the Robertson River on the Alaska Highway

 


Caribou Crossing

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Driving out to the border, the wildlife viewing was excellent as usual.  I spotted several moose, flocks of grouse, and quite a few caribou.  I stopped for these three caribou to cross in front of me, and watched them make their way down the roadway slope to a frozen creek below.

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One solo caribou earlier in the day, had a harder time of it.  The snow was over belly deep, and I watched the animal from a long distance, as it determinably struggled to reach the road.  Once it did, it saw me coming, and I could feel its deflation, and hear its sigh of disgust.

The caribou went  across the road, considered hopping into the snow there, but then turned to clop down the frozen pavement.  I slowed down to a crawl, but still caught up with it.  The caribou looked me over as I came to a stop, then resigned to its fate, it crossed back to the side of the road it came from, and went back into the snow.  This caribou was stressed enough, so I didn’t  take its picture, I just drove on, with the caribou buried well past its haunches in powder.

In my rear view mirror, I could see another truck coming up, and so did the caribou.  I think it planned on coming back out onto the road once I left, but now it snowplowed its way back to the treeline where it came from when I first saw it.

No doubt, there are too many people in Alaska for that caribou’s liking.  Can’t say that I entirely blame it either.


Johnson River Crossing

A quick road trip to the Border

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Bridge over the Johnson River

 

 


Merry Christmas from Alaska

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Santa & reindeer on beach layover in Nome, Alaska; Photo credit: University of Alaska Archives