I have a soft spot for the tamarack tree. It’s a tough, ornery, slow growing tree, that can be found in the low, boggy areas of Interior Alaska. Our population is distinct, in that it is 430 miles from the closet neighboring tamarack grove in the Yukon.
Tamarack is the Algonquian name for “wood used for snowshoes”, which makes it even more endearing. It is a pioneer tree in the north. Often the first to take hold in a swamp or bog, or after a fire ravages through a lowland area.
In the autumn, the tamarack turns a brilliant gold, often long after the birch and aspen have lost their leaves entirely.
4th of July, 1904; Fairbanks, Alaska
The dedication of the first court house in Fairbanks – 1904, Judge Wickersham gave the 4th of July speech
Reading of the Declaration of Independence – 1904 Fairbanks
Independence Day – 1904, Fairbanks, Alaska
While working on a job a while back, I suddenly was aware of the sound of running water. Almost like the sound of a fountain. Interior Alaska had a lot of snow over the winter, so there was standing water everywhere, but moving water had me curious, so I went off towards the sound.
I came to a water hole that only fills up after break up. By the end of June it would probably be dried up. But now, it was full, and in the middle of the large puddle, was a water fountain. Initially, the stream of water went up 3-4 feet above the surface of the puddle. By the time I decided to hike back to my truck to get my phone, it had dropped down to 5-6 inches. From the time I heard the water, to the time the puddle stopped percolating, was a good 90 minutes.
A pocket of methane below the service had suddenly found a way up to sunlight, and the release put on a good show. These pockets are being released all across the Arctic, and I live in a hot bed of that activity.
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.
Looking up at Murphy Dome
I spent much of Saturday hiking the trails from Murphy Dome, which lies 25 miles or so, northwest of Fairbanks. Not surprisingly, there was a fair amount of snow still up high, although the trails were mostly snow free. It was a beautiful day to be out & about, with only a few rain drops making it to me from far away, when the wind was just right.
As luck would have it, this was the only shot I took with the digital today, the rest were all film shots. Time will tell if anything turns out worth sharing, but this gives one an idea of the country.