Tag Archives: moose

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.

 


Moose

Alaska’s Big Five:

Moose (Alces alces), is the largest of the deer family, and the Alaska-Yukon subspecies (Alces alces gigas), is the largest of moose.

A small adult female may weigh 800 pounds, while a large adult male can reach double that at 1600 pounds.  Calves are born in the spring, with single births being the majority, but twins are common.  Calves weigh a mere 28-30 pounds at birth, but within 5 months they will often be pushing 300 pounds.  A moose rarely lives to the age of 16 years in the wild.

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There are roughly 200,000 moose distributed widely throughout Alaska.  On average, 7000 moose are harvested during the hunting season, providing 3.5 million pounds of meat.

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Fairbanks and Covid-19; So far…

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The Carlson Center: Home of the Alaska Nanooks

The ice hockey arena, where the University of Alaska Nanooks play their home games, was recently converted to an overflow, field hospital.  The arena adds 100 beds at the moment, to the 38 beds at Fairbanks Memorial Hospital set aside for Corvid-19 patients, and the 26 beds in the intensive care unit.  Like every community around the globe, everyone here hopes the arena beds are never used.

Alaska had 13 new Covid-19 cases on Wednesday.  The state total was now at 226 cases, still the lowest of every U.S. state, but our population is also among the lowest.  27 Alaska residents have been hospitalized, and the state has seen seven deaths, with two of those deaths taking place Outside.

Fairbanks had six of those new cases, for a total of 71 in the Fairbanks North Star Borough.

The city of Dillingham, Alaska and the Curyung Tribal Council recently sent a request to the governor to close the Bristol Bay commercial fishery.  That was huge news in Alaska.  Bristol Bay is the largest sockeye salmon fishery in the world.  Both entities told the State of Alaska that there was no way to limit the small communities exposure to the virus, and the communities lack the health care resources to handle a pandemic.  Tens of thousands of fishermen and fish processors will soon start their migration into the region, as we get closer to the fishing season.  There has been no official response from the State of Alaska, although fishery workers are considered “essential” by the State.

Conoco Phillips, the oil field giant, has shut down its remote North Slope oil fields, and have placed them into long-term storage due to coronavirus concerns.  A BP worker at Prudhoe Bay had recently been diagnosed with the disease, putting several workers in quarantine.

Travel to Alaska by nonresidents is obviously frowned upon.  Visitors are expected to quarantine for 14 days if they do arrive in the state.  The cruise ship industry will not be visiting Alaskan ports until July at the earliest.  Alaska has little, to no say in that.  All Canadian ports of call are closed until July 1.  An intriguing maritime law prohibits international cruise ships from carrying U.S. citizens from one U.S. port to another.  In other words, they can not go from Seattle, Washington to Skagway, Alaska without a stop at a foreign port – namely a Canadian port.  Until Canada opens its ports, Alaskan ports will remain closed to the cruising industry.


Personal note:

Several blogs that I follow have asked the question: “What is the proper way to blog during this event?”  A few have even stopped blogging altogether.  I honestly don’t have an answer.  I rarely spend much time worrying about proper, so I’m probably not the guy to ask.  As for Circle to Circle, I don’t intend to ignore the current situation, but I’m not going to dwell on it either.  Every post will not be Covid-19 related, but that doesn’t mean I’m not paying attention to world events or that I’m not sympathetic to the suffering and losses.  It isn’t hard for me to get as much coverage as I want on the Covid-19 virus, the difficulty is in limiting it to a manageable amount.  One can quickly get overwhelmed, and then it’s hard to pull back out of the funk.

For now, I will continue to do what I do here, which is mainly to blog about Alaska, and its wonderful quirks.  Circle to Circle started out to chronicle a long trip, and I still think it’s at it’s best when I’m writing about traveling.  Travel will have to stay close to Fairbanks for the foreseeable future, so maybe I can pull some rabbits out of the local hat.

I sincerely think it’s important to remember that there are a lot of beautiful things happening every day out there, among the chaos and uncertainty.  Maybe now, more than ever, it is worthwhile to point those things out as they happen.  The moose cows will give birth this spring, and I will have little, gangly moose calves wandering about in short order.  The sandhill cranes will soon be flying into the region, bugling their ancient call from the skies and tundra.  The puddles and ponds will be full of ducks and muskrats, and the beaver will emerge from their domed hut – hopefully with kits.

Everything changes, and, of course, this blog can change at the drop of a wood duck chick.  This was/is always going to be a work in progress.  Stop by for a virtual Alaskan break, if that pleases you; feel free to fly over, if you feel Circle to Circle is not your pint of choice.  Ask questions, leave comments, drop me a line if you’d like.  We are all in this together, even as we stay apart.

Stay safe, and keep your distance.

 

 

 


Mailbag Q&A

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Over the weekend, I was asked if I had been affected much by actions for the Coronavirus. 

Up until now, I’ve been affected only mildly.  I imagine that will change shortly.

I’ve had a project going lately, which has taken me out to a few remote Alaska villages.  I’ve basically been doing the two week on, two week off schedule, and the virus really hit the fan when I was out in the Naknek region.  I finished my assignment, came back to Fairbanks, and will not be going out again.  The project has been put on hiatus, although I suspect it has really been cancelled, at least for the foreseeable future.

I had a construction project already lined up for my return.  Materials were on site, the building empty, so I worked on that all week, and will finish probably today or tomorrow.  Like most people I know who work construction up here, I have no work projects currently on the horizon.

Normally, this is the time of year when I escape and go Outside, thus avoiding the Interior Alaska Breakup Season.  A group of us attend the Frozen Four hockey championships that take place every April, but this year they have been canceled.  When in the Lower 48, I would check in on my Dad, as well as other family & friends about now, but traveling anywhere is beyond a bad idea, so I’m staying in Alaska.  From up here, airplanes & airports seem like giant petri dishes, but to be honest, my greatest unease with travel right now is the thought that if I leave Alaska, I won’t be able to come back!  That’s enough to give any cabin-dweller the shivers.

The shelves at the local grocery stores & Costco are looking pretty sparse, but I’m well-stocked anyway.  It’s kind of an Alaskan thing, I suppose.  When you live at the end of the road, having enough food to get you through a patch of bad weather, or a closing of the Alaska Highway, or a barge losing its load coming up from Seattle, is just something we do.  Especially in the winter months.  I have a freezer stocked with salmon, rock fish, halibut and other Alaska morsels, so I’m good to go there.  I am a bit low on blueberries, but that’s par for the course this time of year.

A friend wanted me to stop by the other day on my way home from work.  I declined the invite, saying I should probably partake in some social distancing.  I was informed that this was hardly new for me, and the virus was just a convenient excuse.  I had to chuckle, because if left to my own devices, I can be a notorious hermit.  I have no problem retreating into my little world at the end of the road, and turning off the phone and computer.  In fact, just a couple of weeks ago, someone threatened to call out the dog sled teams to hunt for me, when I went off grid for barely a week.

I have books to read, letters to write, and LP’s to spin – inside; trails to walk, lakes to circle on snowshoes, and moose to try to capture on film – outside.

We can’t control the virus; all we can do is try our best not to catch it.  I hope, and fully expect, to see all of you on the other side of this.

I was reminded of an Inuit saying when revisiting the documentary “Noatak: Return to the Arctic”.

“I think over again
My small adventures
My fears
Those small ones that seemed so big
For all the vital things
I had to get and to reach
And yet there is only one great thing
To live and see the great day that dawns
And the light that fills the world.”

Best wishes from Alaska.


Vernal Equinox

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A young moose blocks my way to the job site on Wednesday; its twin was eating willows in the slough to the right.

Winter 2019-2020 seems to have dragged on forever.  We are finally turning the much anticipated corner into spring.  I understand, for some of you, briar & tick season leaves you feeling itchy over the upcoming season, but up here in the Far North, I’m more than ready for spring.  Without any hockey, we might as well melt the ice.

Spring officially arrives early this year.  We have not seen a spring this early on the calendar for 124 years. Looking at the snow still on the ground here in Fairbanks, only the warmer temps signal any sign of spring.

Here in Fairbanks, we have finally pushed over the 12 hour mark for daylight.  We gained 6 minutes, 44 seconds from yesterday.  That makes both the moose and I happy.


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.


But, you’ll have to check the antlers…

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The moose is a better mascot

A rather cheeky response to Western Airlines.  This was probably a local advert; I spotted it at the Pioneer Air Museum.  It certainly would have been a hit in Alaska in the 1970’s.


Fairbanks Community & Mushing Museum

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There is a small local museum on the second floor of the Co-Op Plaza Building in the heart of downtown Fairbanks.  I believe that two museums combined forces, with the Community Museum embracing the once separate Dog Mushing Museum, which had fallen on hard times.

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The 1962 Bombardier Ski-Doo is a powerhouse of snow, stomping fun.  The four-cycle engine produces 7 whole horsepower, and offers a top speed of 15mph.  Is that quicker than a horse-drawn sleigh?  The little Ski-Doo last raced in the 2006 Tired-Iron Snowmachine Rally, which is an annual event here in Fairbanks.

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Dog mushing is a major part of Interior Alaska’s identity, although recreational mushers are becoming a rare breed.  Currently, around the same time frame in March as the Dog Derby of 1941, Fairbanks hosts the Open North American Championship dog sled races.  The Open North American brings in mushers from around the globe.

 

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The big race for Fairbanks is the Yukon Quest, which runs between Fairbanks, Alaska and Whitehorse, Yukon Territory.  The 1000 mile race was first run in 1984.  The start line alternates yearly between the two cities.

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This Yukon style toboggan, circa 1920, is representative of the style used in the Interior Alaska woods.  They traveled better than sleds with runners.  The woodwork was obviously done by hand, and the sides, and back are made of moose hide.  It was built, owned and operated by a famed local trapper.

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The museum is full of photographs from all stages of Fairbanks’ history.  From the gold rush days of its founding, to the Great Flood, and beyond.

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During the tourist season, the film “Attla” has been shown on a weekly basis at the museum.  George Attla was the iconic Alaskan dogsled racer.  He dominated sprint races, with a career that spanned from 1958 to 2011, doing it all on one good leg.  Mr Attla, originally from the village of Koyukuk, passed away in 2015.

On a separate, but related note:  The PBS show, “Independent Lens” will be broadcasting an episode on George Attla on December 16.  Check your local PBS station for showtimes.


#OptOutside 2019

Just think: No lines, no fighting over the last extra large, no pushing or shoving, or trying to find a parking spot.

Opt to go Outside and explore. Every trail leads to an adventure.

If you happen to be in or near Baraboo, Wisconsin, The Leopoldo Center is holding crane viewing events this weekend.


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