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Autumnal Equinox

The peak has passed in the Interior

It’s the first day of autumn in the Northern Hemisphere, although to be perfectly honest, we are well underway up here in Interior Alaska. The colors have definitely peaked already, and over half of the leaves are now on the ground.

I had an unscheduled day off on Monday. A job cancelled on Friday, and there wasn’t enough time, or ambition, to schedule something else in its place. It’s unusual for me to get a nice day on an unscheduled day off, and Monday was an absolutely beautiful fall day up here.

So I spent the afternoon hiking the seemingly, endless system of trails that start at my deck. I saw only one other person and her dog at the start of the hike, and after that it was only the grouse, red squirrels, a couple of moose and myself.

The woods were mostly silent, with only the occasional scolding from a squirrel, or the pre-flush clucking of a grouse. Even the trail, loaded with a carpet of leaves, allowed me to pass with barely a sound: Only a faint rustling was left in my wake.


Wet & Green

The ridge line above Blueberry Lake

This summer, Fairbanks has seen its 7th wettest since 1925. With 12.6″ of rain recorded as of last Friday, climatologists tell us that we are on a new trend. The typical summer rainfall is now 30% higher than in the 1920’s-1930’s. Juneau also saw its 6th wettest summer in 96 years. That’s saying something about our very wet capital city.

Fairbanks also had 19 days with thunder, which tied a record. We were 3.6 degrees warmer than average, which puts 2020 in the Top Ten, since recording began. Much of the change came in the rise of nightly low temperatures, due to the rain and cloud cover.

Officially, Fairbanks had a growing season of 130 days in 2020. That ties us for the 7th longest. Since 1950, the growing season in Fairbanks has increased by 16 days.

Wildfires burned a total of 181,000 acres in Alaska for the season so far. That is the lowest total since 2002. For one season, at least, wildfire crews did not have to worry about hotshotting into the Alaskan Bush. They have more than enough on their plate, as it is, in 2020.


Worthington Glacier

Hiking up to Worthington Glacier

When we were camping at Blueberry Lake earlier this summer, we spent a rare sunny day hiking up to Worthington Glacier.

Melt water flowing out from the glacier

Worthington Glacier is located in Thompson Pass at Milepost 29 of the Richardson Highway. It’s a typical small valley glacier, approximately 4 miles long, and sits at an elevation of 3800 feet.

Looking up at the glacier face

In normal years, the glacier is one of the most visited recreation areas on the Richardson, but this year we were the only ones hiking out at the glacier, while a few people hung out at the viewing area.

Fresh glacial melt

Worthington Glacier is retreating, although not quite as fast as other glaciers in Alaska. Thompson Pass is the snowiest area in the state of Alaska. On average, the pass gets 500 inches of snow every winter. It holds the state records of 974″ of snow in a year (81 feet!), and the most snow in a single day at 62 inches.

Worthington Glacier’s valley

Still, Worthington is in retreat. In the late 1990’s, the glacier extended to the pond in the picture above. In the last 20 years, Worthington has retreated a quarter of a mile, in spite of the tremendous snowfall in the area.


On the Sioux Trail: Ness Church

U.S. – Dakota War of 1862; Part XI

Ness Church, Litchfield, Minnesota; in 2020

On August 17, 1862, four young Dakota warriors killed five settlers near Acton, Minnesota. The killings would ignite the war between the Dakotas’ and the United States military, but tensions had been brewing long before that August day in 1862. The bodies of those five settlers would be brought, to what is now Litchfield, and buried at Ness Church.

I visited the church and the surrounding cemetery with one of C-to-C’s sponsors, when I was back in Minnesota this past spring.

Ness Monument to the fallen settlers

In the back corner of the cemetery, close to the rows of corn, stands a monument. Buried underneath, in one grave, are the first five victims of the U.S. -Dakota War: Robinson Jones, Viranus Webster, Howard Baker, Ann (Baker) Jones, and Clara Wilson.

The Ness Monument was erected on 13 September 1878, by the State of Minnesota. It is the third oldest monument in the state.

The original Ness Church, circa 1858

In 1970, the church & cemetery were listed officially, as a Minnesota Historical Site.

The church was founded by Ole Halverson Ness and his wife Margit, who arrived in the area in 1856. Ole Ness was a member of the Acton burial party.

Also buried in the cemetery is Andreas Olson, another victim of the U.S. -Dakota War. Olson was killed on 22 September 1862.

Historic Ness Church

The current church was built by settlers in 1874, a dozen years after the start of the U.S. – Dakota War. The church is said to be haunted by both Sioux Indians and the five settlers, in particular the young girl, Annie. The church historical society denies any haunting, although that has not stopped self-proclaimed ghost hunters from breaking into the church.

I witnessed no paranormal activity when I was there, but I did find the cemetery to be a very solemn place.

Camera for B&W photos: Kodak 66; Film: Kodak 120, Tri-X400


The White Stuff

Eielson Visitor Center; Photo credit: Denali National Park

Denali National Park saw snow on Friday morning. I was just recently out to the Eielson Visitor Center with visiting family members, so the pictures definitely grabbed my attention.

Fairbanks did not see snow, only 6/10 of an inch of rain.

On Saturday morning, Anchorage dropped below 40F for the first time this season. (The season started August 1) It was the first time since 1961 that Anchorage dropped below 40F before Fairbanks did. By Sunday morning, the natural order had returned to normal, when Fairbanks officially dropped to 34F and Anchorage stayed at 40F.

The (Park) road to Eielson; Photo credit: Denali National Park

I have seen snow fall in every month of the year in Alaska. Both July & August snowfalls took place when I was hiking in Denali.

The average date for the first snowfall in Fairbanks is September 30. We have seen snow in late August, and the latest first snowfall is Halloween. The average first snowfall of an inch or more is October 6.

I am not remotely ready for winter, mentally or physically. Alaska remains indifferent to my level of preparation.


The Iron Trail

Keystone Canyon; Valdez, Alaska

Railroad tunnel, circa 1905-06

Today, the Richardson Highway runs through Keystone Canyon, en route to Valdez. Back in the early territorial days of Alaska, people traveled this route on the Valdez Trail from coastal Valdez to Interior Alaska.

In 1905, nine separate entities were competing to build a railroad through Keystone to the copper mines of Kennecott. This tunnel, which is accessed off of the Richardson, is all that is left of the proposed railroad.

A gunfight erupted between opposing factions, work ceased in 1906, and the hand cut tunnel was never finished.

The tunnel still offers a decent view

When we were recently camping down by Valdez, we stopped by to explore the old tunnel. Graffiti covers many of the rocks, but it’s hard not to be impressed by the effort it would have taken to cut through this rock wall in 1905-06 with hand tools.

There is both a silent film, and a novel titled “The Iron Trail”, based on this era of Alaska’s history.


Calorie Counting in Katmai

The countdown to Fat Bear Week has begun. The annual chubathon in Katmai National Park between the Park’s largest bears is just around the corner.

Will Holly retain her title as the bulkiest of Katmai? The brackets will begin at the end of the month.


Watch the Arms

Seward, Alaska

A low-keyed eyeballing

Life at the Alaska SeaLife Center


Stud Puffin

Alaska SeaLife Center


Denali peeks through

Just the peak of Denali showing itself on the left

Denali was out on Sunday, making for the first time I’ve seen the mountain this summer. The picture was taken from the Northern viewpoint along the Parks Highway.