Tag Archives: ruins

Historic Ash

Kodiak Island just Southeast of Katmai

Kodiak Island had a somewhat unique Winter Warning on Thursday. Mixed in the fresh snow was some ancient volcanic ash. Ash from the Novarupta eruption of 1912 was carried across the Shelikof Strait due to some high winds, and the ash came down with the recent snowfall. The ash was not expected to climb above 7000 feet, but airlines were notified, and air quality on the island may have been diminished.

Ashfall, over a foot deep, on Kodiak Island; June 1912

The Novarupta eruption started on 6 June 1912, and lasted three days. The eruption was the most powerful of the 20th Century. The ash cloud is thought to have risen to over 100,000 feet, which is incredibly impressive. An estimated 3.6 cubic miles (15 cubic KMs) of magma erupted. That’s 30 times more than the Mount St Helens eruption. As much as 600 feet of ash was dumped on the region now known as The Valley of 10,000 Smokes.

The ash kick-up does happen from time to time, when winds hit the area just right, and carry loose ash over to Kodiak.

All seven volcanos in the Katmai region, including Novarupta, remain at Level Green.


On the Hunt for The Bear

The USRC Bear in the ice; Location and date unknown

For over two decades, NOAA and the U.S. Coast Guard have been looking for the final resting place of the Revenue Cutter Bear. One of the most storied ships in USCG history, the Bear was launched in 1874, and would see service for the next nine decades.

The historic vessel entered Coast Guard service as a revenue cutter in 1885, spending much of its time working the 20,000 mile Alaska coastline. The Bear was a rescue ship and medical ship; served as transportation for governors, teachers, construction material, mail and reindeer; hunted for poachers, smugglers and illegal traders; and she served as census taker and floating courthouse during her time in Alaskan waters.

The Bear’s masthead

She assisted the 1906 relief efforts after the San Francisco earthquake, as well as assisting Robert Byrd on his Second and Third Antarctic Expeditions. In 1930, the Bear starred in the film version of Jack London’s The Sea Wolf. In 1939, she joined the US Navy on the United States Antarctic Service Expedition. When the United States entered WWII, the Bear returned to Arctic waters joining the Northeast Atlantic Greenland Patrol.

With her service in WWII, the Bear became the oldest Navy ship to be deployed outside the Continental United States. She was also one of the last ships originally equipped with sails to serve in a theater of war. The Bear was one of a select few Navy ships to have served in the Spanish-American War, as well as both World Wars.

The Bear’s final moments, with the Irving Birch looking on

In 1963, while being towed from Nova Scotia to Philadelphia, one of her masts collapsed in a storm, and the venerable Bear went down to the sea bottom.

In 2019, researchers from NOAA caught a break. Two targets were discovered, and one showed major promise. After two years of comparing photos of the wreck at the bottom of the ocean, and photos of the Bear in dry dock and at port, researchers have stated that they are “reasonably certain” that the wreckage is the Bear.

The wreck on the left, with the Bear in dry dock, circa 1924, on the right; Photo credit: NOAA


Busy, busy, busy

Film Friday:

It was a very nice birch

The neighbor stopped me one night a week or two ago. The beavers had broke through the fencing around his yard. I asked if he had stopped up the breach, but he said he wasn’t concerned as freeze up was almost upon us. I did issue a warning about the damage a beaver can do in a short time, but I left it at that.

24 hours later, I received a call. Is there any way I can help plug up the beaver portal? I went over to the new clearing and counted ten new stumps. Not ten trees necessarily, as most were hauled off through the portal to the pantry. The bigger ones were left behind for the next night, and two were hung up, which obviously caused some beaver irritation, judging from the chaotic pattern of wood chips.

Almost through

Camera: Rolleiflex 3.5 MX; Film: Kodak 120, Tri-X 400


The Gold Fields of 1897

Map source: University of Alaska Archives

An interesting map, showing the two routes into the “Klondyke” Gold Fields of “British America” and the “40 Mile” Region in Alaska. One could go overland via the Chilkoot Trail, or by water using the “Youkon” River.

The only established community marked on the map along the Yukon River within Interior Alaska was Fort Yukon, which started as a trading post under the Hudson Bay Company.

Circle City was a mining town that popped up with the discovery of gold in Birch Creek, which is a great float, by the way. Circle, was so named, because the miners thought they were on the Arctic Circle, but they were actually about 50 miles south. Circle City was a major jumping off point for both miners and supplies that had come up the Yukon and were heading out to the gold camps.

Intriguing that Dyea makes the map, but Skagway is left off. Dyea was the start of the Chilkoot Trail, and at the time of the Klondike Gold Rush, was a thriving community with a large wharf. Today, only a few pilings are left of the wharf, and minimal signs of any structures, although it is home to the “Slide Cemetery”. Regardless, “Soapy” Smith would not be impressed with Skagway being MIA. Stampeders would hike the trail over the pass into Canada from Dyea to Lake Bennett. Most would then build boats to carry them to the famed Lake Lebarge and finally the Yukon River. All for the lure of gold.


Death Valley National Park

National Park Week, Day VIII; Today’s Park Theme: Junior Ranger Day

Entering Death Valley

The “Hottest, Driest and Lowest”:

I have been lucky enough to visit Death Valley a few times. I did skip this Park when I was traveling in the air-cooled VW, but the Land Rover has been here a couple of times, and I once tortured a rental car during a visit to Death Valley in August. I drove the rental here from Las Vegas after a wedding just to see how hot it would get. I watched the car thermometer hit +123F. So my personal variance is -63F to +123F degrees.

The Devil’s Golf Course

It was not over 100 when I drove the Rover through. In fact, I remember it being quite nice, weather-wise. Very cool at night, and above 80F during the day. At one campground, it absolutely poured rain. Gullies filled quickly, but I had the rooftop tent. I could see the rain coming across the desert from my site, and quickly popped open the tent, threw what I needed up into it, then set up a chair under the canopy to eat dinner. The rain came down in buckets, and the wind picked up, so I moved my chair into the back of the Rover, and watched the proceedings. Across the campground, I could see two poor souls battling a ground tent. They should have just waited out the rain, but they stuck to their guns, and kept on with the tent. It took forever, to the point that I was suffering just watching the show. The tent had to be as soaked inside as they were standing out in that downpour.

Somewhere along Artist’s Drive

Death Valley was first established as a National Monument in 1933, becoming a National Park in 1994. The Park encompasses 3,373,063 acres across the states of California and Nevada. Badwater Basin, which I have done some hiking in, is the second lowest point in the western hemisphere at 282′ below sea level. Telescope Peak is the Park’s highest point at 11,049 feet above sea level.

Walking out in Eureka Sand Dunes

The Valley is a hot and dry place to explore, so bring plenty of water. Hot weather tip: Any water jug left in your vehicle will quickly reach the temperature of the vehicle’s interior. So, if you don’t want to brew a cup of tea after a day out hiking, try to keep that jug outside and in the shade.

The highest temperature ever recorded on Earth happened at Furnace Creek in Death Valley in 1913: 134F. That is a scorcher. The record low for Death Valley is 15F. Practically balmy when you think about it. Badwater gets on average 1.5 inches of rain a year.

Scotty’s Castle

I did stop by Scotty’s Castle on one visit. It was named after a local gold prospector, Walter Scott, who neither lived in, nor built, the residence. Construction began in 1922, and the building costs were somewhere between $1.5 – 2.5 million. The history here is intriguing, and involves investments in nonproductive mines, as well as mistakenly building on government property. The stock market crash of 1929 also played a part. When the owners passed away with no heirs, the National Park Service bought the “castle”. It can be toured, during non-covid years, and I thought the tour was well worth the fee.

The castle’s water source was a nearby natural spring, which also powered a Pelton wheel which powered the house as well. Death Valley Scotty may not have lived in the castle bearing his name, but he is buried on a hillside overlooking the home. The family’s pet dog is buried next to him.

The Pelton Wheel

There is so much to see at Death Valley. The famed Racetrack is one location, but I did not witness any racing rocks, still it’s a phenomenon that is cool to document. The Eagle Borax Works, or more commonly known as the Twenty Mule Team of Borax fame has some ruins out in the Park, and there are several CCC works still being used. There are trails, and wildflowers galore when it rains, natural springs and arches, and petroglyphs out at Mesquite Springs.

Death Valley saw 1,678,660 visitors in 2018.

Go Find Your Park!

Wrangell-St Elias National Park and Preserve

National Park Week Day II; Today’s Park Theme: Volunteer Sunday

The Chitina River en route to McCarthy

Wrangell-St Elias may very well be my favorite road accessible park in Alaska. Denali is closer, and I visit it the most, but Wrangell-St Elias is a trip of its own. First off, it is the largest National Park at 13.2 million acres. It starts at sea level and rises all the way up to 18,008 feet with the summit of Mount St Elias, which is the second highest peak in the United States.

Mount Blackburn

Within Wrangell-St Elias is four mountain ranges: The Chugach, Wrangell, St Elias, and the eastern part of the Alaska Range. Mount Wrangell is one of the largest active volcanoes in North America, and nine of the sixteen tallest peaks in the U.S. are within the boundaries of Wrangell-St Elias.

If you prefer glaciers, Wrangell-St Elias has you covered with 60% of Alaska’s glacier ice within this park. It has the state’s longest tidewater glacier, North America’s largest piedmont glacier, and the world’s longest valley glacier.

The park offers an endless list of things to do. The hiking here is phenomenal, although established trails are few. The beating heart of this park is wilderness. I have seen the gamut of Alaska wildlife with Wrangell-St Elias.

The Kennecott Mine

The Edgerton Highway runs along the Copper River Valley to Chitina, where the McCarthy Road follows the old CR&NW Railway grade to the Kennicott River. For years, you had to stop there to take a tram across the river to the town of McCarthy and the mines of Kennecott. Today, the tram sits unused, and a walking bridge spans the river.

The Kennecott Mine and company town were named after the Kennicott Glacier, but they missed the spelling by a letter. It gets confusing trying to keep it straight. Copper ore was discovered here in 1900, and a rush soon started. Eventually, Kennecott would have five mines operating, but by 1938 operations had shut down. During that time span, the mines produced over 4.6 million tons of copper ore, and gross revenues of $200 million. I’m not sure what that dollar amount would add up to today. The Kennecott Mines are now a National Historic Landmark District.

McCarthy, Alaska in 1915
McCarthy Hardware in 2011

The population of McCarthy in 1920 was 127. By 2010 it had dropped to 28.

Some of the mines like Jumbo can be hiked to, and the green of copper ore can still be seen in the rocks around the area.

Fishing the Copper and Chitina Rivers is an Alaskan tradition, going back millenniums. Dipnetting for salmon is restricted to Alaska residents, but I can tell you that it is an adventure like no other.

If you want a park that you can disappear into, Wrangell-St Elias may just be the place for you. 2018 saw only 79,450 to the nation’s largest park. Like Alaska in general, that’s a lot of elbow room.

Find your Park!

SS Edmund Fitzgerald

The great freighter sank 45 years ago today, taking all 29 crew members to the bottom of Lake Superior with her.

The SS Edmund Fitzgerald

Growing up in Minnesota, and spending a fair amount of time along the shores of Lake Superior, the story of the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald is one that I had heard from early childhood.

Construction on The Fitz started in August of 1957. The Great Lakes Engineering Works was tasked with building a freighter that would come within one foot of the Saint Lawrence Seaway’s maximum length. The customer was the Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The ship was launched in June 1958, bearing the name of the president of Northwestern Mutual Life. The cost for the 729′ long freighter with a 26,000 long ton capacity, was $7 million.

For 17 years, The Fitz hauled iron ore from Duluth and Superior to cities like Detroit and Toledo. It took five days to make the run between Toledo, Ohio and Superior, Wisconsin.

The Fitzgerald set several cargo records during its time on the Great Lakes, often breaking her own previous record. In 1969, the ship hauled 27,402 long tons in a single run.

The Fitz quickly became popular with the public. Captain Peter Pulcer would play music over the ship’s intercom, whenever they went through the St Clair and Detroit Rivers. Near the Soo Locks, Pulcer would often talk to the public over a bullhorn, explaining details of the ship.

The Fitzgerald’s final run

A storm was building over Oklahoma’s panhandle on 9 November 1975. Weather forecasters predicted that it would stay south of Lake Superior. At 2:15pm, on the same day, the Edmund Fitzgerald left the port of Superior, WI.

The storm moved fast, and by 1am on the morning of the 10th, The Fitz was reporting waves at ten feet. By 2am, the National Weather Service had upgraded its warnings from gale to storm.

The SS Arthur M. Anderson, which had been traveling with The Fitz, started to fall behind the faster Fitzgerald at 3am. The Anderson recorded winds of 58mph at 1:50pm. It started to snow heavy at 2:45pm, and the crew of the Anderson lost sight of the Fitzgerald at that time. The Fitz was approximately 16 miles ahead at this point.

At 3:30pm, Captain McSorley of the Fitzgerald, radioed the Anderson that they were taking on water and had lost two vent covers. The United States Coast Guard had closed the Soo Locks, and told ships to seek safe anchorage.

By late afternoon, waves had increased to 25 feet and wind gusts hit 67mph. The Anderson recorded gusts of 86mph and waves of 35 feet. The Edmund Fitzgerald tried to make Whitefish Bay, where the Whitefish Point light was working, but not the radio beacon. By now the Fitzgerald was blind, having lost both its radar.

At 7:10pm, Captain McSorley radioed the Anderson, that they were “holding their own”. The Edmund Fitzgerald sank within minutes of that final message. There was no distress signal.

The Edmund Fitzgerald on the bottom of Lake Superior

The fully loaded Edmund Fitzgerald went down 15 nautical miles from Whitefish Bay. All 29 crew members perished; no bodies were recovered. The Fitz now lies 530 feet below the surface of Lake Superior.

A U.S. Navy Lockheed P-3 Orion, equipped with technology usually associated with finding submarines, found the wreck on 14 November 1975. The ship was in two pieces on the lake floor.

Positioning of the Fitzgerald wreck

Every year on November 10, the Minnesota Historical Society hosts the Edmund Fitzgerald Memorial Beacon Lighting Ceremony at the Split Rock Lighthouse in Two Harbors, MN. This year’s ceremony will be virtual, hosted on the Historical Society’s facebook page. The ceremony starts at 4:30 CST, with the beacon lighting at approximately 7:30pm.

https://www.mnhs.org/event/7795?fbclid=IwAR1uhHGt09pDrvk7IyAuJ7SZ7hsizkzvaye4Rlcr3sRujpi_6A7dBsSP4i0

The Split Rock Lighthouse; Photo credit: Split Rock Lighthouse State Park

Edmund Fitzgerald Photos Credit: Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum

Sources: Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum; Split Rock Lighthouse State Park; Minnesota Historical Society


Bus 142

The famed Magic Bus; Fairbanks Transit Bus #142

The bus is a 1946 International Harvester K-5. Originally, it was a part of the Fairbanks City Transit System. Since 1960, #142 has been sitting in a clearing along the Stampede Trail.

The Stampede Trail runs from the Parks Highway, north of Healy and Denali National Park almost due west to an abandoned antimony mine. Prior to the building of the Parks Highway, the trail, which dates to 1903, was accessed from the Alaska Railroad.

Bus 142 and two others, were hauled down the Stampede Trail by bulldozer. The busses were equipped with bunks and a wood stove, for construction workers maintaining the trail for the mine. In 1970, the mine ceased operations. Two of the busses were hauled back out, but #142 was abandoned to the elements, due to a broken axle.

Over the years, Bus 142 served as a shelter for hunters, trappers and snowmachiners in the area. Other than that, hardly any thought was given to the old transit bus.

That all changed in 1993, when Jon Krakauer published an article in Outside magazine. The story detailed the travels and subsequent death of Chris McCandless, at the bus, the previous year. The story also inspired a book, as well as a major motion picture. The book is great; the movie: “meh”.

The Stampede Trail is not considered “remote” by Alaska standards, but like any travel off the road system, the Stampede can, and does, have hazards. McCandless unfortunately found them, and tragically perished.

The bus now became a pilgrimage for many people from all around the globe. People flocked to take a selfie, while leaning against the bus, in the chair that McCandless took one from, just prior to his death.

The first 8 miles of the Stampede is maintained, partly paved and partly gravel. After that, the trail becomes more suited to ATV/off-road/hiking. The bus sits 28 miles down the trail. The main summer obstacle is the Teklanika River, although none of the rivers the trail crosses has a bridge. The flow of water can change drastically in the Teklanika with a rain storm or snow melt. When the river is rushing, it is an absolute torrent.

Two hikers who traveled out to see the bus, were swept to their deaths in the rushing water of the Teklanika. Many others were evacuated, after being caught on the wrong bank of the rushing river.

Bus 142 gets flown out by Chinook

The Denali Borough and State of Alaska had grown tired of the rescues. This summer, as training for the Alaska Air Guard, Bus 142 was flown out to the Parks Highway by Chinook helicopter. It spent the better part of the summer at an “undisclosed location”, probably in Anchorage.

Bus 142 in front of the Museum of the North

This past week, Bus 142, or as McCandless called it in his diary, “the Magic Bus”, returned to Fairbanks after 60 years. It came up the Parks Highway on a flatbed and posed for pictures in front of the University of Alaska’s Museum of the North. The bus will be stabilized, preserved and displayed at an outdoor exhibit on campus. Its entire history will be detailed with the new exhibit.

Anyone who wants to support the Museum’s conservation effort for Fairbanks City Transit Bus #142, can donate to the cause at the following site:

https://crowdfund.alaska.edu/project/22255


Peter Pan

Film Friday:

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Peter Pan Seafoods; Naknek, Alaska

 

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Peter Pan Alley

 

Camera: Leica M3; Film: Fujichrome 35mm, Velvia 100

 


The Hilton: Naknek

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Camera: Leica M3; Film: Fujichrome 35mm, Velvia 100