Tag Archives: travel

Peaking Out

Somewhere around Fairbanks

I believe we have hit peak autumn colors in the Fairbanks area this past weekend.


Tire Changeover

Getting serious in Wrangell-St Elias; Photo credit: NPS

It’s tire changeover time in the northern half of Alaska. Studded tires can now be put on the vehicles, as of September 16th. Remember, if you procrastinate, the lines at the tire shop only get longer.

Think it’s too early to put on the set of Blizzaks?

Hatcher Pass, Alaska; Photo credit: Alaska State Parks

This is an image from Hatcher Pass on Thursday, which is in the southern half of the state, and must remain stud-free until October 1.


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.


Right Whales in rare Alaska sighting

The population of right whales in Alaska waters is estimated to be around 30. The animals were heavily hunted for decades, and even picked up their name because they were the “right” whale to hunt: Right whales are slow moving and float when killed.

The eastern population of North Pacific Right Whales call Alaska home, but they are rarely seen. In August, however, two groups of two whales each were spotted in the waters around Kodiak. Of the four whales, two were known to researchers, but two were previously unknown. Four right whales in a month may not seem impressive, but those whales amount to over 10% of the entire population.

Video courtesy of NOAA


Some summer numbers

Map credit: ACCAP/UAF/NOAA

Wildfires within Alaska burned less than half the usual acreage in 2020, which is not really a surprise with an unusually wet summer.

Fairbanks had its 12th warmest and 20th wettest summer in the past 90 years.

Anchorage saw its 23rd warmest and 28th wettest in the past 70 years.

Juneau had its 10th warmest and 15th wettest in the past 81 years.

The western coast of Alaska was just plain wet.

Bristol Bay had some very rough seas during the fishing season, but that didn’t keep them from setting a record year for sockeye salmon.

The Yukon River drainage had no salmon in 2020. No chums. No kings. Nada. The entire fishery was closed.

One bright spot was the amount of sea ice in the Chukchi Sea in August. It was the most we have seen in 15 years.

Denali National Park has already seen 6″ of the white stuff.

Fairbanks has already seen frost.


Sandhills & Leopold

One of my favorite summer neighbors is the sandhill crane, and that often surprises people. Like the sight of the aurora on a cold, winter night, the sound of a sandhill crane bugling will stop me in my tracks and I immediately scan the sky.

There are still a few sandhills hanging on around Fairbanks, but many have started their flight south to winter in warmer climates. I’ll miss their calls, but I’ll try to make do with the many nights of northern lights dancing across the sky.


The White Stuff

Denali National Park Webcam

Friday morning at the Eielson Visitor Center, Denali National Park. Elevation: 3300′.

In another weather note: As of Friday evening, Fairbanks has seen 175% of normal rainfall for the entire month of August. That puts us at the 8th wettest August since 1930, although both 2018 and 2019 had more rainfall at this point than this August.


Humpbacks of Glacier Bay

A pair of humpback whales in Glacier Bay; Photo credit: National Marine Fisheries Service

From 2014-2016, the Gulf of Alaska was hit by The Blob. A large mass of water that sat at a consistent record-high ocean temperature. A number of marine species saw a large population decline.

Humpbacks in Glacier Bay have been studied extensively since 1973. Individual whales are documented and identified by their dorsal fins and flukes. Each are unique. 2013 saw a return of 160 humpbacks to Glacier Bay, which was a record number since recording began. In 2014, the year the blob first showed itself, only 40 returned to The Bay. Some humpbacks have been returning to Glacier Bay for over 40 years.

The humpback population started to recover in Glacier Bay 2020. There were eleven calves in The Bay this year, where there were none for some of the blob years.

A curious side note: It has been reported that the humpbacks have thoroughly enjoyed having the waters of Glacier Bay almost to themselves. Or, at least without cruise ships. It has been documented that the whales have been much more vocal with each other with the absence of the large cruise ships.

No offense to anyone out there, but I am with the whales on this one. The lack of tourists has been peaceful.


Celebrating Cranes

This weekend is the 24th annual Tanana Valley Sandhill Crane Festival. Events will be held Friday through Sunday at the Creamers Field Migratory Waterfowl Refuge. There will be guided hikes, talks with biologists, birding activity and more out at Creamers. Of course, the trails are well worth hitting without the guides.

Sandhill Cranes usually start staging in early August for their migration south. An average autumn will see 150,000 to 200,000 cranes fly through the Tanana Valley.


Kotz Polar Bear

Let the sleeping polar bear lie

Kotzebue, which is on Alaska’s northwest coast, had a rare visitor over the past weekend. Word quickly traveled through town that a polar bear had wandered into the area.

The gawkers woke the bruin

It is not unheard of for Kotz to see a polar bear. In fact the world’s largest documented polar bear was found in Kotzebue in the 1960’s. That bear weighed more than 2200 pounds and stood at 11 feet. Still, it does not happen often that Kotz gets to see the great white bruin.

Time to swim away from the bear watchers

The bear this weekend, more than likely, was left stranded by no sea ice to escape to. It hung around fish camp, just outside of Kotzebue, for a while. It didn’t take long for onlookers to come out to see the bruin. People were curious, but cautious, by all accounts. Eventually, the bear took off for a swim in Kotzebue Sound, and escaped the gawkers.

Photos credit: Lt. Scott Kellerman; USCG