Walking blindly across ponds in the Interior of Alaska can lead to wet feet, and sometimes much worse.
Methane being released from the pond bottom, causes the ice to thin directly above the pocket of methane. With no snow to speak of right now, the pockets are easy to find. This one has caused a perfect hole to form in the ice.
One reason the Shovel Creek Fire has been such a persistent pain for firefighters and locals alike, is that much of the forested area surrounding Murphy Dome is saturated with black spruce. The resins in the black spruce makes the trees highly flammable; once flames hit the boughs, the flames race up the tree with amazing ferocity and speed. A wildfire can double in size very quickly. That is why black spruce has earned the nick-name: “Gasoline on a Stick”.
A firefighting crew on Old Murphy Dome Road, fighting the Shovel Creek Fire; Photo credit: AKFireInfo
The past few days have been brutal, air quality-wise. Fairbanks was way past double the unhealthy level of particulates in the air, and the Murphy Dome area was way past triple on Wednesday. The smoke has been bad enough for my UPS driver to show up wearing a dust mask this week.
Rain is on everyone’s mind, but the forecast is for more lightning than rain drops this coming weekend.
This season, 1.28 million acres have been burned by wildfires. That’s one Rhode Island, every 10 days.
For the first time since records have been kept, NOAA analysis has the July-June (2018-2019) average temperature for the entire state of Alaska at above freezing.
I had one final side excursion before climbing aboard Amtrak for the rail trip to Saint Paul. The Curator and I joined Doug & Cindy in Ithaca for a Kris Kristofferson concert.
The stage from the balcony
Ithaca, which sits alongside Cayuga Lake, is the home of Cornell University. The State Theater is next to the Ithaca Commons. The theater building was built in 1915, as the Ithaca Security Company auto garage and dealership.
The building was bought, with the idea of renovating it into a theater. The State Theater opened with a vaudeville act on December 6, 1928. At its peak, Ithaca had seventeen grand theaters downtown. Today, the State Theater is the last remaining cinema and vaudeville palace in Ithaca. The theater is a beautiful venue for a concert. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1996.
Kris Kristofferson & The Strangers
Kristofferson is one of the most prolific song writers out there today. I must admit, I never expected to see him play live. He was backed by Merle Haggard’s old band The Strangers, which included two of Merle’s sons: Ben & Noel. The 1600 seat theater was the perfect setting for the laid back and intimate concert put on by the 82 year old Kristofferson.
It was a good show. Kristofferson was in fine form, and after a bit of a tentative start, he relaxed with an audience that obviously adored the man. It didn’t take long for him to mix some things up and joke with the audience, although he was pure business, hitting song after song, for a 29 song set. Kristofferson is a masterful storyteller, and every song is a compelling tale on life.
The Strangers were a great addition. I thought Ben Haggard on guitar and vocals was an incredible artist. He’s be worth seeing in his own right. A good concert, and an unexpected surprise to the trip.
The music world lost another unique voice on Thursday. Dr John, the man who brought the voodoo infused magic of New Orleans music to the world, died “toward the break of day”, of a heart attack. John was 77.
I saw Dr John play live once, when I was in New Orleans during their Jazz Festival. It was pure luck really, but sometimes the train pulls up to the station at just the right moment. It was after Katrina, and there were still a lot of roofs that were covered by blue tarps. Dr John put on quite the show, but this was more than just playing a concert, it was his attempt to use music to help heal his city from a hurricane and apathy.
Dr John simply oozed New Orleans, in all its funky, bluesy, bayou form. I read a review once, where the writer described his voice as a “bullfrog with a hangover”.
Rest in peace, Night Tripper; your bullfrog voice will be missed.
Yesterday, March 27, was the anniversary of the Great Alaska Earthquake. The 9.2 magnitude quake, also known as the Good Friday Earthquake, is still the largest earthquake to hit North America, and the second largest to ever be recorded.
“We ran out of the building, and hung onto the wire mesh fence across the street. The road looked like waves in the ocean. All of the air police trucks looked like they were dancing as they were bouncing up and down.” — Airman stationed at Elmendorf AFB, Anchorage
The 1964 Earthquake and the resulting tsunamis took at least 139 lives. The earth shook for 4 minutes and 38 seconds from the main quake alone. Girdwood and Portage sank eight feet; portions of Kodiak rose over thirty feet. Seward burned; Valdez, Whittier and Chenega were destroyed, wiped off the face of the earth by the giant waves. A 75 ton locomotive was carried 300 feet by the waves in Seward, as 14 oil tankers and 40 railcars went up in flames. The tsunami that hit the WWII port of Whittier was 40′ high.
Alaska Railroad tracks near Turnagain Arm, south of Anchorage; March 28, 1964; Photo credit: USGS
The SS Nenana is a steam powered, sternwheeler that was originally commissioned by the Alaska Railroad in 1932 for their Steamboat Service. Her parts were built in Seattle, then shipped north to Nenana, Alaska and assembled there. Named for the community where she was built, the SS Nenana first entered service in 1933.
The Nenana has five decks: cargo; passenger or saloon deck; boat deck, which housed the life boats; the Texas deck, which had cabins for the captain, crew and any VIP travelers, and topped off with the pilot house.
The SS Nenana pushing a barge
At 237′ long and 42′ wide, the Nenana had 22,000 square feet of deck space. She was built to handle passengers and freight, housing up to 50 passengers in 24 staterooms, and could haul 300 tons of cargo. A full load usually had a crew of 32 and a passenger list of 35. Completely loaded, the Nenana drew only 3’6″ of water.
From 1933 – 1954 she ran the Tanana & Yukon Rivers from May through September. Her main route was between Nenana and Marshall, which was 858 miles. The Nenana had one of the most advanced power systems of its time: twin, tandem 330 HP horizontal condensing engines. The engines could recycle 85% of the steam back into water, allowing the Nenana to be surprisingly quiet. She was powered originally by burning wood, and could store 230 cords of firewood on board. In 1948, the Nenana was converted to burn oil.
While traveling the Yukon River, the Nenana could push up to 6 barges. On the Tanana River, she was limited to only one barge, due to that river’s sharp turns.
During WWII, the Nenana was a vital part of the war effort. Between the massive military buildup within Alaska, and as aircraft and other equipment was ferried across the state on its way to Russia, the Nenana moved supplies for Galena Air Base and a host of other military outposts scattered along the Yukon River Basin.
By 1955, the SS Nenana was pushed out of the freight and passenger business by cheaper and faster means of transportation. Her story doesn’t end quite there, however.
Film footage courtesy of the University of Alaska Archives; photos courtesy of “Friends of SS Nenana”