Tag Archives: wildlife

Copper River Salmon


Salmon fishing the Copper River near Chitina, Alaska

Alaska’s famed Copper River is seeing a brutal return number of salmon so far this summer. The return is so low, that an emergency order closing the Chitina area to dipnetting was issued last week. Since statehood, Alaska has never closed the river to dipnetters.

This is a blow to Alaskans and their freezers.

During an average summer, 7000 Alaskans head to Chitina to dipnet the Copper River. 170,000 salmon are caught this way every year.

Until 2018.

Dipnetting is an Alaskan tradition, since only residents can get a license to dipnet. It’s how many fill their freezers with salmon for the year, and Interior Alaskans in particular, love making the drive to Chitina for this special personal use fishery.

This really is historic, and it has a lot of people on edge. Biologists have pointed blame at “The Blob”, which was a large mass of unusually warm water that took up residence in the Gulf of Alaska from 2014 to 2016.

Commercial fisheries are also feeling the heat, as they saw the second lowest take in 50 years. The commercial fishery was shut down in May by the Alaska Fish & Game.

There is nothing easy about dipnetting The Copper. The river roars past the steep banks, forcing dipnetters to tie themselves off to rocks or trees to keep from being dragged into the deadly cold water. It’s a helluva workout, holding that huge net out into the flowing water, and if a king hits that net, hold on! It’s quite the experience, and you will sleep well at the end of a long day in the river.


The Chitina River, near Chitina, Alaska. Camera: Kodak 66; Film: Kodak T-Max 120

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Not to be outdone, the Ship Creek King Salmon Derby in Anchorage saw their worst year yet. The contest on Ship Creek has been held since 1993, and they had the smallest king ever win the derby at less than 29 pounds. Only 98 kings were entered into the derby total, when in past years they saw that number entered in a day. The winning angler still walked away with $4000 worth of gold & silver.

Needless to say, the price of salmon will be going up.


The Sacred Grove


Comic credit: Nuggets by Jamie Smith


Murphy Dome Air Force Station


Murphy Dome AFS in 1960

There isn’t much left of the Cold War Era Air Force Station on the top of Murphy Dome, but in its heyday, it was an extensive site. Built in 1951, Murphy Dome AFS was a part of the 532nd Aircraft Control and Warning Group, Ladd AFB . Murphy Dome was one of ten radar sites across Alaska used for air defense and as a warning system against the Soviet Union.

There was a 4500′ gravel airstrip on the dome, along with a power plant, gymnasium, barracks, and other recreation areas. The station even had its own ski slope, complete with a tow rope. All buildings were accessible by tunnel, so one didn’t have to go outside. A tour at Murphy Dome lasted only one year due to the perceived “hardship” of the isolation.


Murphy Dome today

Today, the station consists of the one radar building, and whatever mysteries that lie underground. Rumors abound on that front. The control center station was closed at the site in 1983, and was designated a Long Range Radar under the Alaska Radar System. Today Murphy Dome is active, and is a part of the Alaska NORAD Region.

The Murphy Dome area today is a hotbed of outdoor activities for Fairbanks residents. The Chatanika River valley lies just to the north, and miles and miles of trails lead from the dome into Interior Alaska. Campers can be found in all seasons, blueberries cover the hillsides in late summer, and moose hunters search the trails in September. It’s a great place for ptarmigan too, but if you wound one and it flies too close to the fence, expect to be paid a visit from the watchers inside.


Wild River State Park

Along the Saint Croix River, Minnesota Bank


The Saint Croix River

When I was back in Minnesota, I took three kids, ages 11, 13 & 14, camping out to Wild River State Park, which lies along the St Croix River, on the Minnesota side. We had beautiful weather, but it did drop down to the low thirties at night.

We did a lot of hiking, the kids may say that I made them do a lot of hiking, either way… that was the point of getting out. The wildlife was out enjoying the sunshine too, as we spotted turkeys, deer, ruffed grouse, hawks, eagles and plenty of ducks, geese & loons. The kids learned the different croaks of three species of frogs, including the wood frog, which is Alaska’s only frog. They also learned several bird calls. We also did some geocaching, even though an exasperated 11 year old, found that entire endeavor, a complete waste of time.

With three kids, a campfire was mandatory. S’mores, and roasted hotdogs were part of the menu, but I was greatly amused by the kids’ willingness to try out several dried food choices. The freeze dried mac & cheese was a disappointment, the chili a 50/50 deal, and the spaghetti being the overwhelming winner.

I think it is safe to say that my type of camping was a new experience, and this was as close to “glamping” as this wandering Alaskan ever gets. My favorite question of the weekend was: “How do you boil water without a microwave?” I was left speechless. I had picked up a used Coleman stove and lantern, thinking that this would not be the only camping trip I took the kids on. Coleman camping gear is about as bullet proof as gear gets, and the used gear can be picked up at some very reasonable prices. I bought the gear from a guy who had at least a dozen stoves to choose from, and over twenty lanterns! Coleman hoarding?

Pressurizing the stove, I kept getting asked, “Why isn’t it turning on? What’s taking so long? Is it broken?” Alas, I may have taken them out too late. It took some explaining, and I thought I was making progress, but the same questions followed the lantern lighting. My responses were simple, yet widely ignored: “Quiet. Watch the whole process. No, it’s not broken. If the three of you stopped talking at once, you might learn something. It’s the same as the stove. What do you mean you forgot how the stove lit?” In the end, they received a couple of new experiences, if nothing else.


Not the Wild River

Designated a National Scenic Riverway, The St Croix River is one of the original rivers to be protected under the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 1968. The St Croix is 169 miles long, and it’s final 125 miles forms the boundary between Minnesota & Wisconsin. It really is a beautiful river, and would well be worth the time to float.

When we were there, the river was over the flood stage, after the area received the ridiculous April blizzard, which dumped 18″ or so of vile snow. Fishing had opened on the river, but with the high water, it was near impossible for the kids to fish from the bank. Shrubs and small trees which would have been behind you, were now under water in front of you. Snags were commonplace, and I had to wade in to untangle lures on occasion.

Overall, a great little park, with a beautiful setting. Lots of wildlife, trails and most important: 18 miles of the St Croix.


Bee Fixer Upper


The addiction that is Alaska

For Pete:


Caribou gauntlet on the Alaska Highway

I will be starting my 24th year in Alaska on the first day of May. I drove up in a copper-colored ’74 Ford Bronco, with my yellow lab in the back of the truck, along with my camping gear, a box of books and my typewriter. I didn’t really have a plan, just a desire to check out the Last Frontier. Much to my father’s dismay, I fell in love with the state immediately. It isn’t a stretch to say, that I realized that I had found my way home, on that original first day of May.

There are Two Truths about Alaska that I learned very quickly upon my arrival, and they are diametrically opposed. That does not make either one, any less true.
Truth One is the definition of a sourdough: Someone who has soured on Alaska, but doesn’t have enough dough to get out. Truth Two, is that Alaska ruins you from being able to live anywhere else. I fall into the latter category. I’m not just an Alaskan, but an Interior Alaskan to boot. I had a buddy from Anchorage who came up to visit one summer, and stayed at my cabin near Fairbanks for a whole week. He lamented to mutual friends after the visit, that “Mike has ‘gone Fairbanks’ on us. He has gone over to the ‘Dark Side’.” I took it as a compliment, even though he did not mean it as one. It was true, I had gone all in on my life at the end of the road.

Alaska isn’t for everyone; it does take a certain personality to thrive here. I’ve known people who could not leave the state fast enough after their first winter. But I’ve also met many retired military members who served in Alaska, eventually transferring out, but returning to build a life here after their service was done. There is something about Alaska that burrows into your bones, and soaks into your soul. For those of us who choose to live here, Alaska becomes a part of us, and we take a little bit of the state with us everywhere we go.


The Alaska Range as seen from the University of Alaska campus in autumn

“When you first arrive in Alaska, you notice that even the towns on the road system maintain a rugged uniqueness. Alaska is still a destination that beckons the adventurer, the individualist, and the free spirit… Home to 15 species of whales, and healthy populations of caribou, grizzlies, and moose, plus one of the last remaining strongholds of wild salmon, Alaska is still a place to behold.”
— Dave Atcheson, “Hidden Alaska: Bristol Bay and Beyond”

There is an ability here to immerse yourself in the natural world which is unique. Not because it can not be done elsewhere, but because there is still wilderness in Alaska. True wilderness. I do not know how long we will be able to hold onto that wilderness, but for now, we still have it, and it lies outside our back door.

On one or two occasions, I have been called a “free spirit”. I’m not 100% sure what that means, but I do follow my own trail some of the time. Heading into Year 24, I’m as thrilled to be here today, as I ever have. We all have our roller coaster rides, and I’ve lived through my fair share. I’m excited to be returning to The Ridge full time, and that should happen this summer. There are several trips planned over the next several months that will allow me to explore additional areas of this amazing corner of our planet, and I can’t tell you how thrilled I am about that.

I state all of this with caution. I tend not to plan out too far, because that is when the universe decides to throw you a wicked curve ball. I send out hope to the fates, that they will allow me to think out as far as September, if only for a change of pace.
I’ve been up in Alaska for a while now, and I know that each day is a blessing. After some revisions, I hope to immerse myself in this natural wonder for a while longer yet. At some point, I realize that I may have to move on from here. All one can do is make the most out of life wherever you are. That holds true for everyone/everywhere.

I will be heading Outside shortly. It is time to travel, and I’m excited to be heading Out. Some new places to explore, and some old friends and family to visit. As much as I am looking forward to it, I know I will be just as excited to return to Alaska when the time comes. As much as I do love to travel, I am always anxious to get back home in the end. I’ve seen Alaska recently described as a drug, and I think that is as accurate a description as any.

Alaska is a drug, and I’m addicted to her, just like many other very special people.


Friendly Neighborhood Moose