Camera: Rolleiflex 3.5MX; Film: Kodak 35mm, Tri-X 400
The Yukon Quest Sled Dog Race started on Saturday morning. Fifteen teams left Fairbanks, with the goal of Whitehorse, Yukon Territory in 9 days, give or take.
It was a rather chilly morning to be hanging out on the Chena River to cheer the teams on their way, but several hundred people turned out to do just that. It was -25F when I left the cabin, and it must have been -30 down on the river ice. Everyone, including the dogs, were bundled up.
The 1000 mile race between Fairbanks and Whitehorse first started in 1984. A 1983 bull-session in the Bull’s Eye Saloon in Fairbanks, led to the race’s creation. Twenty-six teams left Fairbanks that first year. The winner, Sonny Linder, made it to Whitehorse in just over 12 days.
The Quest follows the historic gold rush routes between the Yukon and Alaska’s Interior, traveling frozen rivers and crossing four mountain ranges. Dawson City, YT is the half-way point. In even years, the race starts in Fairbanks, and in odd years the race starts in Whitehorse.
There are ten checkpoints and four dog drops, where dogs can be dropped off, but not replaced. Sleds can not be replaced without a penalty. The record run happened in 2010, when Hans Gatt finished in 9 days, 26 minutes. The slowest time happened in 1988, when Ty Halvorson completed the race in 20 days, 8 hours, 29 minutes.
Interior Alaska had a decent cold snap drop in for the Winter Solstice and Christmas holiday. From December 17-28, Fairbanks did not see temperatures climb above zero. By Alaska standards, the period was neither long nor extreme, but we did make some ice, as they say. For comparison sake: The 11 day streak of below zero is tied for 42nd longest in the past 50 years. *
The Koyukuk & Yukon River Valleys saw the largest drops, as Allakaket and Manley Hot Springs fell to -60F and -65F respectively. The Manley temp was the coldest officially recorded in Alaska since Fort Yukon dipped to -66F in 2012.
Fairbanks officially reached -40F for the first time this season on Dec 27. That was the only day it dropped down to -40 at the cabin, as well. We had not seen -40F in Fairbanks since January 12, 2019, which is quite the stretch for us.
On December 28, the Deadhorse airport combined -38F temperatures with a 21 mph breeze, to offer a -73 degree windchill to residents of Prudhoe Bay.
No record lows were set during the 11 day period. The record low statewide for the month of December is -72F, which happened in Chicken, Alaska on New Year’s Eve of 1999.
In spite of the cold snap, there is little doubt that 2019 will be the warmest on record for Alaska. Currently, the temp outside the cabin remains above zero, some birch logs are smoldering in the wood stove, and a window is open, as I type this out, dressed in shorts and a t-shirt.
Interior Cabin Life.
SS Nenana; Camera: Widelux; Film: Kodak T-Max100
The Fairbanks North Star Borough has recently proposed dismantling the historic sternwheeler.
I knew something was up. Several contractors I’ve talked with were willing to donate time & resources to the ship’s restoration, which would be added to grants and fundraising, but the Borough was obviously stalling, and we were convinced they just wanted to look the other way until nature takes over.
In all honesty, Fairbanks is terrible when it comes to valuing its history. Fairbanks has only existed since 1904, so its not like it’s an overwhelming time frame.
So for my readers in Fairbanks, drop the Borough Assembly an email if you’d like to see the Nenana remain the centerpiece of Pioneer Park. Don’t hold your breath for a response. Of the nine members plus the mayor, only two bothered to respond to my inquiries.
An Assembly meeting on the subject is slated for January 16.
Click the link for FNSB assembly member contact info:
Just think: No lines, no fighting over the last extra large, no pushing or shoving, or trying to find a parking spot.
Opt to go Outside and explore. Every trail leads to an adventure.
If you happen to be in or near Baraboo, Wisconsin, The Leopoldo Center is holding crane viewing events this weekend.
While out at Pioneer Park on Labor Day, I felt compelled to take a few photos of the STR Nenana.
One reason was that the camera only a couple of years younger than the old sternwheeler, which first started service in Alaska in 1933.
Efforts are still ongoing to find the funding to restore the Nenana. Currently, the interior of the ship is closed to the public.
Camera: Billy-Clack #74; Film: Kodak 120, Ektar 100
It’s that time of year again. The aurora forecast from UAF’s Geophysical Institute is up and running again. A moderate aurora is being forecast for Thursday, with it being visible directly overhead for Fairbanks, weather permitting.
In Canada, Dawson City, Fort Nelson and Fort McMurray will find the northern lights directly overhead, assuming cloud cover doesn’t obscure viewing.
The aurora will be low on the horizon for Marquette, Michigan and Sundsvall, Sweden.
An equal, but opposite aurora will be taking place in the Southern Hemisphere, as well.
The Geophysical Institute at the University of Alaska – Fairbanks puts out their geomagnetic forecast daily.
All images credit: UAF Geophysical Institute
Flashback to 22 July 1902
Felice Pedroni left his small mountain village of Trignano, Italy in 1881. Upon landing in New York City, as a fresh immigrant, he changed his name to Felix Pedro. Pedro was 23 years old at the time.
From New York, he worked his way across the United States, eventually finding himself in Washington state. From there, Pedro migrated to the Yukon Territory. By 1898, Pedro was working the Forty-Mile Mining District in Alaska. He supposedly struck it big on Lost Creek with his partner, Tom Gilmore. Unfortunately, the creek retained the name “Lost Creek” for a reason. Gilmore & Pedro had to abandon the claim after its discovery, due to running out of provisions. They did mark the spot, but spent the next three years trying to find it again. They never did.
As it often happens throughout history, the city of Fairbanks got its start due to happenstance, coincidence and a dose of pure luck.
Two things happened that drove the city’s founding. First: The banker, swindler and first mayor of Fairbanks, Elbridge Truman Barnette, booked passage on the sternwheeler Lavelle Young from St Michael, AK in August 1901. After hitting the shallows of Bates Rapids on the Tanana River, E.T. Barnette convince the Lavelle Young’s Captain Adams to try a shortcut up the Chena River. Well, everyone knows what they say about shortcuts. The sternwheeler ran into sandbars only 6 miles from the mouth of the Chena, and the Captain refused to go any further. Barnette, his wife Isabelle, his employees and all his cargo, were unceremoniously dropped off on the south bank of the river.
Captain Adams later was quoted as saying, “We left Barnette furious. His wife was weeping on the bank.”
Second: Re-enter Felix Pedro and Tom Gilmore. The two miners were prospecting in the area, when they saw the smoke rising from what turned out to be the Lavelle Young. They came across Barnette and his predicament and promptly bought a year’s worth of supplies. Barnette could do little with winter closing in on him, so he built a log building that he named “Barnette’s Cache” and decided to stick it out until spring breakup.
On 22 July 1902, Pedro & Gilmore discovered gold in a small, unnamed creek north of Barnette’s Cache. The Fairbanks Gold Rush was on.
Barnette promptly gave up any idea of leaving the area. He named the new community “Chena City”, and by autumn, he was elected the recorder for the new mining district. Judge Wickersham, who had been appointed to the territory by President William McKinley, suggested renaming the community Fairbanks, after the up & coming Senator Charles Fairbanks of Indiana. Barnette agreed to do so, thinking it could gain favor for the town.
During the winter of 1902-03, as many as 1000 new miners came to Fairbanks from all over the globe. They were quickly disappointed to find that one could not mine the frozen creeks during an Interior Alaskan winter. Temperatures were regularly recorded in the -50F range that winter. Barnette made a fortune with his trading post monopoly, and by 1908, Fairbanks was the largest city in Alaska.
Felix Pedro died of what was believed to be a heart attack in 1910. He was 52. His partner at the time doubted the cause of death, believing that Pedro’s wife had poisoned him. Pedro’s body was shipped to San Francisco, and buried there. In 1972, Italy wanted Pedro back, so his body was exhumed, and reburied in Fanano. Before reburial however, an autopsy was performed, and hair samples concluded that Pedro, had indeed, been poisoned.
This past weekend, the city of Fairbanks celebrated Golden Days, the annual event recognizing Fairbanks’ golden start. The celebration is marked by parades, street fairs, a Felix Pedro look a like contest, and the running of the historic steam locomotive No.1. It fact, this year was No.1’s 120th birthday.
Today, a monument to Felix Pedro can be found along the Steese Highway north of Fairbanks. Across the highway is Pedro’s original mining claim on the creek that now carries his name. The claim is owned & operated by the Pioneers of Alaska, Igloos #4 & 8. It is open to the public; anyone can pan for gold in Pedro Creek.