Tag Archives: Yukon

STR Nenana

The Last Lady of the River

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


Aurora Season Returns

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


The little creek that started it all…

Flashback to 22 July 1902


Pedro Creek: Looking upstream

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.


Felice Pedroni, aka Felix Pedro

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.”


Looking downstream on Pedro Creek

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 Monument; Steese Hwy, 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.


Yukon Quest Finish Line


Brent Sass leaving Two Rivers on Monday morning; Photo credit: Yukon Quest

Brent Sass won the 36th running of the Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race at 12:40 Monday afternoon. Sass finished with a full team of 14 dogs. It was the second Yukon Quest win for the Alaskan from Eureka.


Sass travels down the Chena River to the finish line; Photo credit: Robin Wood/FDNM

Yukoner Hans Gatt, coming in 90 minutes later, took second place. Alaska’s Allen Moore came in third. It should be noted that all of the top three mushers have previously won the Quest.

The Yukon Quest travels the historic Klondike gold rush mail and supply route between Whitehorse, Dawson City and Fairbanks. The 2019 race started on February 2nd, with 30 teams. Three teams have dropped out.


Yukon Quest 2019

The Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race starts on Saturday morning from Whitehorse, YT. Thirty mushers and their teams will head down the 1000 mile trail towards the finish line in Fairbanks.


Yukon Quest elevation map

There is one section of trail that does not have enough snow for safe travel. Mushers will have to truck around the section between Braeburn and Carmacks. They will then restart 12 hours after their arrival in Carmacks. It is only the second time in the Quest’s history, that teams had to truck around a section due to lack of snow.


Walter Harper

A book review, of sorts:


Walter Harper’s biography, cover

Prompted by the post on here about the sinking of the Princess Sophia, I had to read Walter Harper’s biography by Mary Ehrlander. It turned out to be a well written, and fascinating read.

Walter Harper was the youngest child of the famed Irish gold prospector Arthur Harper and Athabascan Jenny Albert. He was born in Nuchelawoya, which is now the village of Tanana, in December of 1892. Walter did not know his father, as his parents separated after his birth, and Jenny raised him in the traditional Athabascan ways.

At 16, Walter met the Episcopal archdeacon, Hudson Stuck. Stuck was immediately impressed by Walter, and he soon became the archdeacon’s trail assistant. It was a role that Harper flourished in. Already an accomplished hunter and fisherman, Harper quickly mastered the river boat and dog team, as Walter traveled with Stuck throughout the Yukon River basin.


Walter Harper with a pet fox kit

It didn’t take long for Harper to become vital to Stuck’s operation. In 1913, Stuck and Harry Karstens decided to attempt to climb Denali, North America’s highest peak. There was never any question that the 21 year old Harper would be a member of the expedition. Missionary Robert Tatum also joined the group. On June 7 of that year, Walter Harper became the first known person to step on the summit of Denali. By all accounts, Harper was the glue that held the expedition together, allowing it to succeed.

Walter Harper led an incredible life, in many ways he experienced the very best that Alaska had to offer at that time. Hudson Stuck was a prolific writer, and Harper kept his own journals of his experiences, although only Walter’s journal of the Denali summit has survived. Ehrlander is a great storyteller, and does a wonderful job of recreating Harper & Stuck’s adventures, as well as exploring what had developed into a father/son relationship.

Harper packed a lot of life into his short time on earth. Fresh off of his marriage at the age of 25, Harper and his new bride, Frances Wells, left for a camping trip, spending their wedding night in a tent along the Porcupine River. They did a hunting-honeymoon, for food to stock the Fort Yukon mission & hospital for the coming winter. Having such a good time in each other’s company, they stayed longer than planned, missing a steamer to Whitehorse, for their trip Outside. Eventually, the couple did leave Fort Yukon on the steamer Alaska for Whitehorse. From Whitehorse, they took the White Pass & Yukon Railway to Skagway, where they booked passage on the Princess Sophia’s last trip south for the season. The Princess Sophia would strike Vanderbilt Reef, and rough seas would eventually sink the ship. All lives on board were lost.

Walter Harper and Frances Wells were buried in Juneau.


“Here Lie the Bodies of Walter Harper and Frances Wells, His Wife, Drowned on the Princess Sophia, 25th October 1918. May Light Perpetually Shine on Them. They Were Lovely and Pleasant in Their Lives, And in Death They Were Not Divided

Harper Glacier on Denali is named after both Walter and his father, Arthur. The ranger station in Talkeetna is also named after Walter Harper. I highly recommend Walter Harper: Alaska Native Son to anyone interested in this unique time and place in history. Nothing is quite like early 20th Century Alaska, and Walter Harper makes an extraordinary subject. The sky is the limit as to what this Alaskan could have accomplished if he had lived a longer life. Which is simply amazing in itself, considering what he did accomplish in such a short time span.


The Last Lady of the River

The SS Nenana today:

In 1957, the SS Nenana was brought to Fairbanks. She was docked on the Chena River and became a restaurant and boatel. By 1960, her new owners were not making enough money in the venture, so the Nenana sat unused until 1965. During that time, souvenir hunters hit the old sternwheeler hard.

The 100th anniversary of the purchase of Alaska was closing in at that time. “Alaskaland”, a borough park dedicated to Fairbanks history, had just opened, and the SS Nenana would be a welcomed addition. A channel was dug from the Chena River to the park, and the old sternwheeler was floated in.

That is where one can find her today. In 1986, the Nenana saw an extensive restoration. Working off of old photos and the original floor plan, the renovation took six years. Some original items from the ship were found, others had to be fabricated.

The SS Nenana is one of only three steam-powered passenger sternwheelers left in the United States, and of the three, the Nenana is the largest. She is also the first sternwheeler to be built from blue-prints.
Time and the elements have once again taken their toll on the Nenana. Recently, the borough has closed the interior of the ship to summer tours. Another renovation of the old sternwheeler looks to be on the horizon. Without it, the ship will be dismantled. The “Friends of the SS Nenana” are gearing up to “stabilize and restore this one of a kind piece of history”.


SS Nenana display at the Noel Wien Library, Fairbanks; installed by the Friends of the SS Nenana, notice the original blue prints


The SS Nenana


The SS Nenana on The Yukon River

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”


Alaska Highway Closed


Lower Post, British Columbia; Photo credit: CBC/Danni Carpenter

The Alaska Highway has been closed due to an aggressive fire just south of the Yukon border in British Columbia. The community of Lower Post, BC has been evacuated. The town of Watson Lake is taking in displaced residents and stranded travelers.

The fire, which is believed to have been started by lightening, is approximately 4000 hectares in size. There were 14 firefighters and an air tanker working the fire as of the last update. Heavy equipment is currently being used to protect the community of Lower Post. The fire is not contained, and the highway is expected to be closed for several days. The road is closed at KM 823 near Coal River to KM 968 near the Yukon border.

The Alaska Highway has also been closed at KM 133 near Wonowan, BC and KM 454 near Fort Nelson, as well as between Fort Nelson and the Laird River.

Travelers can still drive to/from the Yukon using the Stewart Cassiar Highway. It’s a route I highly recommend! Absolutely beautiful country, but the services are even more limited than on the Alcan. I once took the Cassiar while driving a ’73 VW Beetle, so don’t be discouraged, although I suggest bringing an extra five gallons of fuel.

We are in a wet, bubble up here in Alaska, so the news that the Alcan is closed due to fire, came as a bit of a surprise. We had an inch of rain at my place yesterday alone, and the high on Saturday was 55 degrees. Our normal high this time of year is in the low 70’s. Currently, August 2018 has seen 3.54″ of rain fall in Fairbanks, which stands at the 10th wettest August on record.

Alaska had 399,000 acres burn this fire season, which is lower than the past three years. The total is 40% lower than the median over the past two decades.


Theft in the Yukon


Credit: The Downtown Hotel’s Facebook page

The Toe has been stolen. The Sourdough Saloon, located in the Downtown Hotel of Dawson City, has been robbed of one of it’s famed toes. People travel from around the globe to partake in the saloon’s signature drink: The Sourtoe Cocktail. The cocktail consists of a shot of alcohol, garnished with a dehydrated human toe.

It’s the Yukon.

The cocktail, if not the toe, has a long history. A rum runner bringing booze into Alaska from the Yukon, amputated his big toe after it was frostbitten, preserving the toe in a jar of alcohol. The abandoned/lost toe was found in an old trapper’s cabin by a riverboat captain decades later, and the cocktail officially became a novelty at the Sourdough Saloon in 1973.

The rules are quite simple: “You can drink it fast, you can drink it slow, but your lips have gotta touch the toe.” Also, if you swallow the toe, there is a fine of $2500. The fine for swallowing was only $500, but a man intentionally swallowed the toe in 2013, laid $500 on the bar, and promptly walked out.

The toe has been intentionally swallowed twice. In the 1990’s, the toe was stolen twice, but was returned both times.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police confirmed Tuesday that officers were investigating the toe theft.

71,328 Sourtoe Cocktails have been served since 1973. Travelers in the Yukon can still order the Sourtoe, since the saloon has one backup toe. The cocktail will set you back $5.