Sunday, October 5, 2014

Wildflowers and Moose Along the Road to Teller

Alaska 2014 continued:

Our second day in Nome began much like the first day had ended--damp and dreary. Not that the previous day had ever really ended--while the sun officially set at 1:09 am, it never got dark before the sun came back up at 4:52 am. Going to bed was a struggle, even as tired as I was. I am not one to sleep while the sun is up, but we had to be up by 5:00 am so I did my best to clip curtains closed to keep out the light. Still my body was well aware that THE SUN IS STILL UP! and was not letting go of wakefulness easily. Once asleep though I slept very well.

Part of Nome from the hotel window. Most of Nome is tidy but muddy, and it was especially gloomy while we were there. Once disturbed the ground has a tough time yielding plants and paved roads are difficult to maintain on the tundra.
Note the seal skin stretched on a rack leaning against the near building.

A VERY approximate map of the Nome-Teller Road, about 70 miles.

We were on the road by 7:15 am, driving north through the tundra towards the Inupiat town of Teller. The grey-ness of the day followed us.

Tundra and mountains from the back of the van.

We made several stops for bird sightings, and took a few longer hikes into the tundra looking for birds. But as usual, my eyes were on the ground. Plants on the tundra were just beginning to bloom, and what looked like a barren rocky wasteland from the van turned out to be anything but. Small, stubby flowers were blooming among the rocks, and I set aside my quest for the Black-bellied Plover long enough to revel in Alaska wildflowers.

We were all smitten with moss campion, which was growing in bright clumps all around us.

Wild azalea had not quite opened its buds.

As yet unidentified plant growing along Teller Road.

Wooly lousewort shows off amidst the tundra stones. It was cold this day
so there were only a handful of insects out pollinating

Back in the van someone up front spotted a young bull moose along the road. We stopped to take a look, and I was glad he was on my side of the vehicle so I could get some pics.

Young bull moose along the Teller Road.

We paused long enough that I had time to pull out my long lens and get a few close ups.

Closer look at the bull moose. 

Further on we turned down a side road that led to Woolley Lagoon. (I have yet to locate either the road or the lagoon on a map.) I loved this boulder-strewn area, with its hidey-holes for all sorts of critters--including the elusive Northern Wheatear, who we were searching for among the rocks.

Watching and listening for the Northern Wheatear. (Don't worry, pics will follow.)

There is an abundance of life on the tundra in summer--it's just all within five
feet of the ground.

An unknown stream drains snow melt to Woolley Lagoon and the Bearing Sea.

We eventually made our way to the town of Teller. To say that we were shocked would be an understatement. I don't know what we expected, but it wasn't abject poverty. Granted, everything looks worse in the gloom, and it was a dark, cold, windy day that spit rain and snow. No one was about, so the place really looked deserted. The real reason for that though was the conditinon of the homes. They were so run-down, and patched together with whatever folks up here could find, that it seemed impossible that people lived in them. I don't know what these folks do in winter--they may well be out on the sea ice hunting seals. I hopped so. The homes here provided only the barest of shelter.

I didn't take many pictures. It seemed...rude and intrusive. These people's lives weren't for our amusement. They live in a harsh environment with limited means and even more limited goods. It's costly to get thing to Teller, and costly to remove them, so you go without while at the same time being seemingly overrun with the flotsam and jetsam of daily life.

We were encouraged though to go shop and spend a few dollars at the store in town. We all trooped dutifully in, and I was again appalled at the offerings on the shelves. There was virtually no fresh anything, although I guess historically these folks didn't eat much fresh fruits or vegetables. The vast majority of what was on the shelves was sugary processed food. So we all left with handfuls of sweet snacks, which we passed around the van as we drove back to Nome.

The Teller Native Store, where we purchased snacks for the ride back to Nome.

On the way out of town I got a few shots of Teller from the back of the van. I simply cannot imagine this place in winter. Thoughts of this place hung on my mind for days and days.

Teller from the ridge above town.

Next: Caribou and Muskox along the Teller Road.

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