Monday, November 10, 2014

From Nome to Soldotna--Alaska, Day Four

 Alaska 2014 continued:

Monday, June 2nd dawned gray but dry. Our schedule had been so frenetic that we had not had time to spend in Nome. Even this morning several of our group went back out to Kougarok Road to look for the Bluethroat. Another birding group had seen one and told Bill where to look--and they found it. But I was beat. I had a raging headache, we were leaving Nome at mid-day, and I really wanted to see the town. I needed some room to breathe. So my mom and aunt and I stayed behind (along with another couple) and we walked around downtown Nome.

Aurora Inn, where we spent three nights. Nice place, with very friendly staff.  

The Inupiaq people inhabit much of the region, and it is thought that they had a small settlement where Nome is today prior to 1898, when gold was discovered in a nearby creek. The town sprung up quite literally overnight--by 1899 more than 10,000 people lived in Nome. That same year, gold was discovered on the beach along Norton Sound, which brought another wave of folks looking to strike it big. The census of 1900 counted 12,488 residents, making Nome the largest town in the Alaska
Territory. But as the gold was panned out people left nearly as fast as they'd come, and by the 1910 census there were only 2,600 residents. By 1934 the population fell below 1,500.  (Wikipedia)

Little is left of the original town, thanks to a couple of fires and a few bad storms (the main road in Nome is only about 50 feet from the Bering Sea). We did not have a chance to patronize the Board of Trade Saloon but we did stop by for a photo.

I can imagine the tinkling of a piano and breaking glass as a bar-fight begins.

Past the saloon and some other businesses is a small park with this welcome sign, commemorating Nome's history.

Prospectors, Eskimos and the dog sled define Nome.

When the Bering Sea is ice-free the port just west of town is quite busy, but the rest of the year the town is reachable only by plane.

Nome's port in the distance. Yes, that 10 foot high sea wall is all that protects the town. You can see here how close it is to the backs of the buildings on Front Street.

The famous Iditarod dogsled race ends here in Nome, and this sign is pulled out into the street to mark the finish line.


 Behind Airport Pizza, where we ate twice, was this jumble of stop signs, which must be used during the Iditarod. It struck me as comical, with them facing every which-a-way.

Past the park, near the intersection of Front and Bering Streets (which becomes the Nome-Teller Road outside of town) is the Nugget Inn. We did not get to go inside this place either but it looked pretty...eclectic, what with the statues, Umiak frame, giant gold pan and a TREE, of all things.

These folks clearly had a sense of humor.

The closest place to Nome? According to the sign, it's the Arctic Circle, at 141 miles, followed closely by Siberia. (Take into consideration the 70 or so miles we drove north to Teller on day two and we were only 70 miles from the Arctic Circle.)

Putting things in perspective.

We ran into Ed and Katie, who had also stayed behind, and who pointed us to a coffee shop called the Bering Tea Co., a cozy little place with books and games and instruments to play. They had just pulled fresh blueberry muffins out of the oven and I had to have one. If you ever end up in Nome, you gotta stop by this place.

The Bering Tea Co. coffee shop and Vegetarian/Vegan restaurant.

We made our way down to the grocery store, where I picked up a couple apples and some other snacks for the flight back to Anchorage. On the way back to Front Street we passed this park, which had monuments to prospecting, umiak building (the large canoe-type boat used in summer to move people and supplies to hunting grounds) and the Inupiq people. St. Joseph Church is in the background.

The "Three Lucky Swedes" who discovered gold in them thar hills.

We stopped at a gift shop along Front Street (which I think was called Maruskiya's) that had amazing Native art that I could not afford. I ended up with a T-shirt off the clearance rack.

We made our way back to the hotel, gathered up our bags and headed to the airport. The airport in Nome is tiny, but it had the most thorough security of all the airports we were in. It was the only one with the full body scanner booth. The plane we flew was also unique in that only the back half held passengers--the front was all for cargo. We boarded from the tarmac, something I'd never done before.

Upon our arrival in Anchorage, we went right from the airport into another van, and started the drive to Soldotna along US 1 (Sterling Highway). This highway skirts the north shore of Turnagain Arm, off the north end of Cook Inlet, then cuts through part of the Chugah National Forest before entering the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.

It was such an astonishing change from Nome and the Seward Peninsula. In two hours we went from drab tundra and gray skies to sun, lush green grass and trees. So much of the southern part of Alaska reminded me of the U.P. of Michigan (minus the mountains) that I felt like I'd gone home.

Before we reached Soldotna we made a stop at the Granite Creek Campground to stretch our legs and look for birds. I could hear running water from the campground and it wasn't long before I'd wandered off in search of its source. I was glad I did. Warm sun, blue sky behind snow-flecked peaks, dark spruce, clean fragrant air....ah......  I could have stayed here forever.

Granite Creek, Chugach Mountains National Forest

Due to all the traveling there weren't many birds on our list that day. We did spot our first Bald Eagles of the trip along Turnagain Arm, as well as Ruby-crowned Kinglets and Black-capped Chickadees at the campground. But for me it was a great birding day as I saw my first Boreal Chickadee!  

A Boreal Chickadee poses on a spruce. They're so dang cute!

We eventually made it to Soldotna, where we stayed at the Best Western King Salmon motel, and prepared for our trip to Homer and a boat tour of Katchimak Bay.

Next: Oh the things you'll see!

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