Nome and the New Gold Rush

After visiting the Iditarod start in Anchorage last month, I just must see the finish-line (shown here) so I call up my good friend Fred in Haines and we meet in Juneau for an exciting trip to Nome.

With the price of gold skyrocketing, miners are pouring into Nome to dig up the beaches again.  The sand is only 12 feet below the icepack, so people are cutting holes in the ice, donning scuba gear and using big vacuums to harvest what was left behind 110 years ago.  We don’t want to miss out on this fun…..

We must stop over in Anchorage–this is the view out of the top floor of the Captain Cook Hotel–one of the nicest places to stay in Alaska.   Now, this hotel has a wine bar so they must ‘card’ everyone who enters the bar.   Well, Fred, at 60, doesn’t like to be carded so pretty soon the hotel manager comes over and it turns out to be the owner, Wally Hickle Jr.  He turns out to be a nice guy and we have a nice discussion about Alaskan politics.  Fred presents his ID.

Captain Cook sailed all the way to this place in leaky old ships over 200 years ago–this guy had what it takes.  Even Vitus Bering didn’t make it this far.  This view out into Turnagain Arm shows the setting sun in March.

The ice is breaking up in Norton Sound as we fly along.  They have snowmachine races on Norton Sound every year and these machines reach speeds of 120 miles per hour.  There are no polar bears down this far south.

Alaska Airlines just introduced a bunch of these half cargo/half passenger planes.  If you use frequent flyer miles, it’s only 15,000 miles to fly from Petersburg to Nome and back!  Such a deal.  Fred and I get down to business–investigating all the bars in town.  Wyatt Earp opened a bar here in the early last century during the Nome Gold Rush and we’re anxious to visit there.

This isn’t it, but most of the places look like this–little doorways into warm interiors.  Two weeks earlier, this place was packed with Iditarod sight-seers.  You must prepay for one week at the hotel a year in advance if you want to see the finish.  My name’s on the waiting list.

Meet Fritz–one of the dogs that lead the team transporting diphtheria vaccine to Nome in 1925.  His reward was to be stuffed like Roy Roger’s horse and stuck in a plastic box so tourists like me could take pictures.    Hmmmmm.

If you visit Nome, be sure to visit their wonderful museum.  Besides this famous dog and Wyatt Earp, the early polar explorers visited Teller (near Nome) via dirigible.  The Gjoa, Nansen’s first ship, and the first ship ever to traverse the NW passage sailed here in 1906.  His second ship, Fram carried Amundsen to Antarctica.  These were exciting times!

I worked in Nome (also Shishmaref and Elim) about 10 years ago during the Idatarod.  Here is Igloo #1–a new building in town.

Helping dig out from the winter snow at Anvil City Park–it’s about 12F this day.  Gold was discovered by the “Three Lucky Swedes” on Anvil Creek in 1901.  Actually one was Norwegian….  The name “Nome” is debatable–here’s Wiki’s read:

“The origin of the city’s name “Nome” is still under debate. The name may have been given by Nome’s founder, Jafet Lindeberg: within trekking distance of his childhood home in Kvænangen, Norway, there is a Nome valley (Norwegian: Nomedalen).

An alternate theory is that Nome received its name through an error: allegedly when a British cartographer copied an ambiguous annotation made by a British officer on a nautical chart, while on a voyage up the Bering Strait. The officer had written “? Name” next to the unnamed cape. The mapmaker misread the annotation as “C. Nome”, or Cape Nome, and used that name on his own chart;[1] the city in turn took its name from the cape.”

Local merchants wanted the name Anvil City, but it was the Post Office that refused to change the name.

Two things the locals like the most–drinking and pull tabs.  And this is after they swept up.  This bar has been in continual existence since the original Gold Rush.  An Eskimo woman sitting next to us won $400 and began to tell us her life story–truly riveting for Fred and me.  The Eskimo language and culture is becoming rapidly  extinct.

In normal towns, rednecks have dogs in the back of their pickups.  Not in Nome.  This one will give you a taste  of his antlers if you get too close.

Of  course, I can’t resist playing (and completely dismantling) this old piano–I’ll bet Wyatt Earp played this one too.  Fred listens politely in the lobby of the Nugget Hotel.  Stay tuned!

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