Barrow (Utqiaġvik), Alaska: The Iñupiat people, bowhead whales, and an ancient hunt

Bowhead whale skull, drying on the beach

Utqiaġvik felt unembellished, bordered as it was by the Arctic Ocean on one side and the treeless tundra on the other, and even in the height of summer the temperature was cold and the skies gray.  There was one impressive, if haunting, ornamentation, however, that added contrast to the landscape—bowhead whale bones, bleached and enormous.  Skeletons were displayed in front of public buildings, and their tusk-like jaw bones, some over 20 feet long, stood erect outside of homes.

A house in the “duck camp” displaying bones from a bowhead whale skeleton, including the lower jaw bones, which are propped standing up

Most breathtaking were the massive skulls lying on the beach, seemingly abandoned; in reality, they were left there to dry, the oils gradually evaporating over months and years.  Eventually they will be moved to a final resting place, which might be anywhere around town, from a front yard to an office building.

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Barrow (Utqiaġvik), Alaska: A day trip to the Arctic

 

iPhone screenshot showing our location–in America’s northernmost town

In August, Dale and I and our friend Jingyi took a day trip to Barrow, or Utqiaġvik, as it is now known

The town of Utqiaġvik (an Iñupiat word that’s pronounced oot- kay-ahg-vik) is the northernmost point in the United States, and this was our reason for going.  We wanted to dip our fingers in the Arctic Ocean, maybe see polar bears or whales, and visit the northern-most point of America before catching the 7:00 PM flight back to Anchorage.

Utqiaġvik sits at 71°18′N 156°44′W and is 320 miles north of the Arctic Circle, so you might think its slogan, “top of the world,” is accurate.  In reality, there are towns in Norway, Denmark, Canada, and Russia that are further north,² but Utqiaġvik is at the top of Alaska (and therefore the U.S.), and it made for a great trip.

A bridge in Utqiaġvik; the sign says “Top of the World Bridge”

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Solitude, scenery, and seafood: The benefits and downsides of Camino del Norte

Isolated stretch of Camino del Norte trail with a view of the North Atlantic

 

There are numerous Camino routes throughout Europe, including Camino Francés, the most popular walk and the one featured in a favorite movie of ours, The Way.  So why, then, did we choose to walk one of the lesser known routes, Camino del Norte?

We had a particular vision for what we wanted in our Camino experience, and Dale did some serious homework to find the trail that most matched that vision:

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Cama-i Dance Festival, Bethel, Alaska (part two): The dances

“In the past it was a big mistake to stop the dancing – a lot of things died in this process.  Restarting dances is only one thing… By learning the dances, you young people will have weight, so that nobody can brush you off the top of this earth. You will be the exciting ones.” ~Marie Arnaq Meade

 

In a recent post, I gave an overview of Cama-i, which we attended earlier this year.  In today’s post, I’ll talk about the star of this Yup’ik festival—the dances.

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Anchorage, Alaska: Eklutna Cemetery and Spirit Houses

We stopped by Eklutna on a cool, rainy day at the end of April.  In most parts of the U.S., spring had long since arrived, but here, 30 minutes north of Anchorage, the trees were still bare, and patches of snow lay on the ground.

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Paris, France: Notre-Dame Cathedral

This is one post in a series of articles about our visit to Paris.

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What a contemplative little ghoul, and, oh, that view!

It goes without saying that Notre-Dame Cathedral was at the top of our Paris sightseeing list.  It’s one of Paris’ most recognizable and iconic buildings, a sprawling, Gothic feast for the eyes.  We returned several times, tiptoeing through the massive interior, listening to live music in the small park around back, and, as part of the Paris Museum Pass, climbing hundreds of steps to the iconic belfry.

We were lucky enough to visit the cathedral and take a tour, and here are the highlights:

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The Iditarod: Alaska’s “Last Great Race”

The Iditarod wrapped up yesterday, with the last few mushers trickling into Nome.  Iditarod 2017 may go down as one of the greatest races of all time.  It was fast, with the top four mushers coming in under what was the standing speed record.  And the champion, Mitch Seavey, shattered that record (set by his son Dallas only a year ago) while also becoming the oldest person ever to win the Iditarod.

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Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona: Visions of heat and sun

Last year Dale bought a coffee table book called Treasured Lands: A Photographic Odyssey Through America’s National Parks, by photographer QT Luong.  It basically chronicles the photographer’s long love affair with our national parks.   It took Luong over 20 years and dozens of trips, all of them self-financed, but he visited and photographed all 59 parks, and the book’s 500+ photos showcase just how extraordinary the United States is, both in the diversity of ecosystems and landscapes as well as the vast national parks system that makes the U.S. unique. Continue reading “Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona: Visions of heat and sun”