A weekend in charming Seldovia, Alaska

Seldovia, Alaska
Chainsaw carving (Artist: Derrick Stanton)

Seldovia isn’t on an island, but it might as well be—it’s practically surrounded by water, it can only be reached by plane or boat, and its single main street is lined with small businesses owned by locals, with nary a fast food joint to be found.  The minute we stepped off the boat, I felt myself relaxing into the place.  We were in the hands of the locals, and the stresses of daily life were behind us.  There was no place to be and nothing urgent to attend to.  The only thing missing was my flip flops (it was too chilly); otherwise, the trip was perfect.

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Seward, Alaska: The Great Alaskan Earthquake of 1964

In January, Dale and I experienced our first real earthquake, so now is as good a time as any to talk about a much more famous quake and one of the most significant events in Alaskan history—the Great Earthquake of 1964.

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Seward, Alaska: Our first earthquake

tsunami_hazard_sign_blue
Source: USGS

 

The shower doors clattered obnoxiously, waking us up.  Wondering what our neighbors—normally so quiet—could be doing to at this ungodly hour, Dale climbed out of bed and wandered into the living room.  Even in the dark, he could tell that the blinds and other objects were also shaking.   This was no noisy neighbor; we were having an earthquake.

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Katmai National Park: Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes

Hey, Otis, it wasn’t always about you.

Katmai National Park is known for its brown bears, but the origins of the park are centered around something entirely different, an event you’ve probably never heard of even though it was one of the most significant geological occurrences of last century.

I’m referring to the volcano Novarupta, which erupted in 1912.  As part of our visit to Brooks Camp, we took a tour to the site of the devastation, a place now known as the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes.  We also learned a great deal about the most powerful volcanic eruption of the 2oth century.

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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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