How to spend a day (or more) in Barrow (Utqiaġvik), Alaska

In August, we took a short trip to Utqiaġvik (formerly Barrow) and in the process learned a lot about this fascinating place.  Here’s a look at what there is to do in America’s northernmost city.

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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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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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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”

Central Texas: Goliad State Park and its Spanish mission

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Before moving to Alaska, we spent two weeks bouncing around Texas, visiting family.  That meant going from central to south Texas and then back again.  We may be relocating to the biggest state in the Union, but Texas is no slouch, so this meant a lot of time on the road.

It was on one of those drives, on a rural stretch of U.S. Highway 183 from Refugio to Gonzales, that we had a very pleasant discovery—Goliad State Park and the Mission Espíritu Santo.

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Taos’ Harwood Museum: The spectacular colors of New Mexican art

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Christmas Eve at Taos Pueblo, Dorothy Eugenie Brett

 

Taos, New Mexico, is a town of about 5700 people, so small that it doesn’t even have a Starbucks (our go-to for WiFi, so that was a disappointment).

And yet, when it comes to the development of modern American art, Taos’ place in history is huge. Many of the biggest names in 20th-century American art, including Georgia O’Keefe and Ansel Adams, have been inspired by Taos’ and Northern New Mexico’s stunning landscapes as well as the Native American and Hispanic cultures of the region.  Taos has even earned the nickname “Paris West.” Continue reading “Taos’ Harwood Museum: The spectacular colors of New Mexican art”

Ft. Davis: Texas’ frontier army post

A surprisingly moving visit to this little historical site

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We came to Ft. Davis army post expecting to spend an hour tops. We’d been there years ago and remembered it as being a dry, dusty little place, your average 19th-century army fort, with a small cluster of buildings and an American flag flying out front.  A museum in the visitors center orients you to the history; from there you can wander the grounds and inspect the handful of buildings that have been restored, and, if you don’t put this place into its proper historical context, you may forget it as soon as you leave.

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