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.
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.
In August, Dale and I and our friend Jingyi took a day trip to Barrow, or Utqiaġvik, as it is now known.¹
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.
“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.
I’m a sucker for museums large and small, and in Bethel, we found a good one–the Yupiit Piciryarait Cultural Center, which celebrates the history and traditions of the Yup’ik, an Alaskan Native people who have occupied the Bethel region for centuries.
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.
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”
A surprisingly moving visit to this little historical site
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.
“I am made of the dust of the stars, and the oceans flow in my veins.” —Rush, “Presto”
One of the best observatories in the world is McDonald Observatory, run by the University of Texas at Austin, my alma mater (hook ‘em!). It’s situated on a few mountain tops in the Davis Mountains of West Texas. McDonald Observatory is a mind-bending place to visit–-so many great minds accumulated in one place, researching our vast universe, completing all that advanced math….
This was our third trip to the observatory, and as always, it was overwhelming, but in a good way.