Monday, May 9, 2011

Nome (part 3)

Wednesday dawned early. Mr. X carpooled over to the processing plant where he'd be teaching Nome and Savoonga processors as well as ADF&G staff how to use the software he's been developing.

I packed my bag for the day and headed out the door at 8:30 with my eye set on Anvil Mountain. I walked out of town and the sidewalk ended. Spotting a walking trail just off the highway, I dropped down away from the road. I got maybe 1/4 mile when a dog sat up and barked at me. Realizing I was in his yard and grateful he was chained up, I made my way back up to the highway only to discover I wasn't being watched by a single dog, but an entire dog sled team. They howled when I paused to take their picture.

About a 1/2 mile later I approached a small neighborhood. If I remembered correctly the LDS church was here somewhere. Heaven smiled upon me, because I walked straight to the church. It's a former duplex with a steeple stuck on the top. I also noticed that the houses in the neighborhood were off the ground. They were on pilings to prevent them from melting the ground and sinking into the tundra.

I paused occasionally on my walk to watch ptarmagin wearing their winter feathers. Eventually, I could see rocks on the mountain that looked like musk-oxen. I turned down the Dexter Cutoff road and saw five musk-oxen grazing in the willows.

I continued to hike and after asking some guys for directions (who looked like Lance Mackey at the end of the iditarod) started up the mountain. About halfway up the 1065 foot ridgeline, there were 12 musk-oxen. They all appeared to be enjoying the sunshine. Though they definitely noticed I was coming through.

At the top of the first peak is Nome's White Alice antenna and radio link. Constructed during the cold war, these towers were essential for communication throughout Alaska. They are no longer needed because of new technologies, like satilites. The area is now a toxic waste site due to the lead, asbestos and other materials used to build the antennae, but the towers are used for navigation by both ships and planes, so the community of Nome does not want the government to completely remove them.

I ventured along the ridgeline, looking at animal tracks as I went. There were some obvious oxen track and a variety of dog tracks that could have been domesticated dog, wolf and fox. I snapped this picture of scat on the tundra 'cause it looked so pretty.

Finally I reached the rock that gives the mountain its name. It looks like an anvil. I looked over the edge and was shocked to see a larger herd of musk-oxen. A cow and yearling calf glared up at me and then ran to join the rest of the herd. A red fox worked its way through the herd and over to a rock, where he turned around and looked up at me. Training my binoculars on the fox, I realized he was standing not on a rock but a dead musk-ox. He was uncomfortable with me watching, so he took off across the front of the mountain. I sat down in the spongy moss and counted the musk-oxen: 39. Then I called my mom. We've come a long way from the day when only a single call could get out to Fairbanks at a time.

After about 20 minutes at the top, I'm shivering pretty hard and decide I better get moving. By the time I'm down the mountain, I wish I would have written down the number for a taxi. On my walk back to town, I keep myself moving with marching songs. Of course the only ones I know are, "Zippidee-do dah" and "Popcorn Popping".

I made it back to town by 3 pm and go to the library to read until 5 (we only had one key to the hotel, a metal key not a plastic card).

Mr. X and I met halfway back to the hotel and he took me out to Subway for dinner. While eating we were able to gaze out over the Bering Sea, because Subway has large picture windows and an unobstructed view. Over dinner he tells me that he was treated to a (very tiny, but fish oily) piece of Bowhead whale during the training.

After Mr. X took a two hour nap, we set out to drive around. Someone had loaned Mr. X a truck! We tried the road to Teller but found it unmaintained relatively quickly. We did see some dog teams and musk-oxen out that way. Next we took the Dexter Cut-off road.

In Nome they don't keep the roads passible in the winter. If you want to go somewhere, you use your snowmachine. So the snow hasn't be plowed all winter, but they recently went through and cut open some parts of the road.

On the road back into Nome, we spotted three moose in the willows and stopped for a quick peek. We had also been told to get a good look at breakup, we had to head toward Safety. We could really see open water from the Dexter Road. By now it was after 10 pm so we headed back to the hotel for the night.

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