Archivy etc.

opinions, occasional rants, and sometimes things that have nothing to do with archives at all. Nothing here should be assumed to be reflective of my employer's opinion(s) nor should it be assumed that at anytime afterward, this is what I still think.

Friday, June 14, 2013

You can't ever go Nome again

Most of this week I was in Nome, AK. For a vacation.

Yes, you read that right, a vacation.

People kept asking me why Nome. Before, en route, and while there. My answer was the honest truth: cheap fare. I probably just should have said "for the heck of it" which is also completely true, but you have to understand, cheap airline tickets are small talk in Alaska. For all the water cooler conversations that happen in this world over the great new restaurant, recent movies and tv shows, the weather, in Alaska there's an addition: fare sales. Who has what great rate to where?

So, great fare sale is the honest-to-Pete truth: it was a very good price indeed (the rental car and the hotel, not so much).

But the reality is, even in the rare occasions of fare sales there, not that many Alaskans vacation in Nome. A lot of people from elsewhere do, especially avid birders, but that's about it. It has something of a reputation as a pit and I won't defend it from that accusation, but I will tell you that to focus on that is to miss a lot too.

Like the nearly 250 miles of roads leading out of Nome.

The one to the east runs along the coastline, that's the Council Road, because it eventually winds up in the community of Council. We didn't go that far. It took us about 4 hours to go 30 miles not because the road was in bad shape, it wasn't. We just kept stopping to look at stuff.
The one to the north, Kougarok Road, that runs inland across mountain passes and tundra filled with the color of wildflowers.
I'd tell you about the one to the west, the Teller Road, but it's the only one we didn't drive this time.

And there's other things you'll miss.

Like the birds you can see there that many people will never see in their lifetimes. Like the eastern yellow wagtail. I don't have any pictures of them--they tend to zip around pretty fast--but we saw lots of them, you'll just have to trust me. I'll share a pic of another rare, if drab, bird we saw many, many of: the arctic warbler.
Seriously. There were tourists in Nome running around on very expensive guided tours who desperately wanted to see one of these small dun-colored birds with a faint eyebrow stripe. Sibley says it's a secretive bird. Not in my experience in the Nome vicinity. Kind of like snipe, which every bird book you read says they're rarely seen and so much so that there's a long-standing joke about snipe hunts, yet in Nome, they hang out on power lines.  "What's that one on the side of the road? Oh, a Wilson's snipe. What else would it be? Never mind, no need to pull over." 
Okay so I never got to see a bluethroat but we were seeing so much that it was to the point of overstimulation. The second bird I saw was a red-throated loon. They're not exactly uncommon, but I really only started paying attention to birds several years after I moved to Anchorage, and they're not all that common in my section of AK. We spotted one right next to the breakwater by the small boat harbor. Then five in the small boat harbor. Then for the rest of the trip, it seemed like a pair in every pond. I was getting rather jaded about them only 5 hours into my trip.

And then there's the big guys. We saw musk oxen 4 times in a three day trip.
And the herd of caribou that more or less blocked the road for about 30 minutes, but it's not like we were in a hurry or had to get anywhere quickly.
Here's a closer-up shot of some of those caribou. You might want to remember what they look like in a bit, and also remember that caribou and reindeer are the same animals genetically, it's just that people herd reindeer and caribou are wild. That'll become valuable information in a moment.
And the red fox that are kind of skittish, but when you have an itch, you have to scratch it.
and harbor seals and arctic ground squirrels and so on.

If you're not so much for the charismatic fauna, there is the beach. We sort of have beaches in Anchorage. If you cross your eyes and wish hard and don't mind dying in stylishly grey-colored glacial silt-based quicksand flats (also known as the mud flats). But in Nome, there's real sand beaches. Where if you don't mind the brisk, you can even dip your toes in the edge of Norton Sound/Bering Sea.
And after, since the sand has been baking in the sun that barely goes down at night, you can wander barefoot til your toes dry out enough to put your shoes back on. And while you're doing it, go look for beach glass and oh-so-cool rocks in those little pebbly patches in the sand at the waterline.
As we were leaving, people kept encouraging us to visit again. And that's where it all goes wrong. See, this was my second trip to Nome. And the other one, though very different in terms of what I did, was still during a spell of beautiful, sunny weather. I got sunburned that time, too. But Alaska weather is unpredictable, to say the least. It was sheer luck that it was so gorgeous all three days I was there this time and last time. And I was able to see so much and do so much that even though there's more to see and do, I'm now worried that my luck has run out. That the odds are against me ever being in Nome and having the weather cooperate with my travel plans so well.

I guess I'll just have to wait and see what the next fare sales are and maybe if there's one to Nome again this time of year, I'll take my chances. But I'm almost positive I'll never see the next sight again. I can't imagine that this is a common thing, even in Nome. Remember where I said that it mattered that there was a difference between caribou and reindeer? And that reindeer were domesticated? I cannot imagine any animal being much more domesticated than this.
If you ever have the chance, consider doing at least a short trip there. To quote the source of much mirth on tourist t-shirts sold in shops there: "there's no place like Nome." True, that.