Into the Arctic

Kotzebue Travel Blog

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Crossing the Arctic Circle about forty miles from Kotzebue.

We refueled in Galena, a fishing village on the Yukon River. The U.S. Air Force used to have a base here during the cold war. When Soviet aircraft wandered too close to Alaskan airspace, F-4 Phantoms would scramble to intercept them. I had been through here several times before, enroute from Fairbanks to Nome years earlier, but like this trip, only long enough to refuel.


We continued to the northwest. Trees, mostly spruce with occasional stands of white birch and aspens, became smaller at first, then more scarce. The temperature began to cool. After crossing the seemingly endless hills and valleys of the Koyukuk National Wildlife Refuge, and reaching the flatlands of the Kotzebue Basin, the trees disappeared altogether. The flat tundra below us, the lakes, rivers and Bering Sea itself were frozen and snow-covered.

Kotzebue, Alaska. The Bering Sea ice would remain into June.
At times it was difficult to tell if we were flying over land or water.


We angled across the Arctic Circle and Kotzebue finally came into view on the white horizon. The town is built on a spit of land about three miles long and 1,100 to 3,600 feet in width. Inhabited by the Inupiat Eskimos for about 600 years, it has a population of just over 3,000.


Three major river systems; the Kobuk, Noatak, and Selawik drain into Kotzebue Basin so the settlement serves as a transfer point between ocean and inland shipping. Kotzebue is therefore the urban center for all of the villages in the northwest region of Alaska.


Joe and I spent five days here awaiting crews to complete work on the camp down on Independence Creek, and for the geologists to arrive.

Though dogs are still abundant, snow machines are more common towing sleds.
 Our rooms at the modest hotel were more than $200 each and none of our meals less than $15. Fortunately our company pays such expenses. The Dairy Queen is gone now. It was here on my last transit in 1984 .... the farthest north Dairy Queen in the chain and the ONLY one to use powdered ice cream! Not particularly a Dairy Queen fan, I somehow miss the place.


Being an avid (flat-water) kayaker, I strolled every street in search of skin boats. I had seen them up in Barrow five years ago; wood-framed kayaks, and larger whalers, with seal-skin hulls. Found none here. It's sad to see that Eskimo tradition slowly go by the wayside. (The excellent museum at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks has several of the boats on display).

sylviandavid says:
I enjoyed the past and present comments in this blog... very nice job...
Posted on: May 05, 2008
Sunflower300 says:
Wonderful writing.
Posted on: Oct 12, 2007
CrazyLisa says:
How sad, the loss of tradition. It looks like such a neat place though.
Posted on: Sep 27, 2007
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Crossing the Arctic Circle about f…
Crossing the Arctic Circle about …
Kotzebue, Alaska. The Bering Sea i…
Kotzebue, Alaska. The Bering Sea …
Though dogs are still abundant, sn…
Though dogs are still abundant, s…
Typical street in Kotzebue.
Typical street in Kotzebue.
Sign at Kotzebue Airport.
Sign at Kotzebue Airport.
A tug-boat waits for the ice to me…
A tug-boat waits for the ice to m…
Fish drying in the sun.
Fish drying in the sun.
Kotzebue Dairy Queen brochure from…
Kotzebue Dairy Queen brochure fro…
Old Dairy Queen brochure
Old Dairy Queen brochure
photo by: rotorhead85