Nome Sweet Nome
Nome Travel Blog› entry 10 of 38 › view all entries
A pair of moose watched us pass as we thrashed through gray skies, southwest along Independence Creek. Clearing the brown tundra-covered hills, we found ourselves over mile after mile of the black lava fields inside the Bering Land Bridge National Preserve. I don't know what designated a Reserve, Preserve, Park, or Refuge, other than political control of the land itself. There were no towns, roads, signs or fences. The entire state is one big wilderness. Reaching a gravel mining road, we turned south and followed it through saw-tooth mountains. It was somewhere in these hills that, years ago, we landed to collect rocks. An area the size of a football field was green and blue by an outcrop of malachite and blue azurite. On this passing though, all the mountain- and hill-tops were still under snow. The entire Seward Peninsula is a textbook example of classic geology.
As we landed in Nome I noticed that the airport had become much larger than it was in '82; a second runway, a new terminal building, and more hangars. The ramp, too, was cluttered with more small planes - Alaska has more airplanes than cars. Whenever a helicopter approaches, small aircraft owners - cussing - run to hide or hold down any loose items that would be blown away in the eminent storm of dust and wind. There were none this day but Joe hovered to a parking spot well clear of the planes. Nome has always been one of my favorite Alaska towns and I worried that it may have grown like Fairbanks did after the oil pipeline in the 1970's.
Joe made a phone call and Thuy drove out to give us a lift into town.
After a shave and a hot shower I moseyed along Front Street, relieved to find it much as I remembered. The town was rather quiet but soon outsiders would appear ... to work in the mines, to fish the waters of Norton Sound, and to camp-out on the beach and pan for gold. Many of those will find enough specs and dust to pay for their efforts. In 1982, from 3 scoops of a coffee cup - into the layer of clay just inches below the beach sand - I recovered enough specs to fill a tooth. Those tiny specs were enough to make me understand why people do it, enough to make me want to keep doing it, and enough to give me gold fever but, unfortunately, I had to get back to work up north and the restaurant wanted their coffee cup back.
As if to prove without doubt that I was back in Nome, I had to see the archway which is dragged into the street each March to serve as the finish-line for the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. Every visit, I stand before that simple arch of spruce in the same awe and amazement that I experienced before the Taj Mahal, the Great Pyramids, and the Buddhas of Bamian. THAT would be the time to be in Nome - as those trail-wary mushers and their teams of panting Huskies and Malamutes glide down Front Street to complete the world's toughest race. They would have endured more than 1,100 miles of snow-covered forest, rugged mountain ranges, frozen rivers, and wind-swept tundra on their long and treacherous journey from Anchorage to Nome.
I settled onto a barstool at the Board of Trade Saloon. Since most of the smaller towns and villages are dry (including our camp) it was nice to savor an ice cold bottle of beer. The place had been modernized since my last visit in 1982 with the back room boasting a set-up for karaoke, a spacious dance floor, and a disco light. The front bar was still decorated with old photographs and newspaper headlines dating back to the founding of Nome in 1901. Wyatt Earp found his way to Nome sometime after the famous shoot-out at the OK Coal in Tucson. Down the street, in front of the Commerce Bar, a scuffle was taking place - police breaking up a fist fight. I was glad that Nome hadn't changed.