July 1, 2017 - Portage AK

I write from an RV park near the now ghost town of Portage.  Typical of many Alaskan towns it coalesced about a native village near where gold was discovered.  There was not much gold and then given that there was not much other reason for it to exist, it disappeared.  And so the forest returns.

Here on the Kenai Peninsula is lots of forest.  It is a different part of Alaska.  It is north and west of the southeast and yet supports a rain forest along the coast.  This gives away to tundra and glacier in the interior.  Salmon run up many of its creeks and bears and eagles come to eat them.  So too fishermen and tourists.  The latter also come to enjoy the fishing as well as whale and glacier watching, and just plain looking at the gorgous snow encrusted mountains rising green from the sea. 

We have been touring here ourselves and have enjoyed watching the fish and the tidewater glaciers as well as the lovely forests and open slopes of the hills and mountains. 

We toured here after a short visit to Barrow on the north coast.  I’m not sure I’ve seen a much uglier town, but it was certainly different.  Its airport had a terminal, unlike the one at Gambell, but the security equipment has turned it into a crowded maze scarcely able to provide boarding, let alone security.  The hotel was lovely and new because a fire in the old one ruined it.  The town is surely most lovely snow-covered, but the snow was gone at the end of June even if most of the ponds were still frozen and the sea was adorned with lines of ice islands that provided rest for the seals.  The residents went out in small boats daily to hunt them. 

We had gone for the birds and found them.  There are a few birds that nest only at the northern boundary of the United States.  So we rumbled along gravel roads through the arctic tundra of grass, sedge, and dwarf shrubbery to find them.  We saw the sun make a full circle about our heads without bothering to set (or even closely approach the horizon.  Grand.

Yet the land was a bit drab.  Although not especially low, it was mostly flat and marshy.  This provided many pools of water and humps pushed up by underground ice, but not much else.  I must admit I tired of it.  And in the town it seemed no one took out the garbage.  Vehicles rested in place where they ceased to run.  Wood pallets and plywood sheets were popular walkways.  Buildings seemed never to have been painted. 

On our last day was the whaling and Independence Day celebration.  It was a picnic in a ring surrounded by stretched plastic.  Folks sang.  There was a skin to be used as a trampoline.  The wind died and the cold moderated for the event.  What a fine day in Barrow.  Still, it seemed a sad town to me.  I scored my Spectacled Eider and Steller’s Eider, and fabulous King Eider, but was happy to return to warmer country to the south.  Anchorage seemed welcoming.