Nome, formerly known as one of Alaska’s roughest communities, still lives up to its name. Claim jumpers, unscrupulous judges, and light-fingered saloon dollies, on the other hand, are a thing of the past. Real wildlife now provides the wild time. The road system in Nome affords a once-in-a-lifetime chance to view wild, free-roaming Muskoxen. Over 300 kilometres of Nome roads provide sufficient chance for wildlife observers to see anything from butterflies to bears.
Three routes, each roughly 80 kilometres long, head out of Nome. For the wildlife enthusiast, there are vehicle rental businesses, tour guides, charter vans, and taxis accessible. Each road takes about a day to explore, although many visitors find the beauty, birds, and animals so captivating that they need more time to take it all in.
Council Road begins in Nome and travels east, paralleling the coast via Safety Sound before turning inland to the ancient mining town of Council City. The road to Council passes through a variety of environments, from barrier island to Spruce forest, and is rich in picture opportunity, animals, and bird viewing. Steam locomotives from the turn of the century rust on the flood plain at Bonanza channel, right before the road bends into Solomon. This popular shot is only one of many remarkable gold rush relics dispersed around the Seward Peninsula road system. The journey takes 45 minutes for Nomeites; birdwatchers may take all day. Council is now peppered with summer houses on the Niukluk River’s far bank. Driving over the river is not recommended unless you are familiar with the location of strategic sandbars. Locals do it all the time, but it’s not for beginners.
The Kougarok or Taylor Road (named after a river and a mining settlement) leads into the Seward Peninsula’s interior. This route rises through picturesque landscape and through a BLM campsite near Salmon Lake. The Grand Central River, the Pilgrim River, and the Kuzitrin River are all crossed by travellers. One of the bridges originated as the Cushman Street Bridge in Fairbanks, Alaska, and still has that name. This is perplexing for visitors but entertaining for residents. A wedding was recently held on this bridge, and it was appropriately adorned. According to some maps, the Kougarok road extends all the way to Taylor, a mining enclave. That stretch of road was never finished.
Teller, a Native Village, is located at the end of the third road. Year-round subsistence activities include hunting, fishing, and gathering. This low-elevation route is often the first to open in the spring. The Teller road, which winds over undulating coastal hills, passes several rivers that are available for fishing. Teller is surrounded by a reindeer herd and Muskoxen. This route, like the other two, provides excellent wildlife watching chances, but it also terminates at Grantley Harbor, one of the few spots where you may see Puffins and other marine birds. Teller Sand Spit is privately owned. It is owned by the Teller, and the people utilise it for sustenance purposes. The Teller village spends the whole summer capturing, chopping, and preserving meat for the winter. Please be respectful and abstain from invading their privacy. Permission to photograph individuals and property should be obtained. Teller has no petrol stations or eateries, so prepare accordingly. Basic consumables are available, as are locally manufactured goods such fossil mammoth ivory sculptures, ivory jewellery, and sealskin slippers.
Wildlife managers refer to “charismatic mega-fauna,” which are huge, hairy, and appealing creatures. There are lots of them on all three of Nome’s roads: muskoxen, moose, brown bear, reindeer, fox, beaver, and porcupine. Whales do not visit these waters in large numbers due to the location of Nome on Norton Sound. However, there is a fair possibility of seeing seals sunbathing on the ice borders at Safety Sound in the spring, or Gray Whales spouting in the Sound’s summer waters.
In 1971, musk oxen were reintroduced to the Seward Peninsula. These shaggy Ice Age relics may be seen on all three highways, either in family groupings or as solitary animals. More than 1,800 Muskoxen wander the hillsides and are friendly enough to pose for photos. Muskoxen are not often hostile, however it is prudent to allow them enough personal space. They are big and horned, and have been around for thousands of years. They are not amused by idiots.
Moose, particularly mother moose, are not to be trifled with. They will stomp a mudhole in your centre and stomp it dry, as the Texans say. Any mother animal will battle valiantly to protect her offspring. Moose, on the other hand, are perilous to cross due to their size. Nobody would consider approaching a brown bear and her cub for a nice family photo. Bears are notorious for their capacity to punish, but the moose, with its gangly, comical appearance, does not seem to be threatening. It is!
The Seward Peninsula is home to Alaska brown bears, often known as grizzlies. They emerge famished from their winter burrows. Until the rivers open, fish begin to migrate, and berries develop, Arctic squirrels, sometimes known as parky squirrels, constitute an important part of the bears’ diet. Bears are entertaining to watch from the road or from a safe distance. They are not, however, creatures that like surprises. It’s a good idea to keep an eye out for bears while you’re out in the country. Contrary to common opinion, they have excellent vision and hearing. Make a lot of noise by singing, talking, or yodelling.
Reindeer roam freely in the Seward Peninsula, which was originally transported from Lapland as meat for the Eskimos. They may be enjoyed at one of Nome’s restaurants or as the subject of stunning photography. Visitors may be treated to the spectacle of a reindeer handling, as the roundups are known, in late May or early to mid-June. Reindeer are herded into corrals, frequently with the assistance of a helicopter, and vaccinated against the illness. Select adults’ still-velvet-covered horns are collected for sale to the orient for medicinal usage. The Seward Peninsula has no resident caribou. Caribou and reindeer are related and share similar characteristics, such as the clicking sound they make while walking. Pay close attention as the animals move in a herd. What seems like little stones kicking is really the snap of hock tendons. A mammal checklist is available from the Nome Convention and Visitors Bureau.
In the first few weeks of June, birdwatchers throng to Nome. From the first week of June through the middle of August, birders will be well rewarded. Many birds complete rearing their young by the end of August and begin migration. The 24-hour day enables avian parents to accomplish the job of rearing young quickly. Small sandpipers often arrive in mid-May and depart by mid-August. Fall weather brings pelagic and migratory species. Nome birding is weather dependant. If the ice does not leave the rivers or migrate offshore, nesting may occur later and with different species. Stellar’s Eiders and Northern Hawk Owls, both of which are generally regarded unusual or incidental sightings, were sighted in considerable numbers this spring. A few Hawk Owls stayed for the summer, no doubt encouraged by an abundance of lemmings and voles. Birders have an excellent chance of seeing Yellow Wagtails, Wheatears, Bluethroats, Arctic Warblers, Bristle-thighed Curlews, Common Eiders, Pacific and American Golden Plovers, and many other North American and Beringean species nesting. Bird checklists may be obtained at the Nome Convention and Visitors Center.
Butterfly viewing is a relatively young and expanding activity. According to Dr. Kenelm W. Phillip of the University of Alaska, Nome has 41 species, which is half of Alaska’s total. Identifying species this far north and west will be thrilling for butterfly fans. Butterfliers, like birders, may get a species checklist at the Nome Visitors Center.
Anyone interested in animals cannot miss the abundant tundra plants. As soon as the snow melts on the high points, wildflowers blossom. They will continue to bloom until August. Some species, such as Alaska’s state flower, the forget-me-not, bloom early. Other species follow suit afterwards.
Many plant species are collected by Alaska Natives for medicine or sustenance. Surah, also called as Felt Leaf Willow, offers an early spring salad seasoned with Sour Dock and coated with seal oil. It is best for the newbie to ingest just what can be precisely recognised. Some of the most beautiful flora that thrive on the Seward Peninsula are poisonous. Even meticulous identification cannot ensure safety. The terrible Water Hemlock may be found alongside Wild Celery (also known as Cow Parsnip). Botanists believe the two may mix, making the otherwise harmless celery as poisonous as the hemlock.
The various rivers of the Seward Peninsula provide some of the greatest fly fishing in the world. Overhanging trees, the scourge of fly fishing, are not an issue on Nome’s rivers. This is the tundra. Trees do not grow to be very tall or to overhang the river. Beaver swimming beside flyfishers as they waited for a strike has been a sight to see. The same pool on the Solomon River offers exciting views of foxes coming down for a drink to anglers. Wildlife watchers may observe salmon spawning or trophy-size Grayling flashing their dorsal fins in the shallow eddies thanks to the gin-clear water.
Fish are an important part of the Seward Peninsula Natives’ subsistence diet, although catching them is difficult. Rows of transparent salmon fillets dry in the sun at fish camps gathered along the water’s edge. Each fillet, linked at the tail and wrapped around a pole, is neatly scored as though cut by a machine rather than a human hand holding a ulu. Ulus, both commercially and locally produced, is available at local stores. The Eskimo’s utility knives are these useful curve-bladed blades.
No matter what natural history interests a tourist has, the broad road system in Nome might give a chance to encounter animals. There are several guest lodgings and services offered.
Lana Creer-Harris has lived in Nome for 13 years. She writes for the Nome Nugget newspaper, works at the Nome Convention and Visitors Bureau, and watches birds and other wildlife.