timistravels

My job allows me to visit a lot of Alaska on a yearly basis. I wanted to capture the trips in one location!

Various Sights in Havana Cuba, Hotel National, Hamel’s Alley etc.

Havana, Cuba

Dec. 18-22 and Dec. 28-29, 2015

We shared the streets of this historic town with 1000’s of visitors and the 2 million permanent residents.  Havana was discovered 400 years ago by the Spanish and because of this has influence from the Spanish culture. The Spaniards built forts and a wall around the city, many of which still stand.

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La Cabana, Fort Saint Charles

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El Morro Castle

 

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The first few days there were HUGE waves coming over the wall.  Kids LOVED it.!

 

The first thing we did was visit the nearby Hotel Nacional as it was close to our Casa Particular.   We actually bumped into people we’d met the day before at the airport and flew with to Cuba. Was nice to see familiar faces.   They were from Chicago and mentioned that they had just run into Rahm Emanuel, the mayor of Chicago inside the hotel lobby.

The hotel opened its doors in 1930 as it was designed by and for American tourists only and at first no Cubans were allowed to stay there.   The Hotel is a dominant site in Havana and the tours we took passed by it several times. The view from the garden was a 180 degree view of the harbor.

We walked inside and immediately were hit by the history of the area in the lobby. There are still decorations in the Cuban style of 1930s, chandeliers, mahogany furniture and brass fixtures. There are photos of famous visitors around the hallways including Fred Astaire, Frank Sinatra, Gary Cooper and even Walt Disney.

Walking in the grounds of the Hotel Nacional de Cuba we noted more history immediately. Walking into the ground level ‘museum’ we read of the Cuban Missile Crisis, (or as they say in  Havana the October Crisis).  We continued to the underground tunnels that make a circle underneath the hotels lawn and gardens. The tunnels once housed periscopes used by Cuban intelligence in espionage efforts but never nuclear arms.   It was very interesting to walk on these grounds.

As we continued our explorations, we knew that there were 3 parts to Havana, Old Havana, Centro and Vedado.  Our casa was between the University and Habana Libre, and walked to Old Havana each day (about 1.5 miles). We would walk through Centro as we headed towards Old Havana. There is so much history in the buildings and such, however many are crumbling and falling in on themselves, so it is sad to see that the Cubans have not been able to save more of the historic architecture of the area.  IMG_7034IMG_2171IMG_2099IMG_2300

One of our favorite stops was Hamel’s Alley an alley painted by the neighborhood to tell the story of Santera, the Afro-Cuban religion.   Each time we walked through it there we musicians playing music. This was the one spot in town that I felt as if everyone expected money.

We spent our days roaming the Old Havana area full of history and the governmental center of Cuba. We walked through narrow streets and old buildings with balconies full of laundry, plants and people. Many of the home owners offer a room in their home for guests called ‘casa particulars’. They ranged from 20 to 40 CUC’s a night. (when we visited a CUC is 1/1 with the $ but there is a 10% exchange rate).

Some areas of city we enjoyed more than others, I enjoyed the San Fancisco area a lot. The Cubans are trying to renovate many of their plaza’s including Plaza Vieja, Plaza de la Catedral, Plaza de San Francisco and Plaza de Armas as well as the walking only streets: Obispo and Mercaderes both of which we walked on a LOT.

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trying to do some renovations!

We also took the ‘on /off’ open topped bus ride around the town. It was well worth the 5 CUC/pp cost. It took us outside of the downtown center and out to the suburbs of Havana. We were on it for a full 2 hours and then asked for a transfer and eventually rode it back towards our casa.

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Top of the bus!

The bus takes you through the city centre and out to the Miramar (consulate) district, to the Plaza de la Revolucion and back through other suburbs, along the Malecon and into town. We sat on the opened top level of the bus, yes we had broken seats, occasional rain showers and the exhaust fumes were as strong as you might expect, but we enjoyed the ride. JUST know that this is NOT an ‘informative’ tour. There is someone talking occasionally but the sound does not travel to the top level and it is not ‘full of information.’IMG_2193

And we did the ‘touristy’ thing of renting a 1950’s car for a one hour tour, that basically followed the same route as the on off bus, for double the cost!  It was worth it though if for nothing else, the experience.

All in all Havana will leave us with memories but happy and frustrating.  The quote in the Lonely Planet guidebook truly defined our trip:

” Timeworn but magnificent, dilapidated but dignified, fun yet maddeningly frustrating ~ Cuba is a country of indefinable magic.”

We are thrilled we saw it BEFORE it is full of KFC’s/ McDonalds/ and other typical American businesses that are sure to be there in the next few years.

 

 

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Brown bears, fishing, birding, OHMI! King Salmon and Bristol Bay, Alaska

Aug. 12-14, 2015

After invited to work with the Lake and Peninsula Borough School District I was thrilled to visit King Salmon, which is located in the infamous Bristol Bay, a quick 1 hour flight south from Anchorage. There is a little bit of everything “Alaska” in this region, though it is best known for 1, fishing and 2, brown bears though there are a lot of caribou, moose, wolves and little critters like fox, beaver and of course porcupine!  Tourists also come to the area for bird watching with over 150 different species that pass through this area.

Lake and Pen School District is about the size of West Virginia. The district represents the following communities, the population as of last census is listed after the site.

  1. Port Alsworth ( Tatalian school) 113
  2. Nondalton 205
  3. Newhalen 183
  4. Kokhanok 166
  5. Igiugig 56
  6. Levelock 57
  7. Egegik 76
  8. Pilot Point 76
  9. Port Heiden (Meshik School) 90
  10. Chignik Lagoon 103
  11. Chignik Lake 113
  12. Chignik Bay 92
  13. Perryville 110

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Only 2 of these communities, Newhalen and Iliamna are connected by road, everyone else must fly or boat to other communities. Almost 80% of the population of this area are Alaska Native and the district office is in King Salmon.

Fishing: There are 3 main rivers, the Naknek, the Kvichak and the Alagnak which are all a fisherpersons dream. As the name of the area may give away, salmon is abundant in the region as are rainbow, dolly varden, and grayling. As I left the airport on Friday a.m.

I was one of the only NON fisherperson on the plane. Each of them was checking 100-200#’s of fish, and because of this, there was too much luggage for the plane. In the end the airline had to leave over 2000#’s of luggage in King Salmon that would be delivered at a later time.   Mine arrived home on Saturday!

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seafood is a huge industry in the area


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all these boats are on land currently, UNTIL the next big fishing season!


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across the bay another fish plant

Bears: Katmi National Park and Preserve is home to Brooks River/Brooks Camp a famous brown bear viewing location. This area is home to over 2000 bears and in the summer many of them can be seen catching and eating fish during the summer! The other famous bear viewing area in the region is McNeil River. 90 miles from King Salmon it too offers visitors an opportunity to see brown bears in their natural habitat. IMG_5035

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Bristol Bay behind me!

Though I did not get to fish on this trip, I did have a bear experience. As I was leading the workshop, a gun shot was heard, and quickly the superintendent defused any concern by stating “oh the bear must be around the building and we are just shooooing it away”! Only in Alaska!IMG_5036

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Council, Alaska and the “Last Train to Nowhere”

June 1, 2015

After landing in Nome, Alaska I took a road trip to an abandoned town of Council. The drive was beautiful and took me along the Bering Sea before turning inland toward the former city of Council.

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I see these in Juneau often, but yet again another “end of the road” in Alaska

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there still are buildings and even a B and B in Council, Many folks use it as their summer get away!

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when you get to the end of the road you have to take a boat over to the town. I guess at times people have driven but it is not usually low enough to do that safely.

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we walked to the river and looked over to the town of Council which is to the right.

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Gold was found in a creek near Council in 1897 and in turn over 15,000 individuals lived in Council at that time. Within the next 20 years most of those individuals moved to Nome chasing the gold.

The road from Nome to Council is only open when there is no snow. However since Council has trees, many of Nome residents ride to Council to cut their Christmas trees.

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first tree I saw i this area!

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the closer we got to Council the more trees we saw.

Along the ride there are some treasures of the gold rush including the trains that the locals call the “Last Train to Nowhere”.

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after driving south out of Nome about 20 miles, you turn inland, and as you turn these cliffs are seen to the south. I bet they are beautiful

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at the highest point on the drive.

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looking towards the SE, look at all those mountains

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historic buildings from the Gold Rush days, I wonder how long they will remain standing?

During the height of the gold rush, thousands and thousands of stampeders headed N in search of gold. An investor from Chicago thought that a railroad would be the best way to transport the gold from all the mining camps that were popping up all over the interior.

Eventually 2 locomotives that were retired from New York arrived via badge in 1881 and another n 1886.   By the early 1900’s there were 35 miles of rails for these trains. Sadly by 1906 the boom was over and the “Last Train(s) to Nowhere” have sat in the same location since.IMG_5298 IMG_5297 IMG_5296 IMG_5295IMG_4071 IMG_4069

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Where in the world is Naknek, Alaska???

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landing about 8:30 a.m. and watching the beautiful sunrise!

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it was a dry cold (BUT very windy by the water)

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boats are everywhere in this area

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town a tad deserted this time of year, but come July I bet it is packed.

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looking out over Bristol Bay

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since it is salt water it does not freeze totally but since there is some fresh water feeding into the bay the fresh water will freeze and break up as the tide goes in and out.

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I heard they are putting a new museum in this building!

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in front of the famous Naknek River

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March 13 and 14

Naknek, Alaska is the home to Bristol Bay School district, I was thrilled to be able to go there and work with the board this spring.  There are about 550 people that live in Naknek however they are also attached by road to King Salmon.  I flew into the King Salmon airport.

This land is the land of the Yupik and Athabaskan Alaska Natives. The community was known as Naugeik until the Russians came to the area in the 1800’s and changed the spelling to Naknek.

The area is known worldwide for it’s fishing! There was a cannery opened there in 1890 and there were 12 canneries at the height of business.   There are currently 6 processing plants left in Naknek.

Noteworthy tidbit: About 70% of the world’s sockeye is caught here, mostly in July!

The Naknek River runs into the Kvichak Bay arm.  I got to go and stand on the edge of the bay, the cold whistling winds whipped through the air making my eyes water a bit!

For me and my job I found another fascinating fact; the superintendent and 4 out of 5 board members were born/ raised in the area. Can’t say that too often any more!naknek_map

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Nenana’s Ice Classic! Guess when the Ice will Break and the Tripod will give way!

Monday, March 9, 2015

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It was freezing when I took this photo, but I HAD to show that I was really there!

 

Each year Alaskan’s have an opportunity to bet on Mother Nature; the day the ice will break up on the Tanana River near Nenana, Alaska.

In 1906 six guys bet on the day the ice would break up and by 1916 workers from the railroad held a contest, selling tickets to Nenana residents only, but as word spread everyone wanted to get in on the fun. The early day winners won a round of drinks at the bar and the first payout was just over $800. Of late the purse has been well over $350,000.

The bets are placed on when the ‘tripod’ will fall into the water as the ice breaks. It is a tripod of 4 beams and is placed on the ice of the river in early March each year. To accurately get the time of the ice break up, there is a clock attached to the tripod.

 

I have never bought a ticket, but was ready to this year as I was there on “Tripod Weekend!” Guesses cost $2.50 each. I ended up walking away without a ticket, but I do bet it will break early due to the warm winter we have had in Alaska!

 

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Because the Iditarod was rerouted for the race this year, I watched about 6 teams run by the tripod

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the tripod in all its glory was erected the day before I arrived!

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This is a year round reminder of the the Ice Classic.

 

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Iditarod 2015, Nenana the first mandatory stop

First Pit Stop: Nenana, Alaska

Monday, March 9, 2015

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all Vets had these armbands

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all the helpers/handlers had these arm bands

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the town of Nenana welcomed the teams!

Along the route there are mandatory check in points, mushers have 3 MANDATORY layovers, 2 for 8 hours and 1 for 24 hours. It is up to the musher to decide where to stop for these layovers and the layovers cannot be combined. This year with the alternative route, Nenana was the first stop. Nenana is 58 miles South of Fairbanks along the Tanana River.

 

Mushers need to stop, sign in, have their dogs checked by vets and gather supplies that were flown (or in this case driven) to these sites ahead of time, typically 1800 pounds is sent out in total. These (mostly mandatory) supplies include:

  • food for both the dogs and their humans,
  • straw for bedding once the teams stop to sleep,
  • back up headlamps and batteries,
  • an ax,
  • sleeping bag,
  • snowshoes,
  • stove and fuel,
  • 2 sets of booties for EACH dog,
  • arctic parka,
  • a vet log where the status of each dog is logged at each stop by a VET,
  • mail to be delivered in Nome,
  • parts to repair the sleds if needed
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supplies that were sent ahead of time

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food, straws etc all sent ahead of time

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food, supplies, and HEET to cook the food with!

 

I hopped in the car and drove  58 miles south from Fairbanks to Nenana.  It was fun to see the town of Nenana come out to welcome in the teams. There was food inside the Chief Mitch Demientieff Tribal Hall, and fires going for those visitors to come in and warm up. T-shirts were for sale, and the atmosphere was one of excitement and fun.   Outside each musher had supplies that had been sent /dropped off for them to pick up on their stop in Nenana. I wondered what the pallet of “HEET” was for and asked one of the organizers, they indicated that the Heet was used for cooking along the trail.

 

The day was cold but full of sunshine so if you waited in the sun it did not feel so cold. Nenana Schools offer a Residential component where students from rural Alaska can come and live in the Living Center and attend the public school. I befriended a few of the girls from the LC and enjoyed chatting with them as we awaited the teams.

 

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students from Nenana’s Living Center cheering on their favorite racers

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Martin Buser the first to cross the line in Nenana

 

 

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vets doing the mandatory check on each dog

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a vet checking one dogs legs, paws etc.

I was so excited to watch about 6 teams cross the check in point line and watch the handlers take care of the dogs, the vets do mandatory checks on each dog and watch the mushers grab the gear they would need for the next legs of the race.  I know some people think it is cruel and ‘animal abuse’ but I also think these dogs are bre d to do this work, with other breeds it might be cruel and abuse but not with these, they are so thrilled to be running.  It reminded me of how our lab was bred to hunt and swim, he loved those more than anything.  AND I have a friend that is a VET on the race this year and she is one of the biggest pet advocates I know, so I trust her opinion.

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my favorite picture of the race. Look at this handler giving love to the lead dog, this made me teary eyed

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I named this dog” Jumpy” because he was like this for about 15 minutes during the ‘rest’ period. He just wanted to run, run, run

 

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Some facts about the Iditarod

Fairbanks, Alaska

Monday, March 9, 2015

Since moving to Alaska I have learned a lot about the Iditarod, and was blessed to get a chance to go to the start and first check point this year! The start was moved to Fairbanks for only the 2nd time in history because there was not enough snow, basically NO snow in Anchorage.  The Iditarod is probably the most famous sporting event in Alaska, though there are many other races each winter, the Iditarod is the ‘grandfather’ of the others.

Some history on the Iditarod:

  • In 1925 the residents of Nome, Alaska were in need of some medicine as there were many residents infected with diphtheria.
  • There were 1400 residents at that time and the only Dr. in town was worried the entire population may die off if medicine did not come to Nome quickly.
  • Anchorage was the only place in Alaska that had the medicine but because it was winter getting the medicine to Nome would be challenging, no boats, no trains etc. could get to Nome.
  • Dog teams became the best solution to save the citizens of Nome by delivering the medicine, as dog teams were the way that mail was taken to rural Alaska.
  • On Jan. 27, 1925 a musher named Wild Bill Shannon wrapped 20 #’s of medicine and took off with the help of his nine dogs.
  • They traveled 674 miles to get the package to Nome.
  • The weather was very nasty and cold getting lower the -60 degrees during the run. (ironically a lot like the bitter cold this winter is proving to be for the racers).
  • Wild Bill became hypothermic along the way and passed the medicine onto another musher and team of dogs.
  • The cold weather continued and the musher Seppala left Shaktoolik but decided to take a short cut over Norton Sound where the winds were so strong it reached -85 degrees, and the dogs had trouble because the trail was icy.
  • The next leg was run by musher Olson and finally passed to Gunnar Kaasen who left in a blizzard.
  • His lead dog was actually from Seppala’s kennel but was a great leader and famous with Alaskan’s “Blato” .
  • An 80 MPH gust of wind tossed the sleigh over and the medicine became buried in the snow, Kaasen was eventually able to retrieve it
  • Blato as the team leader pulled into Nome on Feb. 2nd at 5:30 a.m.
  • It took these teams 5 ½ days to get the serum to Nome, and sadly 5 dogs lost their lives in the attempt to save humans.
  • Over 150 dogs and 20 mushers helped get the meds to Nome saving the lives of the residents of the town.
  • In 1973 the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Sled Race was started.
  • The race was started in part to commemorate history BUT also to save the ‘sled dog’ culture that was being overtaken by snow machines.
  • The first winner was Dick Wilmarth and it took him 3 weeks to arrive in Nome
  • This years race will stop in 18 communities (not counting the day in Anchorage) include 77 racers and over 1000 dogs!
  • Dogs drop 6,000-10,000 calories a day so it is important for them to eat about 4-5 #’s of food each day. Usually it is dry food mixed with some meat.
  • Teams can start with no more than 16 dogs, but no fewer than 12, the MUST end the race with at least 5 dogs as some dogs drop out along the race and are flown back to anchorage, typically because of an injury of some sort or simply exhaustion.
  • Teams  this year will travel over 968 miles.
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    handlers bring the teams to the start line. Every 2 minutes a new team leaves from the start line.

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    watched about 25 teams take off from this spot…. freezing, freezing, freezing…

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    DeeDee Janrowe is racing for the 33rd time in the Iditarod. She is known as the PINK team in support of breast cancer awareness. She is a survivor and ran the race just weeks after chemo one year.

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    being that Fairbanks is the Ice Sculpting Capital it was only appropriate that there was one of a dog team!

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Cordova Alaska, 2012 Record snow, 2015 NO snow!

Feb. 3/4, 2015

I have visited Cordova a lot over the last few years, but it is stunning how different a few years can make.  3 years ago they were buried in snow and today there is NONE… the white stuff on the ground is frost. Here is the post from 2012 and some photos from today!  They made national news in 2012 because of the snow and the National Guard was called in to help shovel the snow off of roofs.

https://timistravels.wordpress.com/2012/01/16/cordova-alaska-during-snowpocyolypse-2012/

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Much like my last blog I am here help the board hire a superintendent, this is the information they put in their ad.  Enjoy

“Cordova is located at the southeastern end of Prince William Sound in the Gulf of Alaska. The community was built on Orca Inlet, at the base of Eyak Mountain. It lies 52 air miles southeast of Valdez and 150 miles southeast of Anchorage.  Winter temperatures are mild with average snowfall of 80 inches though this winter they have made national news with their record snowfall! Cordova has become home to those that enjoy the natural beauty of the area and for those that love the out-of-doors. Fishing, hiking, hunting, and most outdoor activities make Cordova’s unique surroundings desirable for many. Summer temperatures average from 50 to 63. Cordova is accessed by plane or boat. It is linked directly to the North Pacific Ocean shipping lanes through the Gulf of Alaska. It receives year-round barge services and State Ferry service.

 

The area has historically been home to the Alutiiq, with the addition of migrating Athabascan and Tlingit natives. Orca Inlet was originally named “Puerto Cordova” by Don Salvador Fidalgo in 1790. The town of Cordova was named in 1906 and the City was formed in 1909. Cordova became the railroad terminus and ocean shipping port for copper ore from the Kennecott Mine up the Copper River.

 

Cordova supports a large fishing fleet for Prince William Sound and several fish processing plants. Over 300 of the 2100 year-round residents hold commercial fishing permits, and nearly half of all households have someone working in commercial harvesting or processing. In the summers, Cordova doubles in population as fishermen and others flock to town for involvement with the fishing industry. Copper River red salmon, pink salmon, herring, halibut, bottom fish and other fisheries are harvested. The largest employers are Trident Processors, Cordova School District, Cordova Hospital, the City, and the Department of Transportation. The U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Coast Guard maintain personnel in Cordova.”

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Petersburg, Alaska’s “Little Norway”

Jan. 28-29, 2015

This will be the first of 3 visits to Petersburg, Alaska for the year 2015.  I am assisting them as they hire a new superintendent of schools.  This is a short blog which highlights the community of Petersburg in the words outlined in job description for the superintendency!  map

Petersburg is an island home to approximately 3,000 residents, where small town life influences the social and work environments. The town, located on the north end of Mitkof Island, is nestled among the forested islands and mountains of Southeast Alaska’s Inside Passage.  Nearby Frederick Sound is a summer feeding grounds for hundreds of humpback whales. The Stikine-LeConte Wilderness Area, with its beautiful LeConte Glacier calving off tons of bright blue icebergs, is a short boat ride away.

Mitkof Island was once home to Tlingit fish camps. Present-day Petersburg was settled in the 1890’s by Norwegian fishermen and families. To this day, Petersburg reflects the cultural and artistic influences of its early roots.

Petersburg is surrounded by the Tongass National Forest, the world’s largest temperate rainforest. In 2014 Petersburg had record rainfall receiving over 115”, though this rain helps the lush environment. Its maritime climate means that summers are cool and winters are mild. Average precipitation is approximately 110 inches, which mostly arrives in the form of rain. Recreational opportunities abound in this area of natural beauty including boating, hiking, camping, fishing, hunting, sea kayaking and whale-watching.

Homeport to one of the most productive commercial fishing fleets in the state, Petersburg has three busy fish processing plants operating in the summer. Both the Forest Service and Coast Guard have a presence in Petersburg helping add to the diversity of the community.

There is twice-daily Alaska Airlines jet service to either Juneau/Anchorage or Seattle, and the Alaska’s Marine Highway System ferries dock in Petersburg. Excellent medical services include a hospital with a clinic and long-term care unit, four doctors, two dentists and a full-service pharmacy. Attractive senior citizen housing is also available. Many families are second and third generation residents who have grown up in Petersburg and graduated from the schools their own children and grandchildren now attend. The stability of the community and educational environment contributes to a longstanding reputation for high student expectations and achievement.photo (14)

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Unalakleet, Alaska~ Jan. 15-16, 2015 and NO SNOW!

Jan. 15/16

Last year I was unable to fly into Unalakleet because they had so much snow, this year, NONE.  Unalakleet is on the NW coast of the Bering Sea, just under the community of Nome.  It was a beautiful day as I flew in and the sun was setting over the community.  It was in the high 20’s low 30’s while I was there and I enjoyed a quick walk to the beach and the ability to beach comb a bit!    The Elders are worried about the continued warming of the region.  There were locals that had just gone out on a seal hunt, not normal for this time of year.

If you want to know more about Unalakleet, check out my blogs from Jan. 2012 and 2013!  Here are some pics!  The photo of me is with Donald Masters, Donald originally from Unalakleet is a former student of mine (at UAS).  He’d gone south for college but has moved back home~ and I got to see him, what a treat!

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landing in Unalakleet! Sun starting to set about 4:30!

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swinging around to the airport

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Sunset on the day I left, this is a beautiful community.

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drift wood on the beach, locals use it for fire wood

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another view looking down the beach

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long lost friends… last saw each other over 15 years ago! JOY

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