Tuesday, July 14, 2015

There's No Place Like Nome...Alaska

I could be almost any small town in the north on a shore with a harbor, but it's not just anywhere; it's Nome, Alaska.  This is one of those wonderful places that allows you to get away from it all, and we all know how much I love that.  This tiny burg was founded in 1901 officially anyway, by a Swedish guy and his companions.  The town was almost immediately overrun by an enormous gold rush, not that it was any surprise that happened back in the days of the Alaska Gold Rush. 

Throughout most of its history, Nome has had a population of a few thousand, but in the beginning of the 20th century, there were several times that many people.  In 1925, Nome, Alaska became famous because of the strangest thing...a Diphtheria epidemic that had literally been caused by the influx of miners into a territory of native locals who had never encountered the disease.  That was when the famous dog teams ran the medication across Alaska to help save the people of Nome.  Balto, the sled dog, became a real time hero throughout the country and world.  There is a statue of the famous dog right in Central Park in New York City.  The medicine arrived, the populace survived and not much changed in Nome after that.  Of course, in 1973 they started a sled dog race to commemorate the importance of sled dog teams in the town's history, and they created the world's most famous sled dog race...The Iditarod.   Every year in March, this little village is the finish line for the roughly 1100 mile race and all the crowds and media that go with that.

But, the rest of the year, Nome is a fairly isolated village on the shores of the Bering Sea, not far from Russia.  The only way to travel to Nome is by air.  There are no connecting highways that run further than to the local villages.  There are no ferries that run in the area.  Occasionally these days there are cruise ships that pass by once in a while in the summer on a Northwest Passage Cruise, but for the most part, the village is pretty isolated.

Nome is a quiet little town, with three main tribes of Native Alaskans in the area.  The locals go about their business of working, raising their families and taking care of their homes.  There are over 700 children in the local school system on average.  There are all services in town from fire to medical, to police, and schools.  There are hotels, campgrounds, shops, restaurants, and a visitor center for the people who manage to stop by from out of town.  You can fly to Nome, rent a car, stay in a hotel and see what life is like in this wonderful little town.

You can go to the pub, play bingo, listen to local bands, and relax.  You can see the sun stay pretty much up all night in the summer since the town is so close to the Arctic Circle.  You can visit some of the tribes and learn about their culture.  Are you excited yet?

You can go to college in Nome.  That's something that you wouldn't expect.

The weather that rarely gets out of the 50 degree area even in the summer is a great climate for animals such as the Musk Ox and reindeer.  You will also run across a plethora of rare birds that only live in this area.

Nome has it's own way of life, and you can come and see what it's like.  All right, are you bored yet?  Well, that little gold rush that I mentioned?  It's still going on.  There are companies that will take you to the beach to pan for gold.  The beaches are littered with gold in the icy northern village, and you can take home some for yourself.  You can also charter a boat with a guide who will show you how to dredge for gold just off shore.  This is one of the few places in the world that this is done right on the coast.  In places there is equipment left right on the beach for use by the tourists.  You can make a pretty penny while on vacation.  That's not a bad deal.  This place is so well known for it's gold dredging that the Discovery Channel makes a reality show about it.

The gold is real, and if you want, you can turn it in for cash right in town.  My guess is that, like me, you'll want to keep it as a memoir.  It's a great conversation piece for when you get back home and see all your friends.  So, get your gear and come up to Nome and go panning, mining, and dredging for gold.

But that's not all.  Nome offers a tour like none other for Americans.  You can fly on a charter tour to Provideniya, Russia.  This is a town on the Eastern coast of Russia that is just as isolated as Nome.  Maybe even more so.  It's not a big tourist attraction type place.  While in Nome you can get rich, in Provideniya, you're there for the culture.  And you will get your money's worth.

The locals there have traditions that are very close to the native people's of western Alaska.  The similarities are amazing until you realize that these peoples only live hundreds of miles apart.  That's not far, and lends to the theory of a land bridge that it's believed once existed between the two land masses.

Provideniya is a colorful city that will put you in mind of the Soviet Era with it's block style buildings that now resonate in technicolor.  I recommend taking the trip to the other side of the strait just to see what life is like.  It's fun to compare the similarities and differences between the two towns.  Just make sure you see a travel specialist of some kind before you go.  Specific travel visas are required when going to Russia.

Nome, Alaska is an isolated village that still has found itself at the center of American news and culture.  It's on the edge of existence where it is, although the town helps out in ship emergencies, rescuing people from sinking vessels.  Icebreakers are not uncommon in the area, just like gold mining dredges used to be.  You can only see dredges in the open air museum now, but the icebreakers are still around.  Life in Nome is unusual in that they have managed to maintain a normal community in such harsh conditions.  They have a sports center, a swimming pool, local sports leagues, and festivals at the park.  It's something that you have to experience to appreciate it.

Nome is a great place to get away, get your head on straight, and get away from it all.  You get to be part of a community there.  This is a way of life that has almost gone by the wayside in the lower 48.  These people survive with the help of their families, friends, and neighbors.  It's a wonderful thing to get a sampling of.  So, take a little time and see how this tiny corner of the world lives.  Come and visit the amazing people of Nome, Alaska and Provideniya, Russia.

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