There are no roads to Nome, Alaska, so we left the rig behind and flew to this small city on the Bering Sea. The town itself was created after gold prospectors arrived in the late 1890s.
The gold prospectors found Native groups of Yupik and Inupiac who lived a hunter-gatherer lifestyle, hunting seals, walrus and whales and gathering berries, willow and other plants during the long, sunny days of summer and into the fall.
In the hundred and sixteen years since Nome’s founding, settlers and Natives have managed to develop a small economy but one still plagued by scarce resources and jobs. To our surprise, the search for gold still attracts many people who scour the bottom of the ocean for bits on the precious metal. Vacuum-equipped boats and scuba divers have replaced the dredging machines of old.
Food, clothing, vehicles and other supplies are shipped in via boat or plane. Scarce building supplies means the houses are slapped together with odds and ends, giving the town a rundown look.
The presence of the Native people gives Nome a special quality. In town, many suffer the consequences of alcoholism and unemployment while others work to keep alive their traditions of dance and carving spirits into walrus ivory and bone. We attended a cultural evening with traditional dancers and singers.
Vehicles are few and far between, but with luck, we rented a work truck and headed out into the tundra, broad rolling hills with no trees that is covered with lichen and moss and, at this time of year, acres of berries.
We did not see any bears but did find muskox, like this fellow on the roadside.
At Pilgrim Hot Springs we explored an old Catholic mission and orphanage where many children lived 100 years ago after influenza and tuberculosis killed many of the adults.
The next day we drove 70 miles out on one of the three dirt roads connecting Nome to Native settlements. The roads are not plowed in the winter and only snow mobiles are used for transportation during those months. We drove through hills of tundra and rivers packed with salmon that were fighting their way upstream to lay their eggs.
The town of Teller is a Native village, where people dry their fish on traditional racks on the ocean-side. Many Natives still spend summer months in fish camps by the water, where the fish and berries are plentiful and where they can hunt caribou and moose.
Few people have cars, but most of them have snow mobiles and four-wheelers for getting around town.
Back in Nome, we checked out the music of the Salmonberry Folk Festival, where the Anchorage-based band Super-Saturated Sugar Strings led a music jam at the famed Safety Roadhouse, the Last Check Point of the Iditarod race.
Four days in Nome gave us a glimpse of this remote corner of America and a way of life that harkens back to a way of life thousands of year old, when people learned how to survive in the frigid, but not really barren, land.
Listen as Johnny Cash & Lynn Anderson tear it up.
Where we are today.