Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Steese Highway -- Circle City

I've often said that most people who visit Alaska don't really get to see the real Alaska. They usually sail through beautiful SE Alaska on a cruise ship, arrive in charming Seward, take the train to Anchorage, then continue up through majestic Denali to Fairbanks and fly home. Along that pathway, Alaska is indeed beautiful, charming, majestic and well developed. Throughout much of the rest of the state... Well, not so much.

I mean no disrespect, of course, but let's be honest. Most of the remote villages are pretty basic affairs, with only as much development and "spiffing up" as they really need. It costs so much to transport anything out to them that you spend all your money on necessities, not on appearances. Okay?

With that said, I offer you a glimpse of Circle City, at the end of the Steese Highway and on the banks of the mighty Yukon River.

It's altogether possible that the guys in that last photo are pretty much always hanging out by the river, but let's give them the benefit of the doubt and say that it's because I arrived in Circle City on a very special day. As you can see, the river behind them still has quite a bit of ice on it, and the spring break-up of the ice on the Yukon is a really big deal. It marks the moment when the river becomes navigable again for supplies, fishing, tourists, etc.

There was quite a bit of hub-bub when I arrived, because the locals have a huge betting pool on when, exactly, break-up will occur. From many years of observation and experience, those in the know were predicting that tonight might just be the night! Shortly after I arrived, what seemed like the whole town had gathered at the river's edge with hopes of witnessing the big event.

As you might imagine, I was quite keen to be there and join in the festivities. Until, that is, I was told by a very helpful native that if break up occurred while I was there, I would probably be marooned there for a few weeks! Apparently, break-up does such a fine job of releasing pent up water in the river that it floods much of the surrounding area, including large nearby stretches of the Steese Highway which is the only way out of here.

My new best friend suggested I park my rig on the highest ground in town, sleep with one ear open for the sounds of break-up and get out in a hurry if it happens. I intend to heed his advice on all counts and, even if break-up does not occur tonight, I plan to haul ass out of here in the morning. There's only so much time I can spend in remote Alaskan villages, and "a few weeks" isn't it!

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