Road to Council

Jun 28, 2012 | 0 comments

When I first heard we were taking a staff trip to “Council,” I wasn’t sure what that meant. Like, tribal council? No, as it turns out, Council is a small fishing village about 73 miles east northeast of Nome, and our 7-person staff was taking a day trip out there for photos and for us to become better acquainted with the area. 
So, late Tuesday morning, we all piled into the big government-issued Suburban SUV and began a long day of bouncing down 146 miles roundtrip of dirt road. That’s a lot of dirt road.
Possible Pacific loons in the back

Red-throated loon

Our first stop was at a bridge perhaps 10-20 miles outside of Nome where we did some birdwatching. There were a bunch of glaucous gulls, red-throated loons, and what looked to be Pacific loons, although I’m still not entirely sure. Also some some Eiders (Spectacled, I think?) and the usual little red-necked phalaropes in the water.

It was here that I had my first go at the NPS camera, a good Nikon D80 DSLR. It took me a while to remember what little I know about manual photography, but after a while it became a little easier. I still have a lot to learn as far as what settings to use in which situations, but hopefully I didn’t look like as much of a newbie as I felt.

Train to Nowhere

We continued down the road watching the landscape become somewhat greener, more mountainous, and hilly, all 7 pairs of eyes trained on the tundra looking for grizzlies, moose, foxes, or any other cool wildlife we were likely to see. We didn’t see anything though, besides the occasional ground squirrel, so at noon we stopped at this site called “Train to Nowhere,” aptly named for the rusted train ruins left deteriorating along the side of the road.

Semipalmated Sandpiper

After lunch we continued along our way. The conversations in the car were quite hilarious. I learned two new terms: “i-newbie-aq,” a play on the “Inupiaq” to mean someone who is new to local native culture, and my favorite, “termination dust,” which is not the nuclear fallout it sounds like, but the first snowfall that terminates the mining season.

Golden eagle chicks

As we got closer to Council, we began driving through mountains and along cliffs. At one point, we stopped on the roadside to photograph a golden eagle nest with two chicks!  

My favorite wildlife spotting of the trip though, was the red fox one of the interns saw coming out of its den on the side of the road. We came to a screeching halt in the car and backed up slowly so as not to scare it off, but soon realized it wasn’t in the least bit concerned.

In fact, it trotted around a bit, and eventually went back in one of its holes (it had about 3 in the hillside!), but we found it in the exact same place on our trip back. Beautiful animal, and I was super happy with the photos I got of it.


Eventually we made it to Council. As it turns out though, there is a river between the road and the town so we didn’t actually get to go into the town, just look at it from afar. But hey, there were TREES! Real, live trees. Conifers and deciduous species growing side by side along the river giving the landscape a deep green hue and filling the air with the tangy organic scent of leaves and bark. You don’t really notice the smell of trees until you haven’t been around them for a while.

Dilapidated house

The old buildings were pretty cool too. Many were abandoned, but the village is still used for the fishing season and the occasional traveler passing through.

And so we headed back, another 73 miles of dirt road. Still no grizzlies, but it was neat passing through old ghost towns, mining areas, fishing villages, and driving along the Iditarod trail. I definitely have a new respect for the Iditarod racers now; driving along a road was pretty easy, but I can’t imagine doing that by sled in the middle of winter!

Arctic tern fishing

Finally we made it back to Nome at around 5pm, back to the flat, treeless tundra and the cold Bering Sea. I was pretty sleepy after the long car ride, but after dinner I joined a couple of my coworkers for a bike ride back down to the salmon fishing area I had been to the day before.

It was way more crowded this time — seems word got out about the salmon down there, and unfortunately we didn’t catch anything. Nonetheless, I enjoyed a chilly walk along the beach, collecting sea glass, and enjoying the sun, now that it had finally come out.

That was all yesterday. Today was much more mundane. Spent the day at the office, worked on my pictures, started some planning for the new visitor’s guide, and then distributed posters of the ranger program schedule throughout town. The rest of the week should be pretty laid back and we’re hopefully getting our preserve flyover tour in Monday. Fingers crossed!


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