Exploring Nugget Pass, and the Flyover that Wasn’t

Jul 4, 2012 | 0 comments

Let me begin by saying I have a lot of respect for the government. We give it a lot of flack, but now, technically as a government employee, I do have a lot of appreciation for how our country runs. 
With that said, it’s amazing that it runs at all sometimes. Pretty much the only thing holding me back from really getting into my job at this point is paperwork and authorizations. Because of that, I haven’t been able to do much this week so today I was sent out with one of the interpretive rangers to scout out a trail for the weekend ranger hike, and to take some more photos. I definitely can’t complain — I’d rather be out on the trail than behind a desk any day!
American Golden Plovers flying

Our destination was called Nugget Pass, a series of mountains and ridges about 45 minutes north of Nome on another long dirt road.  It was a dark, cloudy day, but the mosquitoes weren’t too bad in the morning, so we parked along the roadside and began picking our way across the tundra to the base of one of the mountains.

American Golden Plover

Along the way we saw tons of birds. American golden plovers, golden-crowned sparrows, white-crowned sparrows, hoary redpolls, and several northern wheatears.

Male northern wheatear

The hike was pretty easy up to the base of the mountain, but the ascent was a bit harder. Not only were the mosquitoes worse up higher, but the steep grade, combined with slippery shards of rock made for some moderately challenging terrain.

View of Salmon Lake

Fortunately, when we reached the first peak, the view was more than worth it. Overlooking part of Salmon Lake, some of the mountains were still capped with dark clouds, and sunlight filtered in to glint off the late-spring snow and meandering rivers below.

Rivers, with road in upper right corner

We hiked up two more peaks before turning to head back, since we had an afternoon plane to catch for our flyover tour of the preserve.

Grizzly bear scat!

One our way back, we found some eerie evidence of the grizzly bear activity in the area, including scat and mounds of dirt pulled up around lemming holes in the tundra. We also found some old wolf scat as well. It was a good reminder of where we really are.

Dwarf fireweed carpets the tundra

Anyone know what this is? I have a guess…

Golden-crowned sparrow

We made it back to town just in time for a quick lunch and then the 8 members of our staff carpooled to the airport for our long awaited flyover tour. As it turned out, we were flying Era Alaska — yes, the airline featured in Discovery Channel’s Flying Wild Alaska series.

We waited in their tiny terminal for what seemed like an eternity. The check-in process was about as easy as it gets — all I had to do was give my name and weight (including my backpack) — but there was some kind of government paperwork issue with our booking that ended up taking a while.

Eventually we got the okay, and headed out onto the tarmac with the pilot; our ride was a little 9 passenger prop jet, but apparently something wasn’t right. As it turned out, they had given us the wrong plane! We were supposed to have a plane with a high or a parasol wing so we could take aerial photography of the preserve, but ours had a low wing, pretty much blocking our view of anything down below. I would have been okay with it, but since taking pictures is kind of part of our job, our supervisor made the executive decision to reschedule the flight.

Our plane (photo by Ranger Katie)

I’m not gonna lie: I was a little bummed out we couldn’t go, but I’m glad our supervisor made that choice since we will only be able to do this once.

So, we’re rescheduling for next week or the week after, hopefully in a plane with the correct wing configuration. At the very least, I got a good hike in today, and got to sit in a very small airplane for about 5 minutes. Tomorrow is a holiday, 4th of July, with another ridiculous parade and street games in Downtown Nome. Pictures are sure to follow.


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