It’s that time again! Time to hit the road with our camper. This trip, we’re heading to Seward for a few days. The weather forecast is calling for overcast and partly cloudy, but hopefully we won’t have constant rain while there. Not that rain stops us, but it can make wildlife cruises and fishing a little less pleasurable.
We needed to do some much needed maintenance to the camper to ready it for the road. We spent several hundred dollars having the wheel bearings repacked, the slide serviced (it was a little off level) and greased, and the camper de-winterized and systems checked. Money well spent to send us down the road less concerned about problems.
Our travel trailer is officially 10 years old now. Mileage wise, we have about 55-60,000 miles on it. That’s not too bad considering we’ve had it ten years, but since we live in Alaska, we only really use it a couple of weeks each month from June to August or early September. It’s saved us many times what we’ve paid for it in lodging and travel expenses over the years. One of the best investments we ever made in my opinion.
We discovered that voles got into it again this winter. This time, though, there wasn’t much for them to get into, as we pulled most of the stuff out (paper towels, toilet paper, pots and pans, etc). But Steve forgot to empty the utensil drawer and guess where we found vole droppings? BLECH! Needless to say, all of the silverware went through a HOT cycle in the dishwasher yesterday. There are droppings here and there throughout the camper, so we know they were hanging out in there. Which means some heavy duty sanitizing before we pack it up with dishes and linens, etc. At least we didn’t find sunflower seeds stashed under the bedspread like last year.
Good friends of ours will be house-sitting for us. It’s nice to know that someone will be here looking after the place, watering plants, etc. It’s so much nicer to go off on vacation when things are taken care of back home.
My friend Amanda and I took a drive up the Steese Hwy last week. We went as far as Central, before turning around and heading back to North Pole. There is road flooding north of Central at mile 145, so even if we wanted to go all the way to Circle, we wouldn’t have been able to make it.
We drove into the White Mountain Rec Area (mile 57 on the Steese) to take some photos from the high point on the road. There were thick clouds, as it was sprinkling rain off and on that afternoon. We were pretty much IN the clouds, which was a neat thing. It was nice to see alpine wildflowers blooming up there too. We saw Narcisus Flowered Anemones, Wooly Lousewort, Alpine Azaleas, Lapland Diapensia and other mosses and plants. We also saw some Alaska Cotton along the way, but I didn’t get any photos of it.
The road into the rec area (Nome Creek Rd) is washed out at Nome Creek, so there’s no way to get to Ophir and Prindle Campgrounds unless you walk in or have an ATV. We drove to the washout and then turned around and came back out to the highway to drive the remaining 65 miles or so to Central.
You can pan for gold on Nome Creek. Gold mining on Nome Creek began in 1900. That year 20 acres of placer mining ground was found on the creek. It was officially known as the “Discovery” claim.
The views up around Eagle Summit were gorgeous, with the range off in the distance. The rolling hills, some still with patchy areas of snow, were lovely and green. It’s so nice to see green! We continued up the highway until we reached Central.
In Central, I directed Amanda out to Circle Hot Springs. According to information I found online in a Fairbanks Daily Newsminer article:
For countless years before Westerners entered Interior Alaska, only Athabascan Indians used the hot springs located on the northeastern edge of the Tanana-Yukon Uplands, near where Birch Creek meandered out into the Yukon River lowlands. Then, in the 1890s, gold was discovered in the region and prospectors scattered into the hills in search of the motherlode.
Circle City (now just called Circle) was established on the south bank of the Yukon River in 1893 to supply the mining camps in the Birch Creek area about 50 miles to the southwest. (Miners erroneously thought the town was on the Arctic Circle, which is actually about 40 miles to the north.)
A roadhouse was built along the trail at Central, about 35 miles from Circle. Then, in the fall of 1893 a prospector named William Greats stumbled on the hot springs while chasing a moose about eight miles southeast of Central.
Other prospectors quickly learned of the Arctic Circle hot springs and began spending their winters there, at first in tents, then building cabins. In 1905 Cassius Monohan homesteaded 106 acres around the springs, and Franklin and Emma Leach bought the homestead from Monohan in 1909.
According to the Alaska Community Database, the Alaska Road Commission began building a wagon road from Circle to the mining camps in 1906, and by 1908 the road had reached Central. The ARC completed the road to Fairbanks in 1907, and in 1930 the Leaches decided to build a hotel at the hot springs.
They hired local sourdough Billy Bowers to oversee construction, and work on the hotel begun in March 1930. Some accounts say most construction materials came by river to Circle and then by wagon to the springs. However, in a 1970’s taped interview, Emma Leach said the logs used for lumber were felled at Medicine Lake several miles northeast of the springs, and that additional lumber was trucked from Fairbanks. The hotel was completed by that fall.
The hotel itself has changed little over the years and for the most part kept its rustic charm. The bay windows on the first floor can be seen in photos from the 1930s and 1940s, and appear to be original features. The only significant changes are the addition of a restaurant at the rear, and a front entry vestibule.
Until the 1950s the hot springs pool remained in a relatively natural state. A 1947 photograph shows the grass-fringed pool with a few Adironack-style chairs along the edge, and a diving board at the pool’s far end. Other early photographs show expansive gardens and several greenhouses to the right of the hotel (where the pool and other buildings are now).
Frank Leach died in 1955, and Emma managed the hotel until her death in 1974. They are both buried in a small cemetery (which contains about three dozen graves) on the hill above the hotel. In 1980 Bobby and Laverna Miller purchased the hotel and hot springs, which remained open until 2002.
In its heyday Circle Hot Springs attracted visitors from all over Alaska and beyond, and was well-known for its aurora viewing. The hotel supposedly even has its own ghost. Some employees are reported to have seen or felt the specter of Emma Leach roaming the halls or haunting the kitchen.
The hotel and hot springs are now closed and the property is for sale. Most of the land around the hot springs is private. You can drive by and see the hotel, but get permission before wandering around the property.
We stopped and got out of the car for a few photos, but didn’t wander the property due to the “No Trespassing” signs. It felt a little creepy too, so we were happy to just photograph from afar.
We didn’t stay in Central very long; just long enough to take a few photos of some of the cute cabins. Next time, when the road is open, we’ll have to go all the way to Circle.
But the highlight of the trip was as we were driving back to Fairbanks. We saw a black bear on the road eating something! When we got closer, he ran into the bushes next to the road, and then ran up a steep hill. He was FAST! The rain was really coming down, so the photos I managed to get (through the windshield) aren’t the best, but I’m happy I got them.
This is one of the photos I took of him, when he was high up on the hillside above us:
Here are the photos from our drive up the Steese Hwy:
The wildflowers are finally starting to bloom in our yard. It is so nice to see colors again. Prickly Rose and Labrador Tea. The Bluebells haven’t bloomed in our yard yet, but they are blooming on Fort Wainwright.
Until next time…