Polar Flight 90 - The Polar Pumpkin's Journey to the North Pole

2009 Alaska Reports

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December 19, 2009

It's -40 degrees Fahrenheit today in Manley Hot Springs, Alaska - with a good bit of snow; so we're approaching Christmas with all the proper conditions! I've lately seen no reindeer locally, least of all one with a red nose . . .

Years ago, Manley Hot Springs had 3,000 people living in the vicinity - mining gold and providing all associated services. Paddle wheel steamers came up the Tanana River, bringing supplies and building materials. There were restaurants, newspapers, saloons, hotels, etc. One of the more illustrious visitors to the Manley Hot Springs Roadhouse during this period was Wyatt Earp, who wintered just to the north at a village called Rampart. Core to the community, then and now, is a wonderful fresh water hot springs that flows out from the hillside. Before a community well was dug, the hot springs provided drinking water for the community.

Today the population of Manley Hot Springs is approximately 60 people. These folks have varied jobs about the village - generator maintenance, satellite telephone maintenance, teachers, postmaster, roadhouse owner, aircraft mechanic - in the one hangar - etc. Many folks are hunters, fishermen, and trappers; with some small family operations still digging for gold in the rich claims nearby. At today's prices of $1200 per ounce, it takes - of course - far fewer ounces to make a living than when gold sold for $35 per ounce. Besides gold, miners also often extract the bones from mastodons and/or wooly mammoths.

Manley Hot Springs at ChristmasThis week the school had their annual Christmas program - one of the "big events" of the year. There are 13 kids in the entire school population this year; and, I suppose, about 50 residents turned up for the big program.

The village is located approximately 100 air miles west of Fairbanks. The Elliott Highway provides road access to Fairbanks; but beyond Manley, it's just bush - no roads - territory for bush planes on floats, skis, or wheels. Throughout this bush, there is an extensive system of trails used by dogmushers and snowmobilers alike. A few nights ago, Lance Mackey came breezing through with a team of 16 dogs. He has won both long distance races - the Iditarod and Yukon Quest - several times. I expect that he is planning to do so again this Spring. Famous musher Susan Butcher - who sadly died an early death from leukemia - lived nearby, and won the Iditarod 5 times. It was she that gave President Ronald Reagan a t-shirt, on which was written: "Alaska - where men are men, and women win the Iditarod". Susan, with Joe Reddington - Father of the Iditarod, drove a dog team to the top of Mount McKinley one Spring. Joe Reddington, Jr. now lives in Manley Hot Springs; and is quite the dog musher in his own right.

The Manley Hot Springs airport is located pretty much in center of the village - a 2700 foot gravel strip, with 100 LL fuel available. Most of us, operating farther afield in the bush during summer, use the "Manley Slough" for our floatplanes. The Slough is a backwater or old channel of the Tanana River. Floatplane operations off the Slough require due diligence for moose, bears, ducks, geese, and swans that may be sharing the takeoff/landing run.

The Catholic - Baptist church in Manley Hot Springs, AlaskaSunday evening we have one of the other big community events - the Church Christmas program. A preacher from Fairbanks will drive in - if it's not too cold; and we'll have a candlelight service. The building is made of logs; and signs on the front show that it is indeed a "multiple denomination" church. There is a Catholic sign; and also a protestant sign.

So . . . my hope for any and all of you reading this website is for Peace and Good Will throughout the New Year!

October 12, 2009

Art's Cessna 180 float plane - the Alaska pickup truckWhile the very capable technicians at the Radio Ranch and M&M Aviation in Rock Falls, Illinois are busy with the installation of world famous Electronics International instruments in the Polar Pumpkin, I have been home in Alaska flying my Cessna 180 floatplane (also known as "Art's Alaska Pickup Truck.

The Alaska bush always seems to offer challenges on a regular basis. I recall the first takeoff when I got back - there was a bull moose standing in the shallows adjacent to my takeoff run on the Manley Hot Springs "slough". One never really knows where the animals will go - whether in front of you, or away. This bull moose went away. On one occasion, I had to abort the takeoff due to a family of 3 black bears swimming across my "airport".

Peace of Selby Lodge in Gates of the Arctic National ParkOur Peace of Selby Wilderness Lodge is located in quite a remote part of the Brooks Range - providing great habitat for many wilderness creatures. As I sat at the kitchen table this Fall - enjoying a cup of tea - I heard a bull moose grunting; and there he was standing about 30 yards from the porch. I got out my camera; and got a few good shots. Right in front of the lodge is a fairly shallow "shoal" - where the small fish hang out - so we often see Common Loons paddling or swimming by to catch their dinner. The same day that I saw the bull moose on the beach, I also saw a beautiful gray wolf on the far lakeshore. With binoculars, he was in full view for a mile or two - sniffing, looking, going for a swim, etc. I suspect that he was on his way to the Kobuk River to sample some of the chum salmon now spawning there. Ravens - which the Eskimos call "tuluaq" - come sailing by on a regular basis. We had repeated sightings of a bald eagle, an osprey, and a family of grouse on the beach.

One of the pleasurable activities that occurred at the lodge this August was that of a painting workshop, led by renown artist Mr. Greg McHuron from Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Greg, and students, spent a week painting - mostly landscapes - relaxing, and fishing.

Our closest neighbor to the south is about 50 miles away; and our neighbor Paul Shanahan to the east is about 80 miles away. I landed at Paul's cabin a couple times this Fall - getting weathered in on one occasion; and every time I visit Paul I hear him telling new stories. This time he had just gotten his quad 4-wheeler stuck in a soft swamp, up to the handle bars. He had to walk all the way home, fire up his snowmobile - load a 12V winch and cable on his sled - and go back for the retrieval. Since the swamp was so soft, he had to put on his snowshoes just to get back out to the 4-wheeler in order to attach the cable. Ultimately he got the machine out. Understand that Paul is nearing 80 years old; and with a multitude of airplane wrecks under his belt, he's not getting around quite so "spryly" as he used to.

The mountains now are half covered with snow, the small lakes and rivers are freezing, and so we've pulled the Cessna 180 floatplane out of the water for the season. We'll put skis on later. On the last flight of the season, I climbed up to 5,000 feet to get over a lower cloud - found a temperature of 18 degrees F. at that altitude; and discovered that my trim tab control was frozen solid. No problem, though, since as I descended to a lower altitude, it thawed out.

In a couple days time, I'll be headed south to Illinois to pick up the Polar Pumpkin for a flight to the east coast for a series of lectures from Boston on down through the Carolinas.

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