3 February 2014
Evelyn was good enough to remind me that I should get back to showing off other people’s submissions for my benchmark series, and the recent talk of Alaska being warmer in past days than the East Coast reinforced the gentle poking. A few years back, Evelyn and her husband Jackie spent several months working in Nome, Alaska for a marine mining gold exploration company. She’s got a great series of wonderfully kitschy photos from her trip, but she was kind enough to save a few of an Army Corps of Engineers survey mark they found on one of their local hikes.
According to a 1940s report by the Army Corps of Engineers,
Nome is located approximately 580 air miles northwest of Anchorage on the southern shore of the Seward Peninsula on the Bering Sea. It was realized that Nome’s position in relation to global routes of air travel was of great importance and establishment there of a bomber operating air base would enable long range patrolling of the Bering Sea and the protection of Alaska’s west coast. In addition, the Nome project was to provide an air base with maximum facilities for medium bombardment and fighter squadrons. The site finally selected for the main field was on tailing piles in an old gold dredge area where there was sufficient thawed ground.
Nome was not only a military base during World War II, but a center of gold mining activity in the late 19th century (and it still is now; there was a Discovery Channel show that caused a surge in the popularity of gold dredging in the Bering Sea a few years ago). Anvil Creek and the beach sediments around Nome were discovered to hold large amounts of pannable gold, and between 1900 and 1909 there were as many as 20,000 people prospecting. Today Nome has a steady population of around 3,000, although they still get people coming in for various kinds of gold mining and the Iditarod dogsled race.
Another interesting war connection (although this one is from the Cold War) is the “White Alice” communications antennae that remain on Anvil Hill. These were set up in the 1950s when most of Alaska only had very basic telephone capabilities. Instead of using physical phone lines to transmit calls, these dishes used tropospheric scatter (where radio waves at particular frequencies are aimed at the tropopause and randomly scattered as they pass through the upper layers of the troposphere, with some are bounced back down to a receiver station) for over-the-horizon communications and microwave relays for line-of-sight transmissions.
By the 1970s most of these setups were obselete because of the introduction of satellite communications networks, but they still make good scenery.