Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Kotzebue, Alaska:
- a mark in the Northwest Passage with a view to the Chukchi Sea

Kotzebue (Qikiqtaġruk in Inupiaq) is a town in Northwest Arctic Alaska, on the shores of the Chukchi Sea, just 53 km north of the arctic circle. 

Kotzebue lies on a gravel spit at the end of the Baldwin Peninsula in the Kotzebue Sound.

The "Kotzebue Sound" was named after Otto von Kotzebue, a baltic german navigator who explored the sound while searching for the Northwest Passage in the service of Russia in 1818. 

Surrounded on three sides by sea water, the town is inserted in a dreamlike waterworld - where lagoons, rivers, and the ocean swirl into one.

Fishing in paradise: the Noatak river

Through the tundra hinterland, the magnificent Noatak river flows in meanders. Kayaking or canoeing is perfect adventure here, from the low coastal tundra up to the Brooks Range, with great mountain scenery.

Although the town is located on a gravel spit encased by small hills and tundra, snow capped mountains can be seen in the background.

Aerial view: the shoreline on the left, the airfield low right, surrounded by the frozen Chukchi Sea. 

Kotzebue is the largest native settlement in Alaska,  53 km north of the Arctic Circle.

Population    3 237, mostly Inupiaq people
Coordinates  66°53′N, 162°35′W

'First street' in rush hour

Front street, or Shoreline Avenue - the Rotman stores ( furs, parkas, crafts).

Front Street has been improved after destruction by sea storms and sea ice; the seafront wall was reinforced and some embellishment was also provided.

The most characteristic waterfront sight of Kotzebue.

Terrace to the Chukchi sea - maybe a view to the far-east siberian coast.

Russia is just over 300 km due west.

Fairly decent NANA owned hotel, the Nullagvik also has been improved. 

The Post Office, in Kotzebue since 1899, also known as Eskimo House

'Bayside' restaurant, the best view in town.

'Otto's Pizza', in a typical 2-stage wooden cabin.

There are two coffee shops, 'Arctic Blues Espresso' and the 'Big Dipper', the place to find the local newspaper.

'The Big Dipper', Espresso

Kotzebue can hardly be anyone's wonderful Ultima Thule ; but there's no denying a certain special charm to this small arctic town: the attractive sensation of "end of the world", following a difficult access, the extraordinary views - west to the Chukchi sea and Russia, east to mountain ranges - the unforgettable sunsets, and some local things unique, all justify a report in this blog of mine. Despite the snowstorms, the frozen ocean, the spring mosquito plague...

A stroll along waterfront Shore Avenue reveals also the old wooden houses laced with caribou antler.

Like an ex-libris

The City Hall entrance

Kotzebue has a subarctic climate , with long, heavy snowed, and very cold winters, and short, mild summers. Monthly daily average temperatures range from −19.7 °C in February to 12.6 °C in July.

The NANA corporation, a native cooperative to coordinate investments in the surrounding region.

Kotzebue High School - arctic classes in dim light

Recently built , the new 'Northwest Arctic Heritage Center' is a museum dedicated to native people and nature heritage.

An art gallery also recently opened - the Sulianich Art Gallery - displays art nd craft from local artists:

'Birch Basket', Sulianich Art Gallery

New residencial area, blue tone dominating.

Sunsets at the Chukchi sea are one of the local wonders.

Bush Pilots

Bush flying means aircraft operations carried out in remote, inhospitable regions of the world. These flights are often the only way of delivering food, medicine and supplies, and the primary method of access to northern Alaska. Planes are equipped with tundra tires, skis or floats in order land without airstrips. To reach the surrounding villages outside of Kotzebue, bush pilots are your only option. The land up here is wide open, no roads, fences, and other signs of civilization.

The small Kotzebue airstrip is the hub for small plane flights to the villages around, and the only regular connection to the southern larger cities.

There are three flights a day in a loop of Anchorage, Kotzebue, and Nome. However, cancellations due to wind are frequent, and they run full passenger planes as needed to make up for the backlog.

The fabulous nature around Kotzebue

The Noatak National Preserve and the Brooks Range

Low Noatak river, meandering through the tundra, ends in a large delta at Kotzebue Sound.

Canoeing on the Noatak

The Noatak River basin has been declared National Preserve, to protect a wilderness of moist tundra, boreal forest and alpine mountain that is practically untouched by men: no roads, no industry. It was declared a National Monument in 1978.

Wildlife of the Noatak tundra includes moose, bears, wolves, arctic foxes, loons, geese, hawks, gyrfalcons, eagles, and vast herds of caribou numbering more than 500 000 individuals.

Noatak river valley drains the Brooks Range

Must be one of the most beautiful rivers in the world !

Caribou crossing.

Mountain reflection on the Noatak

During the last glaciation, the area's higher regions were covered by ice, as this splendid glacial valley shows. The Noatak flows the same way an ice cap glacier did before.

Driftwood by the shore of Kotzebue, the sun setting over the russian east coast.