July 8, 2024 at 3:45 p.m.

Nome made for a good Memorial Day


By Hank Nuwer

Experiencing an adventure in Nome, Alaska, across from mainland Russia, was on a bucket list for my wife Gosia and me. 

Last Memorial Day weekend, we flew to this historic western city where Wyatt Earp ran the Dexter Saloon during the Gold Rush Days of 1900.

Bering Sea ice clung to the shore as a late spring departed. The ice contained a patch of discarded Christmas trees that locals term “Nome’s national forest.”

Nome’s 3,654 citizens are a plucky lot, enduring many winter days with sub-zero temperatures. 

Business only recently picked up after the COVID closings, plus the storm surge of Typhoon Merbok that drowned the city on Oct. 21, 2022.

Recent fires also shuttered several Nome restaurants, according to the friendly manager at Milano’s Pizzeria where we enjoyed tasty teriyaki chicken. The Bering Sea Bar now has rebuilt after an inferno destroyed it in 2022.

During our stay at the comfortable Dredge No. 7 Inn, we cooked three of four breakfasts with fixings from a well-stocked Safeway. Our initial meal at the Polar Café provided a great view of the Bering Sea but our bacon and eggs were overcooked. 

Over four days, we ate all lunches and dinners out. We enjoyed fresh sushi and a tasty vegetarian pizza at family owned Airport Pizza and at Pingo Bakery & Seafood House, a super haddock burrito each.

During a dinner at Husky Restaurant, I savored spicy Korean pork, but Gosia’s American fish and chips were so overcooked she abandoned her portion. 

Whenever we had a Nome question, we stopped at the Nome Visitor Center where clerk Leon Boardway, “seven months sober,” proved a human encyclopedia. He’s the author of a collection of Gold Rush stories in “The Tale of the Golden Billiken,” a book on Amazon for $10.

Boardway told us about some crazy Nome traditions like its bathtub (on wheels) races down Front Street. He directed us to a Monday Memorial parade and service at the Nome ceremony. Gosia and I attended to pay homage to my late World War II veteran father. 

Finally, he directed us to highways out of town leading to Teller, Alaska, a village of Native Alaskans, and to a roadhouse at Safety, Alaska, which serves as the final checkpoint for the Iditarod.  

Along the roadway, with stops on several remote side roads, we stopped to admire returning birds, including a Bristle-thighed curlew. 

Best of all, we located musk ox herds. Gosia took photos with her zoom lens.  

I kept the Jeep’s door open in case the herd leader became jumpy.

Last December, a horned musk ox gored to death an Alaska court services officer on that same Teller Road.

At Safety, all the lights in the Roadhouse were on, but the doors were locked. We peered inside the old-timey saloon’s windows to spy hundreds of dollar bills tacked to walls and ceilings. West of Safety, we located the remains of a rusty narrow-gauge locomotive and cars. 

During our Nome excursion, we stopped for a Saturday visit to the “headquarters of the Sin City of Nome,” the historic Board of Trade Saloon (BOT). Gosia and I took a tour and admired its historic Nome photos.

“I’ll have a draft,” I said to the friendly bartender. “My wife will just watch.”

“He’s the designated drinker,” Gosia explained. “I’m his driver.”

Right then, a pool player began shouting and acting odd. The bartender firmly ordered him to leave.  

“You know that behavior isn’t allowed,” the bartender said.

The buffoon’s departure proved a better outcome than occurred on April 17, 1964, when then-BOT owner James D. West savagely beat intoxicated Richard Nershak for putting his hands on West’s wife. Nershak, a carpenter and ivory carver in poor health due to alcohol abuse, died even as a policeman drove him for help.

All in all, Gosia and I loved Nome, especially meeting its warm-hearted people. We flew back to Fairbanks with an Inuit carving of a walrus purchased at Maruskiya’s well-stocked gift shop.

We hope to return to Nome in March when Iditarod dogsled teams streak across the finish line.

PORTLAND WEATHER

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