A winter spent above the Arctic Circle in the Alaskan Bush.
Ambler (circled in red on the map) is located about 300 miles from the nearest highway.
Located on the south side of the Brooks’ Range the winters in Ambler have seen temperatures a low as minus 70. The village population is about 290. 95 percent of the people are native Inupiat Eskimos.
The main way to get to Ambler is by bush plane. All groceries, gasoline and supplies arrive in town by air. Notice the dogs to the right of the airplane. They are waiting to be loaded on the plane for a 3 hour flight to Fairbanks.
The dogs are packed in the plane for the trip to Fairbanks. They will be participating on a commemorative run along Iditarod Trail. This is an annual event honoring the men who delivered the life saving diphtheria serum to Nome in 1925. For more information see: http://www.serumrun.org/
Aerial view from an aviation Internet site of the village and the Ambler Airport. The cabin where I lived is not visible in this image. It is located along the river just to the left of the photo.
The large building in the upper right is the high school and gym. To the left of center are several cylinders. These are diesel fuel tanks for generating the village’s electrical power.
The building in the center with the red roof is the Kobuk River Lodge & Store. It is the only place in the village to buy a cheeseburger, groceries, hardware and almost anything else you could need. To the upper right is the village school. For more information on the lodge see: http://www.pdrpip.com/krl/wildlife%20adventure.html
Another aerial photo showing the village and the lodge .
Natives at the lodge buying candy and other goodies. A cheeseburger and fries here will cost you about 12 bucks. A basic pizza goes for 25 dollars. You have to wait a hour for it to be ready.
The lodge in the summer with about a months supply of firewood stacked and waiting to be cut.
Another way into and out of the village from about mid-June to September is by boat along the Kobuk river
I am in front of the cabin with a caribou hide and antlers. Caribou is a main source of meat in this area of Alaska. The hunting limit year round for caribou is five per day per person.
The cabin where I spent that winter did not have running water or electricity. To get water for myself and eighteen sled dogs, I would travel about a mile around the ridge and down to the community waterhole on the Ambler River. Once at the waterhole I often would have to chop a fresh hole in the ice to get to the water.
I needed to haul about 12 gallons of water a day in order to provide enough water for myself and eighteen dogs. Depending on snow and ice conditions, it could take me anywhere from two to fours hours to haul water. This picture was taken at 50 degrees below zero and the water was nearly frozen solid. Lashed to the sled is 20 gallons of water weighing about 170 pounds.
The front of the cabin faces the Ambler River. The solar panel is linked to a set of marine batteries for powering a small florescent lamp, but in the winter there is not enough sunlight to charge the batteries. For light I used kerosene lanterns. In the village a five gallon drum of kerosene sells for 60 dollars.
The main form of transportation in this area is the snow machine. The natives call it a: Sno-go. Here I am out on the trapline checking fox, wolf and beaver sets for a friend. The windchill at 30 below on a sno-go is very extreme .
Basketball is the most popular sport in the state. Schools often will spend thousands of dollars transporting basketball teams from one school to another. Since all travel is by bush plane the cost of a single basketball game will come close to $10,000. This is the village school where I worked as a substitute teacher, teacher’s aide, cook and maintenance. There are about a ninety mostly native students at the school.
Students participating in a school science project. The school parking lot is certainly different than what you see in the Outside world. In the Bush the parking lot is full of snow machines.
Mushers preparing their dog teams for a run. The First (and only) Baptist Church is the red cabin in the center of the picture.
Feeding the village children at a church function.
View of the village with the church on the right. The Jade Mountains (part of the Brooks Range) are seen to the left. The clearing for the village air strip can be seen at the base of the Jade Mountains.
View of the village and the Community Center building. A ptarmigan can be seen flying just to the left of the telephone pole.
The dog yard outside of the cabin door. Various harnesses and leads are hanging on the pole shed to the right. In the foreground a dog sled is buried in the snow.
A view of the yard looking toward the cabin. The dogs live in prefab plywood huts, which are purchased by mail order. The bottom of each doghouse is lined with straw, which also has to be flown into the bush, The straw costs about $30 a bale!
There are two doors to the cabin. The first door enters the “kunnie sac.” This 8 foot long by four feet wide area is used as a tool shed and general storage. The double doors allows the outer door to be closed before opening the inner door. This helps to keep out some of the chilling Arctic air.
The village boat yard is where supplies are barged in from the costal village of Kotzebue during the brief summer months. It is about 150 miles from Ambler to Kotzebue Sound on the Bering Sea. There are two fox hides drying on pole to the right of center.
The cabin is partially underground as were traditional Eskimo dwellings in this region. This type of construction helps to preserve the cabin heat.
The interior of the cabin. Soaking in the pails on the floor are about 15 gallons of dog food. In the center of the picture are a pair of snowshoes which I made. At the village school, I helped to teach a class called: Outdoor Living Skills. In this class we had the students make their own snowshoes.
The inside of the cabin looking toward the interior door. The cabin on the inside measures 16 x 24 feet.
Jim and Mary’s dogs patiently waiting in the minus 40 degree temperatures to haul moose meat back to the cabin.
Mary hauling a load of moose meat down the Ambler River and back to the cabin. This picture was taken at noon. This as high as the sun ever got above the horizon for much of December and January. During these two months there are eleven days where the sun never raises.
Beth is the current long term occupant of the cabin on the Ambler River. I spent the winter at the cabin while she was in Arizona taking care of her ill father. My job, in exchange for room and board was to take care of the cabin, eighteen dogs and two cats while she was gone.
Ernie is one of the older dogs in the yard. Most of Beth’s dogs are “pound” dogs, which she rescued from certain and destruction. These Misfits of the North each have a unique personality.
Where there’s an Ernie, there has to be a Bert. Bert is one of the shyer dogs. This shyness is very common among these wolf hybrids.
Nanuk is an older dog who still thinks that he is a puppy. He has a thin fur coat. On the colder nights he comes in the cabin to sleep. He does not like being inside the cabin, because he is afraid of the cats.
Gabby is the playful alpha female of the pack.
Dusty likes to chew on everything. He will chew harnesses, doghouses, sleds and just about anything he can get his teeth around.
Neptune was born with a deformed jaw. He had surgery to correct the trouble, but the surgery left him with a drooling problem.
Norman is the young pup of the pack, being eight months old.
Another view of the cabin yard. The canvas cache tent on the right is used for storage.
A view of the village from the Kobuk River. To the right is a wooden pole rack used for drying meat.
Whitefish are stacked under a tarp, just like cordwood. I caught these fish in a net under the ice when I first arrived in the village. Generally a I could get a about 200 fish in a full net. These fish are used to feed the dogs. On the trail I could toss each dog a frozen fish to feed on. At the cabin I would make about 15 gallons of fish stew and rice a day to feed the dogs.
The windmill is the pump for the village well. Most homes in the village do not have indoor plumbing. Many natives get their water from the village pump house.