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Looking back - Alaska in the '70s and early 80s

Looking back - Alaska in the '70s and early 80s

Old Jan 18th, 2022, 08:52 AM
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Looking back - Alaska in the '70s and early 80s

Today's my birthday (old) and I'm feeling a little melancholy. Self-indulgent as always, I suppose.

But I found myself responding to a thread about Alaska and my thoughts turned to when I first moved there in the late 1970s, now closing in on 45-50 years ago. I took a lot of pictures around then, and over the past 18 months (thanks, Covid) I've been scanning and trying to restore lots of old photos I took back in the day. I have no idea if this is of any interest to anybody, but I'm going to share some of these pictures. Feel free to comment or to move along; like I say, self-indulgent. Note some of the pictures have faded or discolored over time.

My work took me to various parts of the state, mostly "the bush" as they say, with an emphasis on southwest Alaska including the Alaska Peninsula and the Aleutian chain. But I worked in other parts too and lived in Anchorage since it was the logical base for my work - close to government offices, lawyers, engineers, and obviously the airport.

So the pictures aren't just of places, but also some people pictures - friends and family, and maybe also a couple reflecting some of my work, which was split between planning and developing housing for Native families in various bush villages, and with local government work out in the Aleutian region.

I have no idea how many images I'll post; I'm making this up as I go along. I'll post a few at a time, and I'll try to provide some brief captions explaining the context where needed. Thanks in advance for your patience and tolerance. Critics, shove off.

---

Bethel Heights. This was a housing project built for Yupik Eskimos in the town of Bethel, on the Kuskokwim River in western Alaska. The project was a disaster - poorly designed houses (based on plans developed for New Mexico by the BIA, for Pete's sake) located in a boggy part of the community on the edge of... well, you can see. This was one of my first visits to the bush, made in early 1970.



My friend Mike standing on the Kuskokwim riverbank at sunset. This was the moment I fell in love with the bush.



A winter ride on the Alaska Railroad from Fairbanks to Anchorage, 1971 (I think)



View from the train - one dog musher, Nenana



View from the train - somewhere near Honolulu, Alaska



Anchorage - fishing boat on Cook Inlet shore, with Sleeping Lady (Mt. Susitna) in background, also 1971 (I think)

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Old Jan 18th, 2022, 10:36 AM
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Gardyloo--I find them interesting! You know of course, that when we visit it is to the bush, so I get it. When we are up there are the family cabins, I love going through the old journals, etc. Bush people are amazing with their stories too! On our last trip, this past September, we were headed down to the river when we heard a plane coming in to land on the property. There are no roads in/out, so either boat or bush plane is the only way. So we hurried up to head back as we were not expecting anyone. Turned out to be a couple who used to live in the bush and decided to fly up and see the family. Everything stops when visitors arrive and the stories start to flow. It was a real piece of bush life for us. Our uncle used to have a dog sled team, but that has been ages ago. We are always so thankful when we get to visit. It is such a different way of life and you really appreciate the little things. I am glad your photos are bringing back some find memories yon your birthday, enjoy!!!
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Old Jan 18th, 2022, 10:39 AM
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These are beautiful, thank you for sharing. Hope you put up more.

My cousin worked for the phone company throughout her career, from 18 years old until she retired. Although she lived down in the Marysville, WA area, her territory included Alasks. She spent quite a bit of time up there, naturally.
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Old Jan 18th, 2022, 10:48 AM
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Life around Anchorage

While I worked in the bush, I lived in Anchorage, along with my wife and son. Anchorage in the '70s and early '80s was a curious place... full of oil industry people (the pipeline had just opened and exploitation of Alaska's petroleum resources was going at full throttle) but also a fair number of environmentalists and of course the usual thousands of military personnel and families from the city's two bases (Elmendorf AFB and Fort Richardson.) The population was generally young, white, and often quite affluent, owing to high wages in the oil business.

Oil revenues flowing into the state coffers resulted in quite a lot of new building and development across the state, so the construction industry was probably the biggest thing in town. This bubble collapsed somewhat around 1983 due to overbuilding; there were a lot of condos that turned into pumpkins. Still, it was a fairly enjoyable place to be; like the saying went, the best thing about Anchorage is that it's thirty minutes from Alaska.

City from Earthquake Park (Turnagain neighborhood destroyed in the 1964 Good Friday earthquake)



My car at Portage Lake (ice from Portage Glacier.) My wife's car was probably in the shop at the time, its second home.



Cook Inlet from the water's edge, a block from our pre-condo apartment. Denali is visible at far right.



Midsummer sunset (around midnight) from nearly the same spot



Midwinter hot air balloon festival



Hoarfrost on trees behind our condo



Our son as King Ahashverosh for the temple Purim celebration. He's now a 40-something doctor dealing with very sick (and stupid) anti-vaxxers in a Rustbelt hospital.



(Had to do it, sorry.)
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Old Jan 18th, 2022, 11:01 AM
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Happy Birthday -- and thanks for (your) memories!
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Old Jan 18th, 2022, 11:06 AM
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Happy birthday, Gardyloo. I Come from "the bush", a very different bush in outbackish Queensland. As a child, Alaska was always a place that I knew existed but it was so different from what I saw out my back door that it was almost a myth. Thank you for sharing this glimpse into a different time and place. I hope you are well.
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Old Jan 18th, 2022, 12:09 PM
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I am enjoying the photos. Such a beautiful place. Have you been back?
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Old Jan 18th, 2022, 12:14 PM
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Originally Posted by oldemalloy View Post
I am enjoying the photos. Such a beautiful place. Have you been back?
Oh yes, many times, mainly to see friends and a couple of god-daughters and their kids. Sadly many friends are no longer with us or have left for warmer climes. Icy stairs and elderly bones are not good for each other.
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Old Jan 18th, 2022, 12:34 PM
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Out and about

Here are some pictures from various recreational excursions made over the years.

Fly-in fishing trip, Upper Russian Lake on the Kenai Peninsula. Caught nothing as all the (thousands) of salmon in a slough behind us were spawned out. In the middle of the night after this picture was taken a (very large) brown bear nudged my arm through the tent wall. I didn't get back to sleep.



Helping a friend do a better job at moose-proofing his garden, Rainbow Valley, along Turnagain Arm between Anchorage and Girdwood. As I recall it was in vain.



Visiting Portage Lake in the autumn. Portage Glacier, which feeds the lake, has now retreated so far as to be nearly invisible.



Rodeo at the Alaska State Fair in Palmer



Big vegetables at the fair. The long summer days make for monster cabbages and colossal zucchinis.



One horse (and dog) town. A co-worker was village council president of Hope, Alaska, the only settlement on the south shore of Turnagain Arm. He commuted by light plane or not-very-light BMW motorcycle depending on conditions.



Last edited by Gardyloo; Jan 18th, 2022 at 12:36 PM.
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Old Jan 18th, 2022, 12:53 PM
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Out and about 2

More pictures of excursions or recreational trips.

Winter on the Inside Passage. View from the stern of an Alaska ferry en route from Ketchikan to Juneau.



Denali



Somewhere along the Denali Highway between Cantwell and Paxson. We were picking blueberries but had to skedaddle when we saw some bears approaching.



Richardson Highway near Glennallen. The road is sometimes as bumpy as it looks due to frost heaves.



Autumn on Mirror Lake. Mirror Lake is around 30 miles north of Anchorage and is a prime spot for seeing the leaves turn in Alaska's (very brief) autumn.



Mirror Lake 2



Mirror Lake 3



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Old Jan 18th, 2022, 08:12 PM
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Made and raised in AK

As a born and raised Alaskan..OMFG I LOVE THESE PHOTOS.!!!!! I cant believe how much Anchorage has evolved since the 70s and 80s. Actually, all of Alaska for that matter. We are such late bloomers when it comes to branching off to grow as a state, meaning with our retail stores and restaurants ( we just now are finally getting a sonic built in ANC) but it really does give you that moment to sit back and enjoy that, because this state has a lot more to it than brutal cold winters. the photos are beautiful, thanks for sharing!!
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Old Jan 19th, 2022, 01:19 AM
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Happy Birthday!
we probably wouldn't have visited AK if ds hadn't moved there after his final USMC year on Okinawa. He had an invitation from NH friends who had moved to AK to be their dog handler. He was used to 25+ dogs, not 70+. When the three of first arrived there was free salmon available so ds and his friend drove to Seward or someplace to fill the back of the pickup with salmon then had to stop in Anchorage to buy a new freezer. DS cut up frozen salmon with a band saw all winter to feed the dogs.

Hope sure has changed since you took that photo.
would have liked to visit the fair in Palmer but weren't there at the right time. We did however attend an event there but wisely chose to stay in a b&b instead of tenting. DIL raced to our B&b in the morning to shower. It was June and even locals were surprised by a heat wave. I got a bad sunburn.

Glad we got a chance to hear Hobo Jim at a Soldotna dinner show.
After welcoming the dog team and his friend in Nome, ds got on the first flight back to ANC. A good part of the plane had been retrofitted to carry dogs. Anchorage had been hit by a blizzard and his friends' pickup parked at the airport lacked a snow scraper so he had to use a clip board.

DS and DIL returned to the land of free babysitters after their first was born.
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Old Jan 19th, 2022, 08:53 AM
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Thanks for the comments so far. Yes, a lot has changed in 40+ years, but that's true most everywhere.

Out and about 3

Just a few more images from non-work travel around the state...

Digging clams at Clam Gulch on the Kenai Peninsula, with (I think) Iliamna Volcano visible on the opposite side of Cook Inlet. Iliamna is classed as an active stratovolcano, although not as recently disruptive as its neighbor, Redoubt Volcano, which would be located off the right margin of the picture. Eruptions of Redoubt have played havoc with air travel (due to volcanic ash) a number of times in recent years.



Susitna Valley from the air. The Susitna River is one of Denali's prime drainages; it flows through a vast wilderness with very little settlement, thousands of lakes and many trillions of mosquitoes. We were riding in a friend's plane up to Fairbanks for a political convention and I took these pictures out the window. They really speak to me of the immensity of the state.





A side trip to the Klondike. Technically not Alaska but close enough. Some friends and I flew up to Dawson City in the Yukon for a weekend of gambling at Diamond Tooth Gertie's, at the time one of the few (only?) operating casinos in Canada. While we were there, we visited with a friend from Anchorage who was running a small placer mining operation on the El Dorado Creek, one of the Klondike River's tributaries. We helped him fix a broken pump and he let us pan some of his concentrate. OMG, gold fever is a thing!

Dawson scenes






The Yukon River at Dawson. We landed the friend's floatplane on the river.


Working on our friend's pump



Panning the concentrate



Holy...



The Klondike Valley with dredge tailings from the last century...


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Old Jan 19th, 2022, 10:05 AM
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The Chain

Most of my work was focused on the Alaska Peninsula and Aleutian region (aka "the Chain") of southwest Alaska. This includes the Shumagin Islands off the south coast of the Alaska Peninsula, and also the Pribilof Islands of St. Paul and St. George in the middle of the Bering Sea. This is a part of Alaska that doesn't receive much tourism, owing to its remoteness and the difficulties posed by weather and geography that make travel complicated and very expensive. Today many people are familiar with this region thanks to the Deadliest Catch "reality" TV show about the fishing industry in the region.

My work was initially focused on developing housing for the Native Alaskan (mainly Aleut) households in the region, but then transitioned to working in local government as a "time shared" CEO for a couple of the communities incorporated as cities under Alaska law. These pictures are from both these roles, somewhat commingled.

St. George Island is a stunningly beautiful and remote-feeling place, with a tiny village as its only settlement. Both St. George and its sister island St. Paul were centers of seal fur hunting under the Russian occupation in the early 19th century. St. Georger is considered a prime destination for birders worldwide.



The Russian Orthodox church in the village, built in 1935 to replace an older (1870) building.



The village from the water. I took this picture while departing with some local friends on a 14-foot aluminum boat to go halibut fishing. We were nearly capsized by a curious bowhead whale who actually scraped the bottom of the boat with his/her back. Yikes.



The village on St. Paul Island is much larger than St. George, and nowadays its harbor (which didn't exist when I first visited) is an important link in the Bering Sea fishing industry. St. Paul's main economic activity in the '70s and '80s was harvesting and processing the thousands of northern fur seals which migrate to the island. This harvest, established by treaty in the early 20th century, ended in 1984, although some seals can be taken for subsistence use by Natives.

The village from the air, 1977



A fur seal. Getting any closer would be very dangerous.



Unalaska/Dutch Harbor. This is the largest settlement in the Aleutians and was the center of the Russian occupation throughout the 19th century. The name of its harbor, Dutch Harbor, has tended to eclipse the community's real name, Unalaska. Throughout the '70s and '80s this was a real "wild west" place owing to the colossal amounts of money flowing through the community due to the crab (and for a while, shrimp) industry. Unalaska/Dutch Harbor was the site of a major military base during World War II; the Native residents of the whole Aleutian chain were forced into "internment camps" during the war (similar to Japanese-Americans on the mainland) and returned to find their homes ransacked or razed.

Church and priest's house. The Church of the Holy Ascension was built in 1826 and played an important part in the Russian Orthodox presence in Alaska, indeed in all of North America. The adjacent bishop's house (1880-something) fell into disrepair but both have now been restored.





Reminders of World War II were everywhere, such as these shacks built to house soldiers.



An abandoned Orthodox cemetery on the hillside above the village







Akutan is a small village around 50 miles from Unalaska. At the time it was very isolated and poor, with no electricity aside from private generators and a 70-year old DC Pelton Wheel generator. It was the site for several floating fish processors, but now there are shore-based plants that have led to much improved local infrastructure. I traveled monthly to the village, either on someone's fishing boat or the Grumman Goose amphibious aircraft operated by a regional carrier. The village was very old and still very traditional.










Last edited by Gardyloo; Jan 19th, 2022 at 10:34 AM.
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Old Jan 19th, 2022, 10:26 AM
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The Chain 2 and some final thoughts

I spent a lot of time in the villages of King Cove (on the Alaska Peninsula mainland) and Sand Point (on one of the Shumagin Islands south of the peninsula. These were and remain very important fishing-based communities; at the time the fish processing plant in King Cove was one of the largest of its kind in the country. Like many Aleutian region communities, the ethnic makeup of these towns is a combination of Russian, Aleut Native, and Scandinavian heritages. (The Scandinavian, mainly Norwegian, element comes from the influence of the traditionally Seattle-based fishing industry, which as anybody from here knows, is heavily skewed to Norwegian families.)

I don't have a lot of pictures of King Cove or Sand Point - usually I was just working nonstop - but they will always hold a special place in my heart. I don't think I've ever encountered harder-working people in my life; fortunately they are also incredibly warm and welcoming. Also exasperating, stubborn as mules, and prone to sudden violence, but hey, it's Alaska...

Sand Point



King Cove



The Goose on the beach at King Cove. This was the principal means of getting to the village until a runway was built some distance from town. A very controversial road has been proposed from King Cove to Cold Bay, a nothing town but with a huge jet-capable runway. But since the road would traverse one of the most important wildlife refuges in the US, its development is in doubt.

We left Alaska following my walking away from a third plane crash in three years, the last one at King Cove's airport. All the passengers were fine, the plane not so much. I figured the odds were looking not so hot. The Goose in this photo crashed some years later, killing the pilot (who I knew) and a villager from Nikolski, another Aleutian community. Not an easy place, but a wonderful one.



Thanks for tolerating this self-indulgent bit of recollection. Questions and comments, of course...

Last edited by Gardyloo; Jan 19th, 2022 at 10:29 AM.
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Old Jan 19th, 2022, 01:28 PM
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What a wonderful adventure for you and your family. But three plane crashes! I think when we first visited I heard 1 in 10 Alaskans had a pilot's locense and 1 in 100 owned a plane. Glad we saw Hood Lake with all the sea planes, We did one short flight seeing trip but it wasn't in a sea plane.

A lot of folks in NH have relatives in AK. A friend's nephew was a crab fishing casualty. One of my friends drove by herself all the way to Anchorage in a VW beetle. I forgotten what year it was. Her first day on the job there were armed guards in the parking lot due to the oresence of wolves. A bad car accident ended her time in AK and she returned to family while she recuperated.

when we toured the museum in Homer I overheard a man telling a docent that years ago he had turned down a job in AK and maybe he shouldn't have. Wonder how many Fodorites reading your memories had a chance but turned it down and have regretted it.

I bet pump fixers were good friends to have. When we stayed with friends my husband liked to stay busy simhe rewired their garage after seeing all their freezers and existing wiring looked like a fire hazard.
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Old Jan 19th, 2022, 03:14 PM
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Thanks for sharing a very j tree sting look at Alaska.
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Old Jan 19th, 2022, 03:53 PM
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Happy belated birthday!

This week, I just happened to be looking at a trip to Alaska. I’ve never been and thinking of taking the Alaska Railroad if I do go next year. Perfect timing and I always enjoy your pictures.
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Old Jan 19th, 2022, 04:57 PM
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Oh -- Happy Birthday!

This is great.

I enjoy your stories about Alaska (and Scotland) so much and your expertise/help re RTW tickets.

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Old Jan 20th, 2022, 08:49 AM
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Happy Birthday, Gardyloo, and thank you for sharing your story and these amazing photos of the "real Alaska".

On my first trip to AK I started out with a 3 day drive/fly trip up to the Arctic from Fairbanks. We drove up the Dalton Highway for two full days in a van with little or nothing but the Brooks range, the tundra and the pipeline along the way. At one point we passed the entrance to the ANWR. I loved the isolation and the natural beauty and the peacefulness. It is my favorite memory of Alaska.
We stopped overnight in Cold Foot and Dead Horse, which were rustic and frontier-sy. It really felt like the old west, except with oil workers instead of cowboys. At one point we visited the home of a man who lived alone out in the wilderness. He and his wife had raised his family there but the kids had grown and moved to Anchorage or Fairbanks and his wife had died. He lived off the land and hunted for his food and his "refrigerator" was a big hole under the floor of his kitchen. It was fascinating but felt lonely at the same time.
I imagine you had many interesting experiences out in the bush.

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