Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Eielson Air Force Base

On Monday, 20 July, we had a pleasant drive from Tatlanika to Eielson Air Force Base (Fairbanks). When we left the Nenana River, the sky was a full overcast, which cleared as we drove north. However, the overcast was replaced by smoke. There are several fires burning in the area through which we traveled. We didn't actually see any of the fire, but the smoke was impressive. You could smell it inside the truck, even with the windows rolled up.

The devastation of a fire up here is hard to imagine. This land is permafrost. The Spruce trees (dominant species) are root-pruned by the action of the permafrost. They are thin and spindly; not nearly as tall and full as the trees further south. At a traffic turn-out, I was chatting with an Army E-5, touring on his motorcycle, southbound on our highway. He is home on a mid-tour leave from the sandbox. He came to Alaska on orders and liked it so much has re-upped to stay here. He and his wife live in North Pole, Alaska (only a few miles from Eielson). He said he was digging in his yard/garden and the frozen ground was a bit less than two feet from the surface. You can imagine what that does for tree roots. Annual growth is much slower than that to which we are accustomed. Furthermore, the process of decay is much delayed. There are no termites, no ants, and very little fungus activity. Most of the year everything is frozen. Old burn sites are still clearly visible as a burn as much as ten years later! Like I said, it is hard to imagine the devastation.

The FamCamp at Eielson is way below par for FamCamps. They had a flood a year or two ago, and it appears they have not yet put things back in order. The registration office was ruined. Registration now is by means of an “Iron Ranger” – a lock box on an iron post. You are on your honor to fill in the registration data correctly and to pay the proper amount. Some of the interior roads are still closed, which means those campsites are no longer available. Regardless, it is a very pleasant bucolic environment. Brenda found abundant wild raspberry bushes covered with ripe berries. The only problem of significance at the camp is the showers have no hot water! I am too old to need a cold shower. We can, of course, shower in the 5th wheel. But with a six gallon hot water tank, one must be very careful, while showering, about not singing the second verse of any songs. When the hot water runs out, my voice becomes decidedly tenor.

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