Gone Floatabout

Sailing, Photography, Wilderness

Exploring the Seward Peninsula by bicycle, July 13 – 16, 2015


Our new friends Pat and Sue (who took us fishing in the last post) very kindly lent us bicycles for the remainder of our stay in Nome, so we put them to good use exploring the beautiful mountainous tundra of the Seward Peninsula.

The peninsula is the American shore of the Bering Strait (across the strait is Siberia) and it’s quite wild, filled with migratory and arctic birds as well as musk-oxen, moose, brown (grizzly) bears, and caribou.  Unfortunately we never spotted the latter three, but we saw many birds and musk-oxen!Passage to Nome mapOn our first day with the bikes (July 13), Pat put them in the back of his truck and we all drove out a dirt road, where we were very excited to see a herd of musk-oxen! We were bound to an old cabin that his grandfather had built when Nome was in its infancy as a gold rush boom-town and which Pat is restoring, a huge project! When he settled down to work on the new foundation he’s building, Seth and I set off on the bikes on a round-about route back to Nome.

We didn’t see the musk-oxen again – only a ground squirrel – but then we reached the ponds made long ago by dredgers sifting the soil for gold, and there were all the birds! Arctic terns, red-throated loons, a Northern shoveler, and nesting gulls. (Click on any of the images for a slideshow!)

The next day was chore day – laundry, etc. – but the 15th dawned sunny so we pedaled out of town to find musk-oxen.  Sure enough, a small herd was grazing on some bright green marshy grass.  We sat very quietly and observed them for a long time, taking photos with our zoom lens.

We took another round-about route back to Nome, this time stopping at the Nome River and along the beaches where people still pan for gold and where we could watch the pontoon boat dredgers at work.

Dredger boats at work

Gold dredger boats at work

On our last day with the bikes, we cycled about 12 miles out towards the Bering Strait, climbing up into the mountains.  We found a tarn where a brood of mergansers had just hatched and was swimming around in circles next to their mother – magical!

Merganser and chicks

Further on, we made a short hike up one of the hills for lunch, spotting a golden plover and taking in the sweeping panoramic views over Norton Sound (the arm of the Bering Sea where Nome is). It was a glorious clear day, with temperatures in the mid-60s F, just perfect! It was so exciting to look back over the Bering Sea and think how we’d traversed its whole length, from Dutch Harbor to Nome!

Ellen on Seward Peninsula

Ellen looks over the Bering Sea

And on our way back, just to round out the day, we spotted a ptarmigan and another big herd of musk-oxen!


Musk-ox herd


6 thoughts on “Exploring the Seward Peninsula by bicycle, July 13 – 16, 2015

  1. Pingback: Snowy Owls, Spotted Seals, and an ATV: Good times on Point Hope! | Gone Floatabout

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  3. Awesome too see your photos of the musk-oxen. I haven’t seen them before. Looks pretty impressive. Are they aggressive, or more like the bison that doesn’t care about you as long as you stay at a safe distance? Also didn’t know gold panning on the coast is something they still do. Interesting to see the gold dredger boat at work.

    • Thanks, Inger! They were top of our wildlife wish-list for the summer, so we were very excited to see them! Although we did hear a few stories of people harmed by musk-oxen, they’re generally tolerant of people as long as you stay far enough away. The stories always had to do with people who had gotten too close to a rutting bull or a female with calf. Musk-oxen have a fascinating defensive strategy, actually, that they developed to fend off wolves (their primary predators until guns reached the Arctic): they form a ring facing outward with the calves in the middle – wolves couldn’t break out an individual that way. Sadly, this formation makes it very easy for a rifleman to pick them all off and probably contributed to their extinction in much of their former range. Fascinating creatures, so exciting to see and great to know they’re making such a good comeback!

  4. Great nature shots. The oxen are our favourite – so different from any beast we gave seen!