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Alaska Life

A look back at some of our ‘most Alaska’ stories of 2020

  • Author: Anchorage Daily News
  • Updated: December 31, 2020
  • Published December 31, 2020

In a year when the coronavirus pandemic upended life around the world, at least one thing stayed constant: There was no shortage of news about uniquely Alaska happenings.

Take a look at life in the Last Frontier with a subjective list of some of our “most Alaska” stories of 2020.

No one in the plane was hurt when an Alaska Airlines jetliner struck a brown bear while landing in Yakutat in November, but the bear died and the plane saw some damage.

An Alaska Airlines jetliner was damaged when it struck a brown bear while landing at the Yakutat Airport on Saturday, Nov. 14, 2020. Photo by R E Johnson

An Anchorage resident’s trip to Knik Glacier, a popular spot in winter for the local off-roading community, culminated with his Jeep breaking through the ice and sinking several feet into the water of the lake near the glacier face. Getting it out took a team effort.

Scott Rees hooks a tow rope up to Josh Tills' Jeep after it sunk near the Knik Glacier on Jan. 26, 2020. (Photo provided by Scott Rees)

During the 2020 Iditarod, four-time race champion Lance Mackey said he was adding CBD, a non-psychoactive chemical compound derived from the cannabis plant, to food for his sled dogs. There’s no rule against it — but the race’s chief vet wasn’t amused.

Four-time Iditarod champion Lance Mackey of Fairbanks drives his sled during the restart of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Willow on Sunday, March 8, 2020. (Bill Roth / ADN)

Underwater moaning? A foghorn? Metal scratching? A hungry pet dinosaur? A loud, eerie noise heard for miles in February sent Anchorage residents searching for the source. But just as everyone had a different description for the sound, they also had a different explanation.

Anchorage residents describe hearing a strange noise outside during early-morning hours recently.

Anchorage residents mourned the death of a longtime Alaska Zoo resident, an alpaca named Caesar, who was killed by a wild brown bear that broke into his enclosure. (Another alpaca — Fuzzy Charlie — wasn’t hurt, but he was wide-eyed and skittish after the incident.)

Caesar, the alpaca, was killed by a wild brown bear after digging under a fence at the Alaska Zoo, Sept. 19, 2020. (Photo by John Gomes / Alaska Zoo)

Back in February, a huge Arctic drilling rig took an unprecedented drive down Alaska’s Dalton Highway, shutting the road down temporarily as it inched toward an oil prospect on the North Slope.

The Nordic #3 drilling rig travels west along on an ice road to Accumulate Energy Alaska’s Charlie #1 appraisal well location, part of AEA’s Icewine project, on Sunday, February 23, 2020. (Photo courtesy Conner Cucullu/Cruz Construction)

There have been a few animal encounters that made Donna Rodgers’ stomach flip, but nothing could compare to what she felt when she dodged a “huge, angry mama moose” with two calves. Despite getting kicked, Rodgers said she escaped with only a torn shirt and a few bruises.

Donna Rodgers holds the sweatshirt she was wearing when a cow moose attacked her ripping a hole with her hoof. ’She really wanted to get me, ’ Rodgers said at her Anchorage home on Thursday, June 4, 2020. (Bill Roth / ADN)

Over the years, the dilapidated bus made famous by the book “Into the Wild” attracted a stream of sometimes ill-fated pilgrimages by visitors drawn to the story of Chris McCandless. The bus was finally removed from its longtime resting spot in the backcountry near Healy this summer and is now in Fairbanks, where conservation work is underway at the University of Alaska’s Museum of the North.

Alaska Army National Guard soldiers use a CH-47 Chinook helicopter to airlift an abandoned bus, popularized by the book and movie ’Into the Wild, ’ out of its location in the Alaska backcountry in light of public safety concerns, as part of a training mission June 18, 2020. (Sgt. Seth LaCount/Alaska National Guard via AP)

Think a kayaker needs a bigger boat to land a 186-pound halibut? Think again. The halibut Jay Hicks caught in Monashka Bay was subdued after it was struck by two harpoons attached to buoys. It took about 45 minutes to get the fish to surface, Hicks said, and another hour or more to bring it to shore.

Jay Hicks landed a 186.4-pound halibut while fishing from a kayak last Sunday, Aug. 23, 2020 in Kodiak. (Photo by Sabrina Hicks)

History shows it depends on who you’re asking. In this column by historian David Reamer, he takes a look at the historical usage of “real Alaskan,” which dates back to 1917.

Snow in Tok on Tuesday, May 17, 2016 and much of the Interior stunned residents after a long stretch of summery weather. Retired teacher Paul Kelley donned shorts and fired up the lawn mower in Tok for what he said was a silly Facebook photo-op. (Photo courtesy of Paul Kelley)

Residents of Hyder, Alaska, rely on Stewart, British Columbia, for necessities like groceries, gas and even doctor visits. Before the pandemic, people routinely crossed the border several times per day — for many, the two small towns feel like a single community — but in March, the pandemic started disrupting their way of life.

Residents of Hyder, Alaska, rally at the Alaska-Canada border on Sept. 19, 2020. Residents of Hyder and neighboring Stewart, British Columbia, pushed for eased border-crossing restrictions amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo by Jennifer Bunn)

“Dude, that otter is in trouble, man.” That’s what John Dornellas said as a sea otter raced toward his boat in Kachemak Bay one morning in July, apparently fleeing a killer whale nearby. His video of the encounter has since been viewed millions of times.

First things first: Yes, Santa Claus is his legal name. It’s on his government identification, and the mail that arrives at his apartment. But this Santa Claus is a 73-year-old medical-marijuana-using, Bernie-supporting vegetarian monk who lives at the poverty line in North Pole near Fairbanks, does not drive and thinks — truth be told — that Christmas is a “crass commercial secular spectacle.”

Santa Claus is photographed December 6, 2020 in North Pole, Alaska. (Photo by Eric Engman)

Several people in the Anchorage area reported a spate of odd interactions with lynx in January — a lynx was blamed for the death of a dog in Eagle River, another took a swipe at a different dog and one woman said a lynx followed her on a Hillside trail.

Annette Rearden and her dog Hawkeye, photographed on the Anchorage Hillside on Friday, Jan. 24, 2020. Rearden and Hawkeye encountered a lynx while walking near Service High recently. (Loren Holmes / ADN)

At the start of 2020, temperatures in Fairbanks plummeted below minus 30 for nine straight days — not totally extreme, but residents hadn’t seen a cold stretch like that in years. There are colder places on the planet and colder places in Alaska. But perhaps no other American city pulses quite like the Golden Heart City in frigid weather.

Sunlight hits trees and fog in this view looking south from the UAF campus on January 9, 2020. (Marc Lester / ADN)