On a calm, early-autumn day, a drive east from Nome provides a glimpse of local culture, a lesson in northwest Alaska history and spectacular, golden views.
The Nome-Council Road begins on Front Street, the famous home of the Iditarod’s finish line, but gives way to a rural expanse in just miles as a traveler heads east. Clusters of weather-worn cabins and driftwood fish drying racks dot the coastline, the occasional gold suction dredge parked among them. At Cape Nome, the road climbs just high enough for a long view of the rugged and foamy waves as they crash in the shallows. The Safety Roadhouse, if you happen to catch it open for business (which I did not), is the last stop before the highway bridge crosses the mouth of Safety Sound. Those relatively protected waters attract area boaters. Safety sound also draws migratory birds, and avid bird spotters.
Solomon, about 34 miles east of Nome, is fun place to stop and imagine what used to be. The site, which had long been a home to Inupiaq people, became a center for the area’s gold mining operations around the turn of the last century. Rusty locomotives, which interpretive signage explains had once been in service in New York City, remain on the grassy flats from their days transporting miners in the region. The Solomon townsite is mostly gone, but not entirely lifeless. The 115-year-old Solomon Roadhouse stands in ruins, but across the street an old schoolhouse has been restored and operates as a bed and breakfast.
As its name suggests, the Nome-Council Road ends at Council, 72 miles from Nome. I look forward to a visit when I have time to venture that far. It might not be passable for much longer this year. The road isn’t maintained for its whole length during winter. Though the gusty weather was warm in early September, the crashing waves and changing colors of the landscape were a reminder that winter isn’t far off.