Years ago, veteran Iditarod musher DeeDee Jonrowe was surprised to see she had company when she pulled into the abandoned mining town of Iditarod, one of the race's checkpoints and the name of the 1,000-mile race across the heart of Alaska.
"When I came there in the early years, I was certain I saw other teams," Jonrowe says. "But they were old teams, wrapped in blankets" and wolf skins.
The 90-mile run between another ghost town, Ophir, and Iditarod -- the once-frenetic gateway to the gold fields -- is so isolated that the Iditarod Sled Dog Trail Committee calls it one of "the emptiest legs on the entire race ... lonely country and endless trail." Race organizers describe Iditarod itself as a place where "the wilderness has reclaimed almost everything" and "wolves howl at night amid the old collapsed buildings, reminding you that this is their territory now."
In its heyday, Iditarod lured as many as 10,000 visitors a year. But that was a century ago. Jonrowe was passing through decades after the gold-rush boom had gone bust, leaving Iditarod a ghost town.
Jonrowe questions whether her haunting vision was merely a trick of the mind. But she has a hard time dismissing the smoky smell from the bygone miners' fires.
"All of those people are there, and you can see and hear and smell the wood smoke," she recalls. The ghost town clattered with the noise of fire pokes and slamming doors as miners milled around, their arms heavy with gold weights and scales.
"They weren't happy to see you. They would just give you looks like they were hording their stuff," Jonrowe recalls. "You wanted to get away from them.