There isn’t, you know, anyplace like Nome. I’ve been to many places in Alaska, and Nome is a character among characters, as towns go.
It’s not much to look at, frankly, this village-by-the-sea. Clustering 3,500 residents close to the shores of the Bering Sea, Nome is a neat grid of dusty streets made famous by the 1,100-mile Iditarod Sled Dog Race, toward which teams of man and canine race each March. Most visitors to the 49th state do not consider making the long and expensive overland trip some 1,330 air miles from hub city Anchorage, so the city of Nome is not on the average Alaskan itinerary.
But it should be. And it can be, with a little foresight, a lot of fortitude, and an adventurous spirit.
I went to Nome a few weeks ago to prove to myself and pal Candice of Salmon Berry Tours in Anchorage that yes, one could arrange a trip to and from this arctic village and have a pretty good time living and learning the rural Alaskan way. After all, isn’t that why most folks come to the 49th state in the first place, to introduce they and their offspring to the “Real Alaska?”
First things first, however. There are definitely seasons to go to Nome, and seasons not to go to Nome, especially with children, the Iditarod Finish being one such time. The few hotels and B & B’s in town are booked at least a year in advance to the tune of hundreds of dollars per night. The place is a wild, crazy, and sometimes undesirable atmosphere of partiness, and I personally would rather take AK Kid to an Eminem concert than expose him to some of that stuff.
Visit Nome when the falderal of dog mushing is over. June through September are lovely times to go North. June provides green beach grasses, chirping and honking and soaring birds of all kinds (in fact, birders flock to Nome each year to see rare species); July and August bring berries and long arctic nights full of sunshine; September finds visitors wandering amongst brown and reddish foliage and gaping at gorgeous sunsets. Temperatures hover between 50-60 degrees F, families are out exploring, and everywhere, the Alaskan wilderness is at your feet, a ready invitation for hiking, biking, gold-panning, and fishing.
Getting to Nome is fairly easy; Alaska Airlines offers thrice-daily flights in and out of Nome, and Era also provides daily service. It is expensive, however, so I utilized my Alaska Air Mileage Plan at a rate of a mere 10,000 miles. Way better than $650 RT.
What does one actually do in Nome? Here’s where a guy like Richard Beneville comes in. Richard is the owner of Nome Discovery Tours and an evangelist of all things historically significant in the community. A former Broadway actor and the go-to guy for the whole town, Richard can provide any and all insight into Nome, it’s culture, history, recreation, and your role as visitor.
Richard is your man if you choose to take children to Nome. Charming, funny as hell, and willing to take you just about anywhere, Richard can provide kids with a history lesson they’ll never forget, and I guarantee you, they’ll return home knowing more about gold and dogs and Native Alaskans than anybody else on the planet. The great thing about Nome Discovery Tours is Richard’s ability to see an individual’s interest and tailor a tour around it. From bicycling along the Nome Bypass Road or out toward the Safety Roadhouse (the Iditarod’s last checkpoint), to taking a tour of gold dredging equipment and mines (including gold panning) around the city and surrounding countryside, Richard’ll do it, and quite happily too, I might add. He’ll grab lunch, drinks, and snacks for the fam before heading out to the wild Alaskan tundra as well, leaving you with nothing more to do than sit back, listen, and love your experience.
Take the 5 1/2 hour Day Tour, just right for kiddos and parents to capture a sense of this 100+ year-old town, taking in the cemetery, school, beach, and gold dredges on the tundra. Richard weaves incredible stories into this tour, and you’ll want to have the video camera ready to relive these tales at home, including the yarn about Wyatt Earp, who lived in Nome during its Gold Rush Heyday of around 1899.
The Safety Roadhouse is a star on the Trains to Nowhere and Safety Sound Tour, driving 40 miles out of town, where swans and other birds migrate and where the quiet whisper of sea grass makes you believe you are the only souls around for miles, which you might actually be. The Trains to Nowhere are, indeed, nowhere anymore, after a failed attempt to bring rail service to Nome ended in a salty, silty, and rusty mess for three locomotives. Oh yes, kids will love this story. 5 1/2 hours.
If you’ve got all day (and if staying overnight in Nome or along the way at one of the B & B’s), take the Teller Tour, driving 70+ miles into the gorgeous mountains toward Teller, the only village, by the way, connected to Nome by road. Richard drives and stops by turn, allowing plenty of time for photos, hikes, and wildlife-viewing. Watch for musk-ox, fox, and caribou along the way, and see if kids can spot the Bering Sea from a new vantage point way up above Nome. In Teller, learn about 10,000 years of Eskimo history from Norbert and Sarah Kakaruk, a delightful couple born and raised near Teller in Mary’s Igloo (community) and whose insights are valuable lessons to young people.
Rates for all of the Nome Discovery Tours range from $150-$300 per person, but Richard will vary prices depending upon your type of trip. Call 907-443-2814 for reservations and information, or email Richard at email@example.com.
Lodging in Nome consists of three reputable hotels and a scattering of B&B’s and inns, with a complete list available at the charming Nome Convention and Visitors Bureau, where Candice and I found helpful people, tons of information, and a great movie about Nome and its amazing history. If you choose to spend the night in the greater Nome area, Richard will also assist you in securing safe, comfortable (but not cheap) lodging. Try the Polaris Hotel (907-443-2000), Nugget Inn (907-443-2323), or Aurora Inn (800-354-4606). We checked out all three, with the Nugget and Aurora receiving top billing in our book.
Dining in Nome was surprisingly yummy and affordable. Airport Pizza provided huge portions and delicious menu options ranging from Italian to Mexican, and a full bar. Very kid-friendly and affordable, too. 907-443-7992.
The Polar Cafe served up some incredible breakfast fare in a simple style, but with delightful service. Right on the water, we could see the gold drege barges heading out for their day’s work. 907-443-5191.
Nome. There’s certainly no place like it. If you’ve got the gumption, Richard Beneville has the time, and you’ll undoubtedly be wanting more time once you’ve starting exploring this incredible little community “way up North.”