Web, animal cams offer Alaskan escape

Chances are if you've lived in Alaska, you've resided in or traveled to different parts of the state. If not, well shame on you. But if you have and your life is not as mobile as it once was, there's a way to visit your old haunts and home towns.

Think of these webcams and animal cams as magic carpets.

Utqiagvik Ice Cam brings the Arctic to you

My favorite weather cam is the University of Alaska Fairbanks Sea Ice Group Utqiagvik Ice Cam at https://seaice.alaska.edu/gi/observatories/barrow_webcam/. Here you can see what the shore and the ice pack are doing.

I learned the importance of whether the ice is in or out when I lived in Utqiagvik (formerly named Barrow). Taking the bus around town, when it traveled close to the shore, all heads swiveled to see where the ice was. If the pack was in, that meant polar bears might have come off and into town, and during whaling season if it was in that meant whalers would have access to the shore ice to station their whaling camps about three miles out.

But for you at home, sit back and enjoy the view, which is recorded every five minutes and archived to play three days of video. This is most fun to watch on the day after New Year's, which is when residents stream in their cars and snowmachines to enjoy the fireworks over the lagoon and sometimes another simultaneous display over the Arctic Ocean. And it's a holiday when the sky is dark, as compared to the 24-hour daylight of the summertime.

As quickly as the three days' images play, you can see the cars driving out and then the bursts of fireworks, as well as the daily changes in the light during the darkest time of the year. Kind of like the Keystone Kops movies.

At other times of the year, you can see the moon coming up and then setting, and in the summer the sun slowly tracks across the sky to mid-November, when it sets until it rises again January. During those months there's not total darkness as there's a beautiful, haunting blue afterglow in the middle of the day.

If you go there or if you live there, try, like my friend Cindy Lagoudakis and I once did, and jump up and down on the street in front of the camera hoping for a cameo in the recording, but we failed.

UAH also has an ice cam in Wales, which is located on the westernmost point of the American mainland, Cape Prince of Wales, and on the western tip of the Seward Peninsula. See it at https://seaice.alaska.edu/gi/observatories/wales_webcam/.

Images are taken by a camera mounted just below the radar on the Kingikmiut School. On a clear day, both Fairway Rock and the Diomede Islands are visible, and the images are updated several times per hour. The camera is looking approximately west northwest.

Take a peek at Tenakee Springs

Webcams also serve as a vital navigation indicator for the many airplanes and float planes that serve rural and Bush Alaska.

For those of us in a remote location, checking the webcams can point to the success of our journey or dash any hopes of getting to a desired destination. I often say, "Alaska, the place where you can't get anywhere from somewhere at a desired time." Patience is key, but the cameras help you wrap your head around what's happening, and provide either hope or despair.

The Tenakee Springs webcam updates several times a day. Right now, as I write this, it's zero visibility and snowing sideways. Maybe it's improved? Go see at https://bit.ly/32mPHjj

Watch the cruise ships come and go

The White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad in Skagway has been around since 1898, when it was built as a better way to transport gold seekers to the Klondike Gold Rush at Dawson City, Yukon Territory, Canada. Called "The Scenic Railway of the World" and built in 1898 during the Klondike Gold Rush, the narrow gauge railroad is an International Historic Civil Engineering Landmark, a designation shared with the Panama Canal, Eiffel Tower and Statue of Liberty.

In the winter, Skagway has a population of about 890, but in the summer it climbs to around 1,200 with summer workers and welcomes close to 900,000 tourists.

The company's only webcam active in the winter is at the dock. Summertime sees one at the caboose, the border at Fraser, British Columbia, Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, Carcross, Yukon, and behind its headquarters in Skagway.

These are not continual recordings but change several times a day. Visit https://wpyr.com/sights-sounds/webcams/.

Animal cams delight birders and big carnivore enthusiasts

The popularity of the Katmai Bear cam is nationwide, but there are many more across Alaska.

Check out https://www.adfg.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=viewing.webcams, the Alaska Department of Fish & Game webcam site with links to webcams at Round Island for walrus; AF&G's salmon cam; the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's Pacific Loons cam in Anchorage (May to August for nesting and rearing season only); Homer's Pratt Museum Gull Island cam (May through August only); the U.S. Forest Service's fish/beaver cam at Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau; and the Utqiagvik ice cam. And of course, the Katmai National Park and Preserve bear cam (early June to October).

Gull Island off Homer is a birding destination with its steep sides packed with a wide array of seabirds.

If you click on the walrus link, it leads you to Explore.org, which is the world's leading philanthropic live-nature cam network and documentary film channel.

Use these sites to take you out of the white winter world and into nature and familiar places.

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