The caribou is a specialist animal that is well adapted to cooler climates, with hollow-hair fur that covers almost all of its body including its nose, and provides insulation in winter and flotation for swimming.
Alaska – Been There

Council, Alaska is "no man's land"

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Alaska – Been There Council, Alaska is "no man's land"

On my second day in Alaska, I decide to take one of three roads leading out of the city of Nome. After a 72-km drive on gravel, I arrive at the scenic townsite of Council.

Kate Eshelby
Kate Eshelby Travel Writer

Fierce storms have driven driftwood high on the beaches. The surrounding land is typically Alaska: startlingly beautiful, an open expanse of treeless tundra, giving a feeling of freedom similar to travelling through desert. 

The Inupiak have their fishing camps out here: with tepees and isolated fishing huts, the camps are all hotchpotch and handmade from local materials.

I stop at one. It is immensely atmospheric, almost eerie due to the stillness. There is not a soul for miles; families just come at the weekends to fish. It is ice-cold, even though I am wearing a thick insulated jacket.

Old caravans and a rusting car sit among the tundra’s dwarf shrubs. Seagulls squawk and the camps seem abandoned, as if the owners left in a hurry. One camp has a stove outside, a US flag flutters and children’s toys are scattered on the grass. There is even a snowmobile lying seemingly abandoned in the middle of a path. “We have a different value system to you,” says a local later. “Why do we need to put things away? To us the outdoors is the same as indoors, and land ownership is not a familiar concept.”

Another camp I walk past feels otherworldly. There are pieces of driftwood, knurled and knotted, standing up like sacred totem poles, with hand-carved bird boxes, blue and red. Battered red and green leather sofas sit around a burnout campfire. One lone orange rests on a table. The whole is like a piece of modern art, as if Tracy Emin has just left. The family sleeps in white tents with rustic tin chimneys. A couple of nets lie on the ground and there is a swing made from driftwood. From here I stride out along the white sands of the beach, where there is nothing but the sea, wind and silence for hours.

Walking back to my car across the frozen plain, I pass caribou herds and musk oxen. They look prehistoric, like extinct woolly mammoths, with their long shaggy coats and horns. The oxen are one of the world’s oldest surviving herbivores, being one of the few large animals that outlasted the cold of the Ice Age.

Seeing them materialize out of the mist, evoking the moody moors of Wuthering Heights, I almost expect Heathcliff to appear.

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