Overview of the Paxson region
Here we very definitely are showing both tundra and taiga. This is from one of our favorite sites; it provides a magnificent overview of where we live. We are looking almost directly north to the Alaska Range; the defile is Isabel’s Pass, through which pass migrating birds and mammals, early human inhabitants of Alaska, gold miners on their way from Valdez to the 40-mile country and later to Fairbanks, Alaska’s first road: the Richardson Highway, and since the 1970s, the Trans-Alaska Pipeline.
On the top right of the photo you can see a small amount of the Gulkana Glacier, which used to drain into Summit Lake, the prominent water feature below it and Isabel Pass; in recent history, however, its outflow has swept north to drain through Isabel Pass and north into the Yukon drainage.
The straight stretch of asphalt in the right foreground is the Richardson Highway. The sinuous trace that leads left out of the taiga spruce into the tundra shrubbery is the Denali Highway.
The small lake at the photo’s left edge is Swan Lake (also known as Mud Lake but we don’t use that ignominious term here); the meandering river in the left foreground is the Gulkana River, which has originated in Summit Lake and descended through the canyon along which runs the Richardson, also carving out the gravel bank shadowed here but still very noticeable at the top of where one can see the Richardson.
This photo is from early September; it demonstrates the red hues that dwarf arctic birch, remnant fireweed, and bearberry, blueberry and other ericaceae impart to the tundra. In the taiga we have white spruce, black spruce and golden-hued cottonwoods (balsam poplar). This scene shows why we adore this time of year – it is a glorious spectacle of golds, reds and greens, with the greatest chances of fine weather. No mosquitoes, lots of spawning salmon and the terrestrial animals all are focused on fattening up for the half-year fast that is just around the corner.
All of Paxson is nestled in the crook of road at the junction of the two highways, directly below the gravel bluff. The Paxson Inn & Lodge, once the gem of the Richardson but woebegotten these many, many years, commands the corner itself. Our compound is hidden along the river to the north and west of the lodge and directly below the bluff. The DOT maintenance yard, our neighbor to the north, is marked by the presence of the cone-holding telecommunications tower. Angling between the two highways and marked by a stretch of low golden shrubbery – willows and cottonwood – is the airstrip. The small white feature on the right-hand side of the Richardson is the AT&T facility which occasionally sees use by workers maintaining remote antennae in this region. And that’s the whole “town”!
Elevations: we are just below 3,000′; Summit Lake and Isabel Pass just above 3,000. The peaks shown rise to the 9,000′ level and the high peaks of this part of the Alaska Range – Mts. Deborah, Hess and Hayes – are just off to the left and top out at over 13,000′.