Virtual Trail Journey (northern) – Nulato

The village of Nulato (nu-LAU-toe) is situated on the mighty Yukon 52 miles down river from Galena. Well before the town was incorporated in 1963, Athabascans from the interior and Eskimos from the coast met at Nulato for trading. After the Russian explorer Malakov arrived in the 1830, an actual trading post was built. Because of trade disputes disgruntled natives, not once but twice burned the post to the ground. As contact with the outside world increased through missionaries, explorers and gold prospectors so did disease. Smallpox in 1839 was the first epidemic to wipe out large numbers of the native population followed later by food shortages and measles. Our Lady of Snows, a Roman Catholic school and mission was completed in 1887 and many of the area natives moved into the village. The influence of the mission continues today as most Nulato residents call themselves Roman Catholics. The post office opened in 1897. At the peak of the gold rush, there were 46 steamers that navigated the Yukon. When the river was ice free, a couple of ships each day would stop at Nulato to purchase wood to fire their boilers. The gold was depleted by 1906 and the miners moved on but the Athabascans and missionaries who called Nulato “home” stayed.

Currently there are two Nulato town sites that nearly 300 residents call home. Those living at the old town site haul water from the village well or the church and use honey buckets and outhouses. Houses located in the new town site have piped water and sewer so the residents enjoy bathroom and kitchen plumbing. Nulato has a school, a store and a clinic. They have diesel-generated electricity and like most bush villages, they are connected to the outside world by telephone, television and Internet. Most people living in Nulato are of Athabascan descent and live a subsistence lifestyle. Food sources include salmon, moose, bear, small game and berries. Many families still travel to fish camps during the summer.   Trapping in the winter provides some extra income for some families. Some residents have year around jobs with the city, tribe, school, clinic and store. During the summer, some folks work at construction, fish processing and fire fighting. The village has a newly renovated airport otherwise the river is the number one mode of local travel.  Boats, skiffs and barges are common between May and October when it’s ice free then snowmachines, ATVs and other vehicles take over when it becomes an ice road.

The best way to describe the weather at Nulato is to copy and past from Ruby and Galena. Average highs in the summer are in the lower 70’s and average lows in the winter are below zero. Extreme cold often settles in the area for days on end. The hottest temperature ever recorded in Nulato is 90 and the lowest is a frigid 55 below and that doesn’t include wind chill. Average precipitation of nearly 16 inches includes over 6 feet of snow.

From Galena to Nulato and then to Kaltag, teams continue on down the icy Yukon. The run can be frigid and windy and will include the usual river hazards – overflow, rough ice, drifts and open water. It’s best not to venture off the trail. About halfway to Nulato, mushers and dogs welcome a change in scenery as the Nulato Hills, a mountain range to the west, rise to 1,000 feet in elevation on the right shore of the river.

Well there you have it, information about the village and people of Nulato and the trail between Galena and Kaltag. This completes the Virtual Trail Journey series that began last year. Now you can find detailed information about ALL the checkpoints from Anchorage to Nome – southern and northern routes. All of the Virtual Trail Journey stories are in Zuma’s blog under “Sanka’s Posts.” The villages and villagers along the trail are far more than just Iditarod checkpoints and fans. Folks living in the checkpoint villages are historically unique; their ancestors have survived famines, disease, violence and other hard times. Looking forward to the future, the villagers will adapt to an ever-changing lifestyle by combining wisdom and practical advice from their elders with the skills and knowledge obtained through education.

Born to Run,
Sanka