Most of Nome's original buildings were wiped out by fires or by storms off Norton Sound that tore across the beach and washed away major portions of the business district. A sea wall, completed in 1951, now protects the town. Among the few historic sites that survived are the gold rush-era Board of Trade Saloon, a church, and a bust of Roald Amundsen, who landed near Nome, in Teller, after crossing the North Pole from Norway in a dirigible in 1926. Below the library, at Front Street and Lanes Way, the small Carrie M. McLain Memorial Museum (tel. 907/443-6630) contains an exhibit on the town's gold rush. The museum is free and open summer Monday through Friday 10am to 5:30pm, Saturday 10am to 5pm, and Sunday 10am to 3pm, with closures for lunch. The rest of the year, expect Tuesday through Friday noon to 5:30pm.
In good weather, you can take a pleasant walk southeast of town along the beach. Small-time miners may be camped there, but the gold-bearing sand extends for miles more of solitary walking. You can buy a gold pan in town and try your luck, but the sand has been sifted for nearly 100 years, so don't expect to gather any significant amount of gold. The Swanberg Dredge you can see from here operated until the 1950s; a large dredge north of town worked into the mid-1990s. The 38 gold dredges that once operated on the Seward Peninsula crept across the tundra, creating their own ponds to float in as they went. The cemetery, with white wooden crosses on top of a little hill just out of town, also is worth a look.
If you're in the market for walrus ivory carvings and other Iñupiaq arts and crafts, you'll find low prices and a large selection on Front Street in Nome. A legendary collection for sale is in the bar room of the historic Board of Trade Saloon on Front Street. The Arctic Trading Post is more of a traditional gift shop and also has a good ivory collection, as does Maruskiyas of Nome. Chukotka-Alaska, at 514 Lomen St., is an importer of art and other goods from the Russian Far East. Alaska Native art you find in Nome is likely to be authentic, but still ask.
Venturing Beyond Town by Road
The modest attractions downtown would hardly justify a trip to Nome, but the city's surroundings do. The roads provide unique access to a large stretch of the Seward Peninsula. Unlike other Arctic Bush areas, where someone has to take you into the wilderness, in Nome all you have to do is rent a car and go. There are few cars in Nome (they have to be flown in or shipped by barge), so you won't see many other vehicles on a huge expanse of spectacular territory, with wildlife-viewing opportunities as good as anywhere in the state.
You could see moose, reindeer, foxes, or bears, and nowhere else in the world do you have a better chance of seeing muskoxen from a car. Wildlife sightings are possible anywhere you drive, but check in with the visitor center or the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, at 103 East Front St., at the intersection of Steadman Street (tel. 907/443-2271), to find out the best locales to see animals and call tel. 907/443-5796 for fishing information in the summer only. They can also give you guidance on fishing along the roads and a "Nome Roadside Fishing Guide," or download it from www.alaska.gov/adfg (click on "Sport Fisheries," then "Interior," then "Northwest").
The best option for seeing the nature accessible via Nome's roads may be to join a ranger-guided hike offered by the Bering Land Bridge National Preserve. Call ahead to check on current offerings.
Road Highlights -- None of the three roads radiating from Nome has services of any kind -- just small Native villages, a few dwellings, and some reindeer herders -- so you must be prepared and bring what you need with you, including insect repellent and a good spare tire. The visitor center provides a road guide. Here are some highlights:
The Nome-Council road heads 72 miles to the east, about half of that on the shoreline. It turns inland at the ghost town of Solomon, an old mining town with an abandoned railroad train known locally as the Last Train to Nowhere. The engines were originally used on the New York City elevated lines in 1881, then were shipped to Alaska in 1903 to serve the miners along this line to Nome. This is a scenic spot for bird-watching, and fishing is good in the Solomon River, all along the road. Council, near the end of the road, has a couple of dozen families in the summer. A 3-foot-deep river separates the road from the village.
The Nome-Taylor road, also known as the Kougarok Road, runs north of town 85 miles from Nome over the tundra and through the Kigluaik Mountains, eventually petering out and becoming impassable. About 40 miles out, you reach lovely Salmon Lake, with a lakeshore campground with picnic tables, grills, and outhouses. A few miles farther, a road to the left leads to the 125°F (52°C) Pilgrim Hot Springs. Access is limited to the hot springs, so check with the visitor center before going.
The Nome-Teller road leads 73 miles to the village of Teller, which has 260 residents and a store. It's an opportunity to see an authentic Arctic Native village.
Seeing the Sights in the Air
Nome is a hub for bush plane operators. Flightseeing charters are available, or you can fly on one of the scheduled routes out to the villages and spend a couple of hours touring. The way to do it is to contact a flight service, explain what you have in mind, and follow their advice. Expect to pay $210 to $350. Don't plan to stay overnight in a village without advance arrangements, and don't go in bad weather -- you'll see little and may get stuck in a tiny village. Bering Air (tel. 800/478-5422 in Alaska only, or 907/443-5464; www.beringair.com) has a long and illustrious reputation and serves 32 villages from Nome and Kotzebue. They offer flightseeing trips by fixed-wing aircraft or helicopter on hourly charter rates (expensive if there are just one or two of you along). Or they will sell you a seat on a scheduled loop flight that visits various villages, charging the fare only to the closest village on the trip while you enjoy the entire round-trip. They even offer charters across the Bering Strait to the Russian towns of Provideniya and Anadyr.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.