In my younger days I did my share of stupid things like most adolescent boys. Some stunts I’ll admit to while others will remain secret.
Slithering like a snake through a culvert underneath Muldoon Road in Anchorage, Alaska being one bonehead move. I wasn’t the first or last kid to do so. Several of my friends completed the claustrophobic mission with no problem.
Looking back some 54 years later, I think Jeff Cloud made the journey before anyone. He generally took the lead on attempting dangerous things. Muldoon Road during that time was two-lanes. This particular culvert was near 30-feet in length.
“Piece of cake!”, boasted one pal after exiting the tube.
Several years later I heard tale of another kid trying the stunt and getting stuck. Only through assistance of the Anchorage Fire Department was he safely extracted. After that incident metal grates were placed on both ends to dissuade juvenile foolishness. When Muldoon Road was widened to four-lanes the lone culvert was removed.
Fireworks in Anchorage were available at several makeshift stands. My brother and I lived less than two blocks from one of the largest dealers. It was there that we purchased M-80 firecrackers for a quarter a piece. An M-80 is oftentimes equated to having the power of a quarter-stick of dynamite. I believe the comparison is overly exaggerated. They were powerful enough to take fingers off.
Many kids including myself found M-80’s the perfect propellant for homemade mortars. I’d take a piece of pipe, then hammer a good portion of it into the ground. A lit M-80 would be dropped in the open end with a round rock to follow. With a loud explosion the projectile would go flying completely out of sight. I always pointed my mortar into the woods so not to hit anyone. Because of misuse including serious injuries, M-80’s were eventually banned for sale throughout the country.
Going back to my first year in Anchorage (1966) I was intrigued by a place called Fire Island. To me it sounded like some mysterious location from a pirate movie. The small clump of ground rose out of Cook Inlet approximately 3 ½ miles west of the city. It was originally called Nutul’l’iy by Dena’ina Indians. They had a village there for many years there until an epidemic forced all residents to leave.
In 1794, Captain Cook and his band of explorers renamed it Currant Island, and then Turnagain Island. The Russians changed things to Mushuklhi Island in 1847. That namesake lasted until the U.S. began calling it Fire Island in 1895. The seemingly sinister title seems to have stuck.
During WWII, soldiers were stationed on the island to prevent Japanese submarine attacks on Anchorage. The military had a facility called Fire Island Air Force Station there from 1951 – 1969. During that time the grounds were off limits to civilians unless they had proper security clearance.
Rumors circulated throughout town about WWII Jeeps abandoned on Fire Island along with other wartime equipment. I desperately wanted to search for that treasure. My dream eventually became somewhat of a reality.
In the late 1960’s, I walked to Fire Island with my brother Jim and good friend, Rod Sanborn . We were told the feat was possible by an old timer as long as you moved quickly. It had to be done at the lowest possible tide at a breakneck pace. Even so, this person told us it was a dangerous trek if we didn’t time things just right.
Many folks have biked or ridden to Fire Island since then with no problem. A few unfortunates have drowned. Most likely those successful ones were smart enough to check tide schedules before starting. We didn’t do such, electing to use a roll the dice method instead. It was a spur of the moment decision for us to even go.
We had no problem hiking to the island. On the return leg the tide quickly came in drenching us with freezing water. We were fortunate to survive. None of us realized at that time the seriousness of our blunder.
I was never satisfied in having touched Fire Island’s shore and then promptly leaving. A burning desire had me still wanting to explore the place. That opportunity came unexpectedly 29 years later.
In 1998, Doug Harvey, Jeff Thimsen, and I decided to ride personal watercraft (PWC) from the Port of Anchorage to Kenai. Our plan was to spend the night on a Kenai beach and then return home the following day.
We made it just beyond Fire Island when gale force winds started blowing out of Bear Valley. We were hit with gusts 70 miles per hour and higher. At the same time, a powerful tide came roaring in with incredible fury. The waters of Cook Inlet resembled a giant muddy vortex. It was akin to flushed water inside a humongous toilet.
Deciding it best to turn around, we elected to hit the shore of Fire Island first. It appeared my long awaited exploration of the infamous locale was about to happen.
We secured our craft and quickly found a place to eat lunch. Doug saw two people farther down the beach. It looked as though they were salmon fishing with nets. The native couple paid no attention to our being there.
I wanted to search the mainland for artifacts while Jeff said I’d be wasting my time. He told me the Air Force had recently cleaned up all of the wartime junk. That news threw a blanket on my enthusiasm.
Fire Island is mostly owned by Cook Inlet Regional Corporation, while the remainder is government property. Permission is supposed to be obtained before going ashore. The last thing any of us wanted was to be arrested for trespassing. We basically ended up there by accident figuring property owners would understand.
Taking ample time to check out the surroundings, it looked no different than those ugly beaches surrounding Anchorage. Flat stones, mud, and gravel comprised the majority of shoreline. A fair amount of plastic bottles and garbage was visible.
Wanting some type of souvenir to remember the place by I quickly searched for a unique piece of driftwood. Finding none, I spotted a couple of round stones much different than all the rest. They stood out amongst flat rocks like black flies on a pumpkin pie. I carefully placed the treasure into my backpack.
It’s been 21 years since I last touched foot there. Whenever I hear the song, “Fire Lake”, by Bob Seger, I think of Fire Island. Seger’s timeless lyrics make mention of bronzed beauties lyin’ in the sun. I seriously doubt he was referring to stones.
My Fire Island refugees have turned a nice golden brown after relocating them to sunny Arizona. Since 2010, they’ve found refuge in my backyard along with other mineralized escapees from various states.
I tend to believe the stones were lobbed to Fire Island via an M-80 powered mortar. Some ingenious kid residing on the west side of town intentionally sent them that direction. In my twisted way of seeing things, there’s no other way it could’ve happened!
2 thoughts on “Fire Island Refugees”
I have been enjoying reading your columns about our Anchorage of long ago. I was born in Anchorage in 1960 at Elmendorf Hospital. After returning from a 9-year stint in Jacksonville, Florida which was my father’s home, we returned to Anchorage where I remained until I was 47 years old. At that point I moved to Goodyear Arizona.
I understand you live somewhere in this state as well, and you well understand the challenges us Alaskans have with the extreme heat. For me, it’s so bad I had to buy another house up near Flagstaff just to be able to stay here. But at this point now, I’ve been retired for a couple of years and here is where I’ll probably stay. Rather coincidentally, I had a friend named Mike Hankins back in Anchorage. He would have graduated from Bartlett High School in 1978, he had two younger sisters, Kim and Susan. Their mother Margaret, worked for Alaska Airlines for many years. I graduated from East High in 1978 and went to school at UAA eventually working for the federal government.
Anyhow I’ve enjoying your stories, please keep them coming.
Thank you Kurt! I went to East as well. Graduated in 1972. The heat here in Havasu is overbearing this time of year. We were getting ready to build in Kingman when covid hit. I’d love to live in Alaska fulltime but my wife had enough of the cold. Every so often I recall something from those Anchorage days. Some of this stuff is probably trivial for some, but I try to remember enough detail to make it come back alive, at least for me 🙂