Alaskan towns: Nenana

I was charmed by many of Alaska’s little towns, and Nenana (pronounced knee-nana like “banana“) was one of them. With all my traveling up and down the Parks Highway (Alaska Highway 3), I encountered and crossed the Nenana River numerous times, as it wiggled its way along the eastern border of Denali National Park, running parallel to the highway and the Alaskan railroad, both of which link Anchorage to Fairbanks. I started taking pictures of Nenana River signs for my niece Naomi, who goes by the nickname NeNe, and then I decided I ought to just stop in the town itself, around mile 305 of the Parks Highway, almost 60 miles south of Fairbanks, 75 miles north of the entrance to Denali National Park. Nenana is an Athabascan Native village with a population of about 460, nestled on the south bank of the Tanana River, right where the Tanana converges with the Nenana River. (The name “Nenana” means “a good place to camp between two rivers.”) The town is famous around the state for its annual Nenana Ice Classic, a guessing contest in which entrants buy tickets ($2.50 apiece) to guess the date and time (to the closest minute) in April or May when the winter ice on the Tanana River breaks. The townspeople rig up a black-and-white tripod and set it in the river ice in late February and attach a cable that will trip a clock once the ice breaks. This year’s payout of $279,030 was split between three people who correctly picked April 29 at 9:06 a.m. Alaska Standard Time. I might just have to purchase a ticket next year. You never know…

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