Field Trip: Serpentine Hot Springs

This is perhaps the coolest field trip that TAT will ever provide its readers.

It begins by being the farthest TAT field trip (my adventures in Morocco are a completely different category). The editorial board at TAT generally prefers to remain indoors in Shishmaref for the following reasons: it’s cold outside, polar bears are scary, and it’s cold outside.

 

Picture 1

This is a satellite image of Serpentine Hot Springs. (Hey Google! Thanks for creating Google Earth! I heart it!) You will notice that the area surrounding the hot springs is green. That is NOT what it looked like when we were there.

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This picture, also from Google Earth, shows the basic path we took from Shishmaref to Serpentine. As you can imagine, we did not actually travel in a perfectly straight line.

 

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This is a picture of the land we traveled over to get to the hot springs. If you look closely, you can see little yellow tri-pods. Those are trail markers.

 

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Here’s a close up of one of the trail markers. It is right outside of the hot springs. You can see that it marks Shishmaref as being 52 miles away. The trip took us about three hours on snow machine. Yes, that’s right three hours. In descending order, here is a ranking of my coldest body parts during the trip:

-hips
-toes
-fingers

The rest of me stayed relatively warm, but my hips were COLD. I thought that was kind of odd, given that they’re more generously padded than, say, my elbows or nose. I was wearing underclothing, Cabela’s thermal long johns, warm-up pants, and snow pants, and that still wasn’t enough. It got so bad that I was pounding my hips with my fists and not feeling anything. The only thing that kept me from freaking out was the fact that I’ve never heard of anyone having their hips amputated. (On the way home I added a pair of jeans and flannel pants to the layers. I was still cold.)

(Note to readers: Apparently, we passed a herd of about forty moose on our way to the hot springs. That’s the most anybody’s ever seen out there. Unfortunately, I didn’t see anything because my goggles had iced over. I felt pretty stupid when everybody kept asking me if I’d seen the moose.)

 

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Serpentine Hot Springs is in a little valley. As you get close, you can see the steam rising from the warm water.

 

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Ta-dah! Serpentine Hot Springs in all its glory. The small building on the left is the bath house. It’s built directly over the springs. The large building on the right is the cabin. It has a largish room on each side that each house sixish twin beds, a camp stove, a heating stove, and assorted dishes that have been left for people to use.

You can’t see it, but just to the right of the picture is a wooden outhouse. It is approximately 4,392 miles from the cabin. It is also the first outhouse I’ve used where everything inside was frozen. It was so cold that one of the moms in the group set up a bucket behind a tarp in the cabin. We used the bucket for our, uh, human waste removal.

 

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This is a close up of the bath house. In case you’re wondering, we walked from the cabin to the bath house wearing our bathing suits. I still get the chills thinking about it.

 

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Here is the front door of the bath house. You can see that the steam has created a coating of ice everywhere. Just wait, it gets worse.

 

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Walking through the qanitaq, we were immediately assaulted by the dense steam-filled air.

 

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This is the stairway leading into the tub. You will notice that the area around the stairs is completely covered in ice. And yes, I walked over that ice in my bare feet to get into the tub. I didn’t really notice how cold it was because I was too busy worrying about slipping and cracking my skull or coccyx.

 

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One of the most bizzarro things about the pool was how warm it was. Even with the entire bath house covered in ice, the water stayed nice toasty.

 

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It was extremely relaxing to be able to soak and rest in the warm water. Sometimes the steam would condense and freeze on our hair. I don’t have any pictures of it, but it looked kind of like the window in the above picture.

 

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There was a stream of hot water running into/nearby/underneath the bath house (I’m really not sure how everything worked, and my geothermal understanding is pretty weak. Sorry). I thought this picture illustrated the interesting juxtaposition of such warmth in the midst of the freezing cold.

 

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This little bridge went over the stream. It was very important to use it instead of trying to leap over the stream. I was smart enough to not even attempt leaping, but others in the group were not so fortunate. 🙂

 

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The primary activity at Serpentine Hot Springs is lounging. There’s even a journal of Serpentine adventures.

 

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When you’re all relaxed out, you can go explore the rocks in the area.

 

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Apparently, this rock formation looks like an eskimo drummer. Apparently, I am too stupid to take a picture of it from right direction so that you could see the resemblance.

 

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The kiddos had fun sliding and snowboarding.

 

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Animal tracks = major excitement. I think these are fox tracks, but I have absolutely no expertise or experience to back that claim up. I saw a few foxes on our snow machine ride back home, but I didn’t see any foxes while we were at the hot springs.

Not seeing foxes when I’m not on a motor vehicle = major comfort.

 

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We also spent a lot of time eating.

 

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Mary brought her own sourdough starter to use for pancakes.

 

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The yumminess of the pancakes was rivaled only by…

 

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the adorable Eskimo boy eating the pancakes. (Looking at this picture right now makes me want to kiss the little Eskimo boy. I’m serious.)

 

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He also showed me the Eskimo way to eat pancakes. Apparently, you’re supposed to roll up the pancakes and dip them in syrup. I was not cool enough to eat my pancakes like an Eskimo. (Maybe coolness wasn’t actually a factor. I was more afraid of sticky fingers.)

 

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My Moroccan Fulbright partner also got to enjoy the sourdough pancakes.

(TAT, meet Brahim. Brahim, meet TAT.)

(Hey Mary! You rock at making pancakes! You also look really cute in the background of this picture!)

 

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Brahim also tried caribou (Hey Glenn! Thanks for shooting the caribou! It was yummy!) and seal oil. He liked the seal oil so much that he started dipping bread in it.

 

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It’s almost impossible to leave Serpentine Hot Springs without adding your name to collection of signatures on the walls and ceilings. There were several groups of names of kids on their senior trip.

 

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Apparently, it is also a place for political statements.

(Question to readers: Who are the Teds? And why do we want to tight them?)

 

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Brahim left his mark in several places around the cabin in English and Arabic.

 

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And I left my own signature on the ceiling. I like to think that a little piece of me will remain at the hot springs forever.

I'm Angie! I teach in an Inupiaq Eskimo village on the Seward Peninsula in Alaska. At The Alaska Teacher you can follow my journey to thrive in a fascinating and isolated place. I also record my attempts at integrating art, place-based education, and learning scales into my high school classroom.