Kobuk Valley National Park is most easily accessed from the tiny town of Kotzebue, Alaska. More commonly known as Kotz. Our friend, Lindsy, who came with us to Kenai Fjords, Gates of the Arctic and Denali was moving to Kotzebue. She was starting a job as a physical therapist there and was waiting for her Alaska PT license to clear as she trained and was educated and certified in Montana.
Before we go any further there are a couple of things that you should know about Kotz. It is a town of 3,000 people that is above the Arctic Circle and its average annual temperature is 21.8 degrees. Yes, you read that correctly. The average temperature is nearly 11-degrees below freezing.
Also, this should go without saying but being above the Arctic Circle means that Kotz does not see a sunrise for 6-months out of the year. Beginning with the Autumn Equinox (September 21st) the sun sets and does not rise again until the Spring Equinox (March 21st). The Winter Solstice (December 21st) marks the darkest day of the year when the town is plunged into almost complete darkness. The Summer Solstice (June 21st) on the other hand is a day marked with 24-hours of sun.
Normally visiting Kotzebue is not a difficult thing. It is easy to get a flight to come out. For us, though, it was a different story. President Obama scheduled a visit to Kotzebue right when we were flying out to visit! He was the first sitting President to visit a site north of the Arctic Circle. He specifically came to Kotzebue to give a speech about Climate Change. Needless to say, all of the flights to Kotzebue were completely booked. Our plan was to take a Monday flight before his Wednesday visit. Full. We tried for the Tuesday flight and got on the last flight into town. They closed the airport on Wednesday so that Air Force One and Obama’s entourage could fly in.
It was impressive to see everything take place. Before Obama arrived numerous C-130’s flew in to drop off trucks and other security equipment and personnel. You could hear the huge planes coming in, even if you were inside a building. The normally quiet town of four streets was filled with government vehicles. At one point a truck drove by and my phone completely lost service, only to regain it as soon as the truck drove away. I can only guess it was a scrambler or sweeper checking to make sure the town was safe for the presidential visit.
Tickets to see President Obama’s speech were sold out. It also didn’t really make sense for two random travelers to sit in on a speech about the Arctic when all of the people that were directly affected lived in town. We congregated on the street with hundreds of other people who had set up with flags and signs to celebrate. We wore our Tipsy Elves American Flag onesies and made friends with nearly everyone we passed.
He had a massive motorcade, which seemed silly given how tiny the town is, but as he drove by he did a double take. He was doing the Presidential thing and waving, and then he saw our onesies. He looked forward, looked backed at us and threw his head back for a chuckle. It was that moment that we knew Obama supported #59in59. He had seen us, acknowledged us and was entertained by our love of our country.
After the motorcade and the speech, they directed us to the water front where we might get to see Obama as he was driving out of town and back onto Air Force One. Most of the town was gathered and all of the kids were riding their bikes around and impressing people with their abilities.
We also got to see them set up a photo shoot, which was rather hilarious considering the place they decided to take the photos.