AUTUMN IN AK — Just like that, it’s fall in the Interior of Alaska. Classes have resumed at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. School children in the area have returned to their teachers and classrooms. Docent training has begun at the museum. We’ve even had our first frost.

We like this time of year. Soon school children will be filling the galleries, eyes shining as they explore the history, culture, and wildlife of Alaska. Our Family Day programs will begin soon.

And we’ll celebrate the harvest with a special exhibit. The UA Museum of the North is working with the Downtown Association of Fairbanks and the Co-op Market to bring this free exhibit to UAF’s Community and Technical College this fall.

Key Ingredients: America by Food was produced by the Smithsonian Institutions as part of the Museum on Main Street initiative. It is touring the state thanks to a grant from the Alaska Humanities Forum. We’re asking you to share your own harvest stories, recipes, photos, and more. Visit our website to find out how to get involved.

NEW INSECT SPECIMEN — Curator of Insects Derek Sikes says this summer has brought an exciting addition to the collection, a rare beetle found only in Interior Alaska.

This tiny (less than 2 millimeters long), blind, and flightless beetle lives in the soil below the leaf litter among the roots of plants. It’s a species and genus that is known only from Fairbanks, Nenana, and Chatanika and is thus an Alaskan endemic. That means, as far as anyone knows, it is not found anywhere else in the world.

The beetle was first described in 1986 under the name Chionotyphlus alaskensis and is presumed to be a tertiary relict. That means it has survived due to the lack of glaciers in much of Alaska during the Pleistocene Era.

"I’ve known about this species since I arrived here in 2006," Sikes says, "but despite various efforts, hadn’t found it until I got lucky this year."

The image above (bottom) shows an illustration of the beetle from the original publication by Ales Smetana. You can also see how a researcher goes about extracting the beetles from the soil (top photo) by first washing the dirt and leaves in water and letting all the organic matter float to the top. This organic stuff is then put into a Berlese funnel (middle photo) with a light bulb heating the matter to drive the small organisms into a collection bag below.

You can learn more about the museum’s insect collection on our webpage. You’ll find links to our online database, too.

Voices from Above - Visitors to the UA Museum of the North were recently treated to an a cappella performance by a group from the Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival at UAF. The singers spread out along the museum’s grand staircase in front of the Alaska Range Viewing Window and gave a stellar performance that seemed to come from the heavens.

The museum is magic!

The museum is magic!

The Sheldon Car - One of the museum’s most unique artifacts has just been cloned! An auto enthusiast named Don Langley, an American ex-pat living in Australia, recently completed a replica of the Sheldon Car, the first car in Alaska. Skagway resident Robert Sheldon completed it in 1905 without ever actually seeing one in person. He based the design on magazine illustrations.

Langley contacted Senior Collections Manager Angela Linn last year to ask permission to pursue his project. He sent an email requesting exact measurements, which were supplied by Willie Vinton of the Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum in Fairbanks, where the Sheldon Car is currently on display.

Langley decided it would be impossible to achieve an exact reproduction, so he decided to adopt Sheldon’s principle of using whatever was available. “The chassis and the engine compartment presented no problems,” he said. “I made those components as close as possible to the dimensions given to me.”

He adapted the rest of the car through a series of trial and error, from the 13 horsepower engine taken from a riding lawn mower to the seat he upholstered himself to the suspension springs he designed and commissioned a local blacksmith to make. “They work extremely well and create a lot of interest,” Langley said. “I also had to design and make the components and brackets to fit that type of spring to the chassis.”

Sheldon built his original version using materials available in the Southeast Alaska gold rush town where he lived, including a two-cycle marine engine, wheels from a buggy and two carbide mining lamps as headlights.

In 1934, University of Alaska president Charles Bunnell brought the car to Fairbanks from Juneau, where it had been in storage for almost a decade. The car was incorporated into the UA Museum of the North’s collection and later exhibited in the Gallery of Alaska.

“For us, the Sheldon car is a part of the history of Southeast Alaska, and it helped us tell that story for more than 30 years,” said Linn. “At the Antique Auto Museum, people get to see the car in a whole new light – as part of automotive history.”

Langley calculates that he spent about $4,000 Australian (approximately $3,700 US). “The project took me eight months and I have to pay tribute to my wife for her forbearance.” He named the car after her, calling it the Sheldon Isabella.

The couple recently drove the car in a local parade and it performed perfectly. Langley said the Bobby Sheldon story, which was displayed beside the car, also attracted considerable interest and comment.

Photos, from top: A side view of the Sheldon Isabella, constructed by Don Langley; basic chassis with seat in position; trimming wheels to the precise diameter; the Sheldon Car, on display in the museum’s Gallery of Alaska; historical photo depicting the first automobile in Alaska.

Fossil Friday - We love digging bones out of the dirt. And footprints, and petrified wood, and all kinds of other fossilized materials. These photos are of work done over the past few decades on Alaska’s North Slope.

The UA Museum of the North hosts the largest collection of Arctic dinosaur fossils in the world.The first North Slope dinosaur bones were discovered in the mid-1980s. They were from the “duck-billed” Edmontosaurus, which as fully-grown adults could reach 10 feet tall, 40 feet long, and weigh three tons. These plant-eaters are thought to have lived in social groups or even herds.

Newer discoveries along the Colville River include Troodon and Dromaeosaurus (both smaller flesh-eaters), as well as juvenile hadrosaurs. North Slope dinosaurs may have survived year-round in ancient long-gone river systems which supported lush summer vegetation. Enough seasonal plant matter may have grown during the 24-hour sunlit summers to last during the cool-to-cold dark days of winter (though not as harsh as today’s North Slope winters). The plant-eating dinosaurs, in turn, would have been the over-wintering food source of the meat-eaters.

From the BLM Alaska Dinosaur page.

Other Dinosaur Fossils found on the North Slope

  • North Slope, various locations: 1970s and later, mostly limited discoveries of dinosaur skin imprints and footprints in different areas.

  • North Slope, Colville River drainage: 1998 discovery of major trackways which provide evidence of seven different meat- and plant-eating dinosaurs including the oval-shaped tracks of a yet unknown species; the new discoveries date from the Middle Cretaceous, about 90-110 million years ago.

The bottom photo shows what happens when the plaster casts, bone bits, and fossilized materials are brought to the museum and prepared as specimens.

That’s us!



That’s us!



EXPEDITION DINOSAURS — Each summer, Anchorage mural artist James Havens works with both scientists and the public to create a new mural featuring dinosaurs.This year, Earth Sciences Curator Pat Druckenmiller is helping him depict a herd of hadrosaurs. The artist answered a few questions for us and shared some photos of his “Painting with Dinosaurs” installation.

1) How did you get interested in painting dinosaur murals? What was the first species you painted? I have always had an interest in dinosaurs. As discoveries started happening here in Alaska, I couldn’t help but be inspired. My first painting featuring a dinosaur was Albertosaurus, which lived in Alaska during the Cretaceous Period. The painting also featured Anchiceratops, which was listed in BLM’s dinosaur list at the time. The release happened to fall on the date that the “Walking with Dinosaurs” stage show debuted in Anchorage. The Daily News coined our exhibit Painting with Dinosaurs, which has become an annual event for me, featuring a new Alaskan dinosaur each year.

I create my mural in a public setting and invite the public to dabble some paint on the canvas so that we can inform them about the featured Alaskan dinosaur, the museum and scientist involved in its discovery, and the experience of participating in the creation of a large scale original piece of art that may one day end up in a museum collection. The participants are also invited to sign the back of the canvas upon completion. My goal is to represent Alaskan dinosaurs, Alaskan scientists, research facilities, and local museums. 

2) What kind of reaction do you get from the kids who watch you work? What does it mean to you to include them in the painting process? I love working with the kids, they know so much about the dinosaurs I paint. Usually, I can hear them coming across the atrium. “OHHHH! Coool dinosaurs! That’s a such and such, and they did this and that.” Then they describe how they like to paint and I invite them over the security tape to come paint. Most just jump right in wide eyed and ready to go. Interestingly, most adults need some coaxing as they are scared to mess anything up. It really is fun and who knows, maybe I can inspire a future Rembrandt to have the courage to lift that first brush and create a masterpiece when they grow up.  

3) The UA Museum of the North is planning a dinosaur exhibit to open next summer. What do you want to know about Alaska’s dinosaurs? I try to follow pretty closely what is happening in Alaska concerning dinosaur discoveries. With each painting, I have new information to take in about them, such as their anatomy, environment, social behavior and details. With the hadrosaur piece, I’ve explored the texture of the pads of their feet.

I also begin a new project by creating a smaller scale model to use for lighting and placement. I learn about their anatomy as it is being constructed. I try to work as closely as possible with the scientists to make sure that everything is correct according the suggested information regarding the species and their environment. With each painting I learn more about dinosaurs. And then the scientists (Go get ‘em, Pat!) find something new and we are back to the first page.

4) Have you ever been to the UA Museum of the North? What do you think of our dinosaur fossil collection? I am a huge fan of the UA Museum of the North and have had the opportunity to visit the collection and see some of the incredible specimens being studied there. It is one of the greatest collection of arctic dinosaurs anywhere in the world. It is my belief that all Alaskan dinosaurs should stay here in Alaska. The Museum of the North, its research staff and scientists are leading the mission of keeping the outstanding collection of arctic dinosaurs safe for future generations of Alaskans to see. 

The UA Museum of the North is working on an exhibit about dinosaurs in Alaska. Stay tuned for more about our project.

We have an Ansel Adams photograph called Mt. McKinley in the Rose Berry Alaska Art Gallery.


Close-up of ferns, from directly above, “In Glacier National Park,” Montana. (by The U.S. National Archives)
Series: Ansel Adams Photographs of National Parks and Monuments, compiled 1941 - 1942, documenting the period ca. 1933 – 1942

We have an Ansel Adams photograph called Mt. McKinley in the Rose Berry Alaska Art Gallery.


Close-up of ferns, from directly above, “In Glacier National Park,” Montana. (by The U.S. National Archives)

Series: Ansel Adams Photographs of National Parks and Monuments, compiled 1941 - 1942, documenting the period ca. 1933 – 1942

FLOWERS AND SOLSTICE - The summer solstice is nigh! That means a change of the landscape, from the early flowers of an Interior spring to the deep roots of summer blossoms. Here at the museum, our blush of roses on local bushes are fading away. But the lilacs are now in bloom. And we have much more to look forward to as the days gently shake off the extra minutes of light. Still to come: irises and fireweed and a host of field flowers. Who says Alaska isn’t green?