Milepost 53.7 Side Trip to Pilgrim Hot Springs
Habitat: Dwarf tundra, rocky outcrops, side slope, tundra meadow
Heading north at the bottom of Golden Gate Pass the road makes a sweeping curve to the right and a marked turn-off to the left leads to Pilgrim Hot Springs. Be forewarned: although this 7-mile side trip offers excellent vistas and access to a unique and historic setting, sections of the road are very rough and, if flooded, may be impassible.
The road crosses the pass summit 2.5 miles from the turn off offering a view of the dramatic north face of the Kigluaik Range and an expanse of wetlands in the lower Pilgrim River Valley.
The road traverses several distinctly different habitats on the way to the hot springs.
- American golden plover, snow bunting, horned lark and northern wheatear are common in the dwarf tundra.
- Gyrfalcon and rough legged hawk find perch in rocky outcrops.
- Muskoxen sometimes graze in the side slope meadows across the valley.
- Sandhill crane perform impressive courtship displays in late May or early June and congregate in tundra meadows before their fall migration.
- Whimbrel nest in the moister lowland tundra meadow.
- Tundra swan in pairs, American wigeon, and other ducks nest among the ponds.
- Wilson’s, yellow and Arctic warbler flit through the shrubs surrounding the sloughs and ponds.
- Beaver build lodges and dams in the area although some are inactive.
- Muskrat in the winter will create mounds of vegetation over a hole in the ice when their numbers are high. The mounds are called push-ups.
A Warmer Micro-habitat
Cottonwoods grow at Pilgrim Hot Springs and the spring snow melt is earlier because of the warming influence of local geothermal springs. The open water and grassy meadows provide a springtime oasis for waterfowl that sometimes arrive when the surrounding landscape is still snowbound. You may find birds here that are not often seen elsewhere in the region.
- Alder flycatcher, varied thrush, northern shrike, rusty blackbird, black-capped chickadee, solitary sandpiper, northern goshawk and tree swallow frequent the area.
- Cliff Swallow nest under the eaves of several of the buildings.
- Wilson’s, yellow and Arctic warbler flit around the buildings, shrubs, and trees.
Pilgrim Hot Springs History
The site is a former Catholic orphanage and boarding school, built to care for children orphaned by a series of epidemics in the early 1900s that devastated most of the region’s villages. The residents grew much of their own food in the soils warmed by local geothermal activity. Former students spoke of the great trauma they suffered at the loss of their families and communities but also of the joy in life they shared together in this unique setting.
NOTE: You need permission to enter the orphanage and hot springs site at the end of the road. As ownership may change, check with the Nome Visitor Center to ask who to contact for permission.