Project Jukebox

Digital Branch of the University of Alaska Fairbanks Oral History Program
Dan Seavey, Part 2

This is a continuation of an interview with Dan Seavey by Don Callaway, Rachel Mason, and Karen Brewster on April 11, 2010 at his home in Seward, Alaska. In this part of the interview, Dan continues to talk about dog mushing in the Resurrection River valley, and about changes in Exit Glacier and Exit Glacier Road, flooding, trail use, and effects of establishment of Kenai Fjords National Park.

See also:

Digital Asset Information

Archive #: Oral History 2010-05-05_PT.2

Project: Exit Glacier, Kenai Fjords National Park
Date of Interview: Apr 11, 2010
Narrator(s): Dan Seavey
Interviewer(s): Don Callaway, Rachel Mason
Videographer: Karen Brewster
Transcriber: Carol McCue
Location of Interview:
Funding Partners:
National Park Service
Alternate Transcripts
There is no alternate transcript for this interview.

After clicking play, click on a section to navigate the audio or video clip.


Bear baiting

Early trails in the Exit Glacier area

John Elgin, photographer and early pioneer in Seward

Observations of glacier and seasonal changes

Construction of the Exit Glacier Road


Effects of establishment of Kenai Fjords National Park

Use of snowmachines

Running dog teams and the Iditarod Sled Dog Race

Running into wolverine and wolves on the trail

Dog mushing up the Resurrection River Trail


Click play, then use Sections or Transcript to navigate the interview.

After clicking play, click a section of the transcript to navigate the audio or video clip.


DAN SEAVEY: Now, what, 6? DON CALLAWAY: Yeah. No, that's 16. DAN SEAVEY: 16? DON CALLAWAY: Yeah.

DAN SEAVEY: Martin -- okay. We've got to back way up.

It's probably -- okay. Here's Exit Glacier. Okay. It's probably -- hmm.

I can -- I can tell you where it is on the road.

RACHEL MASON: Okay. Yeah. Maybe that will work better.

DAN SEAVEY: It's -- it's the only bridge you cross, concrete bridge you cross between here and the park.

I mean, not counting Box Canyon here. I'm trying to find No Name.

RACHEL MASON: And it did appear on here. KAREN BREWSTER: I remember recently.

RACHEL MASON: I remember we -- we marked it. KAREN BREWSTER: Somebody else talked about it.

RACHEL MASON: Somebody else talked about it. And I thought it was actually marked No Name.

KAREN BREWSTER: I thought it was, too. RACHEL MASON: And was it along here somewhere?

DAN SEAVEY: And Boulder, but see, that's too far up the valley there. Where are we? KAREN BREWSTER: Here's Martin.

DAN SEAVEY: Okay. It's back toward Seward from Martin.

KAREN BREWSTER: Primrose, that's too -- RACHEL MASON: Is it this close to Seward?

KAREN BREWSTER: I think Tom mentioned that that was -- one of these was No Name.

But it's not on the map, but didn't he say he went up No Name on this run thing that he did?

RACHEL MASON: I don't remember that. I thought Duane was the one that mentioned No Name, but -- KAREN BREWSTER: That's Martin.

DAN SEAVEY: That's way up, see. And this must be the business coming out of the glacier, and out of Primrose, right?

KAREN BREWSTER: And this is -- that's Paradise. DAN SEAVEY: I mean, not Primrose, Paradise and --

KAREN BREWSTER: That's Paradise. This is where the Taylorcraft airstrip used to be.

DAN SEAVEY: Okay. So we're talking about something like this.

RACHEL MASON: Okay. KAREN BREWSTER: Okay. And this says Black something point. Black --

DAN SEAVEY: Blackstone.

KAREN BREWSTER: Blackstone Point? DAN SEAVEY: Yeah. I bet that's it.

RACHEL MASON: It doesn't have a name. DAN SEAVEY: No. But I tell you what, it's -- if you drive out there, it's --

KAREN BREWSTER: Also there's a parking lot right in this area. DAN SEAVEY: Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: There used to be a parking lot on the old road.

DAN SEAVEY: Yeah. And there is a little bitty one there right now. KAREN BREWSTER: Okay.

DAN SEAVEY: Look, if you go out -- okay. You cross Box Canyon bridge here. Okay. It's the only cement bridge between here and when you turn into the park. RACHEL MASON: Okay.

DAN SEAVEY: It's the only one -- it's the only one you're going to see. And that's No Name. RACHEL MASON: Okay.

DAN SEAVEY: And now I forgot what context we were. KAREN BREWSTER: Bear baiting.

DAN SEAVEY: Oh, bear baiting. RACHEL MASON: Oh yeah.

DAN SEAVEY:Right. There's one -- there's one up there. And there's at least two -- two more between there and back this way, or there were last year.

KAREN BREWSTER: Is that a new thing, bear baiting? DAN SEAVEY: No. No. No. KAREN BREWSTER: No?

RACHEL MASON: What were they using for bear bait? DAN SEAVEY: Oh, I don't know. Any old thing that works.

RACHEL MASON: Donuts, or... DAN SEAVEY: Yeah. Yeah. RACHEL MASON: That's what they do use. Yeah.

DAN SEAVEY: Yeah. Yeah. Dog food.

KAREN BREWSTER: Have they been doing that -- for how long?

DAN SEAVEY: Oh yeah, I don't think it's -- I don't know but what -- it couldn't be considered a traditional use. I mean, I don't know how far back it goes. I've -- I've been aware of it for maybe 10 years.

DON CALLAWAY: Oh, no, it's decades -- DAN SEAVEY: Yeah, I'm sure. It almost have to be. But we're talking up here. See, I don't know.

KAREN BREWSTER: That's what I mean, in this area. DAN SEAVEY: Yeah. DON CALLAWAY: I'd say it's probably decades, too.

DAN SEAVEY: Yeah, it could well be. Yeah. But the point is, times have changed, in my opinion, and there's -- I mean, this is a recreational corridor.

And it -- the attraction of black bear is one thing, but I mean, we have brownie -- brownies around here where we never had before. I mean, they are just -- we lived out here for 20 years and I think I saw one set of tracks in the early fall on the first snow.

And now, I mean, last few summers we've had them in the yard. I mean, they're -- they're common.

And I can't help but feel that -- that that -- that that baiting doesn't do a whole lot to -- to discourage them.

So that's a little campaign I'm on. RACHEL MASON: Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: You had mentioned at the beginning that the road, that basically went over your dog team trail, when they put the road in?

DAN SEAVEY: Well, yes. Some of -- some of it did. There wasn't -- we had a marked trail, and -- and if you go out, again, to, say, the Box Canyon Bridge here, drop down on the right side of the road, you -- you pick up my trail.

I mean, and that's become what we're calling the non-motorized trail right now. It's pretty much -- it's on -- some of it's on state land, some of it goes through Forest Service.

It's pretty well been -- it's pretty well flagged and, you know, and some of it's used. A lot of us use it all winter, and sometimes in the summer even.

I can't -- honestly, I cannot say where, you know, what section of the road went -- overlaid the trail and all that sort of thing.

Back to this John Elgin, I know he probably was more persistent in keeping the thing marked than I was because whenever I could, I'd dart out onto the river flats, you know, and just go.

There were sections where there'd be overflow or something where you were forced to kind of mark a trail and what have you.

And I'm assuming that most of that's been covered over by the road.

It's sort of like the story of the Iditarod Trail out of Seward, you know, either the Seward Highway's gotten it or the -- or the Alaska Railroad, or both.

So yeah, I couldn't -- I would be hard pressed to point out any specific areas where that -- where that happened. Now, I do remember John, he was a photographer, and I wanted to talk a little bit about that.

Kind of was a quiet guy, tall, very athletic looking guy, older at that time, graying temples, and what have you.

But he showed me some of his photography, and the wildlife and fauna and flora both that he had taken up there, and it was just gorgeous, gorgeous pictures. And he had -- I forget what camera, one of those expensive German.

DON CALLAWAY: Hasselblad? DAN SEAVEY: Probably, at the time, with a 4 by 4 format. DON CALLAWAY: Yeah. Yeah.

DAN SEAVEY: Something beautiful, beautiful. And rumor has it that -- and I think Duane -- again, Duane might be privy to this -- that his -- all his photos went to a guy named Bernie Hulm who lived in town.

RACHEL MASON: Really? DAN SEAVEY: Uh hum. And either Bernie bought them when they -- see, I don't know what happened to this John.

If he died, and then all his stuff went through the estate, or what have you, but supposedly, this Bernie Hulm ended up with them. Well, we know Bernie's no more. He's gone.

So now where these -- and I don't -- as far as I know, they never got donated to the museum or whatever, but -- DON CALLAWAY: Or archived them.

DAN SEAVEY: Somebody -- well, somebody might have those. But I'll tell you what, if we could get our hands on those, you would have -- you would have a treasure trove.

RACHEL MASON: That would be a good question to research. Yeah. DAN SEAVEY: Yep. But they were absolutely stunning. I mean, he was just so patient.

And, I mean, he would do his little thing and wait for hours for a --

DON CALLAWAY: Bird? DAN SEAVEY: Well, what's -- marten is what I'm trying to say. A marten to show up, you know. Spent hours up there. And, you know, he got it. It was pretty cool.

RACHEL MASON: Well, looking at his photos might be a good way to document the changes in the glacier, too. DAN SEAVEY: Oh, yeah.

RACHEL MASON: If it showed differences. DAN SEAVEY: I don't know as if -- you know, if the glacier has changed that much.

I mean, obviously, it's -- it's disappearing -- RACHEL MASON: This one's for Dan -- DAN SEAVEY: Yeah, thank you -- it's disappearing but --

RACHEL MASON: Oh this is mine, yeah. Thanks. DAN SEAVEY: Thanks, hon. But it's just accelerating it. It was disappearing when -- it's always been disappearing, you know. It's just that we're noticing it more now.

DON CALLAWAY: How about spring and fall? Do they seem to be coming earlier than later?

DAN SEAVEY: Oh, boy. That's a good question.

I -- see, I still like snow, so I would say that, yes, the falls, I really do think the falls are -- the winter's getting here more slowly.

Because we could almost be assured of -- of freeze up and good snow something like a couple weeks before Thanksgiving. I say "always," the first -- seemed like the first ten years out here.

Well, that keeps getting postponed. There were a few years, and I have pictures of Christmas Day, green grass out here, you know.

Sometimes we don't get serious snow until January. The first -- fortunately, the first two races in '73 and '74, I could use Kenai Lake to train.

I mean, it was safe, hook at to Mile 18, and like I say, go to Hope, come back on the ice.

And there were several years starting in probably -- oh, certainly by the mid -- say, mid '80s, but probably the early '80s when this end of the lake never froze. It didn't freeze this year.

You look at it and it's as froze now as it's ever been, and it's basically open.

So yes. The winters are less severe. At least I hope it's just cyclular there, a short cycle. But no, I still like winter. So I have noticed that.

And we -- we -- as far as spring coming, I think we've had earlier springs. I do a little gardening here, and I know it's not unusual -- the first years we were here, if we had a garden in by June, say 1st of June, that was pretty lucky.

And there have been years now where I know I've planted two years ago, three years ago now, I planted potatoes on the last day of April.

And the rest of it mid -- mid May. So yeah. So that part I think is pretty well documented.

KAREN BREWSTER: Do you remember, were you around when Herman Leirer and those guys were talking about putting that road out to the overlook? DAN SEAVEY: Oh, yeah.

DON CALLAWAY: And why they wanted to do it?

DAN SEAVEY: Yeah. They basically -- was to promote Seward as a tourist defini -- definition. Destination.

And, of course, I knew Herman, I had -- by the way, I had his kids in class, as well.

And you know, he'd stop, I'd get reports from him off and on. And he was always trying to get me on a Cat, Caterpillar, you know, I keep playing dumb, I don't know how to run those things.

All I do is break them down for you. So I never -- he never got me on one. But he -- yeah.

He and a few others, I want to say Ollie Amend was one of those guys, I think this Luke Reed that we talked about.

They'd just peck away. I mean, they -- you know, maybe get a mile in this year, or two miles.

And something that you may not know is that they originally started on the other side, on the dump side.

RACHEL MASON: We heard something like that. DAN SEAVEY: Yeah. DON CALLAWAY: And that proved impassable.

DAN SEAVEY: Yeah. Because I think that had sloughed off more over there during the -- over the years because the military, I was told when I first came here, the military had a road when there was Fort Raymond here during the war.

And that they had a road on that side that went all the way out to Skilak Lake, or -- yeah, Russian Lakes and out that way anyway. Out there.

RACHEL MASON: So how come it didn't work out the first -- DAN SEAVEY: It must just have changed.

You know, the river -- the river prior -- when we first moved out here, most of the water was on that side.

And then after the quake, it came -- for whatever reason, you know, the bed changed, and most of the water has been, until just in the last few years, been on this side.

And that was unfortunate, like, for our neighbors down there, Dr. Gentles, because every fall they would get these horrendous rains, you know, and the floods would come.

And I'd stand down there, and these huge, mature, you know, spruce trees, Sitka spruce, down the river they'd go. And I mean every -- every fall, another chunk of his property would get washed away, so...

But now, recently, it's been kind of -- I think what happens, it fills up, you know.

Over here. And then it all just naturally gets shifted over to the other side, so it's probably back -- over the years, if you've watched it, probably the main water shifted all the time, you know, over a period of time, but...

DON CALLAWAY: You haven't experienced the floods, then, that Tom's family did?

DAN SEAVEY: Well, see, back then, it flooded every fall. I mean, and we just -- we rolled our pant legs a little higher in the Jeep and didn't think too much about it.

DON CALLAWAY: But your house was --

DAN SEAVEY: No, not -- no. Now, this Box Canyon, you know, that has recently, and since '68 there have been, what did we figure, three or four hundred year occurrences or incidents, whatever you guys call them, that have scoured out Box Canyon.

And has taken -- let's see, the last time, two years ago, two falls ago, I mean, it really got it. There was, again, huge, mature, 200 year old spruce come out of that canyon and make their way down the road here, from that corner, you know.

And like that Seavey Corner sign, I mean, that thing's temporary. I mean, next flood, that'll be gone. And it just goes down the road. So yeah. And, I don't know --

KAREN BREWSTER: But you haven't had a problem with the flooding in your dog yard or anything here?

DAN SEAVEY: We had -- in '86, we had the whole dog yard scoured out.

We were -- Shirley and I were in Minnesota at the time visiting -- our daughter was here taking care of the place, and she was out there unsnapping dogs, and waist deep in flood water, let those dogs go. We never lost any dogs, but -- RACHEL MASON: That's good.

DAN SEAVEY: -- it sure changed the -- it made a big hole where the dog lot was. And we had to do some new housing and stuff.

But oh, yeah. Yeah, it -- I mean, there's stuff happens, and you live with it. You kind of take it in stride. But fortunately, no, we haven't had any real flood damage here at the house.

RACHEL MASON: Did the formation of the park, I think we think it's in 1980 -- DAN SEAVEY: Yeah. RACHEL MASON: -- but did that interfere with any of your activities on -- on the park, or in the park or -- or even around in the area?

DAN SEAVEY: Not really. I don't think we -- I personally, you know, I'm not that much of a hunter, so -- and I never hunted up there.

I mean, that would probably be the major change. We still go up there, we can still -- if you want to ride a snow machine up there, you can still ride it. So that part, I don't think it probably made it more accessible to me.

In fact, I kind of like it because you go out there now, if there's snow on the road, it's a nice winter trail. You know. You're not having to cut brush or worry about snow bridges or what have you.

So no, it -- I think it's a plus. I mean, I don't see -- yeah, I really do.

DON CALLAWAY: Have you owned snow machines? I think you talked about this earlier, but I can't quite remember. You're not a big fan of snow machines?

DAN SEAVEY: Oh, I love them. They make the best dog trails in the world. Yeah. Yeah.

I probably, in my whole life, I've probably ridden, that probably a stretch there, 20 miles on a snow machine. I don't -- No, I don't own a snow machine.

I have broken down in my old age, though, and gotten a four wheeler to hook my dogs to. It's got -- it's a 2006, it's got 500 miles on it, and it's hardly run, it's all the dogs that have pulled it.

DON CALLAWAY: Just hold the clutch and have them pull you.

DAN SEAVEY: Yeah. So I'm not very mechanical when it comes to that stuff. I'm not a Mr. Zimmerman, let's put it that way.

KAREN BREWSTER: But you're still out running dogs in the winter?

DAN SEAVEY: Oh, yes. That's my dog team across the way here. Yeah. And that's been, like -- I haven't been without sled dogs for, I guess it's like 47 years, or it will be this summer anyway. 47 years.

DON CALLAWAY: How is retirement?

DAN SEAVEY: Great. Wonderful. I wish I could have started this a long time ago. No. It's -- it's good. It's all good. It's all good.

KAREN BREWSTER: Not being -- no go ahead. DAN SEAVEY: I was just going to say Alaska's been extremely good to us, and I'm sure glad Sergeant Preston steered me this way. It's been a wonderful ride.

KAREN BREWSTER: I was going to say, not being an Iditarod aficionado, what's -- DAN SEAVEY: I'm shocked.

KAREN BREWSTER: I don't know if you ever won race or what your highest finish has been.

DAN SEAVEY: No, I was third in the first one. Fifth in the second. Took 24 years off, ran in 1997, the 25th anniversary run. And although I came in -- although I came in a week earlier, I --

DON CALLAWAY: 15 days, huh?

DAN SEAVEY: -- I -- yeah. I came in in 13 days, actually, and I was -- and I had fallen 30 places. I was 35th.

And then in 2001, we did the three generation Seavey bit, and Danny, my grandson, and Mitch and I, so I've only made the trip four times.

And I finished about the same spot.

KAREN BREWSTER: And did you do other racing?

DAN SEAVEY: Not really. Nothing to brag about. Just, you know, local stuff.

DON CALLAWAY: You just like to get out on the trail with the dogs?

DAN SEAVEY: Oh, yeah. I just -- dogs is the way to travel. I've had some very cool experiences with dogs.

Like wolf -- wolf packs in among the dogs. Wolverine, chased a wolverine down the trail until he turned around and decided that was enough.

DON CALLAWAY: Tell me about that one.

DAN SEAVEY: Oh, just, I think it was the first race. The first and second race kind of blend anymore, but one of the first two races, probably out beyond Skwentna, going up into the Alaska Range,

wolverine sitting right on the trail and we -- okay, it a wolverine, let's chase him. So the dogs took off. And he ran for a while, and he still didn't leave the trail.

And all of a sudden he turned around, and you know, of course, he goes on the defense. Hissing and carrying on.

And the dogs stopped and kind of looked back at me. And so I stopped them, and fortunately, we sat there, nothing happened.

And we sat there, I'll bet you -- I couldn't believe I was that patient in those days, but sat there probably 5 minutes, and nose to nose with the leader and that wolverine, and finally, the wolverine backed off, and I held the dogs, and nobody -- nobody wanted to do any more chasing.

And then another time with a wolverine, going up into the south fork here of Snow River, I did turn real quick run, going up about 7 miles, and I hear this chain, like trap chain rattling, and I thought, well, I thought it was this Doug McRae because I saw his pickup.

And I thought, well, Doug is rattling his traps around in his pickup or something. Didn't think much about it.

Go up there turn around, come back, it's almost dark, and then going along and not thinking much, I was a mile from the highway, all of a sudden the dogs duck under this spruce tree, and I stopped -- what in the world?

And I put the snow hook in and go over there, and here they are, nose to nose with this wolverine in this trap.

And that was interesting, too, because there was like, well, what in the world are we doing here. And that wolverine had dug -- you know, had just all the moss under the tree, just around and around and around and he was down in that moss.

And these guys are wondering what in the world we're doing there. And I had no problem just pulling them back and getting on our way.

Probably a couple things like that with wolverine. Yeah. It's interesting.

DON CALLAWAY: How about the wolf pack?

DAN SEAVEY: Oh. My youngest son, Darian and I, we were camping out on Mystery Creek Road, second airport, that's about -- we say airport, it's the airstrip with brush growing in it.

It's the -- oh, about 40 -- 35 miles from the highway, at Mile 66 or something, Sterling Highway, you go out.

And you know what I'm talking, about that road that goes into the wildlife refuge there. DON CALLAWAY: Yeah. Yeah.

DAN SEAVEY: You know, it goes north. And it hits that gas line, it runs from Swanson River. DON CALLAWAY: Right. Right. Yeah. Yeah. I've bird out there.

DAN SEAVEY: Okay. So we were out on that direction toward Hope, right? DON CALLAWAY: Yeah.

DAN SEAVEY: And we were camping. And it's getting dark and we were going into camp, and hear these wolves off in the distance. Well, that's not anything unusual out there.

And then by the time we get settled down and think about going to bed, fire's going everything, we're sitting around, not doing a whole lot, and all of a sudden the dogs woof, woof, woof, you know.

Oh, okay, what's going on? Well, here comes three wolves. They come down the trail right into our camp. The fire is like where that chair is there. And they go right past us.

The dogs are all strung out here on a chain, and they go -- and they go right down the line with the dogs, and not a dog -- I mean, it was like we're not here, you know.

You really don't see us. We're not here. Maybe one of the pups or younger dogs yapped a little bit.

And then they went on, went across the trail and then over a bank and then you hear them down there playing.

You know, they had to be juveniles. They were pretty good size, but they were just curious. You know. That's probably one of the coolest things that I ever had happen.

Yeah, it's neat. There's so much of that. I mean, it happens and you don't think too much about it, but you know, like three minutes behind an avalanche -- in front of an avalanche, that's significant, you know.

It makes you start looking a little bit and being a little more cautious. DON CALLAWAY: Make you an existentialist. DAN SEAVEY: Right. Yeah. So...

KAREN BREWSTER: So about how far up this valley did you take dogs? Did you just go to the glacier and back or did you go farther up --

DAN SEAVEY: I started -- I have gone -- I hadn't gone beyond the glacier before the Forest Service put that trail in up, you know, they call it the Resurrection River Trail, not to be confused with the Resurrection Pass Trail on the north end of the Peninsula.

And so I hadn't -- to be honest, I had not gone beyond the glacier then. But when that went in, I tried that one time.

I went in there with more dogs than I should have, I went further than I should have, and I get in to where the trail was glaciated, you know, it was all rounded off.

Gosh. Hit that, ended up in the -- down in pucker brush. I mean, big ball of dog, sleds, me.

And man, that's as far as I went. It's not a dog trail, it really isn't.

I've hiked it. I've hiked it several times, and I've had horses through there several times, but no dogs. That's not -- not the place to go.

Yeah. I think that's about all I can tell you, unless you've got some really good questions.

RACHEL MASON: No. No. Unless there's something else you really want us to have on record -- DAN SEAVEY: Yeah.

RACHEL MASON: -- then I don't think we have any more questions. DON CALLAWAY: I don't. It's been a pleasure.

DAN SEAVEY: Well, it's been my pleasure. And I do appreciate your work. And you're doing what so many of us have talked about, you know, who are concerned with history.

I have basically a history background in teaching and so forth and training.

And that is, we talk about getting this oral stuff down, and before the old dudes all fade out of the picture, you know.

And -- but a lot of us haven't. And it's great. I mean, it's -- it's a wonderful program. I'm happy to participate.

RACHEL MASON: All right. Well, thank you.