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Photos: Life along the Iditarod Trail

Hunting guide Bucky Winkley gives tourists a tour of his "museum" at Puntilla Lake's Rainy Pass Lodge. His collection contains pre-industrial farming tools, historical guns and a 1924 Ford Model T snowmachine. March 4, 2012
Loren Holmes photo
The Perrins' Rainy Pass Lodge, a checkpoint on Puntilla Lake in the Alaska range. March 4, 2012
Loren Holmes photo
A snowmachine lies buried in the snow in Nikolai. The Athabaskan village of 100 people is located on the South Fork of the Kuskokwim river, and is the first Iditarod checkpoint after the treacherous farewell burn. March 6, 2012
Loren Holmes photo
Bells outside Nikolai's St. Nicholas Orthodox Church. The Athabaskan village is predominantly Russian Orthodox. March 6, 2012
Loren Holmes photo
Backup sleds shipped to the McGrath checkpoint gather snow on Wednesday, March 7, 2012.
Loren Holmes photo
Jake Berkowitz feeds his dogs at the Takotna checkpoint on Wednesday night, March 7, 2012.
Loren Holmes photo
Mushers and volunteers at the Takotna checkpoint watch an Iditarod Insider video of Ray Redington Jr, 3rd from left, crashing as he went over Rainy Pass. March 7, 2012
Loren Holmes photo
Jodi Bailey's team makes their way to the start line at the Takotna checkpoint. March 8, 2012
Loren Holmes photo
Volunteers inside the Ophir checkpoint on Wednesday, March 7, 2012.
Loren Holmes photo
Keith Forsgren inside the Ophir checkpoint on Wednesday, March 7, 2012. His family owns the cabin that has been used as a checkpoint for every Iditarod. On the wall are his mother's cribbage winnings.
Loren Holmes photo
The Ophir checkpoint on Wednesday, March 7, 2012. Keith Forsgren's family owns the cabin that has been used as a checkpoint for every Iditarod.
Loren Holmes photo
Ophir checkpoint on Wednesday, March 7, 2012.
Loren Holmes photo
A hula girl decorates the outhouse in Cripple, one of the most remote checkpoints on the Iditarod trail. March 8, 2012
Loren Holmes photo
One of many old buildings left to the elements in Iditarod, a historic mining town in interior Alaska. March 9, 2011
Stephen Nowers photo
Lance Mackey walking past a building in the ghost town of Iditarod, a checkpoint marking the halfway point on the southern route of the Iditarod trail sled dog race. March 9, 2011
Stephen Nowers photo
Martha Wright watches Jeff King come into the Ruby checkpoint on Friday, March 9, 2012.
Loren Holmes photo
Jeff King coming into Ruby on Friday, March 9, 2012.
Loren Holmes photo
A dog team leaves the Ruby checkpoint for a long ride on the Yukon river. March 9, 2012
Loren Holmes photo
The church in Anvik. March 11, 2011
Stephen Nowers photo
A sign outside a building in Anvik. March 11, 2011
Stephen Nowers photo
Dallas Seavey mushes past the church, into the village of Anvik. March 11, 2011
Stephen Nowers photo
Elder Sidney Huntington, 96, reads the race statistics at the Galena checkpoint on Saturday, March 10, 2012.
Loren Holmes photo
A musher arrives in Kaltag at sunset. March 12, 2011
Stephen Nowers photo
A dog team arrives in the Yukon river village of Kaltag. March 12, 2011
Stephen Nowers photo
Susan Butcher's family's sleds and teams outside the Kaltag school on Friday, March 9, 2012.
Loren Holmes photo
Old Woman cabin, on the Kaltag portage between Kaltag and Unalakleet, was a favorite resting place for Iditarod legend Susan Butcher. March 10, 2012
Loren Holmes photo
Peace on Earth, the best pizza on Norton Sound. March 10, 2012
Loren Holmes photo
Sunrise at Unalakleet, the first checkpoint along the brutal coast. March 11, 2012
Loren Holmes photo
Aliy Zirkle leaving Unalakleet for Shaktoolik on Sunday, March 11, 2012.
Loren Holmes photo
The northern lights dance above the Koyuk checkpoint on March 12, 2012
Loren Holmes photo
Photos of village elders adorn the city offices in White Mountain. March 13, 2012
Loren Holmes photo
Dallas Seavey and Aliy Zirkle prepare to leave White Mountain Tuesday morning, March 13, 2012.
Loren Holmes photo
Dallas Seavey leaves White Mountain on Tuesday morning, March 13, 2012.
Loren Holmes photo
Loren Holmes,Stephen Nowers

The 2013 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race kicks off March 3, a 1,000-mile journey through the Alaska hinterland that takes some five dozen mushers through far-flung villages, and even a ghost town (check out the Iditarod Trail map). The race begins in Willow, just up the Parks Highway from Sarah Palin's hometown of Wasilla. The famed Iditarod Trail quickly travels into the wilderness, and mushers soon passing through one remote outpost to another.

There's Skwentna, with a smattering of homes, a U.S. Post Office and a few businesses around a good airstrip -- the closest thing to a true Alaska village in the Susitna Basin north of Anchorage. Up the trail is the Perrins Rainy Pass Lodge, founded before WWII. It might well be one of the most welcomed sights on the Iditarod Trail, at least for a musher. The lodge's setting at the entrance the Happy River Valley below Rainy Pass in the mouth of the Alaska Range, is nothing short of spectacular, and the lodge itself is very comfortable.

The first traditional Alaska village along the Iditarod Trail, Nikolai shines like an oasis for mushers and dog teams tired from the climb into the Alaska Range to the south, pummeled by the drop down to the north, and sometimes just beaten by 75 miles across the rough and desolate Farewell Burn. Predominately Athabascan, the village traces its roots back thousands of years.

Mushers pass through McGrath, Takotna and Ophir before coming upon the ghost town of Iditaord. One hundred years ago, this was the booming hub for gold miners in the Innoko River country. Most of the gold was gone by the 1930s. Iditarod returns to life only briefly now to welcome mushers on its namesake trail.

Then it's on to Shageluk, with a population of about 100. The Ingalik Indian community, one of the first permanent villages in the Innoko River country, has welcomed Iditarod Trail travelers since a winter route was first pioneered west toward the Yukon River. Today, most of Shageluk's residents are still dependent on a subsistence lifestyle.

More villages await up the trail, and then the Bering Sea coastline opens up. As the first checkpoint in Norton Sound and along the Bering Sea, the bustling village of Unalakleet hosts the “Gold Coast Award,” which includes a prize of $2,500 in gold for the first Iditarod musher to arrive.

Mushers travel along the coastline toward Nome, passing through several more villages, including Golovin, where they leave land briefly for a short run across Golovin Bay, placing them about 70 miles from the finish line. In the 1890s, a trading post at Golovin attracted prospectors on the hunt for gold across the Seward Peninsula.

And then there is Nome, the town that is experiencing a bit of a gold-rush resurgence -- have you watched "Bering Sea Gold" on Discovery Channel?