The Iditarod is a most amazing journey. “Difficult” is an understatement. So is “long.” Over the years, more than 400 mushers and teams from many different countries have finished the grueling March race between Anchorage and Nome. When they come down Front Street on their way to the finish chute, past cheering onlookers, their eyes are on the burled arch in its ceremonial spot over the road. No matter what place a team finishes, that arch is a symbol of an arduous journey successfully completed, a job well done, and of a long-awaited rest – for both dogs and mushers –just up ahead.

The burled arch didn’t always hang above the finish line, though. The first years of the race were spent getting all the other details organized, without thought to an official marker at the finish line.

Iditarod legend tells of an impromptu finish line fix during the first race in 1973, when an onlooker made a red line in the snow with a packet of Kool-Aid drink powder. The next year, the last two finishers came in holding paper plates with the words “The” and “End.” Neither approach was very ceremonial. After more than 29 days on the trail, musher Red Fox Olson (who had carried the “End” sign), thought the finish a bit of a let-down.

His vision for a more official marker, one that would last through the years, led him to an impressive tree along Rosie Creek in Fairbanks. Local volunteers helped shape the piece of lumber, which was airlifted to Nome at a cost of $1,300.

The original burled arch reigned over 25 Iditarod Races before it broke apart when being moved after the 1999 Iditarod. It now graces the wall of the Nome Rec Center. A burled spruce log to replace the arch was donated by Iditarod volunteer Jim Skogstand from his property in Hope, Alaska. The log was planed, carved and painted Bob Kuiper in Sterling, Alaska, then trucked to Anchorage, where it was flown to its final destination.

The new burled arch is renovated every few years to protect it from harsh weather and effects of Nome’s sea air. It’s definitely more impressive, and enduring, than a paper plate. And now, for mushers and fans, the Iditarod finish just wouldn’t be the same without it.

You can find the burled arch near Nome City Hall at 1st and Division most of the year. On the first Sunday after the Iditarod start, a front loader carefully moves the arch to its place at the west end of Front Street, where it stays until the end of the race.

Tip: Be sure to check out the back of the arch, too, where you can see the many burls, which are aberrations of the tree’s normal growth.

Getting There

Latitude: 64.498547
Longitude: -165.408649
Driving Directions