After an evening of grilled salmon and craft beer socializing with Molly and Josh’s Fairbanks crew, I departed on a day trip to Manley Hot Springs, 165 miles away on the Elliot Highway. The ride was invigorating and interesting. The first portion mirrored the path to the Dalton Highway, but then veered west up a ridge with views of an immense valley and the distant Alaska Range. The road was windy and primitive. No cars. Just me. I stopped at a pull out and wondered if what I was looking at was Denali, over a hundred miles away. I think it was, most of it was visible, but haziness and distance removed some of its impressiveness at that time. I continued onto the remote, isolated Manley Hot Springs, where Josh mentioned I would find some real gun-toting, libertarian, off-the-grid Alaskans. I did find a few friendly folks at the lone gas station, waiting for the attendant to return from home on his ATV. I suppose its common practice in such a small town to leave your job unannounced for a few minutes to run an errand. I purchased my fuel and walked out to my motorbike. A young man on a four-wheeler was strapping down a case of Budweiser. I guess there isn’t much else to do in such a small, quiet town.
But I was unaware at the time of my visit that this little mining village of 70 people on the banks of the Tanana River was the site of the most gruesome spree killing in Alaska history. Michael Silka, in 1984, is believed to have killed 9 people, including a two year old and a pregnant woman. Silka’s vehicle was spotted near the boat launch area where six missing person’s were last seen. Since Silka was under investigation for an unrelated homicide, the state troopers descended on the area via helicopter. Evidence of the murders, including blood and used cartridges were found at the scene. An all day helicopter search for Silka commenced. Many hours later, the helicopter search team found Silka and offered a chance for him to surrender. Instead, Silka stepped out from behind a tree and fired a high powered rifle at the helicopter, killing one state trooper and injuring another. From the air, troopers returned fire at Silka, killing him.