NOME, Alaska -- The winner of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race has come under the burled arch in this western Alaska outpost, but that's just the beginning for this community, where every musher to finish the race gets a hero's welcome.
The town's sirens blare when each of the more than four dozen competitors is about a mile out, and the mushers are all treated like royalty as they cross the finish line under the famed arch on Front Street, and have their pictures taken with fans.
"People come running out of their homes, pouring out of the bars on Front Street, to all run down to the chute and welcome the next team in," said Laura Samuelson, director of the city's Carrie M. McLain Memorial Museum and former official finish-line checker. "It's very exciting."
For more than three decades, residents of this old gold-rush town have greeted mushers at all hours of the day and night as they completed the annual Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, which spans two mountain ranges, dangerous Alaska wilderness and the wind-whipped Bering Sea coast.
Mitch Seavey won this year's race Tuesday evening, edging second place musher Aliy Zirkle by 24 minutes. But the reveling will continue as the rest of the remaining mushers -- 11 had scratched and one had withdrawn as of Thursday morning -- trickle into town over the next few days.
"The tradition of welcoming mushers into Nome is very important because you figure anyone who comes this far on a team of dogs, from Anchorage to Nome, and takes 10 days to get here, or three weeks to get here, they all deserve the same recognition and the same appreciation for making it this far," Samuelson said.
This year's Iditarod began with 66 teams March 2 at a ceremonial start in Anchorage. The official 1,000-mile race for mushers and their teams of dogs started the next day about 50 miles north of Anchorage.
The grueling trek ends in Nome, where Old West lawman Wyatt Earp once owned a bar.
The mushers, heck, even cruise ship passengers and other visitors, are always "heartily welcomed in Nome because this really is the edge of the earth, and it really is the end of the trail," Samuelson said.
Nome and dog mushing are part history lesson, part love affair.
The city -- now with a population of about 3,500 -- exists because of gold, and dog teams helped gold miners get to their stakes in the decades before snowmobiles. It also was the foremost mode of transportation for generations of Alaska Natives.
"The Iditarod, more so than anything I know, for me, is among the quintessential Alaska," said Richard Beneville, a tour company operator, school office and chamber of commerce officer.