The map was useless. This backroad, like the others we’d driven that evening, had once led to somewhere relevant—a barracks maybe, or a bunker, or an underground hospital—but now it was no more than a groove in the tundra.Continue reading “Adak, Alaska, Part 1: History, beauty and destruction”
It was October 2013 and I was in Charleston, South Carolina, for a three-day speech pathology symposium. At the end of that third day I was fried and more than ready to return to our hotel. 2013 being pre-Uber, I called for a cab. “We’ll have a taxi there in five,” the dispatcher told me.
Like most visitors, Dale and I took a floatplane to Brooks Camp, which is in Katmai National Park and can only be reached by air or water.
Dale had been on a floatplane before, but this was my first time on such a unique form of transport, and it was very, very cool. When the experience starts out with a photo-op like this, it’s gotta be great, right?
What they are, and how to survive ’em
“Point, you’re going to want to retreat; Point, you need to retreat.”
During the day, park rangers stood sentry at various places throughout Brooks Camp, monitoring bear activity and sharing details with one another via radio. We were on the Lower River Platform, and the ranger had his binoculars trained on a spot across the Brooks River known as the Point. He was letting his counterpart know that a bear was headed their way.
It was September 9, and we were on the Brooks Falls Platform, where two Katmai Park Rangers, Dave and Becca, were broadcasting a “Play-by-Play” streaming video for the Bear Cams audience, with Becca narrating the activity. Dale and I were listening as well, hoping to learn a little more about Brooks Falls bears.
A look at the bear that stole my heart
“That girl’s gonna be the first female president,” I said, and Dale laughed. He understood what I was talking about.
We were on the Brooks Falls platform, observing the bears. The falls provide the best fishing on the river, and, while the occasional mom and cubs passed through, the area was dominated by big boars. Amidst all of them, however, stood a little female, waiting patiently at the lip as the salmon jumped around her. Continue reading “Katmai National Park: My favorite bear”
In August, Dale and I and our friend Jingyi took a day trip to Barrow, or Utqiaġvik, as it is now known.¹
The town of Utqiaġvik (an Iñupiat word that’s pronounced oot- kay-ahg-vik) is the northernmost point in the United States, and this was our reason for going. We wanted to dip our fingers in the Arctic Ocean, maybe see polar bears or whales, and visit the northern-most point of America before catching the 7:00 PM flight back to Anchorage.
Utqiaġvik sits at 71°18′N 156°44′W and is 320 miles north of the Arctic Circle, so you might think its slogan, “top of the world,” is accurate. In reality, there are towns in Norway, Denmark, Canada, and Russia that are further north,² but Utqiaġvik is at the top of Alaska (and therefore the U.S.), and it made for a great trip.
We’re on the prowl for bears.
It’s an obsession, really. I talk to coworkers and monitor Facebook pages, looking for the best places to see bears. We drive unpaved roads and rural neighborhoods at a crawl, perhaps slower than we should, considering that Alaska is a place where people value their privacy. We scrutinize creeks where the salmon are starting to run and peer into the forest that lines the roads, hoping to glimpse the round, dark shape of a bear.
I experienced a great deal of anxiety while walking the Camino, and much of it was centered around getting lost. A part of me feared that we would disappear into the wilderness of northern Spain, licking the peanut dust off our empty snack bags to survive.
Never mind that Camino del Norte is not that wild; I was neurotic about having the right resources during our journey.
I’ve been working on this post, a look back at our first winter in Alaska, for weeks, but I didn’t publish it sooner because winter just wouldn’t go away.
This happened just last week: