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>>PEOPLE VS. BEARS: KEEPING BOTH SAFE >>GEAR: PACKING WITH A PRO The Magazine of Life on the Last Frontier

20

The

wildlife issue

Places to see wildlife

Porcupine Points Beware the spiny pig

Getting their closeup

Meet the animals of the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center

ADAK ISLAND:

An Aleutian crossroads

MY LIFE WITH MOOSE Vic Van Ballenberghe reflects on his career as a biologist

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07/08.19 V OLUME 85, NUMBER 6

FEATURES

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Photo Essay: Saving Grace

Animals find sanctuary at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center Introduction by Michelle Theall Photos courtesy of AWCC

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Where the Wild Things Are A guide to hot spots for wildlife viewing By Michelle Theall

Ceaselessly energetic juvenile coastal brown bears spar for hours below Brooks Falls in Katmai National Park and Preserve. MICHELLE THEALL/ wilddepartures.com

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Ice Worm to Octopus

Alaska’s squishy lot By Michael Engelhard

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07/08.19

QUOTED

“I mourned an ignominious end to my superintendent tenure in Alaska. The headlines wouldn’t be pretty. The letters to the editor, worse. I was glad I wouldn’t have to read the editorial pieces. I even wondered if my etiquette pin could survive bear digestion and show up in scat.”

DEPARTMENTS 6

My View North: It Takes a Village

10 Feast: Wild Edibles 12 Alaska Exposed 16 On the Edge: Brown Bear, Black Bear

The Cache 20 Alaska’s state bird, The Salmon Way, salmon mania, blueberry festival, Cranbeary at the Alaska Zoo, farthest north swim race, hagfish, seals

~CLOSE CALLS ON THE JOB DEB LIGGETT P. 32

Discover 28 Sense of Place Keeping it Wild

32 Rambles

Close Calls on the Job

36 Encounters

Where Bears and Humans Converge

40

DENALI PARK

40 Out There

For the Love of Moose

42 Gear

Editor’s Choice; What I Pack

44

NATURAL ALASKA

44 Natural Alaska:

Beware the Spiny Pig

46 History:

Lost Gold

79 Interview:

Caring for the Critters

80 This Alaskan Life: When You Call Alaska Home

42 GEAR

On the Cover: A mature bald eagle in the Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve near Haines. Eagles develop the white head and tail between four and six years of age. They’ve been clocked flying at 30 mph and can dive at speeds up to 100 mph. ~Jon Cornforth/cornforthimages.com

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PACK CREEK

TOP; COURTESY LINDA MASTERSON; MIDDLE: TOM WALKER; BOTTOM: BJORN DIHLE

48 Community: Adak Island

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Appreciating Alaska’s plethora of wildlife

B

EARS, MOOSE, AND WOLVES—OH MY! SURE, THESE AND

other charismatic megafauna are fascinating to watch, and a breaching whale is a wonder of nature, but what about all of Alaska’s wildlife you never hear about? For example, did you know that we have (a few) green, leatherback, loggerhead, and Olive Ridley sea turtles? They are rare, but look for them next time you’re cruising the Gulf of Alaska or Southeast. Two frog species grace our lands: the wood frog and the Columbia spotted frog, the male of which prepares a spot for the female to lay her 1,000-plus eggs. It is the only frog species known to be so chivalrous. Among Alaska’s cetaceans, the showy members get all the attention: humpback whales especially, but also orcas and Dall’s porpoise. Let’s give the other whales some love—for there are many: Stejneger’s beaked, gray (bottom feeders who scoop and filter sediment), blue, and minke (the smallest and fastest baleen whales), to name a few. Of the mustelids, wolverines ( fierce and solitary) and sea otters (cute) get all the attention. But mink (who are opportunists and will mate with a variety of partners and eat just about anything they can get their paws on) range throughout most of the state, too, and some albino individuals have even been reported. Then there are the spunky martens; I remember one getting into the pancake batter at my dad’s hunting camp years ago—barged right into the cook tent and brazenly dashed across the plywood countertop to peer into the metal bowl. I find the pinnipeds a little harder to relate to. The caterwauls of the sea lions and the walruses’ awkward lumbering repel me. It’s not their fault, of course. The seals seem a little friendlier

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with those large, glassy eyes and a curious nature. Bats are cool because they eat mosquitoes and other bugs that bug me, but when they swoop past my head at dusk I nevertheless duck. Little brown bats are the most common in Alaska. Tiny rodents like mice, voles, and lemmings freak me out (those beady eyes), and shrews with their pointy little noses— eek! But since they are food for bigger animals, I’ll give them credit. Plus, the scientist in Never Cry Wolf ate mice and survived, so there’s that. I know these critters have value in simply existing, but I can’t quite feel an affinity. Then there are, of course, the fish and birds. Fishing and birding are major draws for both Alaskans and visitors. Although neither activity is a passion for me, I do appreciate their occasional bright colors, and the varied thrush’s low, vibrating trill from the tallest tree makes me happy in a lonely sort of way. Let’s not leave out butterflies, clams, sea urchins, and such, for all of these species make Alaska a unique, lively ecosystem. I try, when watching the big ostentatious beasts strut their stuff, to remember the vital roles the humbler animals play in the complex web of life. And speaking of webs and villages, I’d like to welcome Serine Reeves to our editorial team. She’s Alaska magazine’s photo editor, and we’re excited to see what new imagery she discovers in our effort to share Alaska with you. Susan Sommer, Editor editor@alaskamagazine.com

COURTESY SUSAN SOMMER

It Takes a Village

This dragonfly sat still for several minutes while I snapped its picture. A housefly even landed on its wing and it barely moved, but it did eventually fly away.

A L A S K A M A G A Z I N E . C O M JULY/AUGUST 2019

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STAFF Q&A The Magazine of Life on the Last Frontier

Mornings: Are you more of a grumpy bear or a chirpy chickadee?

GROUP PUBLISHER EDITOR

Susan Sommer

SENIOR EDITOR

Michelle Theall

ACCOUNT EXECUTIVE

Melissa Bradley

ART DIRECTOR ASSISTANT EDITOR

Susan SOMMER

Chirpy chickadee —just ask John and Jill at the Tok Visitor Center!

Chirpy chickadee, even before coffee!

John LUNN

PHOTO EDITOR GEAR EDITOR CONTRIBUTING EDITOR HUMOR COLUMNIST

Michelle THEALL

Melissa BRADLEY

DIGITAL CONTENT MANAGER DIRECTOR OF PUBLISHING SERVICES

Since I have to be a bear, I’ll be a happy, morning bear with a good cup of coffee.

I am the chirpy chickadee who brews coffee, makes bacon, and freaks out all the grumpy bears.

SPECIAL PROJECTS PRODUCT MANAGER DIRECTOR OF MANUFACTURING

Grumpy bear who kind of covers his eyes and pretends he has more time to sleep.

The grumpiness of the bear is in direct proportion to the proximity of the French press to the den. After that, it’s all good!

Nick JANS

Can I be an existential porcupine? If not, put me down as a bear.

More like a marmot. Sit on my rock, scratch a bit, and warm up in the sun. Serine REEVES

Bjorn DIHLE

David L. RANTA

First thing in the morning, I’m definitely a grumpy bear.

Donald HORTON

Fall/winter: Grumpy bear. Spring/summer: Chirpy chickadee.

Budding curmudgeon all times of the day.

Steven Merritt Alexander Deedy Serine Reeves Bjorn Dihle Nick Jans Susan Dunsmore Seth Fields Karen Fralick David L. Ranta Mickey Kibler Donald Horton

ALASKA ADVERTISING SALES

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Alaska magazine, 301 Arctic Slope Ave., Suite 101, Anchorage, Alaska 99518 melissa.bradley@alaskamagazine.com

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A publication of Morris Communications Company, LLC 735 Broad St., Augusta, GA 30901 PRESIDENT VICE PRESIDENT DIRECTOR OF CIRCULATION

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Morris Communications Company, LLC CHAIRMAN William S. Morris III PRESIDENT AND CEO William S. Morris IV Alaska, ISSN 0002-4562, is published monthly except for combined July/August and December/January issues by MCC Magazines, LLC, a division of Morris Communications Company, LLC. Editorial and Advertising Offices: 301 Arctic Slope Ave., Suite 300, Anchorage, Alaska 99518. Not responsible for the return of unsolicited submissions. Known office of publication: 735 Broad St., Augusta, Ga. 30901. U.S. subscription rates: $24 for one year; $46 for two years. Canada and Mexico add $20 per year (U.S. Funds only). Outside North America add $40 per year (U.S. Funds only). Our trademarks registered in the U.S. Patent Office and in Canada: “Alaska,” “Alaska Sportsman,” “Life on the Last Frontier,” “From Ketchikan to Barrow,” “End of the Trail,” “The Guide Post,” “Main Trails & Bypaths,” “Alaska-Yukon Magazine.” Periodicals postage paid at Augusta, Ga., and additional mailing offices. POSTMASTER: Send address changes to Alaska, PO Box 433237, Palm Coast, FL 32143-9616. In Canada, periodicals postage paid at Winnipeg, Manitoba; second-class registration number 9771, GST No. 125701896. Canadian Publications Mail Sales Product Agreement No. 279730. © 2019 Alaska magazine. All rights reserved. Printed in the U.S.A. Volume 85, Number 6.

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This month at

alaskamagazine.com

Log on and explore life on the Last Frontier.

Give us your best shot!

Share your best photos with us on Facebook and Instagram and in our annual photo contest for a chance to be featured on our social media or here. While lying down on some rocks trying to take pictures of otters in Seward, Michael Osborne looked up and quickly captured this image of an eagle flying overhead. Stephen Donohue submitted this photo of a lynx to Alaska magazine’s 2018 photo contest.

SUPPORT AUTHENTIC ALASKA NATIVE ART TAKE HOME A TREASURE FROM ALASKA BUY FROM MEMBERS OF FEDERALLY RECOGNIZED TRIBES Under the Indian Arts and Crafts Act, it is unlawful to offer or display for sale or sell any art or craft product, in a manner that falsely suggests it is Indian produced, an Indian product, or the product of a particular Indian or Indian tribe or Indian arts and crafts organization. For free brochures on the Indian Arts and Crafts Act, Alaska Native Ivory, and the Source Directory of Indian owned businesses, contact: U.S. Department of the Interior Indian Arts and Crafts Board Toll Free: 1-888-ART-FAKE or 1-888-278-3253 Email: iacb@ios.doi.gov Web: www.doi.gov/iacb Earl Atchak, Cup’ik, Chevak, The Future Berry Picker, ©2003 University of Alaska Museum of the North, UA2003-13-1, Photographer Barry J. McWayne, Rasmuson Foundation Art Acquisition Fund Collection.

Enter the Alaska magazine annual photo contest! See our website for details. FIND US ONLINE

JULY/AUGUST 2019 A L A S K A

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Wild Edibles

Devil’s club

Free, fun, and nutritious BY SUSAN SOMMER

one of my favorite pastimes every spring, summer, and fall. Our Southcentral Nettles forests are rich in fiddlehead ferns, morels, spruce tips, and currants; meadows grow fireweed, dandelion, chives, dock, and nettle; and each fall, south-facing slopes burst with blueberries, crowberries, and lowbush cranberries. I get the same response every time I tell someone new that I eat Devil’s club: confusion, disbelief, sometimes even horror. “Just the shoots,” I assure them. When plucked prior to unfurling, the shoots are soft and tasty. Leather gloves are a must, though, to protect fingers from the spiny stalks. These early spring greens can be chopped up and added to any favorite dish as a hearty green. I even freeze them to toss into smoothies mid-winter for fresh flavor. Stinging nettles are an excellent source of protein, calcium, iron, manganese, and vitamins A and K. Cooked or dried, the sting disappears. Harvest the newest leaves and use them in everything from omelets to pesto to tea. Rather than cussing the dandelions in my yard from here to eternity, I eat them. While the leaves are edible, I prefer the flowers; battered and fried in butter, they make a crunchy treat. I also freeze them for a lively summer memory in smoothies. These bright yellow wonders are high in vitamin D. I also once tried dandelion root “coffee,” which looked just like the real thing and tasted surprisingly similar. If you need some space, chomp on a fistful of wild chives while out hiking—the stalks—especially the ones with purple blooms—are pungent enough to keep away evil spirits as well as your date or mate. Substitute chopped chives in any dish that calls for scallions. I pick berries as often as possible every fall, but no matter how many I squirrel away, I always run out in March. Ah, well, better to have plucked and eaten than never to have plucked at all. The quiet time on a mountainside awash in fall colors, gathering each berry one by one, is equally as enjoyable as using them throughout the year in Berries muffins, pancakes, and pies.

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Dandelions

Wild chives

SUSAN SOMMER

H

ARVESTING WILD ALASKAN EDIBLES IS

A L A S K A M A G A Z I N E . C O M JULY/AUGUST 2019

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ALASKA EXPOSED Hello Dally

Dall Sheep rest on the tundra during a blustery day in Denali National Park and Preserve. Focal length: 400 mm Shutter speed: 1/400 sec Aperture: f/8 ISO: 1600  DONALD M. JONES/

mindenpictures.com

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ALASKA EXPOSED Moose Country

A bull moose splashes through a pond near Mt. Hesperus on the north side of the Alaska Range. Shutter speed: 1/800 sec Aperture: f/4.0 ISO: 200  ERIC M. BEEMAN

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Mythic fear versus reality in the Alaskan wilderness

S

EVERAL YEARS BEFORE I EVER SAW ALASKA, I TRUDGED

along a dusty trail in backwoods Maine, lugging a chainsaw. Thirty yards to my left, I glimpsed a small, dark shape shinnying up a poplar: black bear cub! I chucked my saw and ran like Usain Bolt, sprinting the half mile back to my car. The whole way, I was bracing for the impact of the slavering mother bear—the claws, the teeth. It never came. I rested aching lungs and legs, cautiously retrieved my saw later on, and counted myself lucky. Okay, ready for a pop quiz? Imagine you’re walking somewhere in The Great Land—maybe in the shadow of Juneau’s Mendenhall Glacier, up some brushy hillside on the Kenai Peninsula, or along a creek in the Brooks Range. You come around a clump of alder, and there before you stand two young black bear cubs, less than 20 feet away. They moan and bawl, freaked out by your sudden appearance. At that moment, a deep woof echoes behind you, and there stands mom, glaring and huffing. You’re between her and her babies. What are your odds of being bowled over in the next few seconds, mauled, and possibly killed? Well, damn near zero. That’s right—nada, zilch, squat. Uh…say what? How can that possibly be? Even utter cheechakos know that you might as well stroll into the path of a runaway beer truck as mess with momma bear. But the point stands: in not

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BY NICK JANS

just Alaska, but across the entire North American continent, from Canada through Mexico, over centuries, there’s not one documented case of a female black bear (Ursus americanus) killing or even seriously injuring a person in defense of her cubs. Don’t worry if you flunked your little test. Most lifelong Alaskans would, too. I sure had no idea way back when, and didn’t fully figure it out until the late 1990s—my conclusions based on personal experiences and scientific input. Fact is, black bear mothers may well paw, stomp, growl, chatter their jaws, or make short, bluffing rushes toward too-near humans; but they stop short of contact, and often run their babies up a tree before retreating. Even when researchers were temporarily capturing cubs to weigh and examine, black bear females didn’t attack—in dozens of incidents, spanning decades. So, by now, you’re totally confused. Where the hell do all those stories of cub-defending mayhem come from? Some sort of not-so-urban myth? Or am I just spouting some misinformed, bear-hugging drivel? Actually, it’s a simple case of confusing one bear with another. When folks talk about mother bears fiercely guarding their young, they’re thinking of that other bear: Ursus arctos, the brown bear (interchangeably known as grizzly). While similar in basic appearance and behavior, and found in overlapping habitats, black and brown bears are two separate species, with

NICK JANS

Brown Bear, Black Bear

Female brown/grizzlies are fiercely defensive of their young.

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distinctly different internal wiring. Except for extremely rare individuals in unique situations, neither sees us as food. Instead, wild, unhabituated members of both species perceive humans as potential threats, to be avoided if possible. But if surprised at close range, one essential difference between black bears and grizzlies emerges. Most black bears will run like scared cats. Grizzlies in the same situation are more likely to charge— females with cubs, even more so. All but a handful of grizzly attacks resulting in injury or worse are due to such defensiveaggressive responses; and about half of these cases are identified by experts as females protecting young. (That said, mother grizzlies don’t want trouble and will usually retreat if given the chance.) Meanwhile, female black bears may huff and puff, but essentially never follow through. Dr. Steven Herrero, known for his decades of bear attack research, thinks the differing responses may be tied to the two species’ differing evolutionary paths. Black bears evolved in woodlands, where they and their cubs could find safety from predators by climbing trees; grizzlies were shaped on the barren Pleistocene steppe, where fiercely defending personal space and cubs was genetically rewarded by increased survival. So, does all this mean that black bears aren’t at all dangerous? Hardly. Keep in mind that a 150-pound four-year-old adolescent can match speed and strength with an NFL linebacker. Foodconditioned bears—that is, those who have learned to get food from human sources, including trash cans, direct handouts, and locked cars (which they can open like tin cans)—can lose their natural shyness in a hurry, and become pushy. By the way, that goes even more so for grizzlies. Also remember that bears in viewing areas, where they’re used to seeing humans, usually ignore people. It’s a condition called neutral habituation. So far I’ve focused on female bears with cubs. Though almost all wild male and cub-less female black bears tend to be shy and

unaggressive, in rare situations they can turn more dangerous than brown bears. Statistics point to males especially. If a bear is hanging around, following you or approaching (especially if no alluring human food scents are in the air), and keeps pressing closer, you might be the focus of predatory intent. Even though most black bears are 80-to-90-percent vegetarian—more out of necessity than choice—the bear is investigating you as a potential next meal. It’s time for you to appear as large, dangerous, and noisy as possible. Shout. Throw sticks or rocks. Flap a tarp, bang on a pot. Climb on top of a rock or stump. If there’s more than one of you, bunch up. Rush at the bear, screaming, jacket spread wide. If such a bear attacks you, don’t play dead. Fight back as if your life depends on it—which indeed, it might. Predatory incidents are exceedingly rare; in Alaska, they average fewer than one every five years (though there were two such deaths in 2017). Whether you have decades of bear experience or have never glimpsed one outside a zoo, the bottom line is that you’re far more at risk standing on a stepladder in your own yard or driving a car than walking down a trail in bear country. Keep aware of your surroundings; travel in groups; make noise as you go; carry bear spray (statistically more effective and safer than a gun if used properly); and you’ll be fine. You’re unlikely to even glimpse any bear at close range, especially a black bear mother with cubs. If you do, don’t panic. Back away calmly to a respectful distance and give her room to collect her kids and go. Momma black bear doesn’t want trouble. She’s got way more important business on her mind. Nick Jans is a longtime contributing editor to Alaska and author of the award-winning collection of essays The Giant’s Hand: A Life in Arctic Alaska, available from nickjans.com.

NICK JANS

Black bears, while attentive mothers, are far less prone to attack than brown/grizzlies.

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Cache The

07/08.19

“The Cache� is written and compiled by Assistant Editor Alexander Deedy.

Caught in the Rain

A red fox rests near the Eielson Visitor Center in Denali National Park and Preserve. Fur color varies from red to black to silver in Vulpes vulpes. JON CORNFORTH/ cornforthimages.com

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SALMON MANIA

Alaskans get wild about salmon

Visit aksalmonday.com for a list of events around Alaska.

an annual date to commemorate the beloved fish and its importance to life in the north. Events—which often include eating salmon— take place in cities across the state. So, in case you need an excuse to chow down on some salmon, this is a pretty good one.

DID YOU KNOW? SOME FACTS ABOUT ALASKA’S DE FACTO STATE BIRD • Diet or blood type won’t significantly increase your likelihood of being bitten. Mosquito experts say the bugs are primarily attracted to carbon dioxide and heat. • Climate change might make Alaska’s mosquito problem worse. Research shows that warming temperatures mean mosquitoes in the Arctic emerge sooner, grow faster, and live longer. • A female mosquito’s saliva contains an anticoagulant that makes it easier to suck up blood. The victim’s immune system reacts to that saliva, which is why your skin gets an itchy bump. • Some mosquitoes will overwinter and can survive temperatures that plummet to 25 degrees below zero. 20

Competition gets serious during the pie eating contest.

CELEBRATE THE BERRY Annual blueberry festival

WHY HIKE TO A BLUEBERRY STASH when you could ride a chairlift? The weekend of August 17 and 18, Alyeska Resort is holding its annual blueberry festival and will be offering free chairlift rides to berry stashes on the mountain. This is the resort’s 12th annual celebration of Alaska’s short blueberry season. Each year more than 10,000 people turn out for two days of blueberry creation contests, pie eating contests, a 5K fun run, art booths, local vendors, and live music.

(THIS PAGE) TOP: COURTESY GILLFOTO; LEFT: JAMES GATHANY, COURTESY CDC; ABOVE: COURTESY ALYESKA RESORT

Learn more

SALMON-FLAVORED VODKA. SALMON leather wallets. A salmon-themed music festival. A plane painted with a 129-foot-long Alaskan king salmon. Salmon are pretty much ubiquitous in The Last Frontier, and on August 10, the state will celebrate its fourth Alaska Wild Salmon Day,

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A competitor and support kayak in the 2015 race.

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THE NOVELTY OF SWIMMING in the farthest north swim race in the United States is part of what draws competitors to the annual Change Your Latitude race in Sitka, says race director Kevin Knox. “The other part is we just put on a really fun event,” he says. The annual swim race typically takes place in August and includes 1k, 3k, 6k, and 10k options. Before the race, swimmers can choose to take part in relaxed adventure swims. Local boat captains will ferry swimmers to a remote location and let them swim for about an hour. During the pre-race safety meeting the day prior to the race, a professional chef puts together a meal of Alaskan salmon and other locally sourced food. “People really have a great time with this event,” Knox says. “It’s been growing every single year and I think a lot of it is the word of mouth.” The race started after an adventure

athlete from San Diego swam nearly 17 miles from Mount Edgecombe to Sitka, and got residents excited about the possibilities of open-water swimming. For its first few years, the race was a fundraiser for the American Diabetes Association. When Knox, who coaches Sitka’s Baranof Barracuda Swim Club, took over he turned the race into a benefit to support the swim team athletes, who range in age from five to 73. During race weekend, the water is typically in the high 50s or low 60s, so Knox says the temperature isn’t a huge barrier. Instead, the biggest obstacle is probably jellyfish, which have stung swimmers before. Though the stings aren’t life-threatening, they are painful, Knox says. Jellies aren’t the only animals on the course though. In past years, curious sea lions have appeared on race day and examined the racers, and pink salmon are sometimes swimming past on their way back to spawn.

(THIS PAGE) COURTESY CHANGE YOUR LATITUDE (OPPOSITE PAGE) COURTESY TEXAS 4000

The country’s northernmost swim race

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Texas 4000 riders pedal into Anchorage on the last day of the 2018 ride.

FISHING FOR A GIVING HOPE CONNECTION Texas 4000 gives funds, support to cancer charities

(THIS PAGE) COURTESY CHANGE YOUR LATITUDE (OPPOSITE PAGE) COURTESY TEXAS 4000

Book looks at how salmon binds Alaskans

WRITER AND PHOTOGRAPHER Amy Gulick’s new book, The Salmon Way: An Alaska state of mind, presents salmon as the lingua franca of all Alaskans. We all understand how important salmon are, whether we eat them, research them, or transform their likeness into art. By spending time with commercial fishermen, biologists, seafood processers, Native subsistence fishers, sport fishing guides, and brown bears catching spawning salmon, Gulick gained a deep understanding of how this species shapes Alaskan lives. Mixed in with a plethora of colorful images of people in pursuit of salmon, and of salmon habitat, are some delightful surprises: strips of drying salmon and their shadows on a wall, a close-up of a sockeye eye, a humorous bumper sticker, a backbone detail. Also included is a handy guide on how to identify the five species of wild Alaskan salmon—illustrated exquisitely. Learn more about the author at amygulick.com.

THE WORLD’S LONGEST CHARITY bike ride begins each June in Austin, Texas, and ends 4,500 miles, 70 days, and 5,000 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches later in Anchorage, Alaska. The Texas 4000 is a charitable bike ride tackled by students at the University of Texas that both teaches students leadership skills and raises funds for organizations that support cancer victims or conduct cancer research. Since the organization’s inception in 2004, it has raised more than $9 million. The 85 students who are riding this summer will split into teams and pedal along either the Sierra, Rockies, or Ozarks route. Along the way, they’ll stop in communities to distribute funds, share messages of support, and educate about cancer prevention. It’s easy to feel helpless in the face of cancer, says Texas 4000’s executive director Scott

Crews, but one thing the young riders do is give people a tangible reason to believe.

“They’re really showing hope to them,” Crews says. “Showing them someone’s doing something in the fight against cancer.” The three groups converge in Canada and ride the final 10 days together to the finish line. Typically, 25 to 30 local riders will ride alongside the team on their last day riding into Anchorage, says Cathy Foerster of the Texas Exes Alaska chapter, which helps organize a welcome event at the finish line. On Friday, August 9, families, supporters, and members of the public are invited to cheer the riders across the finish line at ChangePoint Church in Anchorage. While in Alaska, the Texas 4000 team will donate to the Anchorage Young Cancer Coalition, a group for young adults facing cancer.

EXPLORE America’s Largest National Park

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SOUTHEAST SLIME CHASERS Young Alaskan fishery targets hagfish

>> Seals are

an important piece of the ecosystem and an incredibly important subsistence and cultural resource for coastal Alaskans.

SEALS VS. CLIMATE CHANGE

Seals: 1, climate change: 0, so far

Aaron Baldwin holds an enormous hagfish.

fishermen have been harvesting hagfish during the off season. The market value of a hagfish is for its skin, which buyers in southeast Asia purchase and turn into wallets, handbags, and even couches. “If you’ve ever seen anything that’s eel skin, the vast majority of eel skin is hagfish skin, if not all of it,” Baldwin says. Fish and Game scientists are studying hagfish populations in southeast Alaska in an effort to gather data and ensure the

fishery remains viable if it grows. Baldwin says that so far, the results show that there is a large population of hagfish in the region. The fishery could turn into an earning opportunity for fishermen looking to make some extra money during the off season, but harvesting hagfish comes with some downsides—like carrying the smelly fish on board and scrubbing the hull clean from slime. “It looks like a fishery that you really have to want to do,” Baldwin says.

RINGED SEALS AND BEARDED SEALS, which both use ice during the pupping season, were listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act with the anticipation that a decrease in sea ice over the next century would cause the population to decline. Monitoring through 2016 shows that, so far, seals are doing well. “That was sort of counter to what people thought,” says Lori Quakenbush, a biologist who has been studying ice seals for three

decades. Quakenbush says she doesn’t know yet why the seal populations aren’t stressed and surmised that the decrease in ice cover through 2016 must be within the range of seals’ flexibility. “I think they’re probably more resilient and more flexible than we give them credit for,” she says. She noted that data collected during 2017 and 2018 have not yet been analyzed, and maximum winter sea ice during those years was the lowest on record. Seals are an important piece of the ecosystem and an incredibly important subsistence and cultural resource for coastal Alaskans. As such, the state’s Department of Fish and Game has been monitoring seal populations since the 1960s. “I think we’re lucky that we have a way to monitor, and we have data that goes way back. That’s pretty rare for Arctic marine mammal populations,” Quakenbush says. “So at this point we’re in pretty good shape for recognizing something different if it comes along.”

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(THIS PAGE) COURTESY BRANDI ADAMS (OPPOSITE PAGE) JOHN GOMES, COURTESY THE ALASKA ZOO

HAGFISH ARE ABOUT AS APPEALING as their name implies. These ocean dwelling, eel lookalikes average about 25 inches long, scavenge whale carcasses and other marine detritus, and produce copious amounts of white slime. Now they’re also the target of a fledgling Alaskan fishery. A hagfish fishery already exists along the west coast of the contiguous United States and there’s been interest in harvesting hagfish in southeast Alaska for decades, says Alaska Fish and Game biologist Aaron Baldwin, but until 2016 no one successfully harvested the animals and took them to market. For the last few years, however, a couple of southeast Alaskan

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A L A S K A N A T I V E H EARLI AT SA KG AE NC EA NT ITVEER H E R I T A G E C E N T E R

(THIS PAGE) COURTESY BRANDI ADAMS (OPPOSITE PAGE) JOHN GOMES, COURTESY THE ALASKA ZOO

A NEW POLAR BEAR AT THE Experience Experience Alaska’s Alaska ALASKA ZOONative People Native People

STAFF AT THE ALASKA ZOO thought Lyutyik, the male polar bear better known as Louie, was depressed and missing his Cranbeary, left, and Lyutyik companion after his enclosure mate, Ahpun, together in their enclosure. died in late 2017. He stopped eating, drug his back legs, came down with the flu, and acted generally lethargic. Now Louie has a reason ALASKA NATIVE HERITAGE CENTER to be happy again. A female bear, Cranbeary, came to Alaska from the Denver Zoo in late 2018 and spent a E X P E R I E N C E A L A S K A’ S few months being slowly introduced to her NATIVE PEOPLE new partner. In her past enclosures, Cranbeary exhibited dominant behavior and would fight back against the aggression shown by a typical male polar bear. But Louie isn’t a typical male bear; he’s always had a female companion in his enclosures and has been unusually submissive. “He was always just so gentle with (Aphun) and so sweet. He loves a good little nuzzle,” says Jill Myer, the director of development at the Alaska Zoo. When Cranbeary was first released into the same space as Louie in January, she immediately got in his face and showed her dominance, and Louie immediately backed CELEBRATING 20 YEARS OF CHANGING LIVES, down. They’ve gotten along ever since. M I N D S , C O M M U N I T Y, F U T U R E , A N D P L A C E . On top of their personalities making a Experience stories from the past 10,000 years. good match, zoo staff figured the two would Summer of Performance Art with over 30 Native Summer artists of Performance demonstrating Artthroughout with over 30 Native artists demons Learn about Alaska Native values and traditions with interactive performances. be a good pair because they’re not related Tour• life-size NativeAlaska village Native sites andvalues see the Summer Learn about the subsistence Summer and traditions •demonstrations. Learn• about Tour life-size Alaska Native values and traditions and could potentially produce cubs with Native village sites • Download the ANHC App Native available villageon sites the •AppStore Download the ANHC App available on unique genetic make-ups. OPEN DAILY: Myer says now that Louie has a companopen daily: May 8, 2016 – September open 2016 May 8, 2016 – September 5, MAY5,12daily: - MID-SEPTEMBER ion he’s back to his typical self, and SCHEDULE ONLINE: Winter schedule online www.alaskanative.net Winter schedule online www.alaskanat Cranbeary also appears to be enjoying her WWW.ALASKANATIVE.NET new set up. “She is such a fun, active, interested bear. She’s so cool to watch,” Myer says. “She’s just so curious and playful. She just goes, goes, goes. Always walking around, always playing with something.” Visitors can see Cranbeary and Louie at A nonprofit organization A nonprofit organization the polar bear exhibit at the Alaska Zoo or on the zoo’s live polar bear camera at alaskazoo.org.

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07/08.19

E XPE RIE NC E T HE L A ST F RO N T IE R

Family Time

A cow moose with young calves will defend them as fiercely as a grizzly her cubs. It’s best to watch them from afar. MATTHEW QUAID/ greatnorthernimages.com

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SENSE OF PLACE

Ranger Jane Pascoe on Pack Creek bear-viewing

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Pack Creek

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T WAS A MOMENT THAT WOULD BE MANY

people’s worst nightmare. A brown bear, trailed by a yearling cub, approached a woman as she sat alone on Admiralty Island in northern southeast Alaska. But for Jane Pascoe, working her second season as a ranger managing the Pack Creek Brown Bear Observatory, it was mesmerizing to watch the bear lie down and begin nursing her cub 20 feet away. The true name of Admiralty Island is Kootznoowoo, which in Lingít, the Tlingit language, means “fortress of the brown bear.” The island, at 100 miles long and with nearly 700 miles of coastline, has an incredible density of brown bears. The Pack Creek Observatory, 35 miles as the eagle flies from Juneau, offers one of the few places people can have a safe window into the lives of wild brown bears. Pascoe and a few other rangers are out in the rain, wind, and occasional sunshine from June 1 to around September 10 helping visitors enjoy a respectful and intimate

BY BJORN DIHLE

viewing experience. Before she first got the chance to work at Pack Creek, Pascoe, a resident of Haines in northern Lynn Canal, had been employed by the Alaska Department of Fish Game for six seasons, mostly surveying salmon in rivers across Southeast. “I was awestruck,” she said of her first experiences at the observatory. “It was amazing people could be there experiencing brown bears and not causing them any stress or changing their behavior. Bears get a lot of bad press. You only ever hear about them when they’ve killed or mauled somebody. The value of Pack Creek is that it provides an opportunity for people to view bears in their natural environment and shows them a set of characteristics of brown bears that they’ve never really understood or seen before. After that first 10-day shift, I knew it was something that I wanted to do.” Pascoe has been a full-time Pack Creek ranger since 2010. She spends much of her summer in a

BJORN DIHLE

Keeping it Wild

Pack Creek ranger Jane Pascoe and her favorite bear “Chino” in July of 2018.

A L A S K A M A G A Z I N E . C O M JULY/AUGUST 2019

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The bear known as “Chino” and the male cub she adopted in 2012 at Pack Creek.

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Chino and her first set of cubs wading Pack Creek in 2017.

on hats. When Chino was a yearling, she and an unrelated male spring cub developed a friendship. The two mothers tolerated one another, and the families were often together. When their mothers kicked them out, the two youngsters stuck together for a couple years. The male bear was a bit lazy and depended heavily on Chino to give him salmon she caught. Their relationship ended as abruptly as it began once he began trying to mount Chino a bit too frequently. In 2016, Pascoe returned to Pack Creek to find Chino nursing two cubs of her own. “It was probably one of the most amazing things I’ve witnessed. I feel really fortunate to have been out there so long. I realize how lucky I am,” Pascoe said. No one would be surprised if Pascoe wandered off in the woods and lived full time with the bears of Admiralty Island someday. But in 2019, at least, you’ll find her at Pack Creek happily greeting visitors and watching over the bears. Bjorn Dihle is a Juneau writer. You can contact or follow him at facebook.com/BjornDihleauthor or instagram.com/bjorndihle/.

BJORN DIHLE

wall tent on Windfall Island, a five-minute skiff ride from the south spit of Pack Creek. During peak season, beginning July 5 and ending August 25, she and three other rangers work six-hour shifts at the observatory from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. To preserve Pack Creek’s wilderness character, only 24 people are permitted to visit each day during peak season. Pascoe’s duties include orienting visitors, helping boats anchor, and making sure floatplanes don’t get stranded in an ebbing tide. Her biggest goal is making sure people don’t displace or stress bears. If Pascoe is working the morning shift, it’s her job to make dinner for the rest of the crew. The rangers also have a wide range of camp chores and maintain a mile-long trail through the old growth forest to a viewing tower. If Pascoe has spare time, and the weather isn’t terrible, she often walks the trail or sits out in the estuary. When the weather is nasty, a common phenomenon in Southeast, Pascoe finds solace in a book and hot cup of tea. Sometimes, during calm, pleasant evenings, she’ll kayak around Windfall Island and take in the crimson play of colors on the ocean and mountains of Admiralty. Around two dozen brown bears use Pack Creek during the summer; additional bears inhabit the watershed during the spring and fall when there are very few to no human visitors. Each bear has a different level of tolerance for people. Pascoe and the rangers come up with nicknames for the bears that are regularly seen and seem comfortable around people. The nursing yearling cub that had so mesmerized Pascoe is known as Chino, and she’s now an adult. Pascoe loves that bear more than ice cream, puppies, and maybe even her husband. “She’s an exception. I’ve watched her grow up and had countless solo encounters with her, and every one of them has been positive,” Pascoe said. When Chino was a subadult, she spent a half hour lying near Pascoe before chasing a mink in circles around the ranger. On another occasion, Chino sat in the creek, grabbed floating salmon, and put them on top of her own head like she was trying A L A S K A M A G A Z I N E . C O M JULY/AUGUST 2019

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RAMBLES

Close Calls on the Job

A park superintendent’s memories

I

BY DEB LIGGETT

n 1998 I was the new superintendent of the four southwestern Alaska park areas— the eight million acres of Katmai National Park and Preserve, Lake Clark National Park and Preserve, Aniakchak National Monument, and the Alagnak National River— quintessential brown bear country. Like all visitors to Brooks Camp, I had attended the required Bear Etiquette School. I was sporting the pin like a badge of honor. Once awarded, the pin must be displayed, demonstrating to rangers that the person in question has had the requisite instruction. I had the theory down pat, but that didn’t translate to onthe-ground experience. I’d yet to encounter a bear. I decided to walk up to Brooks Falls in Katmai. I had visited the falls but never when the sockeye salmon were running and the bears fishing. I crossed the Brooks River on the pontoon bridge, the sound of my feet echoing between the water and the metal floats. Otherwise, it was eerily quiet. The trail cuts through a low-growing forest. On either side, narrower paths intersect at odd diagonals, and I could see deep tracks made in the moss: Bear trails made by bears for bears. At the time, construction for an elevated wooden

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skyway was still a month away, so I followed the bright flagging for the upcoming project. Popping briefly out of the forest, the trail wound through mounds covered in tall grass. How far ahead were the falls? Maybe this hadn’t been such a great idea. Maybe I should be back at camp studying briefing papers. Suddenly—a roar that rendered me weak-in-theknees and seeing the air vibrating. More than one bear. Close. Really close. In a split second, I reviewed the bear etiquette I had learned: Do not approach bears. Do not—do not— run. Do not make direct eye contact. Make yourself look large. Raise your arms. Make yourself look like a big boar. (Yeah, right, I thought.) Talk to the bear so it knows you are human. Back away from the bear. Slowly. If the bear huffs or pops its jaw, you may be near

COURTESY NPS

Brooks Camp

A brown bear enjoys fresh salmon.

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death. Huffing or popping indicates a bear is stressed. But I couldn’t see a bear. Could a bear see me? I mourned an ignominious end to my superintendent tenure in Alaska. The headlines wouldn’t be pretty. The letters to the editor, worse. I was glad I wouldn’t have to read the editorial pieces. I even wondered if my etiquette pin could survive bear digestion and show up in scat. For the record, I didn’t run. I walked very, very quickly with really long steps toward the raised bear-viewing platform at the falls. I might have been walking at the speed of a run but I did not run. I reached the safety of the empty platform above the falls, relieved no one had witnessed my headlong arrival. I could now see who was making the hair-raising racket. Two very large boars were brawling over a prime fishing spot at the base of the falls. A fish was involved but the altercation was about who was the biggest bear. The dominant one stood close to nine feet tall and had to top out at 1,100 pounds, the biggest of the big for a Katmai bear. A bloody flap of skin dangled off the shoulder of the second bear, who eventually gave up his cause, waded away and disappeared up the opposite bank. Later that summer, I was “treed” in the women’s shower building in the employee housing area. At 4 a.m., I wandered over to use the bathroom. Afterwards, I stepped back onto the porch. Advancing ever so quietly and only 20 feet away, a bear shuffled toward me in that heel-toe, heel-toe walk necessitated by having four-inch claws. This was when I really woke up. Retreating to the bathroom, I peeked out the window. The bear sat down in the path. I kept looking and the bear kept sitting. I reclined on the bench in the bathroom but feared falling asleep; I despaired being

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caught like a greenhorn in my pajamas by my more seasoned summer rangers. At some point, as silently as the bear had arrived, it departed. I peered carefully from the porch, and slunk back to my cot. During my last summer in the park, I hosted Alaska’s former Lt. Governor, Fran Ulmer, who is well-known and has a long history in the state. It was August. As summer progresses in Alaska, the snow and glaciers melt, which means rising lake levels and narrower beaches. Fran and I were walking the Naknek Lake beach early one morning, talking and looking at our feet. At the top of my vision I caught the movement of four brown paws. Paws attached to a bear. An unpredictable teenage bear. A bear that may or may not have learned manners. Fran and I gave each other and the bear the side-eye. Don’t look directly at the bear. All three of us recognized that this was a situation. Fran and I linked elbows and put our outside arms up in the air. Look big. Look as big as you can. Back away slowly. This was the problem. The beach was so constricted, very little backing space was available. Talk to the bear. Fran and I both talk a good line, and we definitely talked to that bear. As I mentally reviewed the potential headlines in the Anchorage paper I also engaged in a little intercessory prayer. Please God. Don’t let the bear eat Fran. The absolute worst-case scenario involved me surviving and Fran becoming bait. But we were of little interest. The bruin hooked a left turn and slipped into the woods bordering the beach. He vanished as quickly as he had appeared, part of the magic of bears.

Deb Liggett served as the superintendent of Katmai and Lake Clark National Parks and Preserves from 1998 to 2003.

COURTESY NPS

Brown bears graze on protein-rich sedges at Hallo Bay in Katmai National Park and Preserve. Coastal brown bears also feed on clams in this area; adults weigh about 1,000 pounds. Farther inland at Brooks Falls, with their giant paws and snapping jaws they grab migrating salmon as the fish attempt to swim upstream to spawning grounds.

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ENCOUNTERS

Where Bears and Humans Converge Protecting both is a full-time job BY MICHELLE THEALL

could do one thing while you’re here, what would it be? The number one answer since the 1990s has been “to see a bear in the wild.” In second place: “go fishing and catch a salmon.” The influx of people flocking to well known bear-viewing areas has increased exponentially over the last few decades, tasking wildlife managers to adapt to keep bears and humans safe. Each area uses its own protocols based on bear behavior research and escalating visitor impact to maintain a fragile balance of enjoyment and safety. The goal of the National Park Service is to continue to provide unparalleled opportunities to see the bruins in their natural habitat, while leaving the bears’ lifecycle undisturbed. But recent incidents in Katmai, Lake Clark, and Denali demonstrate that “bear management” has

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TOP LEFT: In 2018, a tourist waded into the river at Brooks Falls in Katmai National Park to take a selfie with brown bears feeding on salmon in the background. Strict viewing regulations are in place for human and bear safety. This man’s dangerous and illegal stunt was caught on a National Park Service webcam, and criminal charges were filed against him and two others who also entered an off-limits area. ABOVE: A sign along the Denali Park Road warns that people must stay on the road along a certain section. To prevent bears chewing the sign, the park service embedded nails in its edges. The bruins, however, repurposed the sign as a backscratcher.

less to do with managing bears than people, and that we must share the burden to keep these wild places open to all.

Katmai It’s mid-August at Brooks Falls, and 13 bears congregate in the splash zone to gorge on the salmon that pool below the falls before making their desperate leaps to continue their journey to spawn. Excited visitors gather on sturdy platforms, the three raised and enclosed decks at the end of an intricate wooden

labyrinth protected by a series of self-locking gates. Guests cheer for the bears, applauding a successful openmouthed, mid-air salmon catch and groaning in sympathy at each failed attempt. Live-streaming on explore.org allows people in their living rooms to view the spectacle in real time. So on August 9 last year, the world watched as a man in cargo shorts appeared on screen wading toward the feeding bears in order to take a selfie. The video went viral and Katmai rangers started receiving alerts. The bears own this part of the river July through

(THIS PAGE) LEFT: COURTESY NPS; MAIN: PATRICK J. ENDRES/ALASKAPHOTOGRAPHICS.COM (OPPOSITE PAGE) REBECCA ADAMS

A

SK VISITORS TO ALASKA: IF YOU

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(THIS PAGE) LEFT: COURTESY NPS; MAIN: PATRICK J. ENDRES/ALASKAPHOTOGRAPHICS.COM (OPPOSITE PAGE) REBECCA ADAMS

Commercial salmon fishermen and juvenile brown bears clash near the mouth of the Johnson River in Lake Clark National Park along the west side of Cook Inlet. The bears have learned that a net set in shallow waters near shore makes for easy pickings, so they come running when a fishing boat approaches. On this particular day, the photographer watched the bear tangle its feet in the webbing while trying to grab a fish; the bear ended up tearing a hole in the net for its prize. One bear pilfered ensnared salmon multiple times before the fishermen moved the gear to deeper water.

September and approaching them within 50 yards while they are catching or eating salmon, or any other food source, is prohibited. Apparently, the man, along with two other people, used an emergency exit on the platform to gain river access. The group was located later at the bar, charges were brought, and the case is still pending. Park Superintendent Mark Strum said in a statement released by the park service that by entering the closed area, “These visitors are lucky that they escaped the situation without injury. The possible consequences for the bears and themselves could have been disastrous.” The number of visitors to Katmai’s Brooks Falls has almost doubled since 2009. Since that time, the park has remained consistent about educating people and those guiding them about maintaining safe distances and avoiding and discouraging close encounters. In turn, they’ve trained the bears to use specific paths to and from the river to feed. “We try to maintain travel corridors for bears so they can know where they are allowed to be, which helps us manage a camp space where we exclude them. This has led to bears continuing to use the river freely, but has led to some challenges with moving people,” Strum said. Bear jams, inconvenient times when visitors must wait to be escorted past stationary bears or for a bridge or path to reopen because of bear presence, are common occurrences. This year, the floating bridge at the lower platform has been replaced to increase the flow of traffic without disturbing bear activity. With these changes and continued public education, Strum hopes to “continue providing opportunities for people to see these amazing places and animals,” at Katmai.

Lake Clark Sounds of gunfire echo across the beach, alarming bears and

viewers nearby. It’s become a common soundtrack accompanying the lap of water on the shore and the mewling of nursing cubs along Cook Inlet. At Silver Salmon Creek Lodge, owner David Coray expressed concern about the safety of guides and guests in the immediate area. In 2015, a young female brown bear was wounded there by a commercial drift-netter. Alaska law states that bears can be destroyed in defense of life and property. Coray, a lifelong Alaskan who along with the NPS and ADF&G in 2002 helped establish the Best Bear-Viewing Practices, explained that fishermen seek to procure the salmon running directly along the shore and set their nets near a beach with a receding tide, which creates a shallow water dynamic where bears can easily access the salmon stuck in the net. “Commercial fishing operators, in order to safeguard their catch and their nets, often resort to aversive techniques,” Coray said, “such as shooting at the bears.” Bears in Lake Clark and Katmai are “acclimated bears,” meaning that for generations, they haven’t been hunted or fed by humans. They’ve learned that the creatures they see on two legs aren’t prey, a food source, competition for a mate, or a threat to their safety. This allows visitors to be on foot around the bears and intimately and safely view their day-to-day activities. If fishermen are allowed to haze or kill the bears with bullets, the bears may change their reaction to humans or migrate to other areas outside the park, effectively destroying the bear-viewing opportunities for tourists. Coray would like to see an “offshore policy” in certain areas, where nets would be required to be a certain distance from shore. For now, commercial fishermen in the area remain armed with rifles, and they are forceful in trying to move bears away from their nets. The other threat to bear safety and viewing on the Alaska JULY/AUGUST 2019 A L A S K A

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Peninsula is also human-caused: development. The pending Pebble Mine project, poised near the headwaters of the Bristol Bay sockeye run, would result in an artificial lake created to trap poisons very near to Lake Iliamna, the major corridor for spawning-bed bound sockeyes. “Salmon are the main source of nutrient-rich fat that bears need for hibernation,” Coray said. “So the depletion of salmon as a result of failed containment of toxic mining poisons would directly affect the sustainability of bears to complete their natural life cycles.” The NPS also reported concerns that “copper is the most toxic element to aquatic life, and even at very low concentrations, it may affect a salmon’s ability to return to its spawning grounds.” For the bear populations at Lake Clark to remain healthy, the salmon runs must remain strong—and fisherman must avoid creating conflict with bears feeding close to shore.

Denali Denali wildlife biologist Pat Owen calls 2016 the summer from hell. “I was a mess,” she said. That June, a young bear approached a couple and the man threw his backpack away from him to divert the bear. The bear got a food reward. “The pack had candy bars and bottles of Pepsi,” Owen said. “The bear ate it all. Then he approached a group of three, likely searching for food. The bear got curious and sniffed and scratched a woman, not seriously, but now the bear had caused an injury.” They closed the Alpine Trail and Savage area and searched for the bear. In a situation where a bear has gotten a food reward by raiding a tent at a campground, the protocol is to close the area and send a team into the backcountry with a tent, acting like backpackers. “They cook something odiferous, drawing the bear to the area to see if they get a similar response. Then they give the bear a miserable experience he can remember and associate it with whenever he is in a similar situation again. They use a 12-gauge shotgun and pepper the bear with rubber slugs and bean bags. It’s a very

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effective deterrent.” In this case though, the bear had been aggressive with humans and caused an injury, so they searched for him by helicopter and used baited culvert traps to try to catch him. Upon capture, the plan was to immobilize the bear, collar him, and once he recovered from the sedative, do a “hard release on-site.” A hard release meant opening the trap and bombarding the bear with firecrackers and bean bag shells, to make him traumatized enough to avoid the area in the future. But the bear disappeared. When he was finally located, the bear was severely injured and had to be euthanized. “The bear was half the weight it should’ve been, with a broken and infected leg. It’s the first time in my 30-year career that I’ve had to make that decision. It was tough on me, and tough on my staff,” said Owen. When asked the biggest difference between bear management in Katmai versus Denali, Owen said that bears tolerate humans in closer proximity in places like Katmai where they’re used to seeing large concentrations of people while enjoying a rich and plentiful food source of running salmon. In Denali, the food is much harder to find, and bears respond to humans at a farther distance. “They may also be more bold to try to get calories because they are food stressed.” The decades-old requirement for bear-proof containers in the backcountry keeps human-bear conflict at bay. “I inherited a finely tuned machine,” she said. “We just tweaked it here and there.” The other threats for Denali bears are hunting of the bears once they leave the park boundaries, and climate change. “Typically, bears don’t emerge from the dens until May 1,” Owen said. “On March 24, we saw a sow with two yearling cubs. This spring half the north side of Denali is snow-free.” Asked what the future holds, Owen said, “We’ll just continue to encourage and educate people how to live and recreate safely in bear country. We have to learn to co-exist.” Michelle Theall is the senior editor of Alaska magazine. See her bear photos from all three locations at michelletheall.photoshelter.com.

PATRICK J. ENDRES/ALASKAPHOTOGRAPHICS.COM

Park buses and private vehicles stop to watch a grizzly in Denali National Park.

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OUT THERE

For the Love of Moose A biologist’s life in Alaska BY EMILY MOUNT

sun glittering on frost, a pickup truck climbing the road into Denali National Park. A radio receiver points the way to a group of moose gathered in a nearby valley. A lone figure jumps from the truck and hikes across the crimson and gold tundra, lunch over his shoulder, binoculars around his neck. This is wildlife biologist Vic Van Ballenberghe. Field notebook ready, he settles in for a day of observation. This is a story of a biologist’s biologist. In 52 years of field work, Van Ballenberghe produced over 100 scientific papers, served on the Alaska Board of Game, and conducted one of America’s longest biological studies. Through thousands of hours of patient observation, he came to understand a species’ quirks and personalities and shared his findings with the world. Van Ballenberghe grew up on a farm in upstate New York and spent his youth hunting, fishing, and watching wildlife. Later he attended the University of Minnesota to earn a doctorate in wildlife biology. In 1967, he began researching moose and wolves and was the first biologist in the United States to radio collar a moose. “Radio collars opened a whole new chapter in what I was able to do,” Van Ballenberghe said in an interview. “Individual animals could be followed throughout their lifetime.” This would prove central to Van Ballenberghe’s future research in Alaska. Alaska’s wild frontier has long been a biologist’s paradise. As a graduate student, Van Ballenberghe studied Adolph

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Biologist Vic Van Ballenberghe spent his career and beyond studying wildlife, especially moose.

Murie’s Denali wolf research and dreamed of working in the 49th state. In 1974, he accepted a job with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game studying moose migration along the oil pipeline corridor. Van Ballenberghe collared over 200 moose, as well as a handful of wolves, then took to the skies to track them by radio telemetry. His wolf work shaped his views on predator-prey relationships and resulted in two papers, which he cites as some of his most significant scientific contributions. After spending hundreds of hours tracking by air, Van Ballenberghe decided his feet belonged on the tundra so he could observe his subjects up close. In 1980, a Forest Service position opened the door for him to study moose ecology in Denali’s protected landscape, where moose are tolerant of people. Here, Van Ballenberghe was in his element, tracking his collared subjects

through the park’s mountains and valleys. Even after retiring from the Forest Service in 2000, he continued his research for 17 years in collaboration with the Park Service. Three primary areas of moose ecology shaped his work: how habitat and nutrition related to survival; population dynamics, including calf survival and predation by bears and wolves; and moose behavior, primarily during the rut (moose mating season). Behavioral ecology was a new field, and Van Ballenberghe was at the forefront of integrating behavior and ecology. “His understanding of biology was excellent,” said Terry Bowyer, professor emeritus at University of Alaska Fairbanks. He had not only the ability to get out there and find things, but to know what they meant.” Bowyer worked with Van Ballenberghe for 10 years in Denali. “He’s absolutely the best field biologist I’ve ever met, hands down.”

(THIS PAGE) COURTESY LINDA MASTERSON (OPPOSITE PAGE) VIC VAN BALLENBERGHE

T

HE DAY BEGINS AT DAWN, LOW

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(THIS PAGE) COURTESY LINDA MASTERSON (OPPOSITE PAGE) VIC VAN BALLENBERGHE

During the fall rut, bull moose become very interested in cow moose.

On a daily basis, Van Ballenberghe was in close proximity to his study subjects. His observational skills were exceptional; he could sit for hours in silence, watching. James Peek, professor emeritus at the University of Idaho, was a graduate student alongside Van Ballenberghe in Minnesota and worked with him in Denali. “His ability to see things I couldn’t see was a bit humbling as I considered myself to be pretty observant,” he said. “He knew his study area like the back of his hand, so anything that didn’t look right drew his attention.” While sitting in the field swatting mosquitoes or counting how many bites a moose takes each day, Van Ballenberghe felt an affection for animals which might be seven feet tall at the shoulder and weigh 1,600 pounds. “I began to appreciate their beauty and grace and their value to me beyond being merely subjects of scientific studies,” he notes in his book, In the Company of Moose. Van Ballenberghe had his favorites. One was a giant, handsome bull he called Big Boy. “This bull taught me that moose make decisions,” he stated. “They’re not just going with instinct. They’re able to consider different options and make decisions about numerous things every day. That was an eye-opener for me.” Though he mostly worked alone, Van Ballenberghe welcomed fellow scientists and graduate students to join him in the field. “Vic was always very helpful for the students, mentoring them in a way that didn’t interfere with their own efforts to delve into the problems and find solutions,” Peek said. Some of Van Ballenberghe’s studies involved around-the-clock 24-hour observation, others took place in winter by ski. Many days included exhausting treks across the tundra, where Van Ballenberghe could easily outstrip his colleagues. Van Ballenberghe added a great deal to the scientific understanding of moose behavior. He tested theories on many subjects, from why some bulls are successful at mating while

others are not to pondering the function of the bell (the loose skin under the chin). One of Van Ballenberghe’s greatest scientific contributions is a technical monograph on sexual segregation in Alaskan moose. This study tested hypotheses of why bulls and cows segregate outside the rut by gathering data on forage abundance, habitat selection, food intake, and activity during winter. Van Ballenberghe and his colleagues, including Peek, then developed a model to explain sexual segregation. They received a Wildlife Society award for best wildlife monograph of the year. In addition to his research, Van Ballenberghe was a skilled writer and photographer. He distilled his photos and technical publications into popular magazine and newspaper articles, including a piece for National Geographic in 1987. Van Ballenberghe was appointed to the Alaska Board of Game three times under two governors. With a methodical, sciencebased approach, he took steps to ensure past lessons shaped management decisions, especially for predator control. After leaving the Board, Van Ballenberghe kept an active interest in state policies by writing outspoken opinion editorials for the Anchorage Daily News. “Vic is his own man,” Bowyer stated. “He isn’t afraid to stand up to anybody when he thinks people are doing the wrong thing.” Van Ballenberghe retired in 2017 and lives in Anchorage. Though today there is not a biologist continuing his work, he hopes future scientists will study moose in Denali, especially as the impacts of climate change sweep the Arctic. In retirement, he enjoys attending gun shows, traveling to New York for the autumn turkey hunt, and visiting Anchorage parks to watch moose. Like Murie before him, Van Ballenberghe leaves behind a scientific legacy to inspire the next generation of biologists. Emily Mount is a naturalist, writer, and photographer. emilymountphotography.com JULY/AUGUST 2019 A L A S K A

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GEAR

Now You See Them A spotting scope for Alaskan wildlife BY BJORN DIHLE

If I ever win the lottery, I plan on dropping everything and going on an epic bird and wildlife-watching binge around the world. To keep myself centered—I’ve heard the horror stories that happen to most folks who win the lottery—I plan to give back by volunteering to teach NFL players, MMA fighters, and Navy SEALs the joys of birding. Lucky for me, even if I never win the Lotto, I get to spend a good chunk of the year working as a wildlifeviewing guide specializing in brown bears. At both work and play, a good spotting scope can make all the difference between a decent and great day.

Vortex Viper HD 15-45x 65mm Spotting Scope

This year I tested Vortex’s Viper HD 15-45x 65mm spotting scope. I’m already a big fan of Vortex. I use their Diamondback 3-9x40 rifle scope to help fill the freezer with wild meats, as well as their tiny yet mighty Razor 11-33x50 spotting scope on trips where I need to be conscious of every ounce of weight. I can’t say I was that surprised that the Viper lived up to Vortex’s stellar reputation. I used mine several times a week this spring to watch mountain goats and the occasional black bear on a mountain across the Gastineau Channel, visible from where I live. The Viper was perfect for catching the spring and fall migrations of birds across Alaska. The eyepiece is comfortable, and the scope’s focus is easy and fluid to adjust—which comes in handy, especially for moving critters. The Viper has a lifetime warranty and is built to take on the harshest weather Alaska has to offer, not to mention mishaps like being dropped down a mountainside or attacked by a goshawk. I’ve had the privilege of using many different optics, and I don’t notice much of a difference between the Viper and scopes that cost three or four times as much. I’ll spend much of spring, summer, and fall with the Viper on a tripod over my shoulder while guiding bear-viewing trips and exploring wild places. Whether you’re a wildlife viewer, hunter, or a target shooter, you won’t find better glass for the Viper’s price .

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What I Pack A wildlife photo guide and her gear BY BJORN DIHLE Alaska magazine’s senior editor Michelle Theall runs Wild Departures, a wildlife viewing and photography company, and travels from the Arctic to Southeast and everywhere in between. “When I’m home for too long, I start to sweat and pace like a caged animal,” she admits. “Traveling brings me unadulterated, unhinged joy. Nothing I know of compares to watching a pair of grizzlies spar on a beach or riding an icebreaking skiff to photograph a polar bear nursing her cubs as the sun rises over the Beaufort Sea.” Here are a few of the items she swears by on her journeys across the Last Frontier and beyond.

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Eddie Bauer Microtherm 2.0 Stormdown Jacket

Even if I’m traveling to Africa, I bring my puffy. It packs down to the size of a sandwich, can be used as a pillow or cushion for my camera, and provides a warm layer for cool nights and mornings. Plus, it’s affordable and cozy—sort of like a security blanket or teddy bear.

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Nikon D850 and Nikkor 200-400mm lens

With a huge, full-frame sensor and a fast 400mm reach, this body and lens capture the crisp details of salmon bits clinging to a bald eagle’s talons as he soars overhead. Serious resolution and pro glass make the pores on a bear’s nose at 100 yards look like potholes. Though the lens is grizzly-sized, I can handhold it in most situations, which gives me a chance to work on getting toned biceps like J.Lo.

Mack’s Sound Asleep Soft Foam Earplugs

I suffer from ADD, easily distracted by interesting sounds and moving objects—sort of like a golden retriever tied out in a squirrel sanctuary. These comfy earplugs dampen sound, without making me completely unaware of my environment, which means they’re perfect for airplanes and hotels. Bonus: They block out the wind or chatty companions when you want to immerse yourself in the solitude of wild places.

ThinkTANK Airport Takeoff

A Good Book

I always pack a good book, along with a few indulgent magazine reads. I’m a print gal, not an e-reader—old school, I guess. I spend too many hours in front of a screen, so I like to get lost in the cracked spine and pulpy scents of a page-turning novel. Right now, I’m starting The River, by Peter Heller—sort of a wilderness survival thriller set on a river in northern Canada. Heller is a master at delivering a rugged and remote landscape as a fully rendered character in his stories, which is what I need when I’m en route to an adventure of my own.

If you’re one of those folks who wouldn’t dream of packing and checking your expensive camera into the dark underbelly of a 747, you’ll appreciate this carry-on bag. The Takeoff has wheels and backpack straps and fits in most overhead bins. It holds two camera bodies, three lenses, and my laptop in the outside pocket. I typically manage to squeeze in a few snacks, hand-sanitizer, my glasses, and other sundries too. Most camera bags don’t have wheels, and most camera equipment is heavy—this bag saves your back and protects your precious cargo. Plus, it’s as formidable as the terrain I’ve traversed, holding up mile after mile across the globe.

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Beware the Spiny Pig A compendium of porcupine points HOUGH IT’S NOT YOUR TYPICAL GAME ANIMAL, EVEN

children and the elderly hunted ts’it, clubbing it with a stick. Traditionally, the Gwich’in also killed the large rodent delicacy with snares or deadfall traps. Fall was the preferred time, or winter, when food was scarce and the animal fat and moving slowly. Tracks in the snow, spruce with freshly gnawed, neatly edged patches stripped of bark, or scat pellets at a trunk’s base all betrayed porcupine. A hunter might chop down a tree with one hiding in a crotch. Before boiling the meat he’d singe off the quills—about 30,000—by placing the animal in or above a fire. In an art form endemic to North America, porcupine quills embellished caribou-skin tunics and dresses, leggings, moccasin tops, and the backs of mittens, as did dentalium shells and later, beads. After snipping off the quills’ tips, a seamstress flattened the stems with her teeth or a bone tool before sewing them onto hides punctured with an awl. The keratin spines dyed well steeped in cranberry juice, huckleberry juice, or alder bark solution. The species’ Latin name, Erethizon dorsatum, translates as “irritating back,” and a group of porcupines is a “prickle.” Known for their defensive stance, these tree dwellers can live up to 30 years if they manage to dodge predators. Padded with underfur

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BY MICHAEL ENGELHARD

and coarse, long guard hairs, they curl into balls to weather snowy cold inside caves, cleft logs, or thickets. Common in forests, alders, and willows as far south as Texas while roaming as far north as the Arctic coast, they’ve imprinted Alaska’s terrain. Hudson’s Bay Company agents christened the Porcupine River, a Yukon tributary, inspired by Ch’oodeenjik, the Gwich’in’s “Porcupine Quill River,” and tree blazes edged with tooth marks

(RTHIS PAGE) TOP: TODD SALAT; BOTTOM: TOM WALKER (OPPOSITE PAGE) WAYDE CARROLL, COURTESY SMITHSONIAN ARCTIC STUDIES CENTER

T

Porcupines range throughout most forested areas of Alaska, although none live on Prince of Wales Island in Southeast or nearby islands to the west.

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(RTHIS PAGE) TOP: TODD SALAT; BOTTOM: TOM WALKER (OPPOSITE PAGE) WAYDE CARROLL, COURTESY SMITHSONIAN ARCTIC STUDIES CENTER

Dyed porcupine quills woven on a loom during the Dene Quill Art residency at the Anchorage Museum in 2013.

are ubiquitous. A barbed-wire snarl of the animal world, the beaver’s cousin waddles leisurely because armor permits it. As a first measure to repel unwanted advances, the clawed, nocturnal climber, whose common name stems from the Middle French porc d’épine— “spiny pig”—flattens its foot-long quills, flashing bands of black and white, imitating skunks. The next level of intimidation involves teeth chattering and releasing a pungent odor from a gland at the base of its tail. When these means fail, the critter raises its quills by contracting the back’s skin, faces away from the attacker, and shakes its appendage like a mace to spike the aggressor’s eyes, nose, or muzzle. It literally has its guard up. Hissing, growling, and backing up fast are part of its repertoire. Modern wildcrafters who desire the quills for earrings or appliqué without wanting to harm the animal corner one and tap its back with a Styrofoam paddle, which will collect the bristling bounty. New quills begin to grow within a few days. Dogs lack experience, as dozens of pincushion mugs on the Internet show; but wolverines know how to breach the touchme-not defense. They circle a porcupine, biting its face, and then flip it over to tear into the soft belly. The quills have a nasty way of lancing farther into tissue when a victim’s muscles contract. Hundreds of microscopic one-way barbs at their tips let them pierce flesh easier than hypodermic needles of a comparable size. These barbs flare out under pressure, making it harder to extract any quills—bio-engineers replicate the design in plastic polymer for use in surgeries. Fatalities from quill “migration” deep into bodies have been described. In 1934, a man ate a porcupine meat sandwich and

died from internal stab wounds aggravated by an infection. However, contrary to folk belief, a porcupine cannot “shoot” or “throw” quills. The spines simply dislodge on impact, embedding in the contact surface. It comes as no surprise that male porkers routinely fight each other by wielding quills and orange incisors as weapons. The prize is the chance to mate with a receptive female. A bout’s winner, as a rule the heftier opponent, splashes the damsel with urine, often while both perch in a tree. A female not in heat shakes off the urine and skedaddles. Consummation, if it does happen, occurs on the ground. To spare her suitor the pain, she curls her tail over her back, underside up, covering most of her quills. The lumbering hermits plague not only curious mutts. Craving sodium, they chew on ax handles or wooden parts of hand tools, or on boots rimed with road salt and left outside cabin doors. They chisel through plywood, as sodium plays a role in its production. The famous wildlife biologist Olaus J. Murie, who spent years in Alaska in the 1920s, regarded porcupines as rather vocal. He once mistook two that were bleating for a moose calf; a companion ascribed another one’s moaning to a bear cub. Woodsmen have also reported cries like a baby’s, and screams. But those might have been vocalizations of some hapless porcupine casualty. Rooting for the underdog, Michael Engelhard has a soft spot for “Alaska’s hedgehogs.” He now lives in northern Arizona, where most spiny things are plants. JULY/AUGUST 2019 A L A S K A

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Rediscovering the Alaska Three Metals Mine

F

EW LEGENDS IN ALASKA ARE AS ENDURING AS THAT OF

the Alaska Three Metals Mine, a treasure trove lost somewhere in the remote Talkeetna Mountains since 1920. It was a rich strike with plentiful, easily accessible high-grade ore, lying underneath six ivory-white quartz veins zigzagging through some sheer granite cliffs, high in a mountainous basin, far from the roads. After being located, filed upon with the Territory of Alaska, and analyzed/assayed by mining engineers, it was somehow lost in the shuffle of investor fraud, a collapsing corporation, and tired prospectors. The ore deposits went without human footprint from September 8, 1920, to July 2018, when my two sons and I rediscovered them. Yet, as valuable as the gold itself could be, the history and backstory of this lost relic from Alaska’s heady gold rush days is equally rich. Rumors of its existence and absence of information on its precise location have driven generations of gold-chasing prospectors to spend years of their lives searching for this Alaskan El Dorado. The Willow Creek mining district at Hatcher Pass is historically the third largest lode-gold producing district in Alaska, having produced 624,000 ounces of gold. Numerous historical mines, which ran from the turn of the twentieth century until the

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BY JODY BRION

1940s have produced tons of gold, and are part of the rich mythological fabric of Alaska’s gold rush history. Alaska Three Metals Mine is located near the heart of this gold country. In the summer of 1919, investors funded an adventuresome sortie into the most rugged backcountry of the Talkeetna Mountains, and the Alaska Three Metals Mining Company was established. Alaska Three Metals Mine was essentially six jagged veins of gold-bearing quartz located on an almost inaccessible peak nestled deep in the Talkeetna Mountains. In 1922, world-famous adventurer Harold McCracken filed a report on the Alaska Three Metals Mine with the Territory of Alaska. He kept the location vague. He spoke of the history of the ore deposits, how Indians showed their location to earlier prospectors, the rigorous hardships and challenges those prospectors faced, and how the treasure trove was discovered in 1920. He stated that “There is 50 to 75 tons of high grade ore that can be gathered together along the veins without the use of any explosives.” Then…nothing. McCracken went on to a lifetime of other adventures in Greenland, Africa, and Antarctica. Nature quickly reclaimed the rough road the men had made to the mountain. The Great Depression came, and then World War II. In the 1950s and ‘60s, rumors of this lost gold mine sparked numerous

COURTESY JODY BRION

Lost Gold

Three Metals Mine is in the Talkeetna Mountains and Willow Creek mining district, which was the third-largest lode gold district in Alaska in the twentieth century.

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COURTESY JODY BRION

Author Jody Brion, right, and his sons Aidan O’Donnell (left) and Sean Brion fly via helicopter to their mine.

attempts to find it, but none succeeded. In 2006, I heard about this lost gold mine from an ostensibly senile old-timer. In 2016, after 10 years of research and various airplane flyovers, I was able to determine the location of the mine. That August, I flew by helicopter to the mountain and stayed three days, searching fruitlessly and finding nothing of value. In July, 2018, with my son Sean Brion and stepson Aidan O’Donnell, I again flew by helicopter back to the mountain. We camped on a snowfield, determined to search the steep cliffs of the basin in an attempt to confirm the mine locale. However, our concern was that in the intervening 98 years, a glacier had gone through the basin, covering it with millions of tons of black granite moraines. It looked at first like the veins and the metal-laden quartz might have been buried under a sea of black rock. After camp was set up, we climbed the sheer cathedral walls of the mountain, beginning our search for quartz veins and piles of ore. On the evening of the first day, on our second foray up the steep face of the mountain, we made two remarkable discoveries. First, we found an entire slope of whitish quartz and sulphide ore filled with visible metals, hundreds of tons of ore. Then, as I stayed below to collect samples and shoot video, Sean and Aidan clambered up the cliff, and at the top of a dangerous slope, they found two of the lustrous quartz veins—the lost veins from the 1920s Alaska Three Metals Mine. I filed a claim on the mountainside, calling it Gold Mountain. I am considering options to collect the ore and mine the gold, silver, copper, and other valuable minerals. The team will revisit in the summer of 2019 when the snow melts sufficiently to get back up to the located veins, discover the other veins if they are still visible (and not buried under glacial detritus), and tap into the veins with chisel and pick. Anyone want to go with me? Jody Brion is a lifelong Alaskan who embraces hiking, camping, fossil hunting, and prospecting the wild places of our great state.

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Adak Island Visit Adak Alaska Airlines currently makes two flights a week to Adak, and most visitors—perhaps 400 a year—come for caribou hunting or birding. The Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge (fws.gov/refuge/alaska_ maritime/) has a small office, and the refuge research ship uses the port for switching out crews and the biologists who work at field camps in the Aleutians. If you visit, know that entering the private Aleut Corporation lands (off the road and trail system) requires a permit. The corporation (aleutcorp.com) and some individuals also rent housing and vehicles.

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BY NANCY LORD

S

TRETCHED OUT ATOP THE SAND

dunes and warmed by the August sunlight breaking through clouds, my friend Irene and I surveyed Clam Lagoon. Dozens of harbor seals were hauled out on a narrow curve of sandbar, flat on their bellies or in classic boat-shape, with heads and tails lifted in alertness. Through my binoculars, I studied one and then another, and then one making a slow wake through the water. I had never seen such variety in a group of seals— large and small, as round as boulders or as sleek as beans, and every color from nearwhite to black, solid and spotted and streaked. Their grunts and groans carried to us on the wind. Of all the places we hiked and visited in our week on Adak Island—green hills waving cottongrass and bog orchids, cliffsides with views down at remote bays and up at volcanoes, creeks pulsing with pink salmon, waterfalls, sand beaches, musty military barracks—nothing captured us as much as the lagoon on the north end of the island, with its narrow outlet under a broken-down bridge on one end and a low, narrow isthmus

across the way, separating it from the Bering Sea. Sea otters sought shelter in the lagoon, salmon schooled, eagles shrieked, a mother eider shepherded a tight flotilla of ducklings. When the tide was out, the mudflats coated with algae shone lime-green. A roadside interpretive sign informed us that the lagoon, which does not freeze over, is home in winter to thousands of geese and ducks. Such a remote and wild place, and, yes, a visitor can drive right to and around it. On this Aleutian island slightly larger than the Hawaiian island of Molokai, a network of roads remains from military days. Adak, 1,200 miles southwest of Anchorage, has had various occupancies over the years. Originally, Unangan (Aleut) people called the island home, but by 1830 Russian occupation ended their communities there. The island was declared a wildlife preserve in 1913 and later included in the Aleutian Islands National Wildlife Refuge. At the start of World War II, its northern half was removed from refuge status to be used as a military base. A navy base continued to operate during the Cold War, with all the facilities of a small town—

IRENE OWSLEY

Aleutian Crossroads

Clam Lagoon, with its abundance of bird life, is also a haven for harbor seals, here resting on a sand bar (center of image).

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washed in from the Bering Sea. We walked one day from the lagoon’s outlet along the beach facing Kuluk Bay. The sand beach was strewn with nature’s treasures—many-colored round stones, rock oyster shells, chunks of coral, and a perfect sand dollar. Beach rye, beach greens, and the sturdy plants with yellow “daisy” flowers, known locally as seashore sunflowers, grew against and over the dunes. Farther along, thick piles of kelp, with their fresh yeasty smell, tangled along tidelines. We watched three young gulls noisily pestering their parent, and then a group of tufted puffins floating amongst a larger, squalling flock of gulls. Another time, we walked the outer beach in the other, rockier direction, to a cliff where young eagles were testing their wings. Four black oystercatchers—parents and their similar-sized but shorter-billed young—flew ahead of us, calling. Semipalmated plovers, with their black necklaces, ran along the shore. For a change, there was no wind, and the ocean lapped in with a lulling rhythm. Adak’s future is undecided—challenged by the realities of weather, distance, economics, and politics. The leaders of the Aleut Corporation and the City of Adak long have imagined that the island’s location would prove to be a great asset for global shipping as well as a hub port for commercial fishing and processing. Although a small amount of fish processing is currently taking place, grander plans have yet to materialize. Clam Lagoon, meanwhile, is recognized as a special place. Under the transfer agreement that placed its ownership with the Aleut Corporation, it is specifically designated as a marine mammal sanctuary. Birders consider it the island’s “hot spot.” Nancy Lord, a former Alaska Writer Laureate, is the author of several books including Fishcamp, Beluga Days, Early Warming, and pH: A Novel. She lives in Homer and teaches writing for the University of Alaska and Johns Hopkins University.

IRENE OWSLEY

schools, swimming pool, theater, chapel, McDonald’s restaurant. The base closed in 1997, and most of its lands were transferred to the Aleut Corporation. Today, only about 80 people live full-time on Adak, in the dense center of town. (This compares to 90,000 stationed during the peak in World War II and 6,000 during the Cold War.) Most community functions—city offices, community center, gym, post office, the school with a handful of students—are housed in the old high school building. Few of the thousand housing units are lived in, and the rest of what remains looks like the set of a post-apocalyptic movie. The notorious Aleutian weather of wind and rain has torn the siding from buildings, ripped at roofs, and entered through broken windows to grow mold like green carpeting. Rusting vehicles with flattened tires rest in weedstrewn driveways. The lettering has been scoured from street signs. The southern part of the island, meanwhile, transitioned to the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge in 1980, with most of it placed in wilderness status. The lands are managed for the protection of fish and wildlife and their habitats, although recreational activities like hiking, camping, fishing, beachcombing, and bird and wildlife watching are encouraged. Hunting is also allowed, primarily aimed at the 3,000 or so introduced caribou. Many of the people we ran into on the island, however, were contractors still working to clean up military hazards. There are no roads on refuge land and ATVs are not allowed, so access can be challenging. As hikers, we only managed to reach into the refuge’s margins (and only saw a few caribou, at a distance.) From the seven-mile-long road that circles Clam Lagoon, we watched salmon fighting their way into a tiny creek and sea otters lounging close to shore. Flocks of Lapland longspurs swept past us. We climbed over a berm to the open ocean, where the steep beach was piled with boulders and fishing debris

The outlet to Finger Bay, showing Adak’s treeless interior.

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FIGURE OUT HOW TO TELL YOUR GRANDKIDS YOU WON’T BE AROUND ANYMORE. Michael, Age 57 Alaska

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OPPOSITE PAGE: A female Canadian lynx, Chena, was kept illegally as a pet inside a chicken coop in the town of North Pole. Her confined living quarters resulted in the development of physical disabilities. Lynx normally have black tufts on their ears but Chena lost hers to frostbite. She also experienced muscle atrophy of her back feet. Chena was rescued and brought to AWCC in 2014. Since coming to the center, Chena’s life has improved dramatically. She can often be seen enjoying her meals or bathing in the sun. Chena is the perfect example to remind people to respect wildlife.

Introduction by MICHELLE THEALL Photos (except as noted) and captions courtesy of AWCC

Saving Grace Animals find sanctuary at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center

A BLACK BEAR CHOMPS WAVING GRASS, undulating on a hillside strewn with fireweed. Behind him, the Chugach Range provides a postcard-perfect backdrop for photographers. This bruin enjoys a natural enclosed habitat, far better than the alternatives afforded to most of the orphaned or injured wildlife crossing paths with humans who’ve invaded, developed, extracted, and innovated the wild areas these animals called home. Kobuk, the black bear on the grassy knoll, would still be a wild and free bear if his mother hadn’t been chased away by dogs in Valdez. He survived by scavenging unsecured trash, which typically leads to a bad outcome for such bears as they become a threat to people. Kobuk, however, was rescued and brought to the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, a 20-year-old nonprofit dedicated to preserving Alaska’s wildlife.

ABOVE: JB and Patron are brown bears orphaned after their mother killed a moose calf in a man’s yard in Willow. The man was afraid the bear might attack his dog, and he killed the sow (legal in Alaska, in defense of life or property), not knowing she had cubs nearby. Once he saw them, he called the area wildlife biologist. A former gymnast, the biologist climbed the skinny tree the cubs were hiding in and grabbed the smaller male while grasping the tree with the other hand. He climbed down and lowered the cub into a fish net. The second cub (Patron) was larger and acted aggressively. The biologist climbed up and grabbed her by the scruff. The skinny birch began to bend and crack; it bent all the way over, delivering the two safely to the ground. After being rescued, JB and Patron arrived at AWCC in 2004, where they have flourished—wandering their huge wooded enclosures, digging holes, playing in the pond, and roughhousing.

Walk or drive the 1.5-mile loop through the 200-acre campus, and you’ll encounter wolves, wood bison, moose, muskox, lynx, fox, reindeer, owls, bald eagles, porcupine, deer, elk, and grizzlies. The residents here eat, sleep, and play among the native plants, streams, and rock outcroppings of southcentral Alaska’s stunning Portage valley, under the monitoring and steadfast care of the AWCC staff. The AWCC sees the animals as impactful ambassadors with the critical role of educating visitors on the biology and behaviors of various species, while serving up a cautionary tale for humans to avoid interfering with or altering the behavior of wildlife. The AWCC is located at Mile 79 of the Seward Highway, about one hour from Anchorage. It offers various tours and programs, includes activities for kids, and is open year-round with a small entrance fee. Until you’re able to meet the furry and feathered residents in person, we’ve gathered some of their stories and images from the AWCC staff for you to enjoy. JULY/AUGUST 2019 A L A S K A

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ABOVE: Jade, a male red fox, was found by joggers along a trail in Anchorage. Seeing no mother in sight, the joggers assumed Jade was an orphan and brought him to the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center in 2013. Jade has blossomed at AWCC; he enjoys his training sessions with the animal keepers and tearing into enrichment toys. But his presence here, out of the wild, is a lesson for us all: if you find a baby animal, do not take it. Instead, call the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. They may want to wait a while. There are times when the mother is out in search of food and will return to her baby. AT RIGHT: Kobuk, a male black bear, was found as an orphan in Valdez after his mother was chased off by dogs. Kobuk became dependent on searching through trash cans for food. To stop this bad habit and any potential conflicts it may have caused with humans, Kobuk was rescued by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and transferred to AWCC. Kobuk loves his new home and can be seen climbing trees, playing with balls that are stuffed with honey and blueberries, and tossing around his enrichment sticks that are covered in scents.

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Twix, a male porcupine, was orphaned in May of 2018 in Juneau. He was one day old when found beside his dead mother with his umbilical cord still attached. Raising Twix from infancy has allowed us to learn a lot about porcupettes (a baby porcupine), including their needs and natural behaviors. Typically, porcupettes nurse from their mothers for up to four months and can eat vegetation after just a few weeks. As an orphan, Twix was bottle-fed with goat milk because it is gentle on the stomach and very nutritious. Twix is becoming an outstanding educational ambassador at AWCC. He participates in live animal demonstrations for students and other visitors.

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ABOVE: The story of Alaska’s wood bison is an exciting conservation success story. After living at AWCC and growing the herd for over 12 years, 130 wood bison were released to interior Alaska in 2015. The herd is prospering. They are breeding, finding food sources, and have survived four harsh winters. In 2016, wood bison calves were bred in the wild for the first time in a century. The herd has adapted well to their surroundings as they grow their numbers. During the spring of 2017, approximately 25 calves were born, which was more than the previous two years. Those calves were born earlier and had a higher survival rate. A majority of the herd has stayed within about 50 miles of their release site near Shageluk. A few young adult bison have grown curious and have explored new areas, traveling north to the upper Noatak drainage and south to the Kuskokwim. AT RIGHT: At the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, animals such as Kobuk, a black bear, live in large enclosures as close to each species’ natural setting as possible. TODD HACKETT

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SavingGrace

Arnold, a male moose calf, was found orphaned in Anchorage, where his mother was hit by a vehicle. He arrived at the AWCC in the summer of 2018, timid and cautious of people. The animal care staff worked around the clock to provide him quality care and daily feedings with goat milk to boost his immune system. He has thrived at the center by participating in his training sessions, trusting the animal care staff, and munching on browse. AWCC uses the training technique called bridging, which tells the animals that the behavior they are currently exhibiting is the desired behavior, so a tasty treat is on the way. This type of training builds trust and allows the animal to feel comfortable in their environment, allowing the staff to perform routine procedures.

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Polar bear cubs wrestle and play in the October snow along the Beaufort Sea near Kaktovik. Polar bear viewing by boat in Kaktovik is only possible through early October, after which the thick ice prevents travel by skiff.

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Where

the Wild Things Are A guide to hot spots for wildlife viewing

Text and images By MICHELLE THEALL JULY/AUGUST 2019 A L A S K A

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Wolves in Denali are a bucket-list item for many visitors. Though they can be hard to spot, this bold, sub-adult male in 2017 made several appearances along the Park Road, even approaching buses with his juvenile curiosity. As a lone young wolf, his hunting skills still needed honing, and he was seen somersaulting end-over-end unsuccessfully chasing an entire herd of caribou before opting for a simple meal of scrub hare.

“Home run” meaning that in many cases we guarantee sightings and immerse our guest in multi-day, close-up photo opportunities. Nothing beats the “pinch-me” wonder of observing a bear, wolf, moose, or whale in its natural environment— simply watching the animal do what it does on a daily basis whether a human is around to see it or not. And while it might seem impossible to glimpse the proverbial grizzly in a haystack within the borders of a state encompassing 663,300 square miles, it’s really just a matter of knowing where to go and when. The best wildlife viewing spots in Alaska aren’t big secrets, so there’s no reason to leave the state disappointed after spending valuable time and money to visit here. Below, I’ve disclosed a few of my favorite spots in different areas to make the search a tad easier.

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SOUTHCENTRAL

Seward Highway

Driving from Anchorage to Seward: Driving the Seward Highway, a national scenic byway, affords multiple opportunities to view land and marine life. Just as you leave town, look for the turn off for Potter Marsh (Mile 117) to search for moose and bald eagles. Tender spring shoots draw the mythical-looking ungulates to the wetlands in May and June, while bald eagles nest in the cottonwoods near the base of the bluff. At Windy Corner (Mile 106) year-round, use the pullout and scan the cliffs for Dall sheep to gape in awe at their gymnastic, gravity-defying feats. When they’re not imitating rock climber Alex Honnold, they come quite close to the road, so you might not even need the binoculars to find them. Enjoy sweet newborn lambs in May and June or go for the head-butting ram action in December. Mid-July through August, salmon run in Cook Inlet, drawing hundreds of beluga whales, which can be observed (along with the occasional orca) at the namesake Beluga Point (Mile 110.5). Seeing these “Casper-the-Friendly-Ghost” apparitions cruising the silty waters a scant 6.5 miles south of the urban areas of

MAPS COURTESY THE MILEPOST

“We hoped we’d see a bear or at least a moose,” said the woman next to me in line at the coffee kiosk in Anchorage. “One week of vacation. Nada.” She took a sad sip of her drink, but it was all too clear that a mocha latte wasn’t going to soothe her megafauna disappointment. Her lament, one I hear all too frequently, is the reason I started Wild Departures, a tour company specializing in “home run” wildlife viewing in Alaska and beyond.

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Anchorage belies credibility—and yet, there they are.

Seward At the small boat harbor and along the coastal walk on Resurrection Bay in the summer, sea otters play near the docks, often times joined together in rafts and carrying babies on their chests as they float. Bald eagles soar above the fishing vessels and perch on their masts. The glorious treasure of Kenai Fjords National Park can be accessed from Seward via various tour operators. Beyond calving glaciers, the park overflows with marine life—whiplash warning here—you’ll be looking left, right, up, and down to catch all of it: orcas, humpbacks, puffins, sea lions, seals, and the occasional mountain goat or bear on a passing hillside.

Muskox face off while foraging along the Dalton Highway just before Deadhorse. Rain, snow flurries, and blue sky all descended during a 30-minute viewing session.

Incoming! Hundreds of clownish-looking horned puffins roost and feed at “puffin island” at Lake Clark.

interior

Denali The number-one bucket-list item in Denali remains the mountain itself, towering over the park at 20,310 feet and only visible on the clearest of days. Even then, the tempest makes her own weather, which means only about a third of the park’s visitors get a glimpse of the “shy one”—oops, I mean “The High One.” Thankfully, wildlife teems throughout the park, offering roadside viewing and photo ops from the buses that drive tourists on the sole 92-mile stretch of road bisecting its six million acres. First stop: the Denali Visitor Center. Before you even get on the tour bus or drive your private vehicle to mile 15, you’ll want to stop at the visitor center—and not just because it affords a souvenir map and wood-carved bear Christmas JULY/AUGUST 2019 A L A S K A

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A sow leads one of her three cubs across a gravel spit that serves as the “airport” for float planes arriving and departing at McNeil River State Game Sanctuary and Refuge. The bears, along with Mt. Augustine jutting from the waters behind them, gave a memorable send-off to the author after her stay in the refuge.

A bald eagle defends its salmon from a bold intruder on the Chilkat River in Haines. Bald eagles in Haines would rather steal from each other than catch their own fish, leading to epic battles at the water’s edge.

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ornament. Moose love the visitor center. In fact, one of the best places to see moose is around the visitor center and on the bike path surrounding it. Why? Mama moose knows that predators will avoid areas with people—so to protect her calves, she sticks around populated areas. A word of caution here: view mama and her babies at a safe distance. Cows with newborns are unpredictable and aggressive. She might be afraid of bears and wolves, but she’s not afraid of you. If wolves cause you to howl with wild abandon, look no further than the Sanctuary River area of the park (mile 20). The Riley Creek pack, made up of 12 wolves, frequents the area, denning on the Teklanika River (mile 29) in 2017 not far from the road and producing six pups. At mile 53, the Riley Creek West pack roams the Toklat Pass area. Dall sheep overlook Igloo Canyon, perching on the rocky crags, spying on tourists just for kicks (miles 34-38). Where does a grizzly bear go? Wherever he wants. It’s possible to spot grizzlies anywhere in the park: rivers, hillsides, tundra. A few of the most likely spots are: Teklanika River and the high-alpine expanses between Toklat River and Eielson Visitor Center (mile 66), which includes Thorofare Pass, Stony Dome, and Highway Pass. Caribou migrate throughout the park, amassing in larger numbers in the fall, where the backdrop of autumn color is downright postcard perfect. In the summer, you’ll find them in open meadows, along roadsides, and sometimes, on the road itself. In fact, you’d be hard-pressed not to spot a caribou once you hit the tundra in Denali. Though the lynx is elusive, several have been seen in the Wonder Lake and Kantishna areas of the park, at the end of the road (mile 92). Extra points if you spot one of these slinking through the high grass.

This caribou in velvet ambled along the Park Road in Denali, affording close-up shots for tourists riding the park bus. Caribou remain prevalent in Denali and should be easy to spot throughout the summer and fall.

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southwest

Katmai, Lake Clark, and McNeil River Coastal brown bear viewing (grizzlies who aren’t landlocked) in southwest Alaska remains one of the most exhilarating, memorable, and worthwhile experiences of a lifetime— and it’s safer than you might think. The bears in Katmai, Lake Clark, and McNeil River have been habituated to human presence, meaning that they don’t see bipeds as a threat or prey. Generations of bears in the preserves know that humans won’t hunt them, and that people are not a food source or competition for food or a mate. If bears are your thing, you owe it to yourself to take a summer day trip from Homer or Anchorage out to Katmai or Lake Clark, or better yet, to stay a few days in either location. Katmai’s Brooks Falls is famous for what I call “the bear pool party,” with at least a dozen bruins congregating to spar, play, fight, and overindulge on the spawning salmon leaping up the falls, while tourists watch from viewing platforms. In contrast, Lake Clark bears comb the open stretch of beach for clams, nurse their

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young, and run the rivers diving for fish while visitors walk the shores. McNeil River bears have a waterfall, bay, river, and cliffs for a playground. Only 10 people per day are allowed into the McNeil refuge, where the lucky winners camp and hike among the bears for an intimate experience, led by ADF&G personnel.

southeast Haines

Every fall, bald eagles descend en masse onto the rivers of this little hamlet at the edge of Lynn Canal— thousands of them—think Hitchcock movie, The Birds. It’s the last of the salmon run and November, and somehow word gets out like avian gossip gone wild. Grab your parka, rain jacket, and boots and be ready for rain, snow, or hoarfrost. These birds drag dying chum to shore and defend their take from dive-bombing thieves using beaks and talons and mid-air collisions.

ABC Islands: Admiralty, Baranof, Chichagof Three of the largest islands in the U.S. sport the densest population of brown bears. In particular, we recommend

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Admiralty Island for its Pack Creek bears. The island contains over a million acres with approximately one bear per square mile, as well as the highest concentration of bald eagle nests in the world. No humans or bears have ever been harmed at Pack Creek, a testament to habituation of the bears and good people management by rangers. An observation tower and viewing spit provide uninterrupted time to gaze at the bears as they fish for pinks and chum in July. The island is a 30-minute plane ride from Juneau.

Juneau Every summer, tourists in Juneau throng to see the vanishing Mendenhall Glacier, one of the few accessible by road. But a new attraction seems to be drawing away attention from the icy blue mass: black bears. Bears at Mendenhall, predominantly females with cubs, fish for sockeyes in August while the crowd builds—protecting them from male bears who will avoid the human presence. Steep Creek can be accessed from the Mendenhall Glacier parking lot, where bald eagles and herons are frequent visitors.

Glacier Bay and Icy Strait Spouting, fluking, spy-hopping, bubble-net-feeding, and breaching whales ply the waters of Glacier Bay and Icy Strait leaving viewers gaping. These multi-ton giants of the sea defy gravity, leaping like agile ballerinas in the water. Numerous whale-watching tours leave from Juneau for Glacier Bay or Icy Strait, and the Alaska state ferry makes port in Gustavus, the park’s gateway community.

north slope Brooks Range

Drive the Dalton Highway from Fairbanks to Deadhorse for a little northern exposure. Caribou herds migrate across the sparse, vast Brooks Range, and closer to Deadhorse, you’ll find wild muskox.

Kaktovik A short plane ride from Deadhorse or a slightly longer one from Fairbanks brings you to Kaktovik, a tiny Inupiaq whaling village on the Beaufort Sea. In September and October, the polar bears wait for the ice to freeze, swimming to feed on the bowhead whale scraps near town and cruising the gravel bars while tourists in boats photograph them. The town boasts few amenities and weather delays are common. For hearty ursine lovers, it’s a bit of paradise. Michelle Theall is the senior editor of Alaska magazine and owner of wilddepartures.com.

Harbor seals float atop chunks of ice below Aialik Glacier in Kenai Fjords National Park.

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(THIS PAGE) STEVE LODEFINK/COURTESY WIKIMEDIA COMMONS (OPPOSITE PAGE) COURTESY ALEXANDER SEMENOV

Octopus suckers number roughly 3,000 per arm.

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The shell of Limacina helicina, a sea-butterfly species, deteriorates under acidic conditions, making it a reliable indicator of ocean health.

Ice Worm to Octopus Alaska’s squishy lot U

By Michael Engelhard

nlike whales, wolves, bears, moose, or salmon, invertebrates seldom make headlines. They don’t excite tourists or trophy hunters. No one stalks bivalves with binoculars, and being called “spineless” is offensive. Yet this biological underclass, the vast majority of them insects, comprises 95 percent of the world’s known animal species. A subset, mollusks—circa 80,000 kinds of snails, clams, squids, chitons, and octopuses—share an ancestor with annelids, segmented worms. Silent, elastic, and prone to eccentricity, none of these softies are cuddly but easily stepped on and crushed underfoot. It’s hard for upstanding mammals to identify, let alone sympathize, with that rubbernecked bunch. Still, many of these overlooked ones play a role in Alaska’s folklore, economy, subsistence, ecology, and even its literature. A certain gross-out factor is undeniable. Some kids wear XTRATUFS on hot beach outings to avoid stepping barefoot on stranded jellyfish. And consider the ice worm. Based on a true incident, Robert Service’s The Ballad of the Ice-Worm Cocktail features a Dawson cheechako who was handed a specialty drink to test his mettle—in fact, the “worm” ingredient was a colored spaghetti noodle with ink spots daubed on as eyes. Which goes to show: it takes a sourdough to relish the North’s charismatic mini-fauna. JULY/AUGUST 2019 A L A S K A

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A Pacific banana slug in a southeast Alaska coniferous rainforest.

Ice Worm ROBERT SERVICE’S POEM PROVIDES tall-tale, Darwinian details for the enigmatic critter:

In reality, the dark brown or black worms merely grow about an inch long and wiggle to the surface of glaciers mornings and evenings to feed on snow algae that stain slush melon-pink. Closely related to earthworms and leeches, they are the only annelids that spend their entire lives in glacial ice, traveling up to 10 feet per hour on crampon-like bristles. It is not known whether they tunnel inside glaciers by discharging some kind of chemical or by squeezing through microscopic fissures. Found exclusively in Alaska, Washington, Oregon, and British Columbia, ice worms require temperatures around 32 degrees Fahrenheit to survive. Special antifreeze proteins keep them from becoming wormsicles, and they overwinter deep inside snow-insulated glaciers. Exposed to 40 degrees, their membranes dissolve and, like tourists on a sun deck, they melt into goo. Migrating snow buntings and rosy finches fueling up on Alaska ice worms could have spread their cocoons to more southerly snowfields, genetic analyses suggest. Relics of the last ice age, the writhing threads that inspired a Cordova festival and the codename for a Cold War U.S. nuclear missile site in the Greenlandic ice are one of the species most endangered by glaciers retreating throughout the Pacific Northwest.

Sea Butterfly ZOOM IN ON A SUBSURFACE BLIZZARD in Alaska’s waters and you’ll find that each flake is a winged, lentil-size snail with a translucent shell, a creature that seems to have sprung straight

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An ice worm found in a four-foot-deep snowpack.

from Hieronymus Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights. Twin wings that evolved from the snail’s “foot” keep these gastropods afloat as a swarm sails along on ocean currents. The sea butterfly species Limacina helicina also traps plankton—and juveniles of its own kind—with its appendages by enveloping prey in a mucus net. Seals snarf up these delicate baubles and in turn sustain polar bears, thereby linking one of the ocean’s smallest predators to one of its largest. Both were named in 1774 by Royal Navy captain and explorer Constantine Phipps, without inklings of what science has lately revealed: the sea butterfly’s keystone position in Arctic pelagic ecosystems.  As oceans absorb more carbon dioxide from the warming atmosphere, they turn increasingly acidic, which compromises the sea butterfly’s ability to build its exoskeleton. “It’s basically as if you poured acid on top of the shell,” says Nina Bednarsek, a researcher at the Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory.

(THIS PAGE) TOP: WALTER SIEGMUND/COURTESY WIKIMEDIA COMMONS; BOTTOM: COURTESY DEBRA DAVIS (OPPOSITE PAGE) TOP: COURTESY OF STONINGTON GALLERY; BOTTOM: COURTESY WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

“…as no nourishment they find, to keep themselves alive They masticate each other’s tails, till just the Tough survive. Yet on this stern and Spartan fare so rapidly they grow,  That some attain six inches by the melting of the snow.” 

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Sense of Nuu, by the Haida artist Ernest Swanson.

“These changes are happening years earlier than we had projected.”

Pacific Banana Slug DESPISED AS GARDEN PESTS AND SYMBOLS of sloth, banana slugs truly amaze. Though the name derives from their commonly bright yellow hue, southeast Alaska’s Pacific banana slugs often sport olive-green spotted with black. As decomposers, or detritivores, they recycle plant matter and scat into humus. Feeding, they spread berry seeds and mushroom spores and excrete nitrogen-rich fertilizer. A homemade moisturizer prevents their dehydration, as does slipping under forest debris. The mucus they exude is laced with chemicals that can numb predator mouths and with pheromones that attract mates. A different type serves as lubricant, laying down glistening rails for the slug’s single, muscular foot. Specimens almost a foot long and weighing a quarter pound outmatch their housed snail brethren. Like them, they possess two sets of telescoping tentacles: the upper, “eyestalk” pair detects movement or light, and the lower one, chemicals. A rasp-like tongue breaks down the slugs’ food. The sole lung ends in a small cavity on the right side, behind the head, but they breathe through their skin too. There is simply no delicate way to describe slug sex. The odds of hooking up in the Panhandle’s cavernous forests are slim—the goods therefore have to be odd. Simultaneous hermaphrodites, banana slugs swap sperm packages that fertilize each other’s eggs—every slug met is a potential mate. Foreplay of a few vicious love nips leads to full on coupling, which can last hours. But don’t envy their stamina. Sometimes a pair curled up into a ball cannot disengage. In that case, a stuck penis might be chewed off and eaten. Partners thus deprived then make the rounds as females.

puzzles, squirt water at people, recognize human faces. Some researchers claim that they play and have roguish personalities. Jacques Cousteau knew one that bolted from a lidded aquarium and was caught turning pages of a book. Compressible octopus bodies ooze through gaps slightly bigger than their brainpan and beak, the only hard body parts. Specialized cells change color while skin bumps create patterns that help these escape artists blend in with their environment. Suckered arms (not “tentacles”) discern shapes, textures, and even flavors. The beasts sailors slandered as “devilfish” have three hearts and blue, copper-based blood. Toxin from their saliva glands stuns and pre-digests prey: crustaceans, snails, scallops, and other octopuses. The web tissue between their arms opens like a parachute to enfold mud sharks and the occasional gull. The largest giant on record weighed about 160 pounds, with limbs spanning 23 feet. Small wonder Southeast Alaska’s Tlingit hunted this supersize protein package. They also treated it with utmost respect. Cephalopods adorned masks, totem poles, ceremonial staffs, and blankets dyed with their blue-black ink. In one clan origin myth, a monstrous one dragged a whole camp down into its seafloor lair. Slime lay so thick on the bay that it silenced the paddle strokes of homecoming hunters. Its shape-shifting skills made náakw (Tlingit for “octopus” and “medicine”) a popular spirit helper. The parrot beak can crush a crab to suck out the meat. Shamans similarly drew disease from a patient, through a bone tube. Octopuses and their slippery ilk have the power to disturb, fascinate, or otherwise affect humans—through the magic of their alien existences. Michael Engelhard admits to having been one of the kids who wear rubber boots on the beach. He feels much better about invertebrates now than he did then. A late nineteenth-century Tlingit octopus mask shows carved suckers on the cheeks.

Giant Pacific Octopus EIGHT-ARMED EINSTEINS, HOUDINIS, AND HARPOS, captive Pacific octopuses (not “octopi”) navigate mazes as easily as they open childproof medicine bottles. They solve basic JULY/AUGUST 2019 A L A S K A

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Making memories

A bus travels along the Park Road near the Eielson Alpine Trail in Denali National Park and Preserve.

Experience something new with each Alaska visit knotted together to create the antler arch at the Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Center in Fairbanks. Sandy Jamieson, the artist who created the arch, said it could also be called an arch of stories, for the tale behind each set of antlers. Each time I see the arch, I think back on the memories I’ve collected in this beautiful state. I’ve been to Alaska five times now, the last three to the state’s sprawling and awe-inspiring Interior. The drive north from Anchorage is one of my favorite stretches of highway in the world. The majestic mountain views of the Mat-Su Valley never disappoint, and a pit stop in Talkeetna is required. In Denali, we’ve taken a riverboat tour, walked through a wildlife refuge, cruised down a zipline, stayed in so many cozy hotels, and learned about this region’s incredible cultures. My memory bank is chock full of stories and adventures from interior Alaska that it seems like I can hardly fit much more. But there’s always something new and exciting to do in the Last Frontier, which is why I keep coming back. 70

(THIS PAGE) COURTESY NPS PHOTO/EMILY MESNER (OPPOSITE PAGE) COURTESY NPS PHOTO/TIM RAINS

O

NE HUNDRED MOOSE AND CARIBOU ANTLERS COLLECTED from around interior Alaska are

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(THIS PAGE) COURTESY NPS PHOTO/EMILY MESNER (OPPOSITE PAGE) COURTESY NPS PHOTO/TIM RAINS

Reflection Pond in Denali National Park and Preserve is a popular spot for photographers to capture images of Denali, North America’s highest peak.

Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Center Once armed with information, have a look around the Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Center. Enjoy Alaska Native art, music, stories, and dance. Free world-class exhibits tell the story of life in interior Alaska. Wave to family around the world on the antler arch webcam. Free films, Wi-Fi, and parking. 907-459-3700, morristhompsoncenter.org

Riverboat Discovery & Gold Dredge 8 Learn about Alaska life on a stern-wheeler aboard the Riverboat Discovery & Gold Dredge 8. You will see a bush floatplane demonstration, learn about dog mushing, and stop ashore at the Chena Athabascan Indian Village where Alaska Natives share their culture. It’s more than just a boat ride! 907-479-6673 or 866-479-6673, riverboatdiscovery.com

Hampton Inn & Suites Fairbanks Come stay at the friendliest place in town and experience interior Alaska. Here, you are family. From dog mushing, to the aurora borealis, to the midnight sun of summer, we can help you see it all (seasonally, of course). Feel the Hamptonality! 907-451-1502, Email: faiak_hampton_ suites@hilton.com

University of Alaska Museum of the North As unique as the Arctic cultures we celebrate, discover Alaska Native cultures, natural wonders, and diverse wildlife in our exhibits. Explore 2,000 years of Alaska art. Experience breathtaking architecture and views. Movies daily. Museum Store and Café on site. Open year-round. 907-474-7505, uaf.edu/museum

Friendly service, clean rooms, and comfortable surroundings. That’s our promise and your guarantee. That’s 100% Hampton.

433 Harold Bentley Ave. Fairbanks, Alaska 99701

907.451.1502

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• Free, freshly baked, hot breakfast every day. • Free High Speed Internet Access (wired and wireless) in rooms and public areas. • Microwave and refrigerator in every room. • Complimentary Airport Shuttle between hotel and the airport or train station. • Indoor pool and hot tub. • On-site fitness center. • Convenient location with easy access to shopping, dining, and downtown business district.

We love having you here!!!

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ETNA ALA

A view of Denali, North America’s highest peak, from a canoe on Wonder Lake in Denali National Park and Preserve.

Talkeetna’s Swiss Alaska Inn Talkeetna’s Swiss Alaska Inn offers 20 modern, comfortable, non-smoking rooms with private bathrooms. The restaurant has a complete breakfast menu seasonally served 7 a.m. to noon, including their famous Swiss-style French toast and omelets. Lunch or dinner is served for groups of 10 or more. Free Wi-Fi and parking! 907-733-2424, swissalaska.com

Alaska Wild Harvest Come tour our birch-syrup production facility, taste our delicious birch and berry products, and browse our all-Alaskan gifts—wild foods, functional art, botanical soaps, a fine selection of books, and more. Enjoy birch ice cream, birch water, and baked goods—relax on the porch or picnic surrounded by our gardens! 800-380-7457, alaskabirchsyrup.com Denali Zipline Tours The Original Denali Zipline Tours! Traverse nine thrilling ziplines, three sky bridges, and one rappel. A world-class zipline canopy adventure! The only zipline with spectacular views of Denali and located just three miles from historic downtown Talkeetna. 907-733-3988, denaliziplinetours.com

Breakfast-Lunch-Dinner

Creative, Fresh & Local Menu Selections Hillside Cabins PO Box 87-1748 Wasilla, AK 99687

Palmer, Alaska (907) 746-5544, www.turkeyredak.com Monday - Saturday 7 a.m. - 9 p.m. 72

Daytime Phone: 907-376-4912 800-770-3650

Anytime Phone: 907-373-0405 Email: info@hillsidecabins.com www.hillsidecabins.com

Master Jeweler - Randall Martin 907.376.4912 www.goldrushak.com goldrushak@gmail.com 212 N Boundary Street Wasilla, AK 99654

(THIS PAGE) COURTESY NPS PHOTO/EMILY MESNER (OPPOSITE PAGE) COURTESY KRIS VALENCIA/THE MILEPOST

The Pump House A National Register Historic Place! A DiRoNA award recipient. Voted “The Best in the Interior.” Features the world’s most northern oyster bar, fresh seafood, and wild game. Lunch, dinner, & Sunday brunch. Riverside dining in a historic atmosphere. 907-479-8452 www.pumphouse.com

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The Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Center in Fairbanks offers exhibits, Native dance and music, and visitor information for the region.

800.380.7457

Hillside Cabins Relax in pristine Alaskan wilderness on 37 acres. Hillside Cabins near Wasilla offers convenient, safe, modern amenities, plus the adventure that only Alaska can provide. First-class hiking and fishing opportunities await. Enjoy breathtaking views of mountains and an occasional moose right from your cabin deck. 800-770-3650, hillsidecabins.com

(THIS PAGE) COURTESY NPS PHOTO/EMILY MESNER (OPPOSITE PAGE) COURTESY KRIS VALENCIA/THE MILEPOST

Gold Rush Jewelers & Design Center Full-service jewelry store since 1983. Offering custom-design pieces, and the best in gold, silver, platinum, palladium, diamonds, rubies, and more! Exclusive Alaskan-only designs from contemporary to traditional. All work is done on site at our Wasilla store. 907-376-4912, goldrushak.com Stoney Creek Canopy Adventures Alaska’s newest zipline-canopy tour. Located in the Pacific temperate rain forest just outside of Seward, this exciting and educational course features eight ziplines, three suspension bridges, and two rappels. The Kenai Peninsula’s only zipline tour. Join us for an adventure of a lifetime. 907-224-3662, stoneycreekca.com Major Marine Tours Explore Kenai Fjords National Park and Prince William Sound on a glacier-and-

or Order Online at

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lastfrontierbrew.com • 907-357-7200

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A unique fine dining experience by the Chena River

796 Chena Pump Rd Fairbanks, AK 99709

907-479-8452 www.pumphouse.com JULY/AUGUST 2019 A L A S K A

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Traditional Athabaskan items on display at the Palmer Museum include a moose hide drum and beaded gloves with beaver fur trim.

TALKEETNA

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www.uaf.edu/museum • 907.474.7505 1962 Yukon Drive • Fairbanks, AK 99775

wildlife cruise with Major Marine Tours, departing from Seward and Whittier. Experience towering tidewater glaciers, stunning scenery, and abundant wildlife including whales, otters, puffins, and more! 907-274-7300, majormarine.com

NOVA River Runners Six Mile Creek near Hope is one of the premier whitewater trips in North America. NOVA offers two Class IV canyons and the option to run a third Class V canyon. NOVA pioneered the trips

on this special river 28 years ago. 800-746-5753, novalaska.com

Bald Mountain Air Owned by lifelong Alaskans who guarantee you will see bears, this Homer-based operator has developed an unequaled brown bear viewing program to excite even the most seasoned wilderness traveler. You’ll have the opportunity to take lots of photos and take home memories of the most beautiful place on earth. 800-478-7669, baldmountainair.com

COURTESY SERINE REEVES/THE MILEPOST

The Friendly Place to Eat & Stay

UAF is an AA/EO employer and educational institution and prohibits illegal discrimination against any individual: www.alaska.edu/nondiscrimination/.

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Sporting Travel & Activities

Photo: Melissa Bradley

www.Katmai-Wilderness.com|1.800.488.8767|Bears@katmai-Wilderness.com

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JULY/AUGUST 2019 A L A S K A

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FOR SALE! Fairbanks Dog Sled Rides 6.3 acre turn key growing dog sled business! Includes three 12x20 furnished dry cabins for Aurora viewing or nightly rental, 20x34 dry main cabin, 24 Alaska huskies, tour sleds, training and racing sleds, snowmobile and trail groomers. Right on Chena Hot Springs Road and backs up to state land with direct access to 100’s of miles of trails. $350,000 (907) 385-3082 • hrbuilders@icloud.com Fairbanksdogsledrides.com

A L A S K A M A G A Z I N E . C O M JULY/AUGUST 2019

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Lisa Hartman, husbandry director at the Alaska SeaLife Center, bottle feeds Tyonek, a critically endangered Cook Inlet beluga whale calf rehabilitated at the facility.

Caring for the Critters

Lisa Hartman of the Alaska SeaLife Center The Alaska SeaLife Center is a research institution and public aquarium that offers visitors a chance to see octopuses, sea otters, puffins, and other Alaskan marine life. As the state’s only permanent marine mammal rescue and rehabilitation facility, the center’s staff responds to emergency calls involving marine mammals across Alaska’s entire 6,640 miles of coast. Raised from a young age in Seward, Lisa Hartman watched as the SeaLife Center was built. She joined the staff in March 1998, two months before it officially opened, and spent more than a dozen years involved in Steller sea lion and harbor seal research. She worked her way up to management, and now works as the center’s husbandry director. Throughout 2017, Hartman was directly involved with the first successful rehabilitation of an endangered Cook Inlet beluga whale. ~as told to and edited by Alexander Deedy

COURTESY ALASKA SEALIFE CENTER

Do most of the animals that come to the SeaLife Center need care, or is it a mixture of all sorts of different avenues of arrival? It’s really a mixture. We have animals that have been part of our collection that either were born here or they transferred here from another facility or they may have come in through our Wildlife Response program. So, we have a very diverse mix of origins. We also have a large mix of what these animals are participating in. The predominant focus of our marine mammal science now is on ice seals, because there’s very little known. What’s a typical day on the job for you? A lot of my day now is just helping coordinate the logistics for various things that are happening in different departments. On those occasions when we get a high case load or we’re short-staffed, I step in and help where I can and that’s where I still try to get my animal fix. That’s why we all get into this field—we love working with animals, so being able to still have my hands involved with it somewhat is still definitely really rewarding. Tell me more about the beluga whale rehabilitation. One of our veterinarians was participating in another beluga whale necropsy out in Cook Inlet and the pilot who had flown her over spotted what they thought was potentially another carcass. When they landed, they realized it was actually a live calf. They made a couple attempts to try to get it back in the water and it just beached itself multiple times. Fortunately, he was small enough they were able to get him right in the

ACTIVITIES PICTURED AUTHORIZED BY MMHSRP MMPA/ESA #18786-02

helicopter and immediately get him to Anchorage. We had a team in Anchorage ready to receive and get him down to Seward right away. Rehabilitation for a neonate cetacean is incredibly challenging. I think part of what was very fortunate for us was that we’re pretty certain he had been with mom for about a month prior to whatever happened. Why they got split up, we’ll never know. We do know that he was with mom for a while and that definitely helped his case. Considering the challenges, what did it feel like to successfully reintroduce him to the wild? We didn’t reintroduce him to the wild. Basically, NOAA, after much review, ultimately made the decision that he was deemed non-releasable for multiple reasons, but predominantly because of his age at stranding and some medical conditions. Still, the fact that we successfully rehabilitated him was an amazing, amazing thing to be a part of, and I think it was a huge boost for the people in the industry. There can be vocal critics of the work the zoos and aquariums do, and this was a very positive story. For all of us in the industry it was this super, super feel-good story and super rewarding. I think for the zoo and aquarium community in general it was really positive. JULY/AUGUST 2019 A L A S K A

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This Alaskan Life

Pierogies and Alaskan mountains, do you really need anything else?

When You Call Alaska Home

Even if it’s 5,000 miles from where you first showed up on the planet

T

HERE’S A SAYING IN ALASKA THAT

everyone here is running from something. Whether it’s the law, someone you used to like a whole lot more than you like now, or your own history, the saying holds true for a lot of people you meet on your travels through our state. I had occasion to return to Pennsylvania for a funeral recently (okay, I’m there now). Pennsylvania is so far back in my past that I hardly consider it to be part of my history. I don’t get back there except for “marryin’ and buryin’,” which is convenient because I can wear the same skirt to either. I decided to call some friends I hadn’t seen since ninth grade and they agreed that a beer was in order. I had a day to cross what I used to think of as a very large state and was surprised to see that Philadelphia to central PA was only a 3.5-hour trek, half the distance of Anchorage to Fairbanks. Well, it would have been 3.5 hours, had the highway not been closed for a fog-related pile-up of cars. In Alaska, when a highway is closed, you just have to wait it out. We have so few highways, they number 1-11, and if yours is impassible, there are no side roads to

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wind your way around to get to your destination. You sit, you wait, sometimes for eight or more hours, until the road reopens. If my friend Dave is in the car, you play games like drawing pictures of Jesus with a fishing pole in the state fishing regulations guide, and if you’re trying to remember the names of the seven dwarves and can only come up with six, his wife is a phone call away to provide a “lifeline.” You can do a lot of things, except go anywhere. In PA, I spent an hour crawling towards the exit the police were diverting us onto and was pleased to find that there were several options for getting around the closed road. I picked a route that looked right and spent the next two hours dodging horse-drawn open-fronted buggies, packed with stern looking Amish families, going wherever Amish families go on a beautiful afternoon. It was a sight that used to be normal to me but after 30 years away felt wilder than anything I experience in Alaska. After an evening with my friends and the comfort of having people give directions using landmarks that haven’t existed for decades, I stopped by the one grocery store in town. They sold pierogies

in the deli. If you don’t know what a pierogie is and you’re on the keto diet, do NOT google it. If you find out what they are you will seek them out, eat 50 of them, and then blame me for it. The pierogies almost got me—I considered packing up and leaving Alaska. Then I saw the “salmon” in the next case. It was the saddest color of pinkish orange I can ever remember seeing in a refrigerated case. It was farmed, clearly, and not something an Alaskan would even call salmon. The spell of the history, the familiarity, the pierogies, was broken by that sad package of shrink-wrapped fish. I will never leave Alaska. They say you can’t go home again, and there are caveats. You can go, but you can’t stay. You can’t even call it home any more. I’m sitting in the D Terminal at the Philadelphia airport. I’ve had cheesesteak. I’ve had pretzels. I’ve eaten from a bag of Utz potato chips. And I am so excited. I’m going home. To Alaska. Anchorage does have an Eastern European market, if Susan won’t make you any pierogies.

SUSAN DUNSMORE

BY SUSAN DUNSMORE

A L A S K A M A G A Z I N E . C O M JULY/AUGUST 2019

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With bountiful freshwater rivers, streams and lakes, Alaska’s Interior and Arctic provide ample opportunities for fishing enthusiasts. Easily accessible options offer the chance to catch Arctic grayling, rainbow trout, salmon, pike and more. Summer or winter, wet your next line in Fairbanks. Call 1-800-327-5774 for your free Fairbanks Visitors Guide. Explore your Alaskan fishing vacation at explorefairbanks.com.

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Profile for Cowboy Publishing Group

Alaska Magazine July 2019  

Alaska Magazine July 2019

Alaska Magazine July 2019  

Alaska Magazine July 2019