Fourteen thousand dollars. That's the grand total of the camera equipment in my loft. I haven't thought about how I'll pay for it; I only know this—after photographing wildlife for most of my adult life, it was time to step up—to see what I might really do with the proper gear. I decided this, the way most reasonable and sane people do, while sitting at a cocktail lounge on a Princess Cruise ship drinking Alaskan ambers with one of the least risk-averse people I know: Alaskan writer and adventurer, Nick Jans.
In 1904, Sydney Laurence, an artist approaching the age of 40, deserted his family and moved to Alaska. Though some may find his decision objectionable, his paintings would come to define Alaska's image as the final frontier to Americans longing for a bygone era.
A bitter westerly lashes off the Chukchi Sea, hurling skeins of sleet, fog and snow – typical early June weather for Point Hope, Alaska. This Inupiaq Eskimo village of roughly 700 perches on a weather-raked gravel spit a hundred-some miles north of the Arctic Circle, on the state's northwest coast. Photographer Clark Mishler, Mayor Steve Oomituk and I jounce along over the sparse tundra in Steve's well-used SUV, past rows of oblong mounds, many of them ringed by strange, curving shapes taller than a man, some standing erect, others splayed on the ground. There are hundreds more ahead.
"This is crazy," murmurs Perry Mollan, lead guide of Katmai Wilderness Lodge. Here we are in Kukak Bay, about as wild as Alaska gets, and we're witnessing a scene straight out of Disney: a 400-pound brown bear and a red fox hanging around with each other. In all his years, Perry's never seen anything like it; Alaska photographer Carl Johnson and I are just as flummoxed.
On the cusp of the 20th century, some 100,000 prospectors flooded into the Yukon to strike it rich. There was gold up in the hills and people's eyes glittered with thoughts of prosperous lives. A few thousand did find gold. Most didn't. Some died trying to find it. Some lived and headed back south, empty-handed. Some stayed, made themselves a home and acquired land. On one such property, a decade or so later—1916 to be precise—someone planted a peony root.
The shadow of our single-engine plane coasted north over a landscape that grew increasingly brown and bare. Serpentine rivers which once carved through a sea of trees near Fairbanks now ran naked beneath the sun. I craned my neck over the pilot's shoulders, impatient for mountains to surface. Believed to be 126 million years old, the Brooks Range spans 700 miles across northern Alaska and the Yukon Territory of Canada. Part of this range is protected within the Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve, which measures the same size as Switzerland and is inaccessible by trails or roads. Within this park I would find what I had been searching for: caribou skin mask makers in the village of Anaktuvuk Pass.
To say the suit is snug would be an understatement. I nearly broke a sweat pulling it over my calves, and it was frustrating having to furiously twist my arms to get them out the other side. Now I'm grinding my foot into the booties and working my fingers into the tips of the gloves. Standing up, I feel elastic and toned, wound up and ready to spring open. But it's only a feeling.
This image was taken by Patrick Endres in his travels through Alaska. Can you tell us where you will find this view? Tell us on our Facebook page, Facebook.com/AlaskaMagazine
If you fly three hours west out of Anchorage on a Sunday afternoon, along the spine of the Aleutian Islands that separate the Gulf of Alaska from the Bering Sea, and you land in Adak, you'll walk off the plane into an otherworldly place, stunning in its natural beauty, rare for its isolation from technology, rich in military history. You'll also be there just in time for donuts.
Famed mountaineer Bradford Washburn and his team leaned against the body of Bob Reeve's bush plane, pushing the old Fairchild around so it would face the abrupt drop-off of a cliff. When Wash- burn looked into the cockpit, he saw no sign of emotion on the face of pilot Bob Reeve—even though Reeve was about to taxi his plane right off the cliff.