Arctic Dreaming

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View of the Brooks Range, Alaska from a bush plane.

I really don’t know what to write or say about Alaska. Hell, I didn’t see Alaska, which is a land more vast than any I have ever seen. We saw a bit of Fairbanks, including some delicious Thai food, and then flew over fast stretches of boreal forest and frozen rivers, including the mighty Yukon. Then on through, not really over, but through the Brooks Range – a fortress of frigid mountains extending far beyond my imagination. I have never seen so much land frozen and seemingly lifeless. Narrow valleys and steep, snow-capped peaks and then suddenly we rounded a bend in the mountains and a wide valley opened up and there was our destination: Anaktuvuk Pass!

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The valley of Anaktuvuk Pass.

We landed and were greeted by half the village it seemed. Kids from the school, most on skis, waved and held banners welcoming us to their home. It was unlike any welcoming I have every experienced and likely ever will. It was cold when we got off the plane, but we didn’t feel it for the warmth of the people kept the chill at bay.

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Fourth/Fifth grade students from the Numumiut School greet us on the tarmac.

My first impression was one of overwhelming kindness – what a greeting! – and cold. A chilly zero degrees Fahrenheit or so greeted us but it was to get much, much colder in a few days when the wind howled and snow banners flew.

When I looked around, I saw the vastness of the place. I had never been in such a wide and wild valley before. The village of Anaktuvuk Pass (population 330 people or so) lies on the northern edge of the Brooks Range, where two rivers and two worlds meet. The John River flows south through the Brooks Range into the Yukon River drainage, whereas the Anaktuvuk River heads north to its meeting with the Colville River and on into the Arctic Ocean. A low, indiscernible rise in the valley separated these two mighty watersheds from one another. Small changes, to my eye at least, in this grand place indicated dramatic forces going on.

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Part of the village of Anaktuvuk Pass, AK and the Brooks Range beyond.

 

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Wide valleys dominate the Anaktuvuk Pass area of the Brooks Range.

written by David LaFever