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Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

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A lone bear stakes out his fishing territory beneath Brooks Falls in Katmai. Photo by Michelle Theall. Alaska’s eight designated national parks cover over 41 million acres. For scale, that’s twice the size of all of the Lower 48 national parks—from Death Valley to Big Bend—added together. National parks are considered the crown jewels of each state—important enough to be protected for all—and Alaska is no exception. It just, well, has a bigger crown. Alaska is romanticized and revered for its wildness, its vast and forbidding landscapes, and its almost mythic number of creatures. The diverse flora and fauna here exist among famous mountains, but also unnamed and unclimbed peaks and salmon-rich rivers and remote streams. There’s a reason these areas are protected: their wild beauty and wonder represent the best Alaska and, thus, our country, has to offer. Visiting all of the parks requires some logistical gymnastics—ideally broken down…

The Junjik River runs south under Burnt Hill, bright with fall colors. Photo by Keely O’Connell We woke in the tent, dazzled by the morning sunlight fracturing in the frost on the dry fireweed stalks and the tundra moss. With the door unzipped and pegged open—there were no mosquitoes so far north in September—we could look east, out over our feet in sleeping bags, clear across the Junjik River. The Junjik is a clear, shallow river with its entire length in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. It flows into the Chandalar just north of Arctic Village. That afternoon we wanted to see, just for the fun of it, how far we could get before bottoming out. In my freight canoe, Lyra, we hugged cutbanks, keeping just enough water under the hull to feed the prop. Blueberries on the bank hung limp on their stems, fragile, but syrupy sweet after the…