Absolute Perfection The jet skiff skimmed up the Ambler River, my guilt fading with each bend. I’d sworn to myself to stay glued to home, attending to a pile of now-or-next-year chores. But here I was, heading out into the country instead. The day had started with the same grungy, rain-spattered weather that had defined the past month; but by afternoon the clouds had dissolved into a blue sprawl of sky, colors glowing, the breeze sighing of summer—the best day of the whole damn fall. As a bonus, the hordes of mosquitoes and gnats that had plagued us had evaporated. So, what to do—spend this afternoon patching and painting a storage shed desperate for it five years ago, or take a river run somewhere? Not much of a decision. The shed was good at waiting, after all. Soon as I’d decided to duck out, I knew where I was going—up…
Take a roll in the dirt. Kobuk Valley National Park allows visitors to explore a sand dune amusement park, one that’s frequently traversed by migrating caribou. With almost 1.8 million acres of remote backcountry, you won’t run out of outdoor adventures or run into many tourists. Like other parks in the Brooks Range, this region lacks trails and facilities, but that’s part of its allure. Photography, flight-seeing, backpacking, snowmachining, dog mushing and just about anything else you can think of are possibilities here. Fly from Anchorage to Kotzebue and charter a flight to the park. Just come prepared for all types of weather, even snow in summer. Canoeing Sixty-one exceptional miles of the 350-mile Kobuk River flow through the park. Paddlers are expected to fly their own gear into the park (as there are no developed facilities here), but we recommend hiring an outfitter and enjoying their boats, PFDs and expertise…
Nick Jans remembers taking photos of caribou bulls in the Kobuk River 23 years ago, before digital photography. Did he get the shot?
An Arctic Miracle on Hold Seth Kantner and I sat, leaning into our binoculars. The sandy knoll commanded a huge sweep of autumn-bright country—rolling tundra banded with willow and spruce, framed by the ragged, snow-dusted heave of the western Brooks Range. Working near to far, we scanned each crease and hummock, studied clumps of brush and jumbles of rock, searching the blue-tinted distance for shimmers of movement, anything that stood out or reflected light a bit differently. This place was far more than a fine view in a landscape defined by countless others. Half a lifetime had passed since I’d first looked out from this crest, and I’d returned more times than I could count. Seth’s attachment lay deeper still. He’d been born just a few miles to the east and knew this place from childhood. Each of us, together and alone, and in varying company, had spent time here…
Nick Jans has observed a new breed of wilderness traveler, one that relies on technology he couldn’t dream of 40 years ago.
Studying wood frogs requires first finding the tiny animals in the vast Arctic, then preserving their DNA while huddled in a tent.
Nick Jans writes that The Darkness, capitalized, is what defines winter in the far north. Combined with extreme cold, it can be soul-crushing.
Whether it’s shopping, surfing, birding, or another activity, here are some of the best places to indulge while you travel through Alaska.
Nick Jans writes about the air service that connects Ambler, and other Bush communities, to the outside world.
Spend the night in a public use cabin in Alaska’s beautiful backcountry for an experience that can be cozier than tent camping.