Michelle Theall


Alaska Senior Editor Michelle Theall shares Alaskan portraits from her time traveling and meeting people around the state. For this photo Theall writes, “When you live in Utqiagvik at the edge of the world, you make your own fun. Three kids sit atop a roof to rest after a day of biking along the Arctic Ocean. In typical Inupiat villages, seal pelts hang off ATVs and meat dries on sawhorses in front of homes. Gas is $7.00 a gallon and a two-liter bottle of Coca-Cola will cost you $10. However, bike riding and climbing on a neighbor’s shed remain free for now.” If you live or work in Alaska, you know that life here is different: simultaneously slower, harder, and more adventurous than in the Lower 48. People are fiercely independent, yet friendly. Communities possess unique personalities, defined in large part by their denizens or tourist offerings. Climbing and mining…

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…

After more trips around Alaska than I can count, I had yet to see bubble-feeding whales until this summer. I filled in for a photo instructor aboard the National Geographic Quest on a Lindblad/NatGeo cruise of the InsidePassage, with my eye on this ultimate bucket-list reward. Most humpback whales feed independently or with their calves, except when they do the coordinated dance of bubble-netting. As a group, multiple humpbacks descend below the surface of the water, sounding off and cueing one another, creating a circle of bubbles that “trap” herring inside the confusion. Then, all the whales rise at once, mouths gaping like the Hungry Hippo game our son once played, their hair-like baleen straining out water to keep nutrient-rich fish. Staring into the mouth of a whale topped my adventures at sea this July and made the 16-hour days pass like the gulp of a giant humpback