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arctic national wildlife refuge

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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…

Bull muskox spar by butting heads, sometimes running at each other full bore before colliding. Four inches of horn and three inches of bone protect the brain from injury during this violent contact. The first time I encountered muskox in the wild I felt as spectacular as Tom Cruise dancing around in his underwear and football helmet in the movie Risky Business. I was skiing across the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in March as mountains and the coastal plain glowed blue in the winter light. ANWR, long known as the battleground between wilderness and oil lovers, is the sort of place you can slow dance with your inner Frankenstein without the judgement of others. Better yet, it’s one of a handful of regions in Alaska you can see muskox. A herd of 15 grazed on a windswept rise above a frozen river ahead of me. A bull hoofed at…

The Arctic Refuge remains an unspoiled American treasure—for now [by E. Donnall Thomas jr.] “Here still survives one of Planet Earth’s own works of art. This one symbolizes freedom.” —Lowell Sumner National Park Service biologist, 1953 I will never forget the first time I dipped my toe in the Arctic Ocean. Despite the early August date, a mountain snowstorm had kept us grounded on Barter Island at the beginning of a Brooks Range sheep hunt. Since we were hunting with longbows, the smart money was on the sheep. With nothing else to do while we waited for the weather to clear, I wandered up to the local medical clinic. A young physician with several years of experience in Native communities, I was able to give the friendly staff some advice on their new ER equipment. Then I headed to the beach. Although I’d spent time on six of the seven…