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Monday, October 3, 2011


When I first saw the treeless island mountains of Unalaska and Dutch Harbor, all I could think of was the "terrible beauty" of Ireland. Unalaska is a magical place. Volcanic and covered in grasses and wildflowers, the islands rise straight up out of the Bering Sea. I caught my first sight of them at the end of the three hour flight from Anchorage. We came in with Pen Air, on a 30 passenger SAAB 340 twin engine where my head almost brushed the ceiling. When the plane started bucking on our approach, the only thing that kept me from yelling was not wanting to scare the little girl in the seat near me. (And keep in mind that Juneauites are used to "bumpy" approaches.)

I confess to ignorance about Unalaska. I hadn't known that Dutch Harbor is its international port. (And I don't understand why the airline destination is DUT for Dutch Harbor rather than an acronym for Unalaska.) As the sign below attests, Dutch Harbor is the #1 fishing port in the nation. Enormous amounts of fish are caught in the Bering Sea, processed in different ways and shipped out. Ever eat "krab?" Imitation crab is a form of surimi, a seafood product made in Dutch Harbor by workers from all over the world. While waiting for my return flight, I heard four other languages spoken besides English.

But Unalaska!  The hiking, fishing and birding opportunities there are world class. The community is lively, welcoming and engaging. I counted five beautifully equipped playgrounds for children - this for a population of 4,000. The Unalaska Junior/Senior High School just won the Blue Ribbon, a national achievement award! The hiking, fishing and birding opportunities are world class. Unalaska also has a rich and ancient history, as the Unangan (Aleut) people have lived there for at least 9,000 years. During World War II, during the Aleutian Islands Campaign, the battles with the Japanese over the Aleutian Islands, the US military evacuated the Unangan citizens to substandard camps, where many met with illness and for the most vulnerable, death.  Both the Museum of the Aleutians and the Aleutian World War II National Historic Site in Unalaska document this important history.

I love the way the houses nestle on the treeless hills.

I didn't take this photo, but this is what MY fox looked like!
The natural world is extraordinary. I was thrilled when I spotted a red fox one morning while it was still dark. When it ran in front of my car, I could see its plume of a tail so clearly. I had never seen one so close. When I told people about it in Unalaska, they were sanguine since it is a common sight there - and as winter approaches, the foxes start looking for garbage, like our black bears in Juneau. To me, seeing that fox was part of the magic of Unalaska - I felt so fortunate to have visited this remote part of Alaska.