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Alaska 2004
  • Territory: Washington State, British Columbia, Alaska
  • Time: April - August 2004, 6000 miles traveled
  • Vessel: "Teacup", Nordic Tug 37
  • Intent: Observe in wonder.
Copyright © 2004, P. Lutus. All rights reserved.

Each of the topics discussed on this page is fully explored in the accompanying Alaska pages.

Please also read about my past adventures in Alaska 2002 and Alaska 2003.

Sleeping Seal Cub
When I first visited Alaska, I simply absorbed the sights and sounds. I walked and paddled around, taking the measure of the land and comparing it to other lands I've seen. Now when I visit, I also notice the changes, things growing, falling down, evolving.

I spent time with a particular family of bears for a third year — I've watched them grow from newborn cubs. They are now separated from their mama (see picture above), and next year, they will most likely become solitary (a bear's natural social state) and therefore, in a place with a lot of bears, I won't be able to identify them any more.

When I visit the wilder bear habitats in Alaska, particularly the Alaska Peninsula where the bear population is high (no hunting allowed), I am very respectful. I never forget that to a 1200-pound grizzly, I would be just a snack, no big deal. When I visit the Peninsula, I don't go on the land at all — I paddle my kayak and stay about 50 feet from shore. Two people who visited the same area last Fall didn't share my cautious outlook. They camped directly on a bear trail and didn't take any defensive precautions. In October 2003, they were eaten by bears (Timothy Treadwell, Amie Huguenard).

Notwithstanding this tragic story, over the years I have established a risk ranking for Alaska experiences, one that contradicts what most people think is true. In fact, according to statistics and direct experience, the risk ranking from the smallest to largest risk is: bear, moose, dog, human.

One salmon stream frequented by bears (and people) in Southeast Alaska (Anan Bay) has been changed from an open area to one controlled by a government agency, with a fee for visiting. Practical and environmental issues aside, I see this as part of a trend in Alaska, in which a natural wonder becomes a controlled, for-profit tourist experience. I call this the "commodification of experience." It is a very (not to say uniquely) American reaction to nature.

This year I brought a much better camera than in years past (a Canon EOS 10D with a selection of telephoto lenses), and the pictures are much better, although they require a lot more computer storage space. I found myself in difficult photographic situations (example: whales, always in motion) that in past times would have been impractical, and managed to get some excellent results (with a lot of exposures).

In early August I saw a beautiful auroral display, a personal first. Pictures of auroras (including mine) don't do them justice, because they change so quickly that cameras cannot capture their true appearance (because they aren't bright enough to let cameras freeze the action). In essence I saw little bits of the sun crash beautifully into the sky, and yes, it was just as amazing as that description suggests.

While paddling around in my kayak, I came upon a near-perfect natural sculpture of a woman's face in a rock. I got a good picture of it. I discuss this in connection with a cult that has arisen around a picture taken by a NASA spacecraft that seems to resemble a face on Mars. The cult's premise is this image of a face could not possibly have come about by chance. Decide for yourself.

I have come to realize that Alaska, supposedly an American state like any other, is in fact a separate country with a separate culture and behavioral rules. Announcing statehood cannot erase a frontier culture, even after nearly 50 years. Stuff happens in Alaska that simply wouldn't be allowed in any other state — some good, some bad.

I hope you enjoy these pages and pictures.


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