My friend Mike and I got to Anchorage two days ahead of the Attu schedule to do some birding on our own. We rented a car.
There aren’t many people in Alaska, given the amount of land there, but they’re bunched up. Yes, some people live in the bush, accessible only by plane or boat or dogsled. Most residents get home by car, however. We kept trying to find a dirt road that didn’t sport a street-name sign. We kept trying to find a road not lined with little houses with men in front mowing the lawn and children in the back swinging. We wanted to get away from the sound of two-cycle gasoline engines, cars, airplanes, and the four-wheeled all-terrain vehicles that bounced around every corner. It could not be done. Nor could we escape the windrows of blown paper and plastic trash piled deep along highway fences. We couldn’t even escape the espresso coffee vendors. There was a drive-though espresso shop along the highway 100 miles north of Anchorage. Espresso and Ruby-crowned Kinglets were ubiquitous up there.
Mike said that so far Alaska had been like going to the zoo and expecting to see wild animals.
The problem, of course, was the romantic image of Alaska, the public-television image, those extraordinary photos in National Geographic. Alaska was best from the air, I found. Below me were those places the television and magazine photographers go. Below as you fly north or west from Anchorage are un-named mountains and glaciers, hours of them at 350 miles each hour. You push your forehead against the airplane window and wish this was a little single-engine plane carrying you down that valley, over there, that one, where no one had ever been before.
To be continued.