Magazine article Sunset

A Place the World Forgot?

Magazine article Sunset

A Place the World Forgot?

Article excerpt

Trailing off the Alaska peninsula like the tail of a comet, the Aleutian Islands slice 1,200 miles westward through the North Pacific until the last major island, Attu, tips the chain some 400 miles from the Russian coast. Often shrouded in dense mists and rain, these austere, volcanic islands seem an improbable place for wildlife--yet it abounds here.

New tours and a cruise offered this summer (see page 55) can introduce you to the many dimensions of the islands: the wildlife, the ancient Aleut culture, and Russian and World War II history.

Here, far from the normal tourist track, colonies of seals and sea lions bask in waters made warm by the Japan Current. Bald eagles soar boldly overhead, and colorful puffins fly to and from rookeries perched on isolated rocks. In the scattered harbors, you'll find fishing boats and processing plants, and perhaps heavy equipment for oil exploration.

There is little else. And, at first look, the Aleutians may seem like a place that the world forgot. But a closer look reveals evidence of a rich fabric of human history. It began at least 8,000 years ago with the settlement of the islands by nomads from Asia, known as the Aleuts. Their ancient culture is still in evidence today, although in the 18th century the Aleuts were nearly wiped out by Russian fur traders and the diseases they brought with them. Today the Aleuts, many with Russian surnames and still faithful to the Russian Orthodox religion, control powerful corporations and dictate the use of much of their ancient lands.

In 1867, the Aleutian Islands became U.S. territory as part of "Seward's Folly," the purchase of Alaska from the Russians for $7.2 million.

Seventy-five years later, on June 4, 1942, headlines bannered the news, "Japanese Bomb Dutch Harbor!" The islands of Attu and Kiska were occupied by Japanese troops; it took a fierce 13-month battle to dislodge them. Gun emplacements and other reminders of war dot the islands, adding to the historic patchwork.

Visiting the Aleutians . . . on a tour,

by cruise ship, by airplane or ferry

Even in midsummer, weather is fickle. Be ready for high winds, drenching rain, persistent fog. Warm clothing and good rain gear are a must. A camera with a telephoto lens, fast film, and binoculars will help you get the most from your visit.

Join a tree- or seven-day tour. AlaskaBound, 1621 Tongass Ave., Ketchikan, Alaska 99901, (907) 225-2379 or (800) 544-0808, offers two choices from Anchorage. …

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