Have you ever gone on an expensive trip to a dream location but afterward what you catch yourself thinking about isn’t the ‘Big Name’ place? You mind keeps drifting back to a little, no-name stop you visited as an afterthought?
This happened to me last year. You probably haven’t heard of Kaktovik. That’s not surprising because Kaktovic is a tiny village of 350 hearty souls located on Barter island…which is nothing more than a small spec in the Arctic Ocean off the north coast of Alaska. There isn’t much else even remotely near it…in fact, it’s the only town in the entire 30,000 square mile Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. But Kaktovic’s claim to fame are the dozens of polar bears that gather there every year to feed on the remains of the whales that the Inupiat are allowed to harvest. The whales attract the bears and the bears attract photographers…which is why I was there.
There are no roads to Katovik. A small group of us had flown in and we were hyped to see the bears. But the weather was bad…and it got worse. In fact the waves were so high that the local captains refused to take us out on the boats to the area where the bears hung out. Since we couldn’t photograph bears most of the folks decided to chill out at the lodge. That didn’t work for me. I figured I could chill out when I got home…heck, I had come halfway around the world to take some darn pictures. One of the other guys, Cesar Aristeiguieta, felt the same way, we so grabbed parkas, mud boots and cameras then headed out to see what wonders Kaktovik might hold. The drive from the gravel airstrip hadn’t revealed much…a few roads, boats, clutter and trash…but nothing ventured, nothing gained, so off we went.
As we walked thru the thick fog, we couldn’t help but think about the warning our guides had given us: Keep your eyes open for scavenging polar bears. I’m a pretty good runner, but I wasn’t positive that I was faster than Cesar, so I kept alert!
As we headed east, an old graveyard was the first thing that caught our eye. It sat in the middle of the tundra surrounded by a wood fence. Since we were guests in the village and wanted to be considerate to the feelings of the residents, Cesar and I stayed on the road and didn’t actually enter the cemetery. The solid overcast made the atmosphere somber and almost oppressive. But it sure fit the scene.
During the cold war, the U.S. maintained and listening and communications station on Barter island. As the fog started to lift we could see the huge radar dome in the distance thru the cemetery’s gateway.
As we strode away, I noticed a long ridge of tall wooden fences in the distance. Being from Florida, it took me a bit to realize that these were snow fences.
We headed down to the lagoon and came upon an old bowhead whale skull.
Right next to the whale bones was an old wooden wreck.
The texture of the grass wood really worked well in a black & white exposure but I like the scene in color as well.
As I looked around the harbor, I could see that there were a number of old wrecks..
We continued walking back toward the center of town and came upon this child’s wagon. It’s bright color really jumped out.
I’m sure the locals had a good laugh as they watched the two ‘Qallunaats’ sprint back to their lodge!
Over the next few days we did get a chance to finally photograph the bears (see my blog about that incredible experience). The bears were awesome. They were magnificent. I will never forget my hours photographing them as long as I live.
But I won’t forget my stroll around Kaktovic with Cesar either.
An Arctic Walkabout: Photo Tour of Kaktovic Alaska