Grab a boat and get out to the Orca Highway. About 3 miles off Cape Cheerful is the Shalan Banks, an area of the Bering Sea rich in marine life. If you time your arrival for just after high tide, the currents coming thru the passes push a great deal of food close to the surface and the place is teeming with Orcas, white sided porpoise, and albatross, to name a few.
There are several boats for hire. Have been out on two of them - Aleutian Outfitters and Suregood Charters. Both good.
If you can't find a boat you still have a good chance of seeing whales in the bay. The entry to Captain's Bay, just opposite of the Grand Aleutian Hotel, is a likely spot.
A rock which hailed as a pinnacle for returning seamen, this unique formation is still used as a beacon today. It is covered in small vegetation, and stands at the headwaters of the Iliuliuk and Summer Bays.
Unalaska / Dutch Harbor is home of the world record halibut, 459 pounds, caught in 1996 just ten minutes from the dock. The number of boats available for hire can vary, depending on owner's sked and if they commercial fish as well. Besides halibut, there's cod, rockfish, and many other species. The latest craze with us locals is trolling for King Salmon. Also some great freshwater fishing for salmon and dollys.
As of 2008 only 2 sport fishing charter outfits operated this summer:
F/V Lucille, run by Dave Magone for many years (907) 581-5949.
F/V Miss Alyssa, run by Jimmer McDonald (907) 581-1386.
Average cost of a days charter runs about $200/ per person with a minimum of 4 people. You clean your own catch or can pay a local to clean and freeze for you.
The first photo here is of a 220 pound halibut caught on 16 pound test. An IGFA women's world record.
The hills surrounding Unalaska and Dutch Harbor are ripe for hiking. Green hills surround the towns, offering great opportunities to see eagles, pick berries, or just wander.
Some of the best hiking I found was up beyond Summer bay, in a valley that looks almost like Switzerland. Small wildflowers abound, and patches of snow if the summer has been cold enough. There are trails criss-crossing the area, long winding paths that were used by native Aleuts to connect different villages on the island. These are delightful places to hike, and explore the island and its flora and fauna.
This small museum in Dutch Harbor is home to a delightful home of information about the native inhabitants of the Aleutian islands. It covers a fair amount of their history before contact with whites, detailing their customs and artifacts, mostly recovered from local archaeological sites. There is a segment dealing with the introduction of Russian fur trappers and traders, and even a bit about the history of the islands during WWII. The Aleutians were the second piece of US territory attacked by Japanese forces.
There is also another piece of the museum which houses a rotating exhibit; at the time I was there, it was about the introduction and influence of Russian Orthodoxy upon the people of the islands, and its continuing effects today.
Summer hours (June 1 to September 30): Tues-Sat 9:00am - 5:00pm, Sun 11:00am - 5:00pm, closed Monday
Winter hours (October 1 to May 30): Tues-Sat 9:00am - 5:00pm, closed Sunday-Monday
Admission is $5.00
We had lots of time to kill, so we spent a day with Bobbie roaming the island as part of her Extra Mile Tours. For those who do not have a car, and would like to see more of the island, this is a great resource. Bobbie has lived on the island for nearly 3 decades, married to an Aleut gentleman, and is filled with knowledge of the area. She participates in the bird counting for the island, an informal count, so she knows where great locations of bald eagle nests are for you to watch and photograph.
The tour takes in some of the highlights of the islands. It started on the Aleutian WWII NHS, heading past the docks and harbors which figure so prominently on The Dealiest Catch, and onto Unalaska island. We headed around the bend to Summer Bay, where eagles nested. We headed up, through a valley into the alpine-like hills and then back down to Unalaska. All the while she kept us abreast of the flowers, animals, birds, local formations and customs. It was a very enjoyable day.
I highly recommend her services to any traveling to Dutch Harbor
The dual islands of Amaknak and Unalaska are fabulous places to see wildlife. You won't come across bears or wolves or moose, some of the better known residents of Alaska, but you have a great opportunity to see bald eagles. There are roughly 600 bald eagles on the two islands, making up for a huge concentration. At times they seem like pigeons, hanging around the town with not much to do!
There are other species of interest on the island. While heading up to the WWII site, there was a fox sitting around, stretching. Other small mammals abound, from pikas to ground squirrels. Keep your eyes open and you will be richly rewarded.
This rocky outcrop around Mt. Ballyhoo is the site of the Aleutian WWII National Historic Site. This was the second piece of US territory to be attacked by the Japanese. June 3rd and 4th, 1942 the Japanese ran several bombing runs to the island, which at the time held nearly 50,000 US troops. It is a little-known piece of history, but the cliffs where the large artillery stood to help try and repel the attack now sit silently above the ocean, only some of the turrets and ammunition houses remain. Still, it is a fascinating place to look upon the cliffs of Unalaska and Amaknak islands.
The museum is a must see for both locals and visitors. Perhaps the best small town museum in Alaska (sorry Scott), it has a great archaeology collection, Unangan crafts, WWII memoriabilia, and historical displays. A large area is set aside for temporary exhibits that change out every six months or so.
Some of my favorite displays are:
--The original sketch that Weber based his etching "Aleut Woman" on from Cook's third voyage. Cook and crew stayed on Unalaska for a month just prior to their return to Hawaii and his subsequent demise.
--The fantastic works of local sculptress Gert Svarny, including an elaborate Aleut hat.
--The large collection of Aleut baskets, just recently expanded by a generous donation from the Ounalashka Corporation. Aleut basketry is renowned for it's intricate weaving.
Cost of Admission is $5 each.
There is usually a dig going on in or near Unalaska every summer. The past 3 summers digging has gone on at the bridge site. Site was selected to make way for a replacement bridge between Amaknak Island and Unalaska.
The digs have unearthed an amazing variety of items and date Unalaska as a village site for at least 9,000 years. Also being called into question is the Bering Sea Land Bridge theory. Studies are showing that first humans in North America may have boated along the Aleutians from Russia.
Much of what has been found is available for viewing at the Museum.
You can take a boat as mentioned above and go out where they are really thick. But every September the humpback whales come inside the bay chasing krill. We have had about ten of them cavorting around for the past week. Very hard to drive along the main street and avoid crashing while we oooo and aaaaaw!
Outside the bay along the Shelan Banks, I'm told there must be a hundred or so. They are getting as much food as they can before they head south to Hawaii and mating season.
Being the hub of the Aleutians, we have seen many a ship damaged and limping into port for repairs. The latest is this car ship, the Cougar Ace, enroute from Japan to Vancouver with 5000 Mazdas onboard. Seems the ballast shift didn't go as planned. Don't worry - they got it almost even keeled after 4-5 days of pumping. Only 400 cars damaged. We offered to take them off their hands but they politely declined. Maybe that's why they haven't come to a dock and stayed anchored up in Wide Bay :)
But we do see our share. In the 16 years I've been here we have had 3 heavily damaged log ships, many fishing boats and freighters and another car carrier - all coming into port with their fingers crossed. And we have more than our share of ships running aground.
This trail really is believed to be 10,000 years old (or at least 9,000 - according to archeaologists). The village of Unalaska has been a trading hub in the Aleutians for at least that long. When villagers from Biorka couldn't kayak around Priest Rock because of weather, they would pull in at Ugadaga Bay and hike over the to Unalaska. That trail is still in use today, and is much safer now that all the spikes from WWII have been located and pulled.
A nice hike, it is downhill 3 miles going and uphill 3 miles all the way back. Rolling tundra, creeks, beautiful vistas!
It was warm and sunny when we left the house - seemed like an ideal day for a picnic at Summer's Bay. Just a 2 mile drive out there and sure enough - cloudy and the wind picking up. But we had gone to too much trouble to turn back now! Some heavy rocks on the edges of the picnic blanket and get the spare jackets out of the back - Voila! Picnic - Aleutian style.
By the time we had finished the strawberries and cream it was blowing 40 and raining hard!
Whiskered Auklets, ground nesting Bald Eagles, Albatross, Loons, Cormorants, Shearwaters, puffins, Rock Ptarmigan, Ravens, Black-legged Kittiwake, Eiders, Emperor Geese, and much, much, more. Seems like we get more and more birders every year from all over the world. Rent a car, hire a land tour. For whiskered auklet you need a boat charter to get out to the Baby Islands. Thousands of them out there.
Resident & breeding species include:
Fork-tailed Storm Petrel
Leach?s Storm Petrel
Black (Common) Scoter
Oldsquaw (Long-tailed Duck)
In addition, we get many migratory and accidentals.