The 2013 season of Discovery Channel’s Deadliest Catch begins on Tuesday, June 4. Those who watch it are already familiar with Dutch Harbor/Unalaska. I visited there several years ago without Ruth. She wasn’t interested in such a remote spot.
Unalaska is 900 miles or so southwest of Anchorage, Alaska, in the Fox Islands part of the Aleutians, and it’s hard to get to and away from, even in August. My Alaska Airlines flight carried passengers only in the back 1/3 of the plane. The rest was cargo. The landing was so dramatic that I paid no attention to its breathtaking difficulty.
The entire time I was there this virtually treeless island, except for the few scraggly survivors at Sitka Spruce Park, was decorated with fog, clouds, and infrequent, always startling, sun patches. I stayed at the Grand Aleutian Hotel and would again. Its Chart Room was the best place to dine.
On my first full day I decided to rent a car, walked back to the airport, and left in a Ford Escort. It quit on me 30 minutes later when I stopped to watch a nesting eagle. Since the island is so small, I decided I didn’t need the hassle of ground transportation after all and returned the wheezing Escort. From that point I walked everywhere, which wasn’t a problem.
The best tourist attraction, aside from consistently grand scenery, was the Museum of the Aleutians at 314 Salmon Way. Here I quickly learned a lot about a place I actually knew nothing about before arrival. In an active Museum that changes exhibits frequently and focuses on all facets of life in an isolated place, I spent most of my time looking at wonderful old maps, the area’s volcanic geology, its whaling past, Unalaska’s involvement in World War II, flora examples (purple wild irises, mossberries), etc. I wasn’t too surprised to learn that James Cook visited in 1778 and wondered if he left with a kamleika, a parka made from sea-lion intestines.
I tried to arrange a tour with a local but that didn’t work out. However, I took a taxi ride with an island girl as driver/guide and traveled every road. I also managed to visit a seafood processing plant. There are more than a dozen around. Ice-free Dutch Harbor/Unalaska is #1 in the United States in quantity of catch. Crab, of course, is king.
I also got inside Holy Ascension of Our Lord Cathedral but not for a service in Aleut, Slavonic, or English. Founded in 1824, built in 1896, restoration ongoing, Holy Ascension’s traditional Orthodox grandness dominates the townscape.
Paying attention to the always difficult weather, I decided I might have to leave when an opportunity presented itself and asked the red-haired receptionist at the Grand Aleutian about departures. She literally took me outside, pointed to a pyramidal mountain to our right and said, “When the top if covered, nothing flies.” “Delayed?” I asked. “Cancelled,” she replied with finality.
The next day I understood why when I climbed aboard an afternoon flight to Anchorage. We taxied to the end of a seemingly short runway where the plane swung around and I saw that soaring mountain pyramid rising to a barely visible peak at its not-far-enough-away end. It was my first virtually vertical take-off.
I didn’t talk to one native who didn’t like it here. Connie admitted that life could be difficult and summed up their home, “Everybody lives for now but that’s all they have.”
Unalaska still haunts me.
image above from unalaska.info/photos