The Pribilof Islands have been some of the most restricted locations in the United States for the past two years due to Corvid-19 concerns. After a two year hiatus, however, the Pribilofs will reopen for tours in 2022.
The Pribilof Islands consist of four individual islands in the Bering Sea, approximately 200 miles north of Unalaska. The largest of the two are St. Paul and St George. Otter and Walrus Islets complete the quartet and are near St. Paul Island. The Pribilofs are a part of the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge.
The islands have long attracted Bering Sea wildlife. Some 300 species of birds have been identified visiting the islands, and over 2 million birds nest here every year.
St Paul Island is the breeding grounds for over 1/2 of the world’s fur seal population. Over 100,000 seal pups are born in the Pribilofs every year. Once decimated by the the fur trade, hunting seals on the Pribilofs has been banned since 1966, other than some subsistence hunting by Aleuts.
As much as I love Denali and Wrangell-St Elias National Parks, I think Gates of the Arctic is Alaska’s crown jewel within the national park system. It is the second largest of our national parks, and its entirety is located north of the Arctic Circle.
Due to the lack of any roads, and its remote location, Gates of the Arctic is the least visited of our national parks. All of that only adds to the appeal for me. In 2016, Gates of the Arctic received 10,047 visitors. In the same year, the Grand Canyon saw over 6 million.
The Park has six Wild and Scenic rivers: the Kobuk, John, Alatna, north fork of the Koyukuk, Tinayguk, and part of the famed Noatak. The Noatak is at the top of my list of rivers to float.
I have only been to the Gates of the Arctic once. A fly in camping trip. One evening, we watched a herd of caribou that probably numbered over 10,000. The entire valley below us was filled with these tundra travelers. It was one of the most incredible sights I have ever seen. The next morning, when we peaked over the ridge line, we were surprised to see that there was not one animal left in the valley. The entire herd had moved off, on their endless migration.
It’s still winter in Alaska: it was -10F on Sunday morning, and expected to drop to -20F Monday night, but the switch has been flipped. The sled dogs are running, the ice carvings are on display, and the aurora shows itself almost nightly.
March in Alaska.
Already, we have over 13 hours of visible light during the day, and our days are gaining length by almost 7 minutes with each spin of the Earth.