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Dutch Harbor, Unalaska, Alaska
Nearly 1,000 miles southwest of Anchorage sit two small islands in Alaska’s Aleutian Islands connected only by a 500-foot bridge. Lush with green vegetation in summer and abundant with eagles year-round, these islands, Unalaska and Amaknak, are also home to Dutch Harbor, the international fishing port made famous by the show Deadliest Catch on the Discovery Channel. A small population of Unangan (or Aleut) people has inhabited Unalaska and Amaknak Islands for more than 9,000 years. Their influence and minimal impact on the land, which is managed today by the Ounalashka Corporation, help to keep this remote destination pristine and natural. Today, Unalaska and Amaknak only have seven miles of paved road, but more than 38 miles of dirt roads and trails are prime for exploration. These less-traveled roads can take you up lush volcanic peaks like Pyramid Peak, Bunker Hill and Mount Ballyhoo, as well as into meadows full of summer wildflowers and open fields, with plentiful wildlife and a number of waterfalls.
As part of Alaska’s Aleutian Islands chain, Unalaska and Amaknak frequently are some of the first places to be hit by storms out of the Pacific, as weather patterns cross from west to east. This gives the area the potential to be very wet and stormy, but it also creates a surprisingly moderate climate with little fluctuation in temperatures. The annual average temperature in Dutch Harbor is 49˚ F, with average lows in winter dropping to only 33˚ F. Highs in summer rarely reach 70˚ F. Because of this moderate climate, the waters around Dutch Harbor never freeze. December and January are the wettest months, but fog and light rain are prevalent throughout most of the year.
In late spring and summer, when the long days provide ample shooting time, more than 600 resident bald eagles hunt for food in a variety of settings. Some of the eagles lay eggs and raise their young in nests within view on mountainsides and rock outcroppings. By early July, meadows are filled with wildflowers. Winter photo ops include red foxes against a snowy backdrop and pristine, snow-covered landscapes. Migratory birds visit Dutch Harbor and other Aleutian Islands in winter to take advantage of the open water, including the world’s population of Emperor geese. Capturing the iconic cathedral of the Church of the Holy Ascension is a popular hot spot anytime of year, as are the relics left behind by the U.S. Army and U.S. Navy from World War II. This is a destination where photographers will make full use of wide-angle and supertelephoto lenses. Rain gear for your camera as well as yourself is essential, though travel to Dutch Harbor can be challenging because of weight restrictions on flights and weather delays. The best option is to include essentials and a change of clothes, a tripod and all your camera gear in your carry-on bag.
Summer is my favorite season in Dutch Harbor, especially as daylight can extend as long as 17 hours. In early June, eaglets are covered in gray down feathers and stick close to the nest, and at the same time that snow still covers the mountains. By July, wildflowers are in full bloom, eaglets are starting to venture from the nest with their new flying skills, and streams and waterfalls flow down the lush green landscapes. In August, eagles can be found hunting for salmon running up streams and rivers. There are very few places to photograph eagles in such a variety of settings—from diving into the ocean to stealing fish from fishermen to feeding their young—as Dutch Harbor.
Contact: Visit the State of Alaska Vacation and Travel Information website at www.travelalaska.com.
A tripod designed to handle the heaviest of your equipment is essential in an area like Dutch Harbor where your camera could come into contact with salt water, rocks and sand if it fell over. Although heavy, I carry a Manfrotto four-section, carbon-fiber tripod with a Wimberley mount, which I use with my 200-400mm and 500mm lenses. I also pack a Manfrotto ballhead as a backup for landscape shots. The heavier tripod is overkill for the smaller wide-angles, but a must for securing heavy telephotos. Rinse the legs and leg locks nightly to prevent corrosion from salt, sand and dirt.