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A place the world forgot?

Trailing off the Alaska peninsula like the tail of a comet, the Aleutian Islands slice 1,200 miles westward through the North Pacific until the last major island, Attu, tips the chain some 400 miles from the Russian coast. Often shrouded in dense mists and rain, these austere, volcanic islands seem an improbable place for wildlife--yet it abounds here.

New tours and a cruise offered this summer (see page 55) can introduce you to the many dimensions of the islands: the wildlife, the ancient Aleut culture, and Russian and World War II history.

Here, far from the normal tourist track, colonies of seals and sea lions bask in waters made warm by the Japan Current. Bald eagles soar boldly overhead, and colorful puffins fly to and from rookeries perched on isolated rocks. In the scattered harbors, you'll find fishing boats and processing plants, and perhaps heavy equipment for oil exploration.

There is little else. And, at first look, the Aleutians may seem like a place that the world forgot. But a closer look reveals evidence of a rich fabric of human history. It began at least 8,000 years ago with the settlement of the islands by nomads from Asia, known as the Aleuts. Their ancient culture is still in evidence today, although in the 18th century the Aleuts were nearly wiped out by Russian fur traders and the diseases they brought with them. Today the Aleuts, many with Russian surnames and still faithful to the Russian Orthodox religion, control powerful corporations and dictate the use of much of their ancient lands.

In 1867, the Aleutian Islands became U.S. territory as part of "Seward's Folly," the purchase of Alaska from the Russians for $7.2 million.

Seventy-five years later, on June 4, 1942, headlines bannered the news, "Japanese Bomb Dutch Harbor!" The islands of Attu and Kiska were occupied by Japanese troops; it took a fierce 13-month battle to dislodge them. Gun emplacements and other reminders of war dot the islands, adding to the historic patchwork.

Visiting the Aleutians . . . on a tour,

by cruise ship, by airplane or ferry

Even in midsummer, weather is fickle. Be ready for high winds, drenching rain, persistent fog. Warm clothing and good rain gear are a must. A camera with a telephoto lens, fast film, and binoculars will help you get the most from your visit.

Join a tree- or seven-day tour. AlaskaBound, 1621 Tongass Ave., Ketchikan, Alaska 99901, (907) 225-2379 or (800) 544-0808, offers two choices from Anchorage. Its three-day tour ($834) begins with a flight to Dutch Harbor on Unalaska Island. A seven-day tour ($1,273) includes sightseeing on Kodiak Island, a 700-mile ferry trip from Kodiak to Dutch Harbor with stops at fishing villages, and three days in Dutch Harbor. Lodging is included.

In Dutch Harbor on either tour, you'll ride in a sturdy ex-troop carrier as you explore World War II bunkers and barracks, and visit an onion-domed Russian Orthodox church and the newly restored Bishop's House, now a museum of Aleutian art and artifacts. You meet native Aleuts and get a possibly fishy taste of the local culture.

An afternoon ride up 1,600-foot Mount Ballyhoo--named by Jack London--will give you an overview of the harbor and neighboring islands. A memorable flightseeing option (69) takes you through the velvety interior valleys of Unalaska and nearby Umnak Island.

Arrange your own flight. Alaska Airlines, MarkAir, and Reeve Aleutian Airways make regular flights from Anchorage to Dutch Harbor: the round trip costs $620, with discounts available.

Come on a cruise ship. Society Expeditions, 723 Broadway E., Seattle 98102, (206) 324-9400 or (800) 426-7794, has a 17-day cruise that starts in Kushiro, Japan, and heads to the Aleutian and Pribilof Islands, the Arctic Circle, and finally to Nome. Sailing on the refurbished Society Explorer (the former Lindblad Explorer), you depart Japan on July 3 and spend five days exploring five Aleutian islands before heading into the Bering Sea. Cost is $3,750 to $7,990 per person.

On-board lecturers include naturalists, ornithologists, and antrhopologists. At each island, you go ashore on inflatable craft and spend the day observing birds and looking at World War II battle sites. You'll see alpine flowers, teeming bird and animal life, and an ancient volcano on Gareloi, and visit a national wildlife refuge on Bogoslof Island.

Go by Alaska ferry. Alaska Marine Highway, Pouch R, Juneau 99811, (800) 544-2251, has six-day sailings from Homer and Kodiak to the Aleutians, with stops at Chignik, Sand Point, King Cove, Cold BAy, and Dutch Harbor. Dates this year: April 14, May 12, June 9, July 7, August 18, and September 15. Round-trip fare from Kodiak for two people in one cabin is $916; meals are extra. Some visitors go one way by sea, the other by air. For the ferry, early reservations are advised.
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Copyright 1986 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Aleutian Islands
Date:Mar 1, 1986
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