Thursday, May 28, 2015


Leonard at Mallott's Grocery

While spending time in Yakutat, we came to appreciate this small community.  It is hard to believe that Yakutat has a population of 570 people with the small number of commercial buildings, spread out in such a way that it’s difficult to find any resemblance of a town center.  Businesses are found along a few paved roads leading in different directions rather than grouped together.  We located several shops including the hardware store which doubles as a general store, and two grocery stores, one of which also carries household goods.  
Costco Shopping
What appears to be the main grocery is surprisingly well stocked, including fresh produce, breads, and even a Costco section with bulk items.  Food and supplies must be flown in by Alaska Airlines to this isolated community at the northern edge of Southeast Alaska.  Roads are for local use and do not connect with the Alaskan highway system due to impassible mountain ranges and glaciers.  Visitors can access Yakutat by plane, boat, or by ferry which arrives only twice a month.  Other buildings in town include the Yakutat District Courthouse and the Yakutat City Borough office located in simple trailer-style structures.  Some businesses are found in homes like the beauty salon and a couple of gift shops.  Having learned that Yakutat is one of the oldest permanent settlements in Alaska, we found an auto repair shop that appeared to be housed in one of these earlier buildings. Newer buildings tend to be fishing lodges that attract visitors during the Silver Salmon, Coho Salmon, Lingcod, and Halibut fishing seasons.  Money has also been put into a nice school and into the local police/fire department facility.  Unfortunately, like many of the smaller towns in Alaska, school enrollment along with the local population continues to decline due to the ever increasing cost of living in Alaska and lack of jobs – fuel, groceries, and housing is becoming more expensive and job opportunities becoming more scares in these remote locations.  People with children tend to move to larger towns like Anchorage or Seattle.  
Annual Event at Yakutat
A growing trend of course is tourism; people in Yakutat are divided on the issue, however; some want to keep things as they are or were, while others would like to share more of what the area has to offer, including fishing expeditions and wildlife tours to local lakes, rivers, and glaciers.  The nearby Hubbard Glacier is the longest tidewater glacier in the world and the most active in Alaska, frequently advancing and retreating.  
Tern Chicks
For the very first time starting this June, a small cruise ship will arrive in Yakutat, an experiment by the city to test out their future in tourism.  One of the annual events in Yakutat is the Tern Festival held in late May or early June.  We were fortunate enough to be in Yakutat during part of the festival.  Terns breed in several areas around Yakutat, primarily in mixed Arctic and Aleutian Tern colonies, including the largest known colonies on Black Sand Spit which supports up to 3,000 Terns and is designated an Audubon Important Bird Area.  These seabirds, related to gulls, are impressive aerialists; they are capable of hovering like a hummingbird, flipping over backwards, and then diving into the water like a pelican for small fish.  It is their endurance that is most impressive; the Arctic Tern has been documented migrating 50,000 miles annually from Arctic breeding grounds to the Southern Ocean.  Recent research indicates that the Aleutian Tern is also a long-distance traveler.  Activities during the Yakutat Tern Festival include talks, displays, live bird presentations, field trips, a barbeque, and performance by a Tlingit dance group held at the school.  
Bridge over "Dangerous River"
We attended the community barbeque held on the first night after participating in a field trip to “Dangerous River” and Harlequin Lake, a 62 mile round trip by Van.  The group included Forest Service personnel, Park Ranger Mike, school children, and adults from various States in the lower 48.  The area of low pine and scrub was dry, unusual for this time of year when snow normally covers the area and blocks off part of the road.  Large ice bergs are found in Harlequin Lake year-round, expelled from West Nunatak and Yakutat Glaciers, very picturesque.  
Harlequin Lake Trail
Our driver parked the Van near the bridge that crosses over Dangerous River, aptly named for its swift current carrying bergie bits as it heads out to sea.  We walked across the high bridge and peered down at the cold, swiftly moving river; the height of the wooden railing was just above my thigh.  No one seemed overly concerned about the children who were running about; guess they have learned how to take care of themselves in the wild.  
Harlequin Lake and Yakutat Glacier
A Beautiful Setting
We walked the quarter-mile trail to the lake and could see the glacier in the distance with large sculptured bergs rising up in front of us along the beach, a beautiful sight.


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