Beyond the Moon Crater Myth
A New History of the Aniakchak Landscape
A Historic Resource Study for Aniakchak National Monument and Preserve
NPS Logo

Aniakchak Caldera from the air, National Park Service, Anchorage, Alaska.

Hubbard's Aniakchak Legacy

Like a moth singeing its wings on the world's biggest candle, our tiny plane is lost in this new world inside an erupted volcano... we were tiny pigmies exploring a world unreal.

Father Bernard Hubbard,
Cradle of the Storms

The popularized 1930, 1931, and 1932 explorations of Aniakchak by Father Hubbard and his various companions left their imprint on the region in many ways. Certainly, Hubbard's biggest achievement was to bring this relatively unknown part of Alaska—at least temporarily—into the American consciousness. If catastrophe can ever be viewed as fortuitous, Hubbard, in his ability to bring his Alaska Peninsula adventures to the public eye, was aided and abetted by two: a timely volcanic eruption and the Great Depression. In the case of the former, relatively few people were adversely affected regionally by a natural disaster. The Depression, however, profoundly impacted Americans on a national scale. At the time, many people lost their jobs, their savings, and perhaps most significantly, a sense of control over their own lives. For the thousands who attended Father Hubbard's lectures about Aniakchak, the Glacier Priest represented just the opposite—he was rugged and strong, he maintained a deep faith in God, and most importantly, he seemed to always be in control of his destiny, especially in his conquest of a volcano, a timeless metaphor for power and unpredictability. Hubbard was a new kind of hero for an America facing anxieties of a modern world.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, especially the period proceeding Hubbard's Alaskan journeys—the 1920s—modern America rejected traditional heroes who represented an image that was, to most, simply outdated. Americans newest icons were the giants of the business world, men who conquered Wall Street rather than wilderness. During this decade, Americans favored technological innovation over rugged exploration, enabling corporate leaders who understood the economic potential of the country's vast natural resources to realize fortune and status. Extractive industry had transformed the western frontier into a land of businessmen, who, as historian Morgan Sherwood notes, preferred "to carry a briefcase, instead of a long rifle." [1] As stories and headlines of the Klondike Gold Rush faded to the back page and were later omitted from newspapers altogether, most Americans forgot about Alaska and nineteenth century notions of the frontier. The stock exchange had replaced "open land" as the new frontier of opportunity. Charles Lindbergh had just made his famous crossing of the Atlantic Ocean in the Spirit of St. Louis, conquering oceanic distances and celebrating the idea that by melding man and machine, individual accomplishment could be achieved. Even Alaska, with its industrialized salmon canneries and absentee capitalists, became associated more with big business than a pioneering spirit.

The collective calamity experienced during the Great Depression, however, shook many Americans to their core and many began to wonder, if over-industrialization was a failing of the democratic system and brought about the economic crisis. Such sentiments renewed popular interest in the frontier, which, according to both popular and academic belief, was the genesis of American hallmark qualities, such as rugged-individualism, self-determination, and the democratic way of life. By the beginning of the 1930s, a back-to-the-land movement swept across urban America, creating a self-conscious nostalgia for a life that individuals—not industrialists or politicians—could control. The idea that the frontier once gave past generations of Americans a second chance and new opportunity began to increase and national attention became focused on the country's northern frontier. According to Orlando Miller, author of The Frontier in Alaska and the Matanuska Colony, "An idealization of rural life, and a nostalgia for the vanished frontier and the opportunity associated with it" had a profound impact on how Americans once again viewed Alaska's role in the American experience. [2] Without doubt, many people perceived the charismatic Glacier Priest as the embodiment of that American dream.

Aleck Griechen's T-craft, date unknown. Photograph courtesy of the Pilot Point Tribal Council, Ace Griechen Collection.

Despite these powerful images, the perception of Father Hubbard as frontier hero was not simply a throwback from a previous century. On the contrary, Hubbard was considered a scientist, who employed the most advanced innovations of the day. Although he glibly referred to civilization as "chiseledization," Hubbard unhesitatingly used whatever technological and modern instruments he could acquire to achieve his goals. Whether those instruments were a motorized boat to get his gear up river or a salmon tender owned by the commercial fishing industry to transport his crew, Hubbard was a man of progress and used technical advances to accomplish many of his so-called conquests in Aniakchak. Father Hubbard may have viewed himself as a journeyer into a primitive nature, and on one level, especially at dangerous moments inside the Caldera, that perception was accurate. He and his fellow explorers did, in fact, journey into nature. But rather than escaping the modern world, Hubbard brought modernity to Aniakchak.

Ironically, Hubbard's frontier appeal, which brought him national notoriety, was cemented by his utilization and promotion of the most advanced technological innovation of the day—a machine that epitomized the modern world. This machine was the airplane, and with this tool, Hubbard brought a virtually unknown region to the notice of the outside world. By underscoring in 1931 the utility and scope of the airplane on the Alaska Peninsula, Hubbard drastically altered life there. The arrival of the airplane increased the outside world's utilization of the peninsula—especially during World War II—while at the same time, the ominous threat from above that the airplane posed increased resident's awareness that they, in fact, were directly affected by that larger, outside world, which could literally arrive at one's village in a matter of hours. In later years, the arrival of the airplane increased sports hunting, transformed subsistence patterns and village life, improved mobility that attracted new adventurers cut from the "Hubbard" mold, and inspired a new generation of scientific explorers. By introducing modern flight in the best frontiersman fashion, Hubbard facilitated the notion of air travel to and around the Alaska Peninsula, and by so doing, left his most influential mark on Aniakchak.

Father Hubbard posing with his dog over his caribou kill, ca. 1932. Bernard Hubbard, S.J., Alaskan Photograph Collection. Photograph courtesy of Santa Clara University Archives. ACK-00-290.

Sport Hunting and Subsistence

One example of how modern aviation and frontier nostalgia combined to drastically affect the Aniakchak region during the mid-to late twentieth century was the increase of sport hunters to the region. As a force that impacted traditional lifeways, the far more involved commercial fishery has historically overshadowed big game hunting on the Alaska Peninsula. Nevertheless, it can be argued that by popularizing Aniakchak as the "Great Moon Crater of Earth"—an exotic, primitive, and sparsely populated place where Hubbard and his team of explorers lived off the land, hunted for food, and shot giant, threatening grizzly bears—the Glacier Priest resurrected an image of the Old West and indirectly opened Aniakchak up to big game hunters, who hoped to relive such moments in an idealized American wilderness.

In their writings, Hubbard, Regan, and Douglas each told numerous stories of encounters with Aniakchak's brown bears. These were no simple recordings of fact—their anecdotes added drama and danger to their exploits and, in doing so, linked their adventures to those of other American frontiersmen like Daniel Boone and Lewis and Clark. Indeed, such tales are deeply rooted in the American experience. In his landmark study, Big Game in Alaska: A History of Wildlife and People, historian Sherwood Morgan argues that in its history of its contact with man in North America, the grizzly has maintained a reputation of indestructibility and ferocity. One politician in 1814 referred to the animal "the ferocious tyrant of the American woods." But the tyrant fell far too easily to humans with long rifles and quickly disappeared from the southern half of the continent. In Alaska, however, especially along the southwestern coast, the animal thrived, a surviving symbol of the Old West—the Last Frontier. [3]

Pen Air's commuter plane that provides service to the central Alaska Peninsula, 2004. Photograph courtesy of Katherine Johnson Ringsmuth, Anchorage, Alaska.

Planes provided access to remote regions on the Peninsula, ca. 1970s. Photograph courtesy of Orin Seybert, Anchorage, Alaska.

Although Hubbard never mentions territorial hunting laws in his popular writings, with the passage of Alaska game legislation in 1902, hunting in the northern territory was regulated by the federal government. When the Katmai Monument was created in 1918, it was popularly believed that bear hunting was illegal throughout the Alaska Peninsula. But when accounts of the Aniakchak explorations were published in the late 1930s, the descriptions of great shots, numerous kills, and manly companionship unanimously suggested that frontier life was still intact in Alaska.

As previous chapters have shown, Aniakchak has been a destination for hunters for centuries. The Russians who came wanted mainly the sea mammals, and therefore, remained along the coast. Those who hunted interior game were mainly local residents, who came from Chignik, Meshik, or Ugashik. But by the 1950s, hunters and guides were coming from Outside to hunt moose, caribou, and especially the Alaska Peninsula brown bear, which accounted for twenty-five percent of all brown bear harvest in the state. [4] As sports hunters commonly traversed the entire peninsula in search of game on foot, by air, or with off-road vehicles, it became clear that commercial hunting significantly affected Aniakchak's physical landscape. As Merry Tuten concludes in her study of subsistence activities along the Aniakchak coast, "Subsistence hunting in the Aniakchak region is incidental when compared to sports hunting." [5]

In the early 1950s, a trapper and hunter named Jack Lewis established the first hunting base camp on the western side of what is now Aniakchak National Monument and Preserve. Lewis's camp consisted of a trailer that had large tundra wheels and a boat hull as the base. When crossing rivers, the wheels could be removed and the trailer floated across the river. [6] King Salmon resident, Joe Klutsch, began working for Jack Lewis in 1976 and acquired an interest in the camp in 1979. Klutsch paid Lewis $50,000 for the camp, which included all personal property, the trailer, all camp gear, sheds, and a pantry. That same year Gary W. "Butch" King, who had grown up in the sports hunting business in the Wrangell Mountains, established the Cinder River Lodge. [7]

Runway at the center of Chignik Lagoon. 2004. Photograph courtesy of Katherine Johnson Ringsmuth, Anchorage. Alaska.

It was the airplane, popularized by Hubbard and Alaska bush pilots that made commercial hunting feasible in the Aniakchak region. In fact, there were far more sportsmen than Klutsch and King hunting in the area. Tuten estimated that by 1977, thirty different permanent camps had been established near Aniakchak. [8] However, that number was only presumed, for even Alaska Department of Fish and Game could not say for certain how many guides and hunters utilized the Aniakchak region since so many flew into the area for short periods of time.

The airplane not only increased access to commercial hunters, but airplanes introduced new ways for local residents to get both food and supplies to their one-time isolated villages. As more villagers acquired planes, subsistence patterns changed. Like sports hunters, local residents could fly into isolated areas, shoot a moose, and bring the meat home, all in one day. After Hubbard introduced the airplane, as resident Valentine Supsook noted, "Everybody got planes at that time." Chignik Lake resident Christina Martin remembers that in early 1930s she took her first airplane ride to go with her father to sell furs the family had trapped locally:

Oh, that's when I had my first plane ride up in ilnik where there were only three or four houses. It wasn't a city! [laughter] And that is where I had my first plane ride. It was—a little plane... They called it "Fur Buyer." Some guy come there to buy their fur, like foxes and minks, and some other fur... [9]

As more local residents used planes to gather food and expand commercial options, others felt that the new authorities brought in to regulate hunting pushed them away from traditional areas and patterns of gathering food. By the 1970s, the regulatory line between sport hunting and subsistence hunting had blurred, and local communities were more susceptible to bureaucratic management structure. In 1976, a Chignik Lagoon resident complained to Merry Tuten about how game—their food—was being managed:

There's too much red tape. I used to hunt bears, no more. Used to hunt seal commercially too but not anymore. Too many regulations. Aniakchak is busy with hunters...I like to hunt and I go whenever I need meat. I used to hunt up there a lot but no more, now the headhunters compete. The moose season was unfair. It doesn't matter if WE want an area open or not. Too much red rape. Too much bureaucracy. [10]

Moreover, peninsula residents no longer needed to hunt regularly to get their food and other goods. In 1955, nineteen-year-old Orin Seybert of Pilot Point started Peninsula Airways, one of the first air taxi businesses to serve communities throughout the central Peninsula. According to Seybert, "In the summers, I fished and made money. I got my pilot's certificate in high school and bought an airplane. I had one of the few planes in that area. People were always wanting to go along when I was flying somewhere.... Somebody'd say, "I'll give you $30 if you'll take me along." [11] Taxi services like Pen Air, Reeve Aviation, and Northern Consolidated Airlines began to fly in everything from fresh vegetable to fishing gear, while offering residents air service to destinations such as King Salmon, Dillingham and Anchorage daily. Ever since Father Hubbard and the pilots for Pacific International Airways made their famed flight down the peninsula in 1931, aviation has remained the most utilized form of transportation. Quite symbolically, positioned at the center of most peninsula villages, is an airstrip.

Tina Neal and Andy Lockhart discuss geology in Aniakchak. 1997. Courtesy of Game McGimsey, USGS, Anchorage, Alaska.

The New Adventurer: Cut from the Hubbard Mold

Another example of how modern aviation and frontier nostalgia combined to drastically affect the Aniakchak region during the mid-to late twentieth century was the increase of new adventurers to the region. By the mid-1970s, aviation companies like Pen Air and Reeve Aleutian Airways were regularly flying passengers across the Alaska Peninsula and, occasionally made a landing inside the Aniakchak Caldera. [12] Few non-hunting recreationalists were known to have visited the area after Hubbard's expeditions in the 1930s, but as the environmental movement gained momentum after the passage of the 1964 Wilderness Act, a new generation of adventurers left the comforts of home to seek a kind of primitive frontier experience in America's last wilderness—Alaska. With improved local transportation systems, places like Aniakchak Caldera became ideal destinations for these new adventurers.

GPS receiver in operation in Aniakchak. 1994. Photograph courtesy of Game McGimsey, USGS, Anchorage, Alaska.

Although Hubbard's Moon Crater depiction inspired man to conquer nature, it also spoke to those who sought a spiritual experience within nature. From Hubbard's viewpoint, a natural wonder such as the Aniakchak Caldera was clear evidence of God's plan. For example, on the summer evening in 1930 that inspired the "Moon Craters of Alaska" article, while the men of the expedition sank into slumber at their campsite near Surprise Lake, Father Hubbard, so excited by "the events of the afternoon and the promises of the morrow" lacked the desire to sleep and decided to see what the crater was "doing in the starlight." [13] Within the Caldera walls stood Aniakchak's volcanic landforms and accretions washed in moonlight. "Looking up at the moon high in the silvered blue," recalled Hubbard, "I had one of those wondrous moments of translation that come sometimes to one in the wilderness ..."

I felt myself at home in the cosmos; at home up there on that bright lunar surface where, faintly discernible, the old seabeds spread out among the shining table-lands. [14]

Hubbard's imagery of Aniakchak melded notions of rugged individualism and incredible, yet primitive, scenic beauty. Such images, then, translated into a very powerful and multifaceted image of man and his relationship to the natural world. This frontier image was not only consistent with the 1963 Leopold Report that stated that the purpose of NPS management should be to make each national park "represent a vignette of primitive America," [15] but this image also attracted those seeking isolation, mystery, and spirituality in nature, just as Hubbard experienced and expressed forty years prior.

Between 1974 and 1977, the NPS did what it could to gather new information about the proposed Aniakchak unit. Most of it was gained through the efforts of Ralph Root, the so-called "keyman" for the park. It was Root's job to inspect the proposal area and consult with other task force personnel to set priorities for proposed studies. [16] On an investigative trip out to the Caldera in August 1976, Root encountered one of Aniakchak's first non-hunting visitors since Hubbard, a mycologist and former hunting guide named Ben Guild.

Root described Guild as "very pro-park" in his 1976 report. He also noted that Guild had exchanged his rifle for a camera. [17] Guild had spent six weeks in the Caldera three years earlier and apparently encountered more than he had bargained for. That year, photographer and free lance writer M. Woodbridge Williams met up with Guild who told him his story:

[Guild] told me that he had been dropped in the caldera by a commercial float plane from King Salmon and that he had spent six weeks in the crater. During this time, in the microclimate of the 30-square-mile caldera, his camp was blown down more than once by hurricane winds. Once he was forced to squeeze into a shallow depression in a bluff in order to wait out a hurricane that sent the wind gauge off its top. He also photographed cloud niagaras as Father Hubbard had described. From exposure to such bad weather, he developed a deep ear infection that upset his equilibrium. Finally a government plane that had brought a federal interagency study team on to float the wild Aniakchak River lifted him out. [18]

A hotspring located on the central Alaska Peninsula, ca. 1970s. Photograph courtesy of Orin Seybert, Anchorage, Alaska.

In spite of his seemingly horrifying experiences, Guild loved the Caldera. According to historian Frank Norris, "To show others its beauties, he took photographs, shot extensive movie footage, and wrote a book on the area's vegetation." [19] Root also made note of Guild's feelings, stating that "his interests in Aniakchak are deep and long-lived." [20] Guild had hoped to run a concession in the Caldera that would provide food, shelter, and interpretive tours that were "tailor-fitted to the visitor's interests." [21]

In 1976, Guild returned to the Caldera, and this time constructed a relatively substantial rent-cabin. According to Root, the cabin was ten by twelve feet, maintained a wood floor, had two-foot high boarded walls, and was framed with two by four inch ribbing. Guild encouraged Root and the rest of his NPS party to stay with him in his rent-cabin shelter, which Root admitted, "made our week of being weathered in much more pleasant than it might have been." [22] Although the NPS appreciated his knowledge of the area, local residents in Port Heiden found it odd that anyone who was not there to hunt or trap would choose to live under such extreme conditions. Because of his apparent devotion to wilderness, local villagers called Guild the "Wild Man of Aniakchak." [23] Guild, however, was not the only outdoor enthusiast enamored with the Caldera to publicize his experience there. Another was Larry Rice, a wilderness activist who called Alaska "a place mythical in proportions, so immense that its size and the architecture of its landscape are difficult to comprehend." [24]

Archeologist Ross Smith watches as the Branch River Air floatplane taxies across Aniakchak Lagoon, 2005. Photograph courtesy of Brian Hoffman, Hamline, University.

Nearly ten years after Guild spent his summers in Aniakchak, Rice and a group of five friends floated two inflatable rafts, aptly named the Father Hubbard and the Hail Mary, from Surprise Lake, down the Aniakchak River to Aniakchak Bay and the Pacific Ocean. While floating the river, Rice was very aware of Father Hubbard's journeys into the Caldera in the 1930s. "We were retracing history," exclaimed Rice about a portage around the rapids near the Gates. "This was the same trail Father Hubbard had used when he first entered the Caldera." [25] Not only was Rice aware of Hubbard's explorations, he seems to also espouse Hubbard's description of Aniakchak—as an exotic, empty wilderness landscape that demands self-determination, rugged individualism, and modern technology to survive:

Above everything else, I had learned that wilderness is a reality in Aniakchak. No modern structure stands within its 600,000-acre expanse. No human road or track can be seen within or even approaching its boundaries. Access to the interior is only by aircraft or arduous overland backpacking, or from the Pacific Coast by boats that must travel fifty miles or more through difficult waters. A park service pamphlet warned that "weather is a frequent and even life-threatening challenge to the unwary or unprepared; the need for self-reliance and self-sufficiency in Aniakchak is extremely high." [26]

Like Hubbard in 1932, Rice, his party, and gear were flown into the Caldera by aircraft, specifically, Pen Air's twin engine Goose. After landing on Surprise Lake, the adventurers set up camp and set about exploring the Caldera, always aware of the presence of the Glacier Priest: "I smiled to myself," writes Rice. "Once again I was following in the steps of Father Hubbard." [27] Rice, a biologist by training, made note of the wildlife, which had returned since the 1931 eruption. He observed red algae floating in pools along Surprise Lake's shoreline, as well as Lapland larkspurs growing near its edge. Numerous plovers, snow buntings, bald eagles, ravens, red fox, voles, lemmings, and caribou were also viewed inside the Caldera. Rice and his companions climbed Vent Mountain and Half Cone, investigated the site of the 1931 eruption, and re-examined the pile of fossil rocks described by Hubbard in 1930. They even encountered what both adventurers—Hubbard and Rice—deemed the icon of frontier wilderness, the Alaska Peninsula brown bear, or what Rice dramatically called "the Griz." [28]

But unlike Hubbard, for these new adventurers, Aniakchak was not an abomination of desolation. Although Rice identifies with Hubbard, especially in terms of Aniakchak's overwhelming remoteness and isolation, Rice does not view the Caldera as an alien world, but rather, as part of an ecological system of succession that is reflective of life here on earth. When looking down into the eruptive crater discovered by Hubbard in 1931, Rice observed:

With Aniakchak's crumbly walls half-hidden in the swirling, parting, closing clouds, and the yawning gape of the doughnut-shaped hole below, I imagined myself a space voyager; this pitted landscape was as naked and lifeless as the surface of some distant planet. Then I looked closer and realized how wrong I was. At the bottom of the crater, growing in areas bare of old snow and puddles of ice, a mass of lichens embroidered the rubble with flecks of black, orange and green. The primitive plants marked the beginning of the slow and complex process of succession that, unless thwarted by another eruption, will eventually result in the garden spot Hubbard first found in 1930.

While floating the Aniakchak River, Rice noted even more wildlife, including moose, caribou, bears and many new birds: magpies, long-tailed jaegers, arctic terns, bank swallows, northern shrikes, warblers, rough-legged hawks, falcons, sandhill cranes, tundra swans, northern harriers, short-eared owls, and numerous ducks. Silver salmon squirted out from under the Father Hubbard, and three Dolly Varden made for a good dinner. The adventurers also made note of landmarks made popular by Hubbard: Pinnacle Mountain, Hidden Creek, Mystery Creek, North Fork, Elephant Mountain, and Cape Horn. After drifting through scenic low hills that surrounded the mouth of the Aniakchak River, Rice and his flotilla exited the mouth and eased into Aniakchak Bay.

The ensuing days formed the last part of their Aniakchak trilogy—from Caldera to river, to the coast. On the coastal leg of their trip, the adventurers stayed at the Alaska Packers Association's old bunkhouse, which by that time, was managed by the NPS. While describing the "weathered and neglected" structure, Rice makes the only passing reference to a cultural past that was not related to Father Hubbard. Like Hubbard, Rice seemingly chose to downplay the role people have played in shaping the history of the area. And, as he and his party waited along the Aniakchak coast for their airplane pick-up from King Salmon, Rice remembered Charles Darwin's lament: "It is the fate of most sooner to discover what is most interesting in any locality than they are hurried from it. Had Rice spent more time in Aniakchak, perhaps he, unlike Hubbard, might have realized that Aniakchak's human story is as complex, arguably just as interesting, and completely intertwined with the geological wonder world from which Rice had just descended.

A New Generation of Scientific Explorer: Solving Aniakchak's Mysteries, and Beyond

The magnitude of the Aniakchak landscape—its raw beauty, isolation, and seemingly primitive nature—convinced Father Hubbard that its secretive past would remain a mystery and, in his words, "history would remain silent." Although it is now apparent that Hubbard painted a mysterious picture of Aniakchak's past for his own public image, it can be argued that Hubbard's passion and awe of Aniakchak contributed in important ways to science or, at least, scientific inquiry about the region's natural and cultural past. Hubbard's copious writings, photographs, and film, coupled with his historic landing in the Aniakchak crater, paved the way for a new generation of scientific explorers who began to ask the question: "What exactly happened here?"

In the early years of exploration on the Alaska Peninsula, however, it was oil—not volcanoes—that provoked investigation of the Aniakchak Caldera by the United Stares Geological Survey, the agency that was responsible for exploring and evaluating the mineral potential of Alaska lands. [29] In 1922, R.H. Sargent and Walter R. Smith surveyed the area from Kanatak to Chignik. Three years later, Sargent returned to the region with geologist Russell Knappen. Their efforts succeeded in revealing the topography and resources of Aniakchak for the first time. [30] The discovery of the giant Caldera helped explain why so many valleys as much as thirty miles away were entirely blanketed by volcanic ejecta. When the geologists reported their findings, they could not repress their awe of the landscape with technical prose, for in their report they suggested that Aniakchak was worthy of preservation in a national monument. [31]

As a result of the USGS findings—or more precisely with what the geologists did not find—the Alaska Peninsula's oil boom came to a bust and as a result, between the 1920s and the 1960s, USGS paid relatively little attention to the region, concentrating their efforts in other areas of the Pacific Rim. Besides a reconnaissance survey conducted in the early 1970s, [32] it was not until the early 1990s that USGS began to actively monitor Aniakchak. That attention was due in part to a joint effort between USGS, the Geophysical Institute of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and the State of Alaska Division of Geological and Geophysical Surveys to form the Alaska Volcano Observatory (AVO). AVO was established with three goals in mind: to monitor and study Alaska's hazardous volcanoes, to research and predict eruptive activity, and to mitigate volcanic hazards to life and property. [33]

In 1994, AVO geologists conducted an initial survey to establish a monitoring program to detect potential signs of restlessness at Aniakchak. They installed a network of five benchmarks on the Caldera floor and four additional benchmarks high on the Caldera rim. According to geologists, the benchmarks will be retrieved sometime in the future to determine whether any change in ground elevation has occurred—in other words, the retrieved data will tell scientists if magma is moving to the surface floor of the Caldera. [34] Seismic data are telemetered into nearby Port Heiden where AVO personnel change paper on helicorded drums daily and forward the records to AVO in Fairbanks every week. Although Aniakchak has remained silent, geologists know that it is only a matter of when—not if—Aniakchak's monitors will show such activity.

It was under AVO's umbrella that USGS geologists Christina Neal and Robert "Game" McGimsey began their geological investigations inside Aniakchak's Caldera—seventy years after USGS researchers R. H. Sargent and Walter R. Smith first surveyed the area in 1922. [35] Their objective: to chronicle the eruptive history of the volcano since the Caldera formed nearly 3,500 years ago. Between 1992 and 1994, McGimsey and Neal spent several weeks each summer living and working inside the Caldera. The NPS issued special-use permits for each operation, which in both 1992 and 1994 included use of a helicopter to mobilize and demobilize camp, expedite installation of seismic and geodetic equipment, and move geologists efficiently across the rugged landscape. [36] Like Hubbard, one of AVO's most significant research instruments is the one that allows them to view Aniakchak from above.

"It wasn't until I had an aerial view" noted McGimsey, "that I came up with the theory of Aniakchak's catastrophic flood." According to McGimsey, the scientists had just been picked up by a helicopter and were on their way home when McGimsey looked down the landscape. As he observed the massive land disturbance that originated at the Gates and proceeded down the length of the Aniakchak River to the sea, "it became obvious." [37]

Meanwhile, other experts with the National Park Service were beginning to inquire about the living world of Aniakchak. Aided by USGS's geological findings, NPS archeologists, ethnographers, and historians were beginning to better understand how the land itself played a major role in shaping the region's human history. In February 1990, Frank Norris began some of the first historical work on a localized area of the monument. Norris exhaustedly gathered a wide variety of information on Aniakchak's history, much of which had been previously obtained by Sande Faulkner, who had made an earlier attempt to write a nomination to the National Register of Historical Places for the area surrounding the Columbia River Packers Association bunkhouse. Norris's research found the area to be rich in cultural and maritime history. His work made the site eligible for nomination, which was designated the Aniakchak Bay Historic Landscape District in 1994.

In 1997, Michele Morseth began work on Puyulek Pu'irtuk! People of the Volcanoes, an Ethnographic Overview & Assessment of Aniakchak National Monument and Preserve. The report identifies groups of people in the past and present with cultural affiliation and traditional associations to the lands encompassed by Aniakchak. Morseth incorporated an extensive list of sources, many of which came from Russian materials that uncovered a great deal of new knowledge about the region. Morseth also conducted many interviews with people living in the shadow of the Aniakchak, places such as Pilot Point, Ugashik, Port Heiden and the Chigniks.

At the same time the ethnographic study was funded, park researchers were conducting the first archeological survey of the central portion of the Alaska Peninsula. Richard VanderHoek and Rachel Myron compiled the comprehensive data of the four-year study, which culminated in a confidential publication titled Cultural Remains from a Catastrophic Landscape. [38] Both the cultural resource projects were designed in tandem to document the human history of the monument and preserve. According to cultural resource manager Jeanne Schaaf, "a spirit of communication worked well between the two projects, with the archeological survey 'ground truthing' many of the oral historical data." [39] Both studies have brought to light a rich cultural history of the Aniakchak region, extending back at least two thousand years.

Dinosaur footprint found at Aniakchak. National Park Service, Anchorage, Alaska.

Aniakchak's secret past was revealed even further when a discovery was made that would have made Hubbard envious. During a four-year NPS-sponsored survey of the fossil resources in Aniakchak, Dr. Anthony Fiorillo, a paleontologist from the Dallas Museum of National History, discovered a 70 million-year-old footprint made by a hadrosaur, a large duck-billed, plant eating dinosaur. [40] The discovery occurred in August 2001, two years after Fiorillo began the survey. On that summer day, the scientist had no reason to believe the day would be any different than the others he had spent on the peninsula. His team had just completed a four-day raft trip through the monument. As they reached the Aniakchak coast, Fiorillo thought he had struck out again: "I just kept thinking—gee, it's too bad we didn't find what I'd hoped we would," recalled Fiorillo. "So when we got to the coast, we had about three hours before the float plane was to pick up, and I said I'd like to walk to the beach. I wandered over to the next point...and it was at this next point that I looked down and saw this thing staring at me." [41]

The "thing" Fiorillo saw was the first evidence of a dinosaur in southwestern Alaska—a three-large-toed footprint that looked as though it was made by a "giant chicken." [42] The print was made by a forty-foot, three-ton, young hadrosaur, which paleontologists believe stood up right like a chicken, and could walk or run on its large muscular hind legs, but probably used all four legs while grazing for food. Current theories also suggest that hadrosaurs roamed the earth in giant herds, which is why paleontologists affectionately call these dinosaurs the "cows of the Cretaceous." Other fossilized evidence suggests that mothers cared for their young rather than laying eggs and leaving the young to hatch and grow on their own. Fossils discovered in other locations have revealed parent dinosaurs sitting on a nest of eggs. [43]

Fiorillo describes the footprint discovery as a "significant find" because it "documents the existence of an extensive high-latitude terrestrial ecosystem capable of supporting large-bodied herbivores." [44] It is believed that such an ecosystem stretched for hundreds of miles over a region roughly composed of present day Alaska and supported non-migrating herds of hadrosaurs, such as the one which left his footprint behind in Aniakchak. This finding also has other important scientific implications, which help us to understand Aniakchak's role as a bridge rather than as a frontier in Alaska's history. As Fiorillo points out:

Most of the dinosaurs groups in North America during the Cretaceous appear to have originated in Asia and migrated to the American continent across a land bridge. In the much more recent Pleistocene, such a land bridge has been referred to as Beringia. The footprints in Aniakchak National Monument and Preserve, in conjunction with the discoveries in the northern part of the state, suggest that the antiquity of Beringia is rooted in the Cretaceous. [45]

Given the abundance of important fossil-bearing rocks in these and other parks, there are likely many more exciting dinosaur discoveries waiting throughout Aniakchak and the larger Alaska Region.

* * *

While his approach might have been flawed, Father Hubbard understood Aniakchak, in terms of both science and spirituality. His devotion stemmed from his love in God, but also from his knowledge of geology. Hubbard was keenly aware of the volcano's place in the earth's long history. He knew that the crater maintained the power to "bring no end of trouble upon us," [46] and at the same time, Hubbard understood that his geological wonder world inspired a creativity grounded in scientific wonder. "Suppose men like ourselves could live on the moon," marveled the priest:

"They would, in the brilliancy of an earth lit night, train their telescopes on our planet, searching for crater formations like unto their own. And they'd find one—perhaps the only one—right where I stood looking up inside the ring of Aniakchak." [47]

Like Hubbard, many of today's outdoor enthusiasts, adventurers, and scientists are seeking new frontiers. Some, like University of California professor, Jack Green, are using scientific knowledge discovered at Aniakchak to unlock even bigger mysteries. For example, instead of viewing the moon as a dead spinning sphere, Green sees the earth's satellite as a biological preserve for the genesis of life. At the National Space Society's 20th Annual International Space Development Conference held in 2001, Green argued that the permanently shadowed areas on the lunar surface may be massive craters, created not by collisions with asteroids, but through the same processes that created Aniakchak—volcanism. [48] Although the moon's internal heat escaped over a billion years ago, Green contends that long ago the moon was tectonically active and its extinct volcanic calderas might be celestial cemeteries where fossils of tiny organisms that lived in extremely hostile conditions await discovery. [49] Although Green's theory remains a minor view in lunar science, the astrobiology community believes that if extra-terrestrial life is indeed found in our solar system, it most likely will be microscopic, single-celled creatures living perhaps in the ice covered, and possibly volcanically active, moons, not so unlike the primitive plant life returning to Aniakchak described by Rice. [50] In fact, in making his case that protolife could be lurking in dead volcanoes on our moon, Green has studied similar calderas here on earth, including the young volcanoes building inside Aniakchak. [51]

Many summer evenings have passed since Hubbard made his Moon Crater observations, and ironically, his words and his activities in the Caldera have inspired scientists like Jack Green to look beyond the Moon Crater, and to keep looking up. Likewise, on a similar evening nearly sixty years later, Tina Neal and Game McGimsey concluded their day of surveying and paused to watch the moon cast illuminating shadows across a landscape shaped and crafted by volcanoes. Neal remembers, "At that moment, universal time, geological time, and human time intersected." As had Hubbard, she observed, "Aniakchak became a perfect planetary link."

Conducting salmon research along the Aniakchak River. Tray Hamon, NPS.

Neal concedes that Hubbard was an undisciplined scientist and that he used Aniakchak as a backdrop for his frontier drama rather than a place to fully understand in terms of sound science. He brazenly promoted Aniakchak as an isolated, alien world, where one could escape civilization, but, at the same time, he explored the Caldera using the most progressive technology civilization had to offer. On the other hand, it was Hubbard's Moon Crater interpretation—an interpretation in which he both conquered and communed with the Caldera—that inspired the world to see volcanoes as geological marvels rather than agents of violence and destruction. Neal, who probably knows Aniakchak better than anyone, sees Hubbard's contradictory approach to Aniakchak as his legacy there. In Neal's words, "Hubbard popularized across the country the science of volcanology, the geography and activity of Alaskan volcanoes, and shared the sense of adventure that goes with exploratory science." [52] And, indeed, it is Hubbard's legacy of contradictions that continues to shape perceptions of Aniakchak to this day.


1Morgan Sherwood, Exploration of Alaska, 1865-1900 (Fairbanks, AK: University of Alaska Press, 1992), 5.

2Orlando Miller, The Frontier in Alaska and the Matanuska Colony (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1975), 2.

3Morgan Sherwood, Big Game in Alaska: A History of Wildlife and People (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1981), 28.

4Tuten, 66.

5Ibid., 65-66.

6Information provided by Becky Brock, Chief of Concessions for Aniakchak National Monument and Preserve.


8Tuten, 67.

9Christine Martin, Chignik Lake Interviewed by Par Partnow, 10-19-1992, TCM2, On file at Lake Clark Katmai Studies Center, Anchorage, AK.

10Tuten, 64.

11Alaska Geographic, "Frontier Flight," 72.

12Orin Seybert interview, 2004.

13Willoughby, "Moon Craters," 49.

14Ibid., 49.

15A. Starker Leopold et al., "Wildlife Management in the National Parks," The Living Wilderness, Spring-Summer, 1963, 13.

16Norris, Isolated Paradise, 453.

17Ralph Root, "Activities of Ben Guild at Aniakchak," August 2, 1976, NARA-ANC 11.

18M. Woodbridge Williams, Aniakchak Kingdom of Genesis" Explorers Journal, March, 1987, 6-7.

19Norris, "Isolated Paradise," 453.

20Root, August 2, 1976.




24Rice, Gathering Paradise, 2.

25Ibid., 260.

26Ibid., 263.

27Ibid., 266.

28Ibid., 273.

29Norris, "Isolated Paradise," 422.


31Rice, 264.

32Miller and Smith, 1977.

33Tina Neal and Game McGimsey, "Aniakchak Caldera: Working in on of Alaska's most spectacular active volcanoes," Alaska Geological Society Newsletter, Volume 23, Number 9, (May 1994), 6.


35Norris, "Isolated Paradise," 422.

36Neal and McGimsey, 6.

37Robert "Game" McGimsey, personal communication, 2004.

38The archeological overview contains sensitive cultural information and thus is available only to cultural resources practitioners and park personnel. Richard VanderHoek and Rachel Myron, Cultural Remains From a Catastrophic Landscape (National Park Service, 2004.)

39VanderHoek and Myron, 4.

40"Exciting Finds on Alaska Peninsula," Tracks: Seasonal Newsletter of the National Park Service: Katmai, Alagnak, Aniakchak, winter: 2002, volume 2, No. 1.

41"Alaska Dinosaur Discovery: Arctic Science Journeys" Fortnight Review, October, 2002, 5.


43Inside NPS. "Dino-Might" Discovery at Aniakchak National Monument: Junior Range Program Highlights Find" October 21, 2003.

44Anthony R. Fiorillo et al., "New Frontiers, Old Fossils: Recent Dinosaur Discoveries in Alaska National Parks" Alaska Park Science, Alaska Regional Office, Anchorage AK: Volume 3, Issue 2, 6.

45Ibid., 7.

46Antonine De Saint-Exsuprey, The Little Prince (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1943).

47Willoughby, "Moon Craters," 50.

48Leonard David, Moon Seen as Haven for "Beginnings of Life,", May 30, 2001. 3/15/2004.


50"Searching Space: Life beyond Earth likely to be microscopic, astrobiolgists say," Anchorage Daily News, Sunday, April 25, 2004, E-6.

51Leonard David, Moon Seen as Haven for "Beginnings of Life,", May 30, 2001. news/2001/05/0530_moonlife.html 3/15/2004

52Christina Neal, personal communication, 1/5/2006.

<<< Previous <<< Contents>>> Next >>>

Last Updated: 03-Aug-2009