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

A New History of the Aniakchak Landscape:
The Challenge, the Place, and the Purpose of Study
It was a stiff night. The moon, immense, round and extraordinarily close, poured its light into the crater, turning everything to pure sliver.
Father Bernard Hubbard
"The Moon Craters of Alaska"


In 1930, Alaskan author, Barrett Willoughby, introduced readers of the Saturday Evening Post to a place so remote and alien that it could have been on the moon. [1] Though seemingly out of this world, the article, "Moon Craters of Alaska," was not science fiction. It recounted Father Bernard Hubbard's first expedition into what the famed Glacier Priest described as a lunar landscape, rather than an earthly one: "Craters! Volcanoes!" declared Hubbard, "For twenty years I've been plumbing their depths in two hemispheres hoping I might come across one comparable in form, if not quite in size, to those vast craters we see on the moon." [2] Indeed, this place Hubbard called a "geological wonder world," is not found on the earth's satellite. The intracaldera world of Aniakchak is a landscape crafted by at least forty different volcanic eruptions, which have occurred over the last 3,500 years.

The first time Hubbard laid eyes upon Aniakchak, it was like nothing he had ever seen. Entering through a narrow, V-shaped break in the Caldera rim called "The Gates," the explorer immediately realized that he was not looking down into a crater, but instead, stood at the bottom of one. "Staring up," recalled Hubbard, "Aniakchak opened before us, stupendous, unbelievable . . ."

A sun-flooded earth floor of thirty square miles encircled by sold cliffs 3000 feet high. A mountain-walled ring six-and three-fourths miles in diameter, twenty one miles in circumference. So tremendous was it that the mind at first grasped only a chaos of primitive colors—brilliant red, terra cotta, ivory, black, orange and blue. Then details began to grow clear: Painted walls in a wide-swinging area, the rim aglitter with glaciers sharply notched against the sky. Near the center about three miles from us, that mysterious thing the clouds had hidden the day before—Vent Mountain, its slopes ribboned with snow and maroon rising to a height of 2000 feet. It was shaped like a truncated Fujiyama, and had a crater etched in its white peak—a volcano rising inside the ring of Aniakchak.

So unfamiliar and primordial was the world of Aniakchak that, to Hubbard, the only geological reference he could conjure was the craters on the moon. He believed the Alaskan crater surrounding him was "an exact, though smaller, counterpart of Piecolomini [Crater] in the Altai Mountains on the moon." [3] Even Hubbard's fellow explorer, Dick Douglas, found Aniakchak moon-like. In his book, In the Land of Thunder Mountain, which described his exploration into the crater with Hubbard in 1931, Douglas wrote, "It was like a dream of walking on the moon... This wasteland was cold and dead. It was the moon; without warmth to sustain life and without life to sustain." [4] Since the days of his famed explorations, Hubbard often referred to Aniakchak in his later writings, lectures, and films as "the Great Moon Crater of Earth," and thusly cemented a lasting image of Aniakchak as having an alien, mysterious, and lifeless past. [5]

Examination of Hubbard's activities in Aniakchak, especially how he dramatized them, offers historians insights into the larger story of Alaska as the Last Frontier, and how the frontier image relates to the region's national parks. Illustrating this point is a story told by William Regan, one of Hubbard's young companions. When Santa Clara archivist Julie O'Keefe asked the explorer if the expedition had encountered "Eskimos" during an interview in 1981, Regan replied, "Nobody, nobody, nobody around. . .but I'll tell you an amusing story."

Father Hubbard with ice ax examines the 1931 eruption lava blocks, 1931. Bernard Hubbard, S.J, Alaskan Photograph Collection. Photograph courtesy of Santa Clara University Archives. ACK-00-01

"Father was a very dramatic fellow," Regan related. According to him, while exploring the Caldera after the eruption in 1931, the team scaled to the edge of the crater. From that particular standpoint, he recalled, the only thing that the explorers saw was "this black, black [expanse] except for the smoke from the far end." As Regan tells the story, Hubbard at that moment dramatically yelled out, "The abomination of desolation!" Then the priest instructed his fellows to kneel down and say three Hail Mary's. "Before we looked at anything that we knew was gonna be dramatic," explained Regan, "We said three Hail Mary's." "Hubbard," Regan noted, "made quite a point to us . . . that we were the first white men, or the first non-natives that had ever been in there." Then, according to Regan, one stormy night, the team took refuge from violent weather in a traditional subterranean native house. He recalled, "The next day we got up and there was an old battered-up phonograph with a fluted horn.... in this old building... There was one record and it was Danny Mocking and the Kansas City Stompers. I said, 'Father, maybe we're the second white men up here.'" [6]

The story, though entertaining, contradicts Hubbard's notion that the region surrounding the Aniakchak Caldera was devoid of human activity. Regan's story shows that the region was linked to a not so mysterious past, one that clearly included people. Throughout their explorations of the central portion of the Alaska Peninsula, Hubbard and his team continuously encountered indigenous Alutiit, Euroamerican trappers, fox farmers, and prospectors. They observed and took advantage of a growing presence of the salmon industry and fish trap workers fishing in Aniakchak Bay. But to Hubbard, such a human—and civilized—presence in Aniakchak contradicted his primitive and desolate Moon Crater world and thus, the Glacier Priest continually downplayed Aniakchak's living world.

The Challenge:
Telling Cultural History in a Natural Resource Park

Fifty years after Father Hubbard and his fellow explorers entered the Aniakchak Caldera, the formation and the surrounding landscape was designated Aniakchak National Monument and Preserve (ANIA), a relatively new addition to the National Park system. The park unit was established after President Jimmy Carter signed the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, or ANILCA, into law. Often called the most significant land conservation measure in the history of our nation, the statute protected over one hundred million acres of federal lands in Alaska, doubling the size of the country's national park and refuge system and tripling the amount of land designated as wilderness. ANILCA expanded the national park system in Alaska by more than 53,000,000 acres. It increased the acreage of three existing national parks. And, ANILCA created ten new national park units, including Aniakchak National Monument and Preserve.

Without question, the Aniakchak Caldera is the monument's primary natural landmark. Over time, this geological feature has shaped and formed the natural landscape of the central Alaska Peninsula. Measuring thirty square miles in circumference and 2,500 feet in depth, the feature is one of the world's largest dry calderas. It was created 3,500 years ago when the summit of an ancient 7,000-foot mountain collapsed in a single, massive eruption. On a global scale, the eruption would have ranked as one of the largest in recent geological times, surpassing the cataclysmic output of Krakatoa in 1883 and Novarupta in 1912. Still, it is important to keep in mind that the volcano is one of the primary shapers of the region's cultural story, as well.

Looking south, southeast along the western shoreline of Aniakchak Bay, 1990. Frank Norris, National Park Service, Anchorage, Alaska.

One of the problems in telling the monument's tale from a cultural perspective is that for much of its history, nature had a way of removing people from the peninsula, rather than attracting them. Current theories contend that if human beings lived anywhere on the central Alaska Peninsula at the time of the eruption, hot ash and pyroclastic flows would have wiped them from the earth. Perhaps even more devastating, archeologists tell us that the catastrophic blast created an ecological and cultural dead zone that lasted an estimated 1,000 years. [7] In other words, the eruption discouraged any human or animal life on the central Alaska Peninsula for centuries afterwards. Then, perhaps just when life began to return to the region, the Caldera, created by the 3,500 year old volcanic blast, began to fill with water, creating a large, deep lake in the center of the mountain. About 500 years ago, during a lesser eruption, a portion of the Caldera wall gave way and a massive wave flooded the Aniakchak River valley, washing large boulders and sediment downstream, and, presumably, any human life in its path, too.

In an extraordinary example of recovery and resilience, life again returned to Aniakchak. Clearly, the volcano has drastically altered the natural landscape of this region, but it is how humans responded to catastrophic change and ultimately endured it that is the central theme to Aniakchak's cultural story and makes the history of this place worth telling. For, on this central portion of the Alaska Peninsula, two fundamental processes that are often discussed separately by park service managers and personnel, took place over a period of approximately 3,500 years: volcanic activity and its resultant changes and the movement and interaction of various peoples. As this study will show, the management of the region's natural resources cannot be realized entirely without understanding their connection to people. Natural and cultural histories, in other words, are objectively entangled within the Aniakchak landscape.

The Aniakchak Landscape area of study: Aniakchak National Monument and Preserve settlements and volcanoes. (click on image for a PDF version)

The challenge of Beyond the Moon Crater: A New History of the Aniakchak Landscape, then, is to explain how various peoples related to nature and how those relationships ultimately shaped Aniakchak's human history. The study puts the Alutiiq people, the Alaska Natives living on the central Alaska Peninsula, and Aniakchak's physical environment, at its center, as it discusses Russian and American expansion from 1741 through the 1980s, when Aniakchak became part of the NPS system. In the span of a little over 200 years, the Alutiit (Alutiit is plural for Alutiiq) transformed from an independent, hunter-fisher-gathering people, into a sedentary, Orthodox Christian, pluralistic, commercial fishing people. Arguably, the Alutiiq culture that emerged in the nineteenth and early twentieth century was a product of interaction with first Russians, and later, Americans. Moreover, although the Alutiiq people endured significant cultural loss during this time, they were able to adapt to both Russian and American systems by blending certain aspects of the foreign cultures with their own. In the end, like the volcanic land on which they lived, the Alutiiq people managed to recover from each phase of expansion. Thus, this study aims to show how interactions between people and Aniakchak's natural world destroyed, as well as created, the cultural story. The result is debatably the most comprehensive history of the central Alaska Peninsula to date.

Prominent geological features within Aniakchak National Monument and Preserve. By B. Bundy. (click on image for a PDF version)

The Place:
Aniakchak's Dynamic Landscape

Aniakchak National Monument and Preserve is located across from Kodiak Island, on the central portion of the Alaska Peninsula which juts out from the Alaska mainland, splitting the Bering Sea from the North Pacific Ocean. "Here," wrote Hubbard of Aniakchak, "the Pacific Ocean and the warm Japanese current lie close to the Bering Sea and the cold Arctic current." According to Hubbard, the result of this geographical and oceanic proximity "is that rapidly condensing masses of air at different temperatures are constantly being sucked through the narrow passes of the high mountains, reaching storm intensity very quickly." Because the park unit sits exactly where these two forces of nature collide, Hubbard poetically called Aniakchak "the birthplace of storms." [8]

Volatile weather, however, is not the only foreboding feature of the central Alaska Peninsula. Situated just off Aniakchak's Pacific coastline are many small islands which not only serve as rookeries for the region's fur mammals, but create a navigational maze for watercraft, making the voyage across Shelikof Strait, the watery corridor between the mainland and Kodiak Island, extremely treacherous. [9] Rising from the relentless waves and churning currents of the Pacific are precipitous, jagged cliffs that stand sentry to the steaming and glaciated peaks of the Aleutian Mountain Range. The Aleutians continue down the length of the Alaska Peninsula and then break into the islands of the Aleutian Chain. They are home to some of the world's most active volcanoes. Besides Aniakchak, other live volcanoes that surround the park unit include Veniaminov, Black Peak, Chiginagak, and Peulik. Over the centuries, various eruptions emanating from these volcanoes, as well as from Aniakchak, have transformed the landscape of the central Alaska Peninsula into a layer-cake of volcanic ash.

From these predominantly glaciated volcanic peaks, the elevation to the west gently gives way to undulating foothills. Three major rivers drain off the flanks of Aniakchak: the Aniakchak River flows from headwaters located inside the Aniakchak Caldera like a shot to the Pacific, while the Meshik and the Cinder rivers take a more serpentine route west toward Bristol Bay. There, for miles, ashen plains created by pyroclastic flows, dominate the land and are, indeed, remnants of a catastrophic past. The desolate ash fields, however, abruptly surrender to a thick carpet of dwarf willows, alders, various grasses, and wildflowers, which have gradually made their way up gentle slopes from the tundra lowlands. The lowlands, pock-marked by hundreds of interconnected ponds and small lakes, meet the murky waters of Bristol Bay, where for centuries, rising and freezing tides have sculpted an ever-changing coastline.

The Aniakchak National Monument and Preserve encompasses only part of what this study calls the Aniakchak Landscape (I also refer to the area of study as the Aniakchak region or the central Alaska Peninsula). This expanse spans an area that is approximately one hundred miles southwest from the Ugashik Lakes to Chignik Lake, and fifty miles across, from the Bering Sea to the Pacific Coast. Today, the region is peppered by six small fishing villages: Ugashik, Pilot Point, Port Heiden, Chignik Lake, Chignik Lagoon, and Chignik Bay. Except for Chignik Lake, village orientation lies primarily toward the two seas, the Bering Sea and the North Pacific, and thus, leaves the undeveloped land of the central peninsula seemingly empty of human activity. The appearance of an exotic and lifeless country formed the genesis of Father Hubbard's interpretation of this region—a cold, empty, and alien moonscape. In the following chapters, this historic resource study will show that a culturally void and ecologically dead Aniakchak was anything but true.

The Purpose of the Study:
Looking Beyond Hubbard's Moon Crater Myth

The Aniakchak Historic Resource Study (HRS), Beyond the Moon Crater: A New History of the Aniakchak Landscape is far more than a mere catalogue of the park's historical sites and properties. At a minimum, the study serves as a reminder that people, too, live within the Aniakchak Landscape despite the common perception that nothing exists here except a moon crater.

As with most studies of this type, the Aniakchak HRS identifies the park's known historical resources and places those resources into a historic context. The listing of historic properties, summaries and historic preservation recommendations specific to each chapter can be found in the Appendix. The findings presented in this study identify several historic sites, properties, and places and provide new theoretical interpretations on what actually occurred within those places. The re-interpretation of such places not only offers new meaning and significance. It also strongly suggests that additional research should be conducted. Such research is vital, if the knowledge and history of the Aniakchak region is to be preserved and passed on in accordance with the NPS responsibility to cultural resources, as set forth in the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act. The recommendations following each chronological section are logical extensions of the historical aspects described in this report.

Known historic properties within Aniakchak include Native houses, trapping and hunting cabins, extensive trail networks, commercial fish traps, clam cannery remains, a cannery bunkhouse, a fox farm, and the beginnings of two roads built by the Corps of Engineers during World War II. In addition, Russian outposts, American trade stations, trapper cabins, reindeer corrals, a U.S. Army base, and industrial sites such as an oil boom town and salmon canneries—all located just beyond park boundaries—are important historical sites that help us to better understand how people's relationship to the natural resources, as well as each other, shaped the history of the Aniakchak region.

The Bristol Bay flats, aerial view of the landscape surrounding Port Heiden/Meshik looking southwest, 1990. Frank Norris, National Park Service, Anchorage, Alaska.

In 1991, Public Law 101-628, Section 1209, directed the NPS to revise the 1987 thematic framework for historic studies to incorporate new approaches to examining and understanding America's past. Themes embrace prehistory to the modern period and a multiplicity of human experiences. They also address issues of national significance, regional, community and other dimensions of place that are relevant. The framework draws upon the work of scholars across disciplines to provide a structure for capturing the complexity and meaning of human experiences and for understanding that past in coherent, integrated ways. The following is a brief list of the historic contexts for the Aniakchak HRS:

  • Peopling places
  • Nature shapes culture
  • Encounters and exchange
  • Cultural accommodation
  • Americanization and incorporation
  • Industrialization and capitalization
  • Local economic and social networks
  • Scientific exploration
  • World War II
  • Modern mobility, environmentalism, and park science

The goal of this historical analysis of Aniakchak, then, is to challenge Hubbard's moon crater interpretation, which has been the most popular depiction of the region for the last seventy-five years, with the view that the region is as rich in human history as it is geographically unique. In spite of many of the Glacier Priest's claims, long before he and his collegiate explorers stepped foot into Aniakchak, the region had been inhabited and explored by Alutiiq community members, Russian promyshlenniki, Orthodox priests, American trappers, fox farmers, oil prospectors, USGS surveyors, reindeer herders, and salmon fishermen. Although Hubbard seemed awestruck by the mechanization of the canneries on the peninsula, he continually overlooked the fact that the presence of industrial development in the area contradicted his moon crater interpretation. During his many trips to Aniakchak, the priest fostered prosperous ties with the Alaska salmon industry, and later became one of its major promoters. This did not sir well with local residents, embroiled in a political battle with the Outside capitalists over the legality of fish traps, some of which were operating right in Aniakchak Bay. Furthermore, Hubbard continually reinvented himself and constantly changed his own reasons for coming to Aniakchak. As a Jesuit, Hubbard presented himself in the same tradition as the frontier priests of an earlier era, but he did little missionary work at nearby Native communities, which had converted to Russian Orthodoxy in previous decades. As a scientist, too, Hubbard was inconsistent. Although he claimed that his explorations of Aniakchak were scientific in purpose, as NPS historian Frank Norris points out, "His [Hubbard's] best-selling books, and the articles he contributed to National Geographic, Saturday Evening Post, and other magazines, contributed little to the scientific literature." [10] Like the first Europeans, who contemplated the wild and lonely shores of America as a New World untouched by history, Hubbard too, presented Aniakchak as a place without a past, at least a cultural one. After a careful read of his numerous works, it becomes quite clear: Hubbard conveyed his personal perspective, a perspective linked to the continent's early pioneers, to advance his own career and popular identity as a modern-day adventurer—the Glacier Priest.

Therefore, this study suggests that the moon-like and lifeless landscape Hubbard described in his books, articles, and films was artificial—an imaginary construct created to feed what historian Kathy Price calls Hubbard's "Glacier Priest persona." [11] It was not in Hubbard's best interest to place Aniakchak in the context of history, and so, as Hubbard proclaimed, history remained "silent on the subject." Because Hubbard and later, the National Park Service, remained mute when it came to the region's cultural history, their silence has had a profound impact on how the outside world views the central Alaska Peninsula today, and how the agency would eventually manage the park unit after 1980. Beyond the Moon Crater is the accumulation of independent research and prior studies and writings conducted by NPS personnel, professional historians, and personal memoirs. The result is an interdisciplinary synthesis, which aims to put what was once believed to be an isolated Aniakchak back into the world community, where people, instead of retreating from civilization, encountered the broader world.

In the following chapters, Beyond the Moon Crater will take the reader into Hubbard's Geological Wonder World—both the literal place and the world he invented—and then, will look beyond it. The first chapter, Father Hubbard's Geological Wonder World: Perpetuating the "Moon Crater Myth" in Aniakchak National Monument and Preserve, discusses why Father Hubbard created the Moon Crater myth, and how the National Park Service adopted and perpetuated this myth when the agency first proposed to make Aniakchak a monument in 1931.

The rest of the chapters proceed in chronological order, beginning with the advent of the Pleistocene era. Throughout the five successive ice ages that occurred during the Pleistocene, the Alaska Peninsula formed the southern boundary of a land bridge that allowed for nothing less than plant species, charismatic magafauna, numerous fish runs, and Asiatic people to migrate to the North American continent. Over centuries, natural forces shaped, and reshaped the Aniakchak landscape. Pleistocene glaciers carved the region's many valleys, rivers and bays, while plate tectonics constructed the volcanic Aleutian Range. As glaciers retreated, migrating plant communities and wildlife adapted to the active landscape. This is the environment that humans first entered about 9,000 years ago.

Father Hubbard and Chisholm high on Vent Mountain, 1931. Bernard Hubbard, S.J., Alaskan Photograph Collection. Photograph courtesy of Santa Clara University Archives. ACK-00-46.

Over the centuries, volcanic ejecta and a massive wave have either covered or swept away clues to Aniakchak's ancient past. Still, despite the calamitous events that continually shape and reshape this part of the world, it does not mean human history remained absent from the mid-region of the Alaska Peninsula. According to Michele Morseth, author of People of the Volcanoes, "it is the area outside of the Caldera that has attracted humans for many hundreds of years." [12] Throughout the many centuries on the Alaska Peninsula, ancient hunter-fisher-gatherers devised efficient methods and technology to hunt and fish, but they also had to develop strategies that helped them respond to the dynamic landscape, because in this region of the world, nature had the power to wipe people off the face of the earth, and did, from time to time. [13] Chapter Two titled, The Living World of Aniakchak, challenges Hubbard's portrayal of Aniakchak as a lifeless world, for the chapter discusses how natural forces shaped Aniakchak's current physical landscape, and how bands of early people formed a distinctive Alutiiq cultural identity that evolved based on their nomadic activities within its dynamic ecosystem.

The third chapter, 1741: A Brave New World Begins focuses on the creation of a new social, economic and cultural world on the Alaska Peninsula after 1741. As Russian promyshlenniki (plural for promyshlennik) crossed two continents on their quest for "soft gold," the three worlds of Europe, Asia, and America collided. During the fur trade, Russians and Alaska Natives interacted along the Aniakchak littoral, exchanging everything from religion to disease. Chapter Four, titled Russian Orthodoxy: Bridging the Old World with the New, looks at how exchanges between Russians and the local Alutiit living in the Aniakchak region eventually formed a kind of common ground, a relationship that continued for several decades after the Russian Imperial government sold Russian-America to the United States in 1867. In his books, presentations, and films, Hubbard usually portrayed the descendants of these residents as primitive exotics—if he did at all. What both chapters three and four make clear is that the people the Glacier Priest encountered in 1930 had already experienced nearly two hundred years of cultural encounters and exchanges. They were anything but primitive.

In the years after Russia sold Alaska to the United States in 1867, American fur traders, oil explorers, and even federally subsidized Inupiaq reindeer herders quickly replaced the scant promyshlenniki presence along Aniakchak's Pacific coastline. Chapter Five, Incorporating Aniakchak: Fur Traders, Oil Prospectors and Reindeer Herders, looks at how American business and the federal government attempted to Americanize Aniakchak. Although these early enterprises eventually failed, they engaged the local community into the larger world of American capitalism. It wasn't until the canned salmon industry moved into the region, however, that Aniakchak became fully incorporated into the modern, industrial world. Chapter Six, Aniakchak Ensnared: The Canned Salmon Industry in Ugashik, Chignik, and Aniakchak Bay, examines how the commercial fishing industry successfully facilitated the regional transition that began to mirror a more contemporary American cultural and economic system. Again, this chapter challenges Hubbard's perspective that Aniakchak remained isolated from the "civilized world."

Despite Hubbard's presentation of Aniakchak, when the Glacier Priest visited the region in the 1930s, the cultural landscape was diverse, industrialized, and fully incorporated into the American way of life. The biggest representative of corporate America in Alaska at the time, the canned salmon industry, attracted the largest number of non-Native newcomers to the region, but most came only seasonally and few stayed year round. Some, many of Scandinavian descent, did remain, however. These mostly male newcomers married Alutiiq women and raised families near Aniakchak. These are the "few hardy, tightlipped men" Dick Douglas mentions in The Land of Thunder Mountains. Although Hubbard's crew found shelter in their winter trap cabins, the Glacier Priest hardly mentioned their presence. In 1898 a Russian Orthodox priest described these newcomers as Knights of Woeful Countenance, hence, the aptly titled Chapter Seven.

After 1930, Hubbard claimed that he and his team of explorers were the first non-Native researchers to visit the Caldera. We now know that this assertion is false. The Russians, and later, the Americans were familiar with the Aniakchak region long before Hubbard. Hubbard does, however, hold claim to at least two historic "firsts." Historians agree Hubbard and pilot Harry Blunt made the first airplane flight down the west side of the Alaska Peninsula in 1931. Then, he and Blunt were the first to fly into the Aniakchak Caldera and make the first, though unsuccessful, attempt to land on Surprise Lake. The following year, Hubbard and pilot Frank Dorbandt did make the historic landing of a floatplane inside the Aniakchak Caldera. Chapter Eight, Exploring the Moon Crater: from Foot to Flight, examines Hubbard's three trips to Aniakchak in as many years that bookend the relatively minor eruption of Aniakchak that took place in the spring of 1931.

After 1932, Hubbard looked beyond the central Alaska Peninsula to other Alaskan destinations for adventure, although he continued to make a career describing the Aniakchak Caldera to interested audiences around the country. By 1941, the American public was not alone in listening to Hubbard. In 1941, with war against Japan threatening Alaska, Hubbard served as an auxiliary chaplain to the Sea Bees on Attu, where he lectured to the officers about his knowledge of southwestern Alaska, especially the Aleutian Islands. Although Hubbard had no direct connection to Aniakchak during the war, the Aleutian Campaign, to which he offered his expert advice, had a significant impact on the central Alaska Peninsula. In the mid-1940s, 5,000 personnel were stationed at Fort Morrow, the U.S. Army base built near the village of Meshik, over a four-year period. As the Aleutian Campaign progressed during the early war years, the Alaska Peninsula returned to its former "bridging" role: connecting military personnel stationed out on the Aleutian Chain with the mainland. Chapter Nine, From Wilderness Frontier to Wartime Front, discusses the impact that World War II had on the central Alaska Peninsula, as well as the effect that the Alaska Peninsula environment had on the U.S. military operating there.

The final chapter, Father Hubbard's Aniakchak Legacy, examines the Glacier Priest's enduring impact on the central Alaska Peninsula. This chapter suggests that Hubbard's lasting impression was constructed around the Glacier Priest's seemingly contradicting use of frontier imagery coupled with modern technology. His use of the airplane illustrates this point. On one hand, the airplane allowed him to reprise nostalgia for the frontier, and, on the other, it symbolized forward-minded scientific exploration. Without doubt, air travel has impacted the region significantly, for not only did subsistence patterns change with the introduction of the airplane, civilian access to the remote Aniakchak region became much easier after an aviation infrastructure was constructed by the U.S. military during World War II. In the decades after Hubbard's first flight, guided sports hunting, tourism, and scientific exploration have become the most intensive forms of use of Aniakchak's lands and natural resources to date.

What this study hopes to convey to the reader—the visitor to Aniakchak—is that much of what is perceived about Aniakchak merely sits on the surface; to understand this region in its entirety, one must sift through the many layers of the past. The story of Aniakchak, whether one is discussing the land or its people, is catastrophic in nature. But, this is also a story about survival and recovery. Time and time again, both nature and humans recovered from, and eventually adapted to, changes caused by volcanic eruptions, cultural disruptions, and economic displacement. Even though much of the central Alaska Peninsula has been Americanized, the six Alutiiq communities in the Aniakchak region still hold on to much of the past. For example, many people on the peninsula remain Russian Orthodox. In addition, many of the village elders continue to speak their native language. Perhaps most significantly, people continue to travel to customary locations to fish, pick berries, and hunt, making it clear that elements of their traditional relationship with nature have continued to survive in tandem with new life ways introduced to them by the Russians and Americans. As cultural anthropologist Patricia Partnow notes in her study of Alutiiq people living on the Alaska Peninsula, "Out of cataclysm comes new life, not just for a gifted few but for whole villages, the vestiges of a still living culture." [14]

By the time the National Park Service renewed interest in the Aniakchak region in the late 1960s, it is evident that the agency's reliance on Father Hubbard's interpretation of the moon crater was misleading to say the least. In one of his films Hubbard declared Aniakchak was "a place nobody knows!" But, it was a place people knew—still know—and have known for a very long time. The conclusion, The Place People Do Know, conveys a message to visitors—that to fully comprehend the history of this region, they must look beyond the insular 'Moon Crater' and view the Aniakchak Landscape from the perspective of outside influences. They must see how those influences changed Aniakchak, while at the same time, linked it to the larger world. Visitors must also view Aniakchak from the perspective of the living world that dwells within the landscape and how it responded to and recovered from significant, and at times, catastrophic change. Only then can visitors begin to appreciate their place in this landscape, how they, too, shape the region, and ultimately, realize their own role in its history.

Today we can understand the central portion of the Alaska Peninsula as a convergence of diverse people—women as well as men. It is a place where Alutiiq shamans, Russian promyshlenniki, Orthodox priests, American traders, oil boosters, Inupiaq herders, salmon packers, fox farmers, trophy hunters, infantry men, and park rangers interacted at various points in time. It is also a place where a limited natural force—not an unlimited one—directly shaped history, rather than simply providing a sublime backdrop for the larger frontier saga. This new interpretation refuses to understand nature as either static or as a primitive remnant of the past. On the contrary, it views Aniakchak's natural resources—pyroclastic flows, fur-bearing animals, petroleum pools, foreign reindeer and foxes, massive fish runs, charismatic megafauna, and even metaphorical religious landscapes—and their relationship with people as the context for the region's cultural history. Viewed through the lens of history, then, the story of Aniakchak becomes less romantic, but far more complex, relative, and interesting.

Finally, before reviewing the chapters ahead, I would like to remind readers that although this study attempts to reach beyond the limits of Hubbard's Moon Crater interpretation, avoiding or dismissing Hubbard's contributions to the region, is impossible. Hubbard himself is a fixed and central character in Aniakchak's cultural story. As a geologist and Jesuit, Hubbard melded together the usually polarizing viewpoints of science and religion, which gave him a unique, passionate, and authentic connection to Aniakchak. Although Hubbard shares similar perspectives of the wilderness with America's early Christian settlers—specifically, that wilderness is empty and has no history—the Glacier Priest did not necessarily believe that God's plan was to restore the howling wilderness to paradise by "civilizing" nature. In fact, rather than fear the wilderness, as did the early European colonists, Hubbard embraced it. He sincerely loved the wild landscape of Aniakchak and felt right at home in it. Like any myth, Hubbard's interpretation of the landscape was based on elements of truth.

There is no doubt that Aniakchak is a phenomenally beautiful and scenic place. Geologists working in the field today are as astounded by Aniakchak as Hubbard was. [15] The editors of Volcanoes of North America call the Aniakchak Caldera "one of the most spectacular volcanic landforms in the Aleutian arc." [16] When it came to conveying the grandeur of Aniakchak, the Glacier Priest was right on.

Moreover, with an abundance of wildlife and rare plant species dwelling inside the crater walls, the surrounding volcanic landscapes do create the impression that Aniakchak exists as a world within itself. But, unlike Hubbard's singular and static wonder world, Beyond the Moon Crater offers many worlds—or many worldviews—that together reconstruct a diverse and multifaceted historical narrative. Just as the numerous layers of volcanic ash indicate a different catastrophic event to the geologist, each overlapping world combines to communicate a long and varied story of Aniakchak's cultural landscape.

By understanding Hubbard in more honest terms, it is the intent of this study to provide the National Park Service with updated information for which the agency may interpret a more complex history of Aniakchak National Monument and Preserve to the public. The days of understanding natural wonders as static remnants of a primitive past are over and replacing such concepts is an interpretation steeped in a cultural parkscape, where the land and people interact and that interaction remains constantly in motion. Thus, it is important to note how today's archeologists, ethnographers, and historians are challenging Hubbard's Moon Crater myth by offering both a more multifaceted and real interpretation of Aniakchak, the geological and cultural wonder world.


1Barrett Willoughby, "Moon Craters of Alaska" The Saturday Evening Post, 48.

2Bernard Hubbard, S.J., "A World Inside a Mountain: Aniakchak, the New Volcanic Wonderland of the Alaska Peninsula, Is Explored" National Geographic Magazine, September 1931, 319-345.

3Willoughby, 48.

4Robert Dick Douglas, In the Land of Thunder Mountain: Adventuring with Father Hubbard Among the Volcanoes of Alaska (Brewer, Warren and Putnam: New York, 1932), 116.

5Bernard Hubbard, S.J., Alaskan Odyssey (London: Robert Hale Limited, 1952), 74.

6William Regan, interviewed by Julia O'Keefe, 8 Feb 1985, transcript of tape recording, Hubbard Collection, Michel Orradre Library, Santa Clara University, Santa Clara, California Interview, 5-6.

7Richard VanderHoek and Rachel Myron, Cultural Remains From a Catastrophic Landscape: An Archeological Overview and Assessment of Aniakchak National Monument and Preserve, (Anchorage: National Park Service, 2004) 145; VanderHoek, "Ecological Roadblocks on a Constrained Landscape: The Cultural Effects of Catastrophic Holocene Volcanism on the Alaska Peninsula, Southwest Alaska." Paper presented at the Fifth World Archaeological Congress, (Washington D.C: June 23, 2003), 1.; David Yesner, "Cultural Boundaries and Ecological Frontiers in Coastal Regions: An Example from the Alaska Peninsula," in The Archaeology of Frontiers and Boundaries eds., Stanton W. Green and Stephen M. Perlman (New York: Academic Press, 1985), 80.

8Bernard Hubbard, S.J., Cradle of the Storms (New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1935), 2-3.

9Merry Tuten, A Preliminary Study of Subsistence Activities on the Pacific Coast of the Proposed Aniakchak Caldera National Monument (Fairbanks: Cooperative Park Studies Unit, University of Alaska, 1977), 13.

10Frank Norris, Isolated Paradise, An Administrative History of the Katmai and Aniakchak National Park Units (Anchorage: The National Park Service, 1996), 424.

11Kathy Price, Adventuring with the "Glacier Priest:" Jesuit Father Bernard R. Hubbard's Alaskan Persona. Master's Thesis, University of Alaska Fairbanks, December 1999.

12Michele Morseth, Puyulek Pu'irtuq! The People of the Volcanoes: An Aniakchak National Monument and Preserve Ethnographic Overview & Assessment (Anchorage: National Park Service, 2003), 3.

13Richard VanderHoek and Rachel Myron, 145-146.; R.G. McGimsey, C.F. Waytomas, and C.A. Neal, "High Stand and Catastrophic Draining of Interacaldera Surprise Lake, Aniakchak Volcano, Alaska," Geological Studies in Alaska, USGS Bulletin 2107, (1993): 65.

14Patricia Partnow, Making History: Alutiiq/Sugpiaq Life on the Alaska Peninsula (Fairbanks: University of Alaska Press, 2001), xiii.

15Tina Neal and Game McGimsey, Aniakchak Caldera: Working in one of Alaska's most spectacular active volcanoes, Alaska Geological Society Newsletter, Volume 23, Number 9, May 1994.

16Charles Wood and Jurgen Kienle, Volcanoes of North America, Cambridge University Press, 1990, 59.

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Last Updated: 03-Aug-2009