Guest Author - Dawn Engler
The islands are 1,300,000 acres of protected wilderness. The Aleutians were re-established in 1980 as a unit of the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge from previous protection statuses that began in 1913. They are basically peaks of an underwater mountain range. Many of these peaks are volcanoes, and some are still active. The islands claim fame as the westernmost and easternmost place in the United States. Now, in this instance we are not discussing "continental" US. The westernmost claim is because the islands extend as far west as the 180 degree parallel, which is the dividing line of the western and eastern hemispheres of the globe. The easternmost, because they extend even further beyond the 180 degree line, which puts them in the eastern hemisphere of the globe. Alaska also holds the northernmost place in the states too, at Barrow. In case you're wondering, Hawaii holds the southernmost place spot.
The weather on the islands is rough. Wind rules, dampness follows, and average rainfall runs anywhere from 30" to 63" per year. There are many land and sea animals that can weather the storms, such as sea lions, otters, seals, caribou, and foxes. Trees are not as hardy, most not growing any taller than four feet before the winds snap the trunks. The Aleutians are well known for the birds. Over 10 million nest on the islands each year! Puffins, cormorants, and kittiwakes are some of the more common ones.
Another extreme is that Alaska holds the largest fishing port in the US at Dutch Harbor. The fishing industry is large, but very controlled due to over-fishing certain species of fish and just plain mis-management. In 1997-2001, bottom trawling destroyed 80 tons of coral in Alaskan waters, wiping out the very habitat of what was being fished for in the first place. The fishing industry feels that over control has put them in danger of not being able to produce what the world asks for; the environmental industry feels the very control will help future generations of fish and fisherman! Different sides to all battles.
Speaking of battles, the only fighting on US soil during World War II was on the Aleutian Islands. There are many battle scars remaining on the islands, including unexploded ordnance! The National Park Service has surveyed and dedicated a Battlefield Site on Kiska, and the Aleutian World War II National Historic Area is located on Amaknak.
The islands were settled by the Aleut people over 9,000 years ago with populations estimated at 15,000 to 25,000. After Russian attacks and enslavement combined with disease, the people dwindled to less than 1,000 by 1831. Today, a few villages are all that remain on a few of the islands.
There are many things to do in and around the islands like hiking, fishing for sure, and even some kayaking on the calm, windless days. With the rocky shorelines that can be a dangerous endeavour. Most access to the islands is by air, water, or the Alaska Marine Highway. Sometimes the wind can be so intense that landings on some of the islands can be delayed for days and only upon flyovers of the landing areas is when the decision to delay is made. The Aleutians are extreme for sure, but still worthy of some look-see if you want an interesting trip.