LEFT TO RIGHT: A KAYAKER IN WESTCHESTER LAGOON WITH THE ANCHORAGE SKYLINE IN THE BACKGROUND; A BULL ELK AT THE ALASKA WILDLIFE CONSERVATION CENTER; FISHING AT SHIP CREEK IN DOWNTOWN ANCHORAGE; THE ALASKA NATIVE HERITAGE CENTER AT NIGHT; A STATUE OF CAPTAIN COOK LOOKS OUT ACROSS COOK INLET
Westfall rattles off a list of places his photography has taken him around the greater Anchorage area: trails along the Seward Highway, where he captured images of Dall sheep ewes, lambs and rams grazing; the Arctic Valley, where he scored shots of ptarmigan; the Russian River and Denali National Park, where hes photographed brown bears fishing and lounging; and the nearby town of Portage, just south of Anchorage, where hes snapped pictures of majestic bald eagles. Each picture tells a story, but none are quite as memorable as the photo he snapped of a bull moose along the Powerline Pass on the north side of Flattop Mountain. As Westfall was quietly shooting his subject, the call of a female moose behind him rattled the mighty, antlered animal. He walked toward her, then rushed right at me. I dove into the bushes, Westfall remembers. He didnt like the idea of my being between him and his prospective mate.
Though instances like that one are rare (hes had to retreat into the bushes only one other time, from an unusually confident Dall sheep), Westfall acknowledges that wild animals can be unpredictable. So for beginners wanting to score a souvenir snapshot of an Alaskan elk, musk ox or caribou without risking life and limb to get it, Westfall suggests checking out the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, located about 50 miles south of the city center. Visitors to the center can walk or drive through expansive, fenced-in animal habitats that house native creatures such as bear, lynx, black-tailed deer and coyotes. The mountains in the distance here make the perfect backdrop for breathtaking photography.
If youre careful, you can hide the fences [from appearing in a photograph], Westfall says. You can get some good close-ups without endangering yourself.
Visitors who dont want to travel outside the city can still see one of Alaskas most prized creatures right in the heart of Anchorage. Just a short walk from downtown is Ship Creek, a popular fishing spot where thousands of king and silver salmon predictably swim upstream each summer. The half-mile strip of the creek that is fishable is so popular among angling circles that its the site each June of the annual Slamn Salmn Derby in which fishermen try to wrangle the biggest king salmon they can and the Slamn Salmn Silver Derby, held each August, which is the contests silver-salmon equivalent. While the sheer number of salmon that populate this area has earned it a reputation as a fishermans dream, the size of the fish garners attention as well, with some reaching nearly 50 pounds.
Lest you think of fishing as a relaxing, passive sport, though, make no mistake: Reeling in a fish of such size isnt always an easy task. Just ask Jioji George Lino, who has logged 21 years in Anchorage and 21 summers of fishing down at Ship Creek. He has helped the last three winners of the Slamn Salmn Derby pull in their prize fish, even fighting a dangerously strong current that nearly swept him away while doing so. For his selflessness, Lino was awarded the contests sportsmanship award in 2009, but he has never walked away with the winning catch himself.
Its good to help somebody that needs help, you know? Thats why I do it, he says. Kings are very hard to catch.
On noncontest days, amateur and experienced anglers alike can be found up and down Ship Creek until dusk. Lino advises beginners to make a stop into a gear store such as Sportsmans Warehouse or B&J Sporting Goods first, where they can acquire a fishing license as well as all of the necessary equipment, from hooks and poles to bait and spinners. He also recommends checking out the tide charts, fish-run guides and season regulations published by the Alaska Department of Fish and Games Sport Fish Division, which contain helpful information for those unfamiliar with local fishing. Because Ship Creek can get crowded during peak season, fishermen can also check out Campbell Creek, which runs through town, or Bird Creek, located 25 miles south of Anchorage.
If you do decide to cast your line in Ship Creek, however, you may well run into Lino, who spends nearly every summer evening there, trying his luck. My wife says if I die, shes going to bury me over there, he says with a laugh.
For Lino and residents like him, fishing is more than a sport; its a way of life. Still, other Anchorage residents prefer to ride the river rather than stand near the edge. Roman Dial, an outdoor adventurer and professor at Alaska Pacific University, prefers the former. His sport of choice, pack-rafting, entails hiking to a remote location and then using an inflatable raft which is lightweight enough to be easily carried on his back but is built with the toughness of a larger boat to ride a river back to the starting point. Hes even written a book on the sport, which, over the last 30 years, has seen a surge in popularity in Australia and Alaska thanks to the natural landscapes of the lands.