BirdBlog

An Experience of Awe and Wonder

A trip through the Arctic Refuge.

Exploring our surroundings at our first campsite in the Refuge
Exploring our surroundings at our first campsite in the Refuge. Photo: Rebecca Sentner

This summer, I experienced a part of Alaska few people get to see. I took a rafting trip down the Canning River from the Marsh Fork to the Arctic Ocean, along with seven others—none of whom I’d met before the trip. I spent ten days in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and experienced more beauty, amazement, wonder, and awe than I could have ever possibly imagined. True, I was often uncomfortable, anxious, and exhausted, but mostly, I was happy and grateful to have this opportunity to see first-hand a part of the world I have spent much of my time working to protect.

Many people are under the impression that the Arctic is a barren wasteland. I can assure you this is not the case—certainly not in the summer months. I have never seen a place so vibrant and full of life. The list of wildlife we saw is long and impressive. It included grizzly bears, muskoxen, foxes, wolves, caribou (oh so many caribou), ground squirrels, and belugas. And, the number of amazing birds we saw was overwhelming. The species include Bluethroat, Arctic Tern, Bald Eagle, Golden Eagle, Semipalmated Sandpiper, Merganser, Rough-legged Hawk, Red-throated Loon, Lapland Longspur, and more.   

Muskoxen in the Arctic Refuge.
Muskoxen in the Arctic Refuge. Photo: Rebecca Sentner
Caribou in Arctic Refuge
Caribou in Arctic Refuge Photo: Charles Eriksen
Bluethroat in Arctic Refuge
Bluethroat in Arctic Refuge. Photo: Charles Eriksen

The landscape was green and lush accented with bright purples, yellows, and pinks from flowering plants. A symphony of birdsongs, calls, buzzing, chirps, and more filled my ears each night as I drifted to sleep. Each day the list of one-of-a-kind experiences grew as did my appreciation for this wild and remote part of Alaska.

Flowers in the Arctic Refuge.
Flowers in the Arctic Refuge. Photo: Rebecca Sentner

Friendships were also in full bloom. The people on this trip formed a bond through unique, awe-inspiring—sometime challenging—experiences. We departed on the trip as strangers, but returned as friends.    

Charlie Eriksen, Garett Rose, Nora Apter, Libby Marking, Alden Garrett, Rebecca Sentner, Jenna Jones, David Jones
Charlie Eriksen, Garett Rose, Nora Apter, Libby Marking, Alden Garrett, Rebecca Sentner, Jenna Jones, David Jones.

To think this special place is currently at risk from oil and gas development (not to mention impacts from climate change) is shocking and appalling. It makes me angry, sad, and incredibly disappointed—not just in those pursuing development but in all of us who are allowing this to happen. These are our public lands, and we all need to stand up and say “No—not here!” If there are places worthy of protecting, surely the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is one of them.  

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Photo: Rebecca Sentner

If you are interested in helping to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge:

  1. Sign up for Audubon Alaska alerts and news on Arctic Refuge and other Alaska issues.
  2. Find us on Facebook and Twitter and help us spread the word about the Arctic Refuge. Follow #ArcticBirdFest and #ProtectTheArctic

  3. Donate to the Arctic Fund, which supports our Arctic programs.

How you can help, right now