Beyond Wilds. Beyond Words. Photos of St. George Island, Alaska

To quote Jodie Foster’s portrayal of Dr. Ellie Arroway in Robert Zemeckis’ “Contact”:

No words to describe it. Poetry! They should’ve sent a poet.

Alaska has been kind to me. I’ve visited locations most photographers dream of & seen things most will never witness. But Alaska is always full of surprises.

I spent the past 4 days at a location that I’ve been dreaming of visiting for several years.

The sun sets over the Bering Sea as waves crash against St. George Island's rugged shoreline, in Alaska's Pribilof Islands. (Dave Taylor/Sixtyone North LLC)

St. George Island sits just 45 miles to the east of the Continental Shelf. In this region, everything about the Earth’s crust is precipitous. If you were able to stand atop the ‘cliffs’ above the Continental Shelf, you’d already be in nearly 600 feet of water. But vanishing into the blackness below would be a drop off that would swallow the Grand Canyon whole. Twice. The sea floor drops over 11,000 feet, nearly straight down.

St. George Island rises out of the ocean to form a varied plateau. The island’s volcanic history is evident along every section of coastline. Basalt columns line and comprise the staggering sea cliffs that encompass the island, geometric patterns reminiscent of The Giant’s Causeway, in Ireland. The cliffs rise dramatically from the crashing Bering Sea, some are over 1,000 feet tall. Inland, the treeless landscape has a distinctly arctic feel, rolling plains and tussocks, interspersed with small ponds. At this time of year, you can’t walk 5 steps without being confronted with vast fields of wildflowers, most notably are the arctic lupine.

But the big draw, for me, was the island’s wildlife.

Arctic Fox Pup (Vulpes lagopus), St. George Island, in the Pribilof Islands, Alaska. (David Taylor)

Vast amounts of birds call this area home, between 2-4 million in all. I’m not a great birder, but in our all-too- short time on the island, we spotted several species that I’ve wanted to photograph for quite some time. Not only did we spot them, but they were in numbers. And at very close proximity. Horned and Tufted Puffins, Common Murres, Least Auklets, Murrelets, Red-legged & Black-legged Kittiwakes, Parakeet Auklets and Cormorants. It was utterly incredible.

A pair of parakeet auklets sitting on the sea cliffs of St. George Island, in Alaska's Pribilof Island Group. (David Taylor)

We (Scott Slone – of Alaska HDTV & my collaborator on several projects) also had several great encounters with the island’s resident Arctic Fox population. One of the fox families we photographed had 8 very cute pups! Mom was quite busy making multiple runs a day to bring back enough food to sustain the large family. We watched her return to the den with a kittiwake, and saw her carrying a dead puffin another time. Good job, mom!

The people of St. George are very friendly, always offering to help or to tip us to yet another incredible location or situation.

One thing is certain about this location, I can’t adequately articulate the feelings we were overtaken with while on St. George Island. I don’t think it has fully set in yet, how lucky we both were to be able to witness a place so spectacular. I hope my photographs will do a better job at filling in the gaps my words can’t occupy.

In closing, I would like to thank the warm-hearted people of St. George Island. Thank you for welcoming us onto your beautiful island with such grace and helping make our trip such an absolute success. Also, a huge thank you to Pen Air, for providing our transportation to and from the island – the service was great and everyone on staff was fantastic to work with, from beginning to end. Finally, a big thank you to Tanaq Corporation, for all of the ‘on-island’ logistical help, lodging and rental vehicle.

As always, it is a pleasure to travel and work with Scott Slone of Alaska HDTV.