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Spread out on the tundra along the Kuskokwim River, Bethel is a frontier town of about 5,800 residents, originally established by Moravian missionaries in the late 1800s. One of rural Alaska's most important trading centers, it's a hub for 56 native villages in a region roughly the size of the state of Oregon. The Yup'ik Eskimo language and culture are still predominant in this regional
center.The surrounding lowland tundra is a rich green in summer and turns fiery shades of red, orange, and yellow in autumn, when plants burst with blueberries, cranberries, blackberries, and salmonberries. Salmon, arctic grayling, and Dolly Varden (a species of seagoing trout) fill the area's many lakes, ponds, and streams, providing excellent fishing just a few miles outside town. Pretty much everyone in Bethel has smoked, dried, and frozen fish aplenty. The wetlands are also important breeding grounds for more than 60 species of birds, from shrikes to warblers.
Katmai is the most famous of Alaska's remote parks for two simple reasons: bears and volcanoes. Although Katmai sees only a fraction of the...