A blog by Bill Hess

Running Dog Publications

P.O. Box 872383 Wasilla, Alaska 99687


All photos and text © Bill Hess, unless otherwise noted 
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Wasilla is the place where I have lived for the past 29 years - sort of. The house in which my wife and I raised our family sits here, but I have made my rather odd career as a different sort of photojournalist by continually wandering off to other places to photograph people and gather information, which I have then put together in various publications that have served the Alaska Native Eskimo, Indian and Aleut communities.

Although I did not have a great of free time to devote to this rather strange community, named after a Tanaina Athabascan Indian chief who knew Wasilla in the way that I so impossibly long to, I have still documented it regularly over the past quarter-century plus. In the early days, my Wasilla photographs focused mostly upon my children and the events they participated in - baseball, football, figure skating, hockey, frog catching, fire cracker detonation, Fourth of July parade - that sort of thing. 

In 2002, I purchased my first digital camera and then, whenever I was home, I began to photograph Wasilla upon a daily basis, but not in a conventional way. These were grab shots - whatever caught my eye as I took my many long walks or drove through the town, shooting through the car window at people and scenes that appeared and disappeared before I could even focus and compose in the traditional photographic way.

Thus, the Wasilla portion of this blog will be devoted both to the images that I take as I wander about and those that I have taken in the past. Despite the odd, random, nature of the images, I believe they communicate something powerful about this town that I have never seen expressed anywhere else. 

Wasilla is a sprawling community that has been slapped down hodge-podge upon what was so recently wilderness of the most exquisite beauty. In its design, it is deliberately anti-zoned, anti-planned. In the building of Wasilla, the desire to make a buck has trumped aesthetics and all other considerations. This town, built in the midst of exquisite beauty, has largely become an unsightly, unattractive, mess of urban sprawl. Largely because of this, it often seems to me that Wasilla is a community with no sense of community, a town devoid of town soul.

Yet - Wasilla is my home and if I am lucky it will be until I grow old and die. Despite its horrific failings, it is still made of the stuff of any small city: people; moms and dads, grammas and grampas, teens, children, churches, bars, professionals, laborers, soldiers, missionaries, artists, athletes, geniuses, do-gooders, hoodlums, the wealthy, the homeless, the rational and logical, the slightly insane and the wholly insane - and, yes, as is now obvious to the whole world, politicians, too.

So perhaps, if one were to search hard enough, it might just be possible to find a sense of community here, and a town soul. So, using my skills as a photojournalist and a writer, I hope to do just that. If this place has a sense of community, I will find it. If there is a town soul to Wasilla, I will document it. I won't compete with the newspapers. Hell no! But as time and income allow, it will be fun to wander into the places where the folks described above gather, and then put what I find on this blog.


by 300...

Anywhere within a 300 mile radius of Wasilla. This encompasses perhaps the most wild, dramatic, gorgeous, beautiful section of land and sea to be found in any comparable space anywhere on Earth. I can never explore it all, but I will do the best that I can, and will here share what I find and experience with you.  

and then some...

Anywhere else in the world that I happen to get to, such as Point Lay, Alaska; Missoula, Montana; Serenki, Chukotka, Russia; or Bangalore, India. Perhaps even Lagos, Nigeria. I have both a desire and scheme to get me there. It is a long shot. We shall see if I succeed.

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One month ago - flying to and settling into Point Hope; Yesterday in Wasilla

I again back up one month ago to begin anew my oft-delayed series of posts on my recent travels to Point Hope and Barrow - both of which are much colder towns than is Wasilla. I start on the Era flight that took me there on a one-way ticket that cost $410. Later, I would purchase another one-way ticket from Point Hope to Barrow and that would also run $410. 

Then I would need to purchase another ticket from Barrow to Anchorage on Alaska Airlines - $402.

Just imagine if you had a family of five or six and your father died two villages away and everybody needed a plane ticket to get there. That's the reality people face in Alaska, every day.

The only practical way to travel about Alaska is by plane, but it is getting harder and harder and harder to do. That's Annabelle Lane to the left, her son, Ephraim and Al Sokatis of Challenge Life Alaska.

I had originally planned to go to Anaktuvuk Pass on this trip. I needed my trip to coincide with a Challenge Life Alaska/NSB Healthy Communities event. Such an event had been planned for Anaktuvuk, but it got postponed and the time was scheduled for Point Hope.

So off I went to Point Hope.

I still hope I can get to Anaktuvuk before much more time passes by.

It was still early in the spring whaling season. I hoped that I might get out onto the ice. All my good, warm, Arctic gear had fallen apart or disappeared, so I was not properly prepared. Maybe someone would let me borrow some.

As we neared Point Hope, I could see open water, with shorefast ice on one side and young, new ice pinching in from the other.

This is Krystle Ahmaogak, granddaughter to the late Ben and Florence Ahmaogak of Wainwright, who in 1995 took me into their whaling crew, Iceberg 14 and then later adopted me as their honorary son. Krystle now lives in Point Hope with her fiance, Jesse Frankson and their three children.

When she learned I was coming, she invited me to stay with them.

We are headed to her house.

Krystle's two year-old son, Jonathan, at home in his play tent.

In the afternoon, Al and his Challenge Life Alaska partner Mike Hajdukovich met with the senior class, who were about to graduate. The students had raised money for a post graduation senior trip - to New York City. That is mostly what they talked about.

Geez, I wanted to go!

How fun it would have been to follow these kids from Point Hope around the Big Apple with my camera in hand!

Senior playing chess.

Going to New York with the graduated seniors was out of the question for me, but this is Michelle and as she was about to graduate, go on the trip, and loves photography, she was designated to be the official Point Hope Class of 2011 New York City Photographer.

Al and Mike had acquired a nice Canon 7D for the class, so she and I went walking about Point Hope so that I could give her some pointers on using the camera.

She caught on fast and she had a pretty decent eye for a picture.

I hope I get a chance to see the pictures that she took.

As I walked with Michelle, this girl came sliding by on a sled with a dog behind.

I shot many pictures of Challenge Life and have not yet taken the time to go through them. I did quickly pull this frame out, though: Challenge Life, Al Sokaitis in the school gym leading young children in a round of game playing.

This is Rex Rock, Sr., whose crew I followed whaling in 1991. Rex is also President of ASRC - the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation.

Children at play on a storage shed.

We learned that the crew of Isaac Killigvuk had struck a bowhead and were about to land it. Rex's wife, Ramona found a parka for me to wear. Mike and Al had never been to whale camp before, but now they had their chance. 

Off we went - the first stop would be the Rock whaling camp.

more to come


And this from yesterday in Wasilla:

Yesterday, as Margie and I passed by Wasilla Lake, we saw this dog in the next car, looking at us.

Inside the Metro with Carmen, study #6722: With Palmer Musician Dusty Bannon, wife Michelle and other family members and friend.

Dusty grew up on a Delta Junction homestead. When time and opportunity allows, I hope to catch him in action and to tell more of his story.

Also, let it be known that I have learned the identity of the person who, right after I returned home from this trip, bought me the coffee, pastry, paid the tip with 25 cents left over for me.

It was the Alaska Pony Girl. Thank you, Alaska Pony Girl! I think I owe you quite a few coffees now.

You can find her old blog here:


And her new blog here:



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Reader Comments (1)

I love how Rex Sr., a multi-million dollar Native corporation CEO (enemy of poor defeated Republican Candidate for the U.S. Senate Joe Miller (now a Tea Party boat host)) is in his usual attire just fixin his harpoon that pretty sunny day.

Some threat to Alaska and America huh? Joe, find that still spine Sarah's always bragging about.

June 1, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMostly Alaskan

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