That big off-white thing sticking out of that bedrock is a tusk from a Wooly Mammoth. Yeah, those Wooly Mammoths from pre-historic days. A group of students from the University of Virginia were on a research trip to Alaska and they saw this while traveling down the Koyukuk River:
“We’re on this trip to basically to study the arctic, the idea of the arctic as a sanctuary,” said Epstein. “We did a river float trip, as part of what we’re doing and the mammoth tusk was pointed out to us. It’s amazing! During the time of the last glaciation and timing of the Bering Land Bridge, or what we call the mammoth steppe, that area was populated by lots of grazing animals, the mammoth being one of them. It’s not surprising that you’ll see this, but it’s also amazing to see in person.”
The metaphor that can be taken from this photo is not lost on me. This is especially true with water levels across several major rivers and lakes in North America at historic lows, exposing some amazing and sometimes grizzly finds – including two long dead bodies in Nevada’s Lake Mead.
The bus has long attracted adventurers to an area without cellphone service and marked by unpredictable weather and at-times swollen rivers. Some have had to be rescued or have died. Christopher McCandless, the subject of the book and movie, died there in 1992.
The rescue earlier this year of five Italian tourists and death last year of a woman from Belarus intensified calls from local officials for the bus, about 25 miles from the Parks Highway, to be removed.
The Alaska Army National Guard moved the bus as part of a training mission “at no cost to the public or additional cost to the state,” Feige said.
The Alaska National Guard, in a release, said the bus was removed using a heavy-lift helicopter. The crew ensured the safety of a suitcase with sentimental value to the McCandless family, the release states. It doesn’t describe that item further.
From the time I first read about Chris McCandless (aka Alexander Supertramp) [PDF] and his fateful adventure into the Alaskan wilderness, I have always found the story both compelling and tragic. Maybe it was because he was almost my exact age (born only two months after me), or maybe I was somewhat jealous of the courage he had to just pick up after college and take off on an excursion to explore the country and to find his calling. I was drawn to the sense of adventure and exploration that came with the story. The tragedy, of course, was that his fate was avoidable had he not been as dismissive of the dangers of ‘living off the land’ and the unforgiving Alaskan wilderness.
There has been ample criticism of his story for just this reason – what is it about this story that compels us to “celebrate” the stupidity of a person who heads out into the Alaskan wilderness with not much more than a backpack? I don’t know the answer to that question.
As was noted in the article about the removal of the bus, it was a move that seems like it had to be done. Over the years, the “Magic Bus” had attracted tourists from all over the world, those in search of replicating his journey and others who were just drawn to make a pilgrimage to see the bus. But much like Chris himself, several of those people did not appreciate the danger of that part of the country, and that resulted in the need for Alaskan authorities to rescue people, or tragically, recover people who had met the same fate as Chris.
Hopefully, the fine folks in Alaska will find a spot for the “Magic Bus” in a museum, or in a part of the state that is far easier for people to visit than where it previously was.
UPDATE Nice write up by Eva Holland at Outside Magazine providing more detail and context about people visiting the “Magic Bus” over the years and the danger that came with those visits. via @nextdraft.