Beyond the Wonder

An Ecologist’s View of Wild Alaska

The grizzly paused in knee-deep water, staring straight at the man behind the camera. Abruptly he bolted, racing full tilt toward Thomas Bancroft, his eyes glued to the photographer’s face. The bear kept coming, closer and closer, as Bancroft snapped pictures and frantically debated what to do. Suddenly a sockeye darted out of the water, and just as quickly, the powerful animal veered away to chase the fish.

A biologist and scientific policy advisor, Bancroft planned his weeklong trip to the Katmai National Park and Preserve intending to photograph bears, but he ended up finding a great deal more. Having spent much of his professional career in Washington, DC, working to protect places like the Alaska wilderness and now struggling with a deep personal loss, when he finally walked among its salmon, bears, and caribou, emotions overwhelmed him.

Wild things are essential to human wellbeing. Whether standing in a crystal-clear river feeling dozens of sockeye salmon swim around his legs, watching gulls lurk around a feeding bear, meeting a thrush by a Lake Clark cabin, pondering conservationist Dick Proenneke’s determination, flying over spectacular volcanoes, mountains, and glaciers, or sitting beside a pilot who has lived his entire life in wild Alaska, Bancroft felt a profound awe and respect for Alaska’s wild creatures and landscape. He also found himself contemplating his own life choices, family relationships, and career. More than just a biological perspective on Alaska’s wonders, a discussion of potential environmental impacts from human actions, a personal travel account, or a collection of dynamic photographs, Beyond the Wonder is a beautiful meditation on nature—one that highlights the importance of untamed places and the role they play in crafting a better world.

~230 pages, 100 photographs, in hardback ($40.00) and paperback ($24.95).


We flew south from Lake Clark to Katmai National Park. On the first day, we hiked from Mirror Lake down along Funnel Creek to look for bears. This is a set of photographs from that day.

  • We take off from Port Alsworth in the early morning and head to Funnel Creek in Katmai National Park.
  • Crossing the Tundra from Mirror Lake to Funnel Creek.
  • The brown bear heads across the tundra for a morning nap.
  • A big male brown bear pauses in his search for a sockeye to chase.
  • The young male brown bear stares across Funnel Creek right at us.
  • Glaucous-winged Gulls followed the bears, hoping to grab any scraps.
  • Roe falls from the sockeye as the bear carries it toward shore.
  • Roe falls from the salmon as the bear grips its back and moves toward shore to eat the fish.
  • Fish blood and roe stain the mouth of this bear as it looks toward the creek.
  • The blood-stained mouth.
  • Contemplating another hunt.
  • Perhaps salmon will swim near.
  • Harlequin Ducks.
  • Two Harlequin ducks fly along Funnel Creek.
  • Sockeye circle just below the falls, resting before the leap.
  • Which one of the many to chase?
  • Maybe that one is the best one for lunch?
  • The brown bear must match each turn and twist of the darting fish.
  • Focusing on its quarry, the brown bear moved in for the kill.
  • The brown bear keeps its eyes glued to the dashing salmon.
  • Full speed through knee-deep water.
  • The brown bear makes one last dash.
  • No, I will not share my lunch with you.
  • A big male grizzly moves into Funnel Creek to search for salmon.
  • The male grizzly gazes across the creek.
  • The stare was intense; maybe it had picked a victim.
  • The bear looked backward like it wasn't happy with being watched.
  • An afternoon snack.
  • Finally, are you leaving so I can fish in peace?
  • We are starting back toward the planes.
  • We were crossing the tundra by Mirror Lake.

About the Author

Recipient of the 2020 Mountaineers Service Award, Thomas Bancroft holds a Ph.D. in Biology and an M.A. in Zoology, both from the University of South Florida. His research focused on birds and their conservation. He served in leadership roles for several conservation organizations, where he championed the use of scientific information in U.S. public lands policy and stewardship decisions and was often interviewed for TV, radio, and print media. He is a frequent speaker and writes regularly for the Mountaineers, Washington Ornithological Society, Audubon chapters, and the Methow Naturalists. His photographs have appeared in numerous books and publications, including Audubon, Birding, American Birds, and Mountaineer Magazine, as well as at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum.


We stayed at Port Alsworth in Lake Clark National Park. That park is the size of Connecticut and Rhode Island combined and contains extensive mountains and beautiful lakes.

  • Crossing Cook Inlet toward the Katmai Peninsula and Lake Clark National Park.
  • The Alaska and Aleutian Moutain ranges in Lake Clark National Park are rugged.
  • Mt. Redoubt is one of the active volcanos in Alaska.
  • Lake Clark lies on a geologic fault.
  • Port Alsworth.
  • Glaciers came out of snowfields; some, like this one, were huge.
  • A snow field at the mountain top feeds a glacier.
  • Large snow fields in Lake Clark National Park are the source of glaciers.
  • The terminal moraine at the base of Shamrock Glacier. This moraine formed during the Little Ice Age.
  • Wide river bottoms were carved by Pleistocene glaciers and now form fertile flood planes.
  • We stopped for lunch at Portage Lake, high in the Mountains of Lake Clark National Park.
  • The edge of Lake Clark and the boreal forest of the lowlands.
  • The rolling hills near Twin Lakes in Lake Clark National Park.
  • Fireweed blooming in the tundra near Twin Lakes.
  • Extensive wetlands formed in the valleys, home to moose, beaver, ducks, and swans.
  • Upper and Lower Twin Lakes, Lake Clark National Park.
  • Dick Proenneke's cabin on Upper Twin Lake, Lake Clark National Park.
  • A moose head and Upper Twin Lake. Dick Proenneke's cabin looked across this peninsula.
  • We are headed back toward Lake Clark from Dick Proenneke's cabin.
  • We were passing Iliamna Volcano on our flight back to Anchorage. A week well spent in the wilderness of the Katmai Peninsula.

Recognition and Reviews

“I have been lucky enough to spend a great deal of time in the outdoors with all its drama, beauty and splendor. And on my many walks with Tom Bancroft he’s taught to see the world through a gifted naturalist’s lens, seeing landscapes, details and powerful connections. With this book you can get a glimpse of Alaska from the grand to the granular. His terrific camera work and pithy prose brings that world alive for all.”— Tom Martin, Former CEO and President, The American Forest Foundation

“Thomas Bancroft is a master teacher. Through the effective use of vignettes, he demonstrates his deep knowledge of natural history, ornithology, geology, and interdependence of a natural ecosystem’s elements, while simultaneously working through significant personal loss.”—William Meadows, former President, The Wilderness Society

“If you have the good fortune to be in the field with Thomas Bancroft, you will be immersed in wonders detailed by his keen awareness of creatures and their relations in all directions. This book is the next best thing.”— Kim Stafford, Lewis and Clark College Emeritus Professor, former Oregon State poet laureate, and author, As the Sky Begins to Change

“Thomas’ travel through Alaska, reflecting on the timeline of his life, as well as that of Alaska’s social and natural history, reminds us of the importance of connection with the natural wonders in our lives. His words and photographs bring the majesty of Alaska’s glaciers, tundra, bears, and salmon into our living rooms and inspire us to seek our own inspiration in the natural world.”—Danielle Graham, The Mountaineers community leader

“I loved it. Full stop. Great pictures. Full stop.” — Andrew Pedersen, Mountaineers Leader

A brown bear tries to catch a sockeye when the fish makes its attempt to climb Brooks Falls, Katmai National Park.

A brown bear tries to catch a sockeye when the fish attempts to climb Brooks Falls, Katmai National Park.

#nature #wildlifephotography #alaskabear #alaskanwildlife #alaskaphotography #alaskawilderness #alaskaadventure #beyondthewonder #katmainps #grizzly #sockeye #salmon #lakeclarknationalpark #glaciers #littleiceage #pleistocene #volcanos #dickpronneke

close

Enjoy this Essay? Please subscribe to receive new ones:)

Get new posts by email:
Youtube
Youtube
Instagram