I first visited Bethel in 1973 while working for the Calista Native Corporation inventorying waterfowl in the region. I stepped off the bush plane and instantly fell in love with the small Native community. In fact, I ended up living there for 15 years, and started to dabble in dog mushing - something I never knew would lead to a full-time career.
What I love about Bethel is that you can actually see the culture in action. It's real life in Alaska with real Alaskans. You will see people working the nets and drying fish. It's a warm and friendly culture.
1.) Yup'iit Piciryarait Cultural Center and Museum
Bethel is rich in Yup'ik culture and the museum (420 Chief Eddie Hoffman Hwy, 907-543-1819) is a great way to learn about it, especially Yup'ik heritage and traditions. The museum is beautifully designed. To help preserve Yup'ik culture, it incorporates Yup'ik themes in the architecture - such as the ellanguatt, a double circle motif that represents the cosmos and earth. The museum houses a beautiful collection of Yup'ik traditional dress, instruments and artwork and received an Honor Award of Excellence in Architecture from the Alaska Chapter of the American Institute of Architects.
2.) Moravian Book Store
The Moravian Book Store (301 Third Ave., 907-543-2474) is the only bookstore in a 200-mile radius of Bethel, so we were always thankful that it existed. It also happens to house an amazing collection of books about Western Alaska and a beautiful Alaska Native arts and crafts display. It's definitely a hidden gem.
3.) Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge
The Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge offers an unparalleled landscape and wildlife viewing opportunities. The coastal portions of the refuge support large concentrations of waterfowl and shorebird; inland river corridors provide habitat for moose and black bears; and the Kilbuck Mountains are home to brown bear, caribou and occasionally wolves. The Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center (807 Chief Eddie Hoffman Rd., 907-543-3151) is a great place to start a trip and offers a full range of refuge- and tundra-related wildlife books, resources and displays.
4.) Kuskokwim 300
The Kuskokwim 300, or K300, is one of my favorite races, simply because of the amazing warmth, hospitality and energy of the community volunteers. I'm not alone in that thinking, as many of the world's elite mushers consider the K300 to be the greatest sled-dog race in the world.