The farthest north national park in the United States, Gates of the Arctic NP is entirely north of the Arctic Circle. GOTA was created as part of the landmark 1980 ANILCA legislation, the best lame duck law ever passed, h/t Jimmy Carter. Because of its remoteness, only 11,177 people visited it last year, out of over 84 million NP visitors overall.
Joe Wilkins is eminently qualified to act as our guide: between 2005 and 2017 he made more than fifty trips traversing the peaks, valleys and rivers of one of the last great wildernesses on Earth. Gary Youngblood, former Chief Ranger of the park, relates in the introduction that he hired Joe to be a volunteer who worked with staff one year, and the next year, having realized the experience he brought to the table, they had Joe vetting the paid staff for the proper "skill and temperament to lead backcountry patrols."
If you love wild places, you'll love this tribute to Gates of the Arctic. Divided into six chapters covering topics from rivers and airports to the people who live and work in the Arctic, there is lush photography throughout, and Wilkins peppers the text with profiles of fascinating people from all over the world whose lives intersect in the park. His connection with the land is clearly from the heart, and I was reminded of Dick Proenneke's book, One Man's Wilderness, a timeless classic of the genre.
There are few quibbles to be had with the book. Better maps would have been nice, to more accurately display the varied topography of the park. Also, the map of Alaska over the continental US looks out of scale; Alaska should be significantly larger compared to the lower 48. Finally, more mountains! Wilkins alludes to the mountaineering potential of the park in the chapter Backpacking into the Arrigetch, but there are relatively few tantalizing pictures of the big peaks of an area that contains exceptionally and unusually mouth-watering mountains. These are just quibbles, however, and in the end Gates of the Arctic is a love letter to Alaska, and those are always the best kind.