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The Bush compromises much of Alaska and is what visitors imagine when they think about Alaska. Still, most visitors to Alaska -- and quite a few permanent residents -- never go to the real "Bush," which is generally considered to be the Arctic, the Aleutians, or the vast wetlands of Western Alaska. There is limited human activity in much of these areas; once, several years ago, there was a million-acre "forest" fire in the Brooks Range, and it never came within 100 miles of any human habitation. Until you fly over the Bush or attempt to cross it on the ground, you have absolutely no idea how big -- and how generally "empty" -- it is. Of course, it's only "empty" of humans. It's full of the "wilderness" and all that entails.

To many, the Bush is the real Alaska, the place where people continue to live off the land as they have for millennia, the place where, if you are not careful, nature can -- and will -- kill you. But if the landscape and wildlife are unforgiving, the few people who live in the Bush more than make up for it. The rare visitors who make the effort to get off the beaten path are treated as welcomed -- sometimes honored -- guests. Most of the people who survive life in the Bush do so by banding together, and newcomers are nearly always invited to share in meals and community events.

The Natives' physical environment is extreme in every respect -- the weather, the land, even the geography. There's a special feeling to walking along or upon the Arctic Ocean, the virtual edge of the Earth. The quantity and accessibility of wildlife are extreme, too, as are the solitude and the uniqueness of what you can do. Unfortunately, the prices also are extreme. Getting to a Bush hub from Anchorage costs more than getting to Anchorage from Seattle; it's usually cheaper to get to Europe from Anchorage than to the Aleutians. And once you're at the rural hub, you're not done; getting into the outdoors can cost as much as getting there in the first place. Many travelers can't afford a Bush sojourn, instead satisfying their curiosity about the state's unpopulated areas on Alaska's rural highways. Most who can afford the trip usually make the most of their time and money with brief prearranged tours or trips directly to wilderness lodges. Only a few explorers head for the Bush unguided, although there are some good places to go that way -- Nome, Barrow, Kodiak, and Unalaska among them.