In each of the past several summers, there have been a half dozen or so stops by cruise ships for which Fort Abercrombie State Historical Park is on the land tour itinerary. The response by the Park and by the Military History Museum to this particular population is a bit different from that given to other groups. Busloads arrive at one-hour intervals, grinding up to the Point in low gear. There's frantic activity to control traffic on Miller Point, and turning the buses around in the minute parking area becomes an impressive operation.
The passengers step out tentatively, seeming to wonder just where they are. They tend to form into clusters, and the clusters fan out, some drawn by the view, the wildflowers,the birds; others head directly for Ready Ammunition Bunker and Military History Museum. Sometimes they simply look bewildered. If the trip out from Anchorage has been a rough one, they're glad to be anywhere that isn't moving. These are the groups that are recognizable by behind-the-ear scopalomine anti-seasickness patches and their bracelets guaranteed to ward off "motion discomfort."
The series of stops in Kodiak means that about half an hour, sometimes as little as 20 minutes can be spent at Miller Point, so the visits are frenetic. I realize, too, that we have to put ourselves in the framework of a sequence of other stops that may extend from the touchtank at the Fisheries Research Center to an Alutiiq Dancers performance to a swing by Kodiak's golf course.
Interesting differences show up between the inbound and outbound cruise passengers. The outbounders may be on their first stop after Anchorage. They're interested in everything, though they may be lacking a bit in "context." "What is this famous point of land we're standing on?" "Do you see polar bears often?" "Are there bathrooms in the bunker?" The inbound passengers often feel they have seen it all, and Kodiak may be their last stop before they arrive in Anchorage. Some become instant experts based on a series of overnight stays and day-long landfalls. They're the ones that ask the partially-informed questions: "When do the belugas come through here?" "What year did the Russians build these bunkers?" They'd just as soon be shown the highlights, get on the bus and be on their way. Twenty minutes is plenty.
Both groups want to know where the Kodiak bears are.
I recently found myself in much the same position as some of our more bewildered ship visitors, and I think a case can be made for cutting them some slack. Over the past fall season I was teaching college biology courses on the Semester at Sea program, one of the groups that recently stopped at Kodiak during their summer voyage. The students and I frequently had that experience of being transported from a ship that's become our home to some place a tour operator has designated worth seeing. And I've been one of those passengers stepping, tentative and disoriented, off one of those same buses for brief glimpses of some intriguing places. Then we'd usually move with the group through a series of stops that left us all exhausted at the end of the day. The most profound question I can remember coming up with back then is "Where do we eat lunch?"
I also know, even without as much background as I should have about what I was experiencing, how the feelings and images associated with certain places still remain with me. I'm hoping that Miller Point, with its coastal battery and grand view, may be dramatic enough to lodge in the minds of our cruise ship passengers after even these brief exposures.
David A. Evans, Volunteer Naturalist, Fort Abercrombie State Historical Park.