The Wilds of Alaska

Back when I was working on the Morton slides from 1975, I sorted over 350 he took on a trip to Alaska. This was the most daunting and stressful sets of slides I have yet to organize — it appeared that they were thrown into the air and then put back into the boxes however they were picked up. I had all those slides spread out on a big light table for over a week, and there are still quite a few 1975 Alaska “orphans.”

There were some nice scenic shots of Denali and glaciers, but mostly what I remember are endless miles of pipeline (related to Williams Brothers operations, led by Morton’s good friend John Williams, pictured below).

Recently, I came to a batch slides from October 1986 and July 1987 labeled Alaska, and I immediately got a headache. Memories of the pipeline made me think of quitting. It didn’t help when I tried to determine if Morton had photographed caribou or reindeer (for those of you who don’t know, they are the same thing).

Luckily, most of this batch has been better organized and labeled. They appear to be pictures from a trip Hugh took with wildlife artist Richard Evans Younger (top photo), the subject of a series of Morton films. We’re not certain who the cameraman is (see picture below), any ideas? There are film reels from the trip downstairs in storage, still to be cataloged; some of these are labeled “McNeil River Bears” and “Wildlife Artist: Younger Alaska.”

I think Morton must have gotten a bit spoiled by his ability to cuddle and wrestle the bears at Grandfather Mountain. I don’t think the bears in the wilds of Alaska are going to react the same as Mildred, Jane, or Punkin. But this didn’t seem to stop him from getting some amazing pictures of grizzlies at McNeil Falls.

McNeil River State Game Refuge and Sanctuary becomes quite populated in July and August–with bears, not tourists. Every year these bears migrate to the falls to stuff themselves with dog salmon. There are no roads to the sanctuary and visitors must apply months in advance for a chance in the lottery. Only about 250 people get to see this spectacle each year, with a limit of ten at a time. According to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, up to 72 bears have been seen here at one time. I count 14 in the picture below!

Morton was a well-traveled man. I’ve shared with you the splendors of Hawaii and Alaska. Maybe before my assistanship is finished I’ll show you Arizona, California, or Florida. Or perhaps China, Japan, the Holy Land, New Zealand and Australia, Italy, or Austria? Let me know where you would like to travel next. Cozumel is beautiful this time of year.

7 thoughts on “The Wilds of Alaska

  1. I think the fact that Hugh Morton was a world class still photographer often overshadows his great abilities as a photographer/producer of motion pictures. As I recall, Hugh did a series of wildlife films with Richard Evans Younger, and several of them were award winners, including, “The Black Bear,” “The Cougar,” and “Shore Birds.” And, down the road when you start screening his films, I’ll bet you will find the name of the (unidentified) photographer in the film credits.

    How about a Morton photo trip to Italy? I’ve had the pleasure of visiting there a couple of times, and I can just imagine some of the views that Hugh no doubt captured on film.

  2. You are so right, Jack. I never thought about checking the film credits, but I bet his name is there. Thanks for the tip.

  3. I would almost swear that the photographer you asked asked about is Robert Rector who lived in Atlanta at that time. I think his company was named Phoenix something, but, please, don’t trust that unless you can verify it independently.Hugh went to Alaska every time he got the chance after his first trip to Prudo (sp?) Bay with John Williams. (No surprise he wanted to photograph such beautiful scenery. But, being Hugh, he had to have a reason. He could never just go and do something for fun.) His trip to Alaska was to take photographs for the Williams Co. annual report which he did most faithfully. But  John Williams let him have the helicopter for a day and he was like a kid in a candy shop. He picked up a set of antlers which he spotted from the ‘copter and carried them around with him (You may haver noticed them, Elizbeth.) for “foreground”. He told me he waited for the sun to get a little higher for one picture and it went sideways and started back down. (Doesn’t do that at Grandfather Mountain.) He sent all the pictures of the pipeline to John after they were processed and included some of the “pretty” ones of the scenery and animals, etc. simply to let him see them. The “pretty” pictures were the only ones they used in the report.His trip to McNeil Falls was one of the great adventures of his life. He applied and waited to see if he might “win” a chance to go through the Alaska lottery, but when he didn’t he called Sen. Sanford and asked him to use his influence to help him gain admission to the Falls, which Terry very graciously did.  So he got to slog out to the viewing point in hip boots with the real lottery winners and a guard with a rifle. He slipped on the way out (He held his cameras over his head and they didn’t get wet or muddy, but everything else did.) and spent the rest of the day in wet, muddy clothes. But he loved it. He was never afraid of anything – he really wasn’t – and reported that a grizzly came within a few yards of him once. After the shooting (not the same day) he wanted to fill out his story-line with an interview with the then governor of Alaska. He talked his way into getting a 10 min. interview. (The Governor’s name began with a “K”, I think. Please look it up.) When Hugh went into his office he found out almost immediately that the Govertnor had grown up in Kinston, NC and gone to the UNC and UNC Law School. Very few students at UNC Law School specialize in Maritime Law, but he had. So he was the lawyer the USSNC Battleship Commission hired to represent them when the ship hit the “Ark” (floating restaurant) while she was being berthed on the Cape Fear River. Gov. K. was a Democrat, and he also told Hugh Terry Sanford was the first person he had ever voted for. Hugh said the Governor’s secretary kept coming in telling the Governor that people were waiting, but he didn’t pay any attention to him and they had a great visit.

  4. Hugh was a combat newsreel cameraman in the Pacific Theater during WW II and his General, “Dusty” Dalton, put him in for the Bronze Star because he was always at the front and consistently put himself in harm’s way to get the footage he wanted, which also got him the Purple Heart. I look forward to your comments about his movie film, Elizabeth.
    My favorite of his movies was “The Hawk and John McNeily” which was about a hangglider pilot teaching a red-tailed hawk to fly with him. It was entered in international competition by CINE and won a first place in an Italian film festival the year it came out. The category had something to do with “Household Entertainment”. Woody Durham was the narrator.

  5. Two more very interesting posts, Julia. Have you ever thought about writing a book? I wish you would consider it.

    By the way, I think the Alaskan Governor and Kinston attorney was Steve Cowper. (“Making A Difference…” page 308).

  6. WOW, Julia! I have definitely seen those antlers in many of the Alaska photos. Thank you so much for the information. The only hint I had was that the photographer’s name might be Bob. That seems to match what you had to say. One of my favorite parts at this job is learning all the stories that go with these images. A picture really is worth a thousand words.

  7. Yes, the photographer was Robert Rector. He edited all of Daddy’s movies, and for many years he stored that van-load of movie footage ya’ll have down there. If you ever find the index to that footage, Bob and his wife Marsha were the ones who catalouged it.

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