State offers tips for driving its often-wild roads

ANCHORAGE -- An increasingly popular vacation medium in Alaska in recent years has been automobiles and recreational vehicles.

Road traffic into and within the 49th state has grown slowly but perceptibly through the decade of the 1990s, and the Bureau of Land Management and the Alaska Public Lands Information Center have seen fit to issue a series of recommendations for visitors who are thinking of taking a driving trip in the state.

Driving in Alaska is not for everybody. There are no superhighways and few particularly wide roads, and many roads are not paved.

Smart drivers long ago realized that the state offered some hazards not encountered in many other places.

The weather, because of its volatility, is always a major factor -- more so than in most other states. In some parts of Alaska, up around the Arctic Circle, for instance, and in the interior at certain times of the year, days that start out sunny and fine can quickly turn snowy. In the southeast, on the coastal strip along the Inside Passage, rain and fog represent the major problems.

Before driving any significant distance in Alaska -- especially in the shoulder or winter seasons -- drivers should be aware of what may lie around the next bend and take steps to protect themselves.

Following are a few of the state agencies' recommendations:

  • Watch out for road maintenance work. Many roads are closed by snow in the winter, and repair work must be done in the summer, during the peak tourism season.
  • Watch out for wildlife in the traffic lanes. Moose, caribou, Dall sheep and bears have been known to stroll the highways.
  • Carry not one but two spare tires.
  • Gasoline stations are not plentiful in much of the state, so carry an extra can of fuel -- well wrapped and in a safe place, not simply rattling around in the trunk.
  • Carry plenty of emergency flares.
  • Carry a first-aid kit, along with drinking water, emergency food supplies and sleeping bags.
  • Check road conditions before leaving. There are local services throughout the state; in Anchorage, the telephone number is (907) 273-6037.
  • Advise somebody of your travel plans, your route and your estimated time of arrival.
  • Those who drive themselves enjoy enormous rewards, being able to pull over at almost any time to view the landscape. But automobile and RV visitors should never forget that there are long stretches of roadway with soft shoulders and steep grades, with barely room for two vehicles to pass.

    Blowing clouds of dust in summer, slippery roads when it rains, washed out bridges, snow -- these are the kinds of conditions that prevail from time to time in Alaska.

    For advice on driving in Alaska, write to the Bureau of Land Management at 1150 University Ave., Fairbanks 99709-3899; phone: (907) 474-2200; or to the Alaska Public Lands Information Center, 250 Cushman St., Suite 1A, Fairbanks 99701; phone (907) 456-0527.

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