JUNEAU -- Alaska's ports of call have much to offer visitors, even
those who do not come in cruise ships.
Although many of the communities in question -- from Ketchikan,
"Alaska's First City" in the south, to the Eskimo village of Nome,
far to the north -- are not ordinarily suitable for long stays,
independent travelers will find that each has its own special
allure for one- to three-night stopovers.
Certainly, they have more to offer than can be absorbed in the
short time -- often as little as four hours -- that is afforded
Here is a brief rundown of what is to be found in each of the
coastal communities of Alaska.Anchorage is Alaska's only international-style, cosmopolitan
center but is first and foremost Alaskan.
Its restaurants and accommodations facilities are the equal of
any to be found in most places in the world.
And its skyline, punctuated by tall towers housing major
commercial enterprises, including many Fortune 500 companies,
leaves no doubt in anybody's mind that this is a modern and
But Anchorage has a less businesslike side, a fun side.
Consider, for example, those two peculiarly Alaskan annual events,
the Fur Rendezvous and the Iditarod Sled Dog Race, which starts
from downtown. Each of these winter happenings provides visitors
and locals alike an opportunity to let their hair down.
Not far from the heart of this large city, Alaskan wildlife
abounds in a wilderness setting -- everything from Dall sheep to
spawning salmon, from beavers to moose and brown bear.Valdez is, like Anchorage, a city influenced by the oil
Set in front of high, snow- covered mountains, it, too, has a
healthy dollop of scenic charm, albeit somewhat diluted by the
presence of the many huge tanks and heavy machines that it needs in
its role as the southern terminal of the Alaska Pipeline.Ketchikan is one of the most picturesque of the Inside Passage
ports and is the home of more totem poles than any other
Its Saxman Indian Village, Totem Bight Park and Totem Heritage
Center are must sees for visitors. The so-called Totem Pole Capital
of the World is a center of the Haida, Tlingit and Tsimshian Indian
Downtown is Creek Street, which is said to be Alaska's most
photographed street. It was once Ketchikan's bordello district, and
though the ladies of the night are long gone, the highly photogenic
street, on pilings above the creek, has been preserved.
It now boasts restaurants, museums and novelty boutiques -- some
of them in the wooden structures in which a less savory trade used
to be practiced.
With the decline in the salmon fishing and canning industries,
tourism has become Ketchikan's primary source of income.Juneau is often said to be the prettiest state capital in the
U.S. and the only one that cannot be reached by road. Its road
system -- about 150 miles -- peters out in every direction in rain
forests or against the face of glaciers.
Visitors to Juneau must come in by air, or by Alaska Marine
Highway ferry, by private boat or by cruise ship -- which will cost
$5 extra in 2000 as a result of a recent revenue-raising vote of
Mendenhall Glacier, a 15- minute bus or cab ride from downtown,
is more approachable than most glaciers; it is possible to walk
virtually up to its face.
Juneau was named after Joe Juneau, who, with his partner,
Richard Harris, found gold in a nearby creek in 1880.
In the heart of town, the Mount Roberts Tramway, owned by the
Tlingit-Indian corporation Goldbelt, has become a big hit with
visitors. Its 60-passenger cars depart the lower station not 50
yards from the cruise ship pier to a point 2,000 feet above the
city where the views are impressive.Skagway is the place to visit if you ever heard of the Klondike
Gold Rush of 1898. It is where the stampede of '98 really
It is the nearest point of entry to the Yukon and the Klondike
riches. In a very real sense, it owes its existence to the
discovery of gold nearly 400 miles to the north, in another
Skagway is the terminal of the narrow-gauge White Pass &
Yukon Railroad, which takes passengers into Canada along a route
followed by thousands of prospectors.
Reminders of the colorful gold rush-era characters who populated
the town -- both the bad (gangster and conman Jefferson Randolph
"Soapy" Smith, for instance) and the good (Millie Walsh, the Angel
of the White Pass, who served hot soup and coffee to freezing
prospectors on the trail) are preserved in the historic buildings,
museums and parks.Haines is Skagway's neighbor, a short water taxi ride across on
the other side of the Lynn Canal. It was one of the lesser routes
into the Klondike during the late 1890s and early 1900s and is one
of the prime eagle-viewing spots in all of Alaska.
Unfortunately, its residents may, like their Juneau
counterparts, begin socking the visitor in the pocketbook. Recently
they approved an "advisory" by means of which they signaled local
authorities that they wished them to devise ways of raising money
through tourism taxes.Sitka, although included on the Inside Passage itineraries of
most cruise lines, is not, literally, on the Inside Passage.
Rather, it sits on the western -- the outside -- coast of Baranof
Sitka is a striking reminder of the days of Russian dominance of
what was then the territory of Alaska. Originally known as New
Archangel, it was where the Russians established a fortress 200
years ago and to this day features the New Archangel Dancers, a
troupe that performs almost daily throughout the summer months.
St. Michael's Cathedral, with its onion-shaped domes, is the
seat of the Russian Orthodox Church in Alaska.
The Tlingit Indians regularly perform their traditional songs
and dances in the Sheet'ka Kwaan Naa Kahidi community house.
Sitka is also the site of the Alaska Raptor Rehabilitation
Center, where injured birds of prey (especially eagles) are healed
and returned to wild.
The Raptor Center is included in the shore excursions brochure
of virtually every cruise ship and is easily visited by independent
travelers as well.Wrangell provides evidence of the domination of Alaska by the
Russians, the British, the Tlingit Indians, who were the original
settlers, and, finally, by the U.S.
The village of fewer than 3,000 inhabitants is a fisherman's
dream spot, sitting at the mouth of the Stikine River. The river is
filled with salmon, halibut, rainbow trout and Dolly Varden, as
well as crab and shrimp.
Chief Shakes Island -- named not for one chief but for a number
of tribal leaders each called Shakes -- and KikSadi Totem Park are
centers for the preservation of the Indians' ancient culture.Nome is located on Norton Sound, just south of the Arctic
Circle. The earliest -- and still the majority -- inhabitants are
the Inupiat Eskimos, whose arts and crafts are among the reasons to
The Iditarod Sled Dog race commemorates the heroic relay of
vials of serum from elsewhere in Alaska to Nome during an outbreak
of diphtheria in 1925 -- an effort that virtually prevented the
people of the village from being wiped out.Seward is the home of two relatively new attractions -- the
Alaska SeaLife Center, a $60 million marine environment research,
rehabilitation and public education facility, and the Chugach
Heritage Center, which offers an insight into the lives and
cultures of the Alutiiq, Eyak, Athabaskan and Tlingit native
Alaskans, collectively known as the Chugach People.
With these two facilities, Seward has more reason to be thought
of as a destination in its own right rather than simply as the port
Seward was named for William Seward, who was U.S. secretary of
state under two presidents, Abraham Lincoln and his successor,
Andrew Johnson. It was Seward who spearheaded the purchase of
Alaska from the cash-strapped Russians in 1867.Petersburg is reminiscent of parts of Norway, even though that
country never owned or ruled any of Alaska.
The community was settled by Norsemen led by Peter Buschmann
(hence, Petersburg), who were attracted by its rich fishing waters
and its fjord setting that reminded them of home.
The Norwegian influence is evident in the architecture and,
sometimes, in the language of the inhabitants. A mid-May festival
celebrates Norway's independence from Sweden in 1814 and some
Petersburgers revert to the Norwegian language during that
period.Cordova is another community, in the manner of Juneau, that
cannot be reached by road from the outside world. It is
spectacularly located on Orca Inlet on the eastern side of Prince
William Sound, in the shadow of Mount Eccles.
It is the gateway to one of the nation's great bird-watching
areas -- the Copper River Delta, to which hundreds of thousands of
shore birds and waders are drawn each spring and fall.