State's ports of call are attractions in their own right

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 cruise passengers.

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 forward-looking city.

    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 industry.
  • 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 community.
  • 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 cultures.

    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 the residents.

    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 began.
  • 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 country.

    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 Island.
  • 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 visit Nome.
  • 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 for Anchorage.

    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.

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