MEANS OF ACCESS TO ALASKA
In estimating the recreational use which will be made of Alaska's roads it is unwise to assume that postwar travel routes and methods will be similar to those in effect prior to hostilities. Military developments will modify peacetime means and habits of travel; the extent of the modifications can not be foretold but must be discovered by experience. For purposes of this report it is possible only to recite physical means for reaching the Territory which were available in normal times, together with additions to these facilities which prosecution of the war has necessitated, but which may remain as factors in happier times.
AIRLINES. It has been aptly stated that although Alaska may not be ideally suited for aviation, aviation is ideally adaptable to Alaska. In this extensive but thinly populated land, with twice the area of Texas and one-tenth the population of Rhode Island, many families think little more of a weekend 700-mile flight from Fairbanks to Juneau than would the Bronx resident of his Sunday jaunt to Coney Island. So has the gap been bridged from dogsled to silver wing. Commercial airlines are an integral part of Alaska's economy.
Regular air service to Alaska is at present north along the Pacific coast from Seattle or northwest through Canada from the great Midwestern centers. Pan-American Airways maintains flights from Seattle to Fairbanks, with stops at Juneau and Whitehorse, and from Fairbanks to Nome. From Canadian Pacific planes on the Edmonton-Whitehorse run the traveler may transfer to Pan-American or reach Fairbanks by Alaska Airlines.
Alaska is criss-crossed by scheduled flights of more than a score of lines, all within its borders except for those between Fairbanks and Whitehorse. Other routes which affect highway use are those of Alaska Airlines from Anchorage to Fairbanks and to Juneau, and of Woodley Airways between Anchorage and Juneau. Centering mainly at the four largest cities, smaller companies serve settlements in all parts of Alaska. Pontoon equipment is used in the coastal area, permitting close approach to business centers. Planes used in the Interior are fitted with ski-landing-gear for winter travel.
In addition to regularly scheduled flights, much charter business is carried on by the airlines. Most activities of this nature have heretofore been utilitarian in character, serving business needs and accomplishing travel impossible or much slower by other means. It is safe to predict that when pleasure travel to Alaska is resumed, chartered plane trips will assume more and more importance. Some of the outstanding scenic spectacles, Glacier Bay and the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes, to cite specific instances, may thus be brought within the ken of thousands of tourists whose time allowance within the Territory can not be extended to include the weeks required for access by boat, even if the requisite special arrangements can be effected.
Development of military airfields in Alaska has been extensive during the war. Number, location, and character of these facilities are military data not to be generally disseminated, in the interest of public safety. Suffice it to say that they are many and excellent, and that the whole Territory is blanketed. What disposition will be made of them after the peace remains to be seen. Whether they are maintained under military operation or are transferred to local governmental or private administration, it is not unlikely that they will be available for landing and servicing of privately owned planes. It seems a generally accepted fact that planes will be used for personal transport after the war in the same manner although probably not to the same extent that automobiles have been used heretofore. No great stretch of imagination is required to envision future family vacations in Alaska as greatly facilitated and enriched by such personal air-transportation.
WATERWAYS. Before the development of commercial aviation Alaska was reached from continental United States only by sea. Steamship facilities have been maintained but have not been improved during the last fifteen years. In the light of increasing public interest in Alaska it appears that addition of faster and more modern vessels to the various fleets would be justified.
As may be expected, Southeastern Alaska, with more than a third of the population and closer to the States, enjoys better steamship service than other parts of the Territory. Steamers operated by Canadian Pacific Ry. ply between Vancouver and Skagway, calling at Prince Rupert, Ketchikan, and Juneau, and making about three round trips a month. Connecting ferries between Vancouver and Seattle complete the trip.
Three American steamship lines operate regularly between Seattle and Alaska; the Alaska Steamship Co., Alaska Transportation Co., and the Northland Transportation Co. Normally, the only one of these which goes beyond Southeastern Alaska is the Alaska Steamship Co. Scheduling weekly trips as far as Seward the year around, with increased summer sailings, it furnishes monthly transportation through the tourist season to the Alaska Peninsula, Aleutian Islands, and north to St. Michael and Nome.
The American lines all emphasize freight service more than passenger accommodations. The newest ship was built in 1929 and rated speeds average not more than 12 knots. With protracted stops at the various ports of call, for handling fish and other freight, about five days must be allowed for the thousand-mile trip from Seattle to Juneau. Ships of the Canadian line give more consideration to passenger business and their stops enroute are briefer, but with the transfer at Vancouver the elapsed time from Seattle to Juneau will hardly be decreased more than a day.
Beyond the indicated modernization of steamship services to Alaska another new project is required if apparent postwar demands are to be met. The British Columbian seaport of Prince Rupert is both a railhead and the terminus of highway connections from the East. It lies roughly midway between Vancouver and the head of the Inside Passage, not more than 100 miles from Ketchikan, most southerly of Alaskan cities and one of the four largest. Initiation of ferry service between Prince Rupert and Skagway would complement established lines and would also facilitate and increase tourist travel. Brief stops should be made at Ketchikan, Wrangell, Petersburg, Juneau, and Haines. Equipment used should be modern and fast, capable of a minimum speed of 18 knots, with adequate accommodations for passengers and a special, quick-loading deck for automobile transport.
Aside from the ocean steamship connections from the United States to Alaska, there is opportunity to see much of the Territory and of the adjacent Yukon Territory in Canada from stern-wheel steamers which ply the Yukon River in summer, following the same route used in gold-rush days. The White Pass and Yukon Ry. operates steamers from Whitehorse to Dawson, capital of the Yukon Territory, and to the Alaskan communities of Circle, Fort Yukon, Tanana, and Nenana. Circle is connected by the Steese Highway with Fairbanks, 162 miles away. Its name was acquired in the mistaken belief that the site was on the Arctic Circle, which it really misses by about 50 miles. At Fort Yukon the river actually does cross north of the Arctic Circle for a matter of 30 miles before slanting southward to Tanana, which lies at the junction of the Yukon and Tanana Rivers. Upstream on the Tanana, at the point where it is joined by the Nenana River, is the town of Nenana, where connection is made with the Alaska R. R., north to Fairbanks and south to Anchorage and the sea coast. The Alaska R. R. also operates steamers on the Yukon between Tanana and Marshall. Transfer between "upper river" and "lower river" steamers is accomplished at Tanana.
Various locations, not served by scheduled lines, may be reached by chartered launches or specially arranged trips. Demands upon his time will not permit the average tourist to indulge to any great extent in such special excursions. They will fall within the programs of those who visit the Territory for specific business or scientific purposes.
RAILROADS. The Alaska Railroad, owned by the United States and operated under the Department of the Interior, connects Pacific tidewater at Seward with Fairbanks, major city of the Interior. It is an important factor in Territorial economy. The main line passes through Anchorage and branches tap the Matanuska agricultural community and the coal fields east of the through route. A connection to Prince William Sound at Whittier, newly completed, may well assume significance in postwar travel. At Nenana transfer is made to steamers which ply the Yukon and the Tanana in summer. Mount McKinley National Park is reached only by the Alaska R. R. or by air.
The White Pass and Yukon Ry., completed in 1900, obviates previous hazards of travel between the Alaskan port of Skagway and the Canadian river town of Whitehorse. The narrow-gage line is 111 miles long, although only about 20 miles of it are in Alaska. From Skagway the railroad climbs 2,887 feet, through wild and rugged scenery, to the international boundary at White Pass. During the present war, under military operation, the White Pass and Yukon has been the scene of activities unprecedented locally since the gold-rush of 1898. Over it have traveled the thousands of soldier and civilian workers who have pushed the Alaska Highway east and west from Whitehorse, and the thousands of carloads of equipment, materials, and supplies needed for the undertaking. Its chief importance to the tourist will lie in his ability to retrace this scenic and historic route, between termini steeped in the story of the stirring past, of which evidences still abound, and stories of which are still related by men who were active participants.
The Copper River and Northwestern R. R. from Cordova to Kennicott by way of Chitina, 195 miles long, was built to provide access from tidewater to the rich Kennicott copper region. It was finished in 1911 and its operation suspended in 1938, when high grade, easily-accessible ore was exhausted, having hauled to the sea ore to the value of more than four times its construction costs. The road is no longer of particular significance in the field of recreational travel, although tracks still remain in place from Chitina to McCarthy and mail is delivered biweekly from Chitina by gasoline speeder.
The Yakutat and Southern, which handles nothing but freight over a length of 14 miles of standard-gage track, does not enter into the picture of tourist travel, and will not be discussed here.
The Alaska R. R. schedules one passenger train each week northbound, and the same southbound. The trip from Seward to Fairbanks takes two full days, with overnight stop at Curry. Additional service is rendered by attachment of passenger coaches to freight trains. Present schedules and operations reflect war conditions; freight traffic is heavy and tourist travel light. If the expected postwar expansion of tourist visitation materializes, the railroad will no doubt furnish better passenger service.
White Pass and Yukon Ry. operations have been influenced even more by the war than those of the Alaska R. R. Under peacetime conditions trains were scheduled to connect with steamer sailings from Skagway, running time from Whitehorse being about 8 hours. Wartime passenger service has been almost daily, with freight trains moving almost incessantly. Postwar activities may well lie somewhere between these limits.
HIGHWAYS. With completion of the Alaska Highway it is possible, for the first time, to reach many points in the Territory by road from the States, without recourse to steamship or railroad travel.
Motor stage lines now function commercially over the Glenn and Richardson Highways from Anchorage to Valdez and Fairbanks, and on the Steese Highway from Fairbanks to Circle and Circle Springs. The Northwest Service Command of the United States Army has operated large, cross-country type busses, for military and mail transportation, over the Alaska Highway from Dawson Creek to Whitehorse and to some extent between Whitehorse and Fairbanks.
Travel over all roads is reduced to the minimum and lengthy pleasure trips are largely eliminated, in conformity with wartime requirements. With the advent of peace and the accompanying relaxation of restrictions upon pleasure travel, systems of road transport to and in Alaska will need expansion and modernization. Bus lines will perhaps open regular runs between midwest population centers and Alaskan cities, over the Alaska Highway and less publicized parts of the highway systems of the United States, Canada, and Alaska. The international character of such operations need constitute no barrier to the undertaking.
Special vacation tours and bus caravans would be particularly inviting and appropriate, perhaps more so than use of scheduled facilities. Visualize for instance, a party of 100 teachers leaving Chicago at the end of the school year in three commodious busses and spending the vacation period in visiting Alaska and in viewing and photographing the sights which may be seen from the highways. Trained and experienced drivers and couriers would relieve the teachers of burdensome details of car operation and maintenance and of procurement of lodging and food, would call attention to historic places, scientific phenomena, or outstanding views which might not be noted otherwise, and would add pleasure to the journey. It may be assumed with safety that the geography lessons taught by such returned tourists will be more vivid and lasting than those based upon text and collateral reading alone.
For the convenience and advantage of those who would reach Alaska by other means, an inter-related system of bus service within the Territory is of utmost importance. Here appears a most attractive opportunity for an enterprise profitable to him who undertakes it, while at the same time building up the economic structure of the Territory without depleting its resources. Advisability is suggested of establishing necessary and suitable controls over the enfranchisement and operation of such enterprises, not to penalize private undertaking and to restrict opportunities therefor, but simply to guarantee safety to the thousands of passengers who will be carried.
For every person who travels the Alaska Highway by bus to reach the far vacation land of the great northwest there will be perhaps a dozen who will go over it by private automobile. Advantages of this method of transport are obvious. Flexibility of program is assured. Travel may be interrupted at will to explore intersecting streams which offer evidence of good fishing. Scenes worthy of being photographed are far more frequent than scheduled bus stops. If cloud wreaths dim the majesty of circling mountain heights, there is the possibility of remaining overnight, in the hope that the morrow may bring more fortunate conditions. Many tourist parties will have determined in advance a list of places having special appeal to their particular interests; with transport schedule under complete control of the party, such places may be studied at leisure and to complete satisfaction of individual desires. A small percentage of tourists, versed in the arts of camping, will wish to be independent of more sophisticated accommodations, and to carry and use its own camping and cooking outfit. For such, the private motor car offers the most convenient form of travel, perhaps with a detachable trailer for luggage and camping outfit.
COMBINATIONS. No one method of travel affords satisfactory coverage of Alaska. The flexibility obtained through use of private motor cars has been stressed, but motorists must reach Mount McKinley National Park by rail, and will miss much if they do not include sea and air travel in their plans. Mount St. Elias as viewed from the Gulf of Alaska, the tremendous expanses of Malaspina, Columbia, or Bering Glaciers, the dappled chromatic loveliness of autumn-foliaged valleys as glimpsed from soaring flight; how much do these complement and expand impressions gained from the roadside?
Combinations of means of access to Alaska's most salient interest points are almost infinite. Those which affect the use of highways for recreational purposes may be grouped in three general classes, illustrated by the following examples.
First there is the case of main travel by private automobile, with side trips by other means. Those passengers who were interested in the Yukon River and its romance could diverge from the party at Whitehorse, steamboat downstream to Dawson and Circle, travel by bus to Fairbanks, and there rejoin the remainder of the group.
On reaching Fairbanks the car might be garaged while several days were spent in visiting Mount McKinley National Park by rail. Should one member of the party elect not to visit Mount McKinley, he might volunteer to drive alone to Whitehorse, there to be reunited with the other members, who would enjoy the experience of plane flight from Fairbanks to Whitehorse, thus viewing from the air on the return the terrain explored northbound by road.
To see both Anchorage and Valdez by motor car, there must be double passage over the entire length of road connecting them. Here again, the trip in one direction might be made by the driver alone, while other members of the party voyaged by rail and sea between the cities.
The second classification embraces those who will reach Alaska by other means than the Highway, but who will do at least a part of their sight seeing by road, using rented cars, such bus lines as may be operated, or both.
In the third group may be placed those whose main dependence for sightseeing will be upon their cars, but who will make the trip between the States and Alaska, either going or returning, by coastwise steamer, shipping their cars by freight in the same vessels in which they take passage.
Such itineraries may have been prompted by two reasons. Tourists may have been aware, in advance, of the delightful aspects of the approach by Inside Passage and so have arranged the northbound trip by that means. On the other hand, starting overland by way of the much-publicized Alaska Highway, they may have been so surfeited by monotonous miles that return by the same route will hold no charm and the alternative travel by sea will appear attractive.
The extent to which this group will be active in Alaskan travel depends largely upon the quality and cost of steamship accommodations offered after the war. Initiation of the Haines-Prince Rupert ferry would have a stimulating influence, as would also a much-to-be-desired lowering, by existing carriers, of freight rates on automobiles.
TOUR ROUTES. It is not proposed to list here all tour combinations which may be chosen by those who will travel to Alaska; such an undertaking could be extended to extravagant proportions and little good accomplished. Two of the three general groupings of tours previously indicated will be performed with the family automobile, the other without it. Figures 18 and 19, following this chapter, portray in schematic form typical examples of possible future trips with and without personal car.
Taking first the trip by car, it is to be noted that consideration has been given to access either from the western tier of states or from the midwest and eastern states wherein is found the great mass of our national population. Whatever the origin of travel, the traveler is routed by way of Glacier National Park in the United States and the famed Banff National Park (Lake Louise) in Canada.
Mount McKinley National Park can not be reached by highway yet; it is therefore assumed that the car will be left at Fairbanks and the round trip to McKinley Park Station made by the Alaska R. R. This is the only period during which the traveler will be away from his car; from Haines to Prince Rupert the mooted ferry is assumed to be operative.
Beyond Kluane Lake, complete itineraries require a considerable amount of travel to be retraced in a direction opposite to first coverage. Because of the branching nature of the Alaska road system, this is necessary if the terminal communities are to be visited. As many of these loose-end, round-trip jaunts may be deleted as availability of time demands or fancy dictates.
The river trip from Whitehorse to Circle may be included, if desired. The car may be shipped as freight on the boat, to accompany the party, or one member may be willing to forego the river voyage and drive to Circle.
On the second typical tour, that without personal car, it is assumed that highway travel will be by means of bus lines that may be expected to develop. Eastern and western origins of travel are likewise considered. It is assumed that termini of common travel, Edmonton and Seattle, will be reached by rail from any section, though both cities are well served by air. Glacier National Park, (though not Banff), may be seen by tourists from east or west.
This trip includes rail passage on both the White Pass and Yukon and the Alaska R. R. Tourists traveling by car will find it less convenient to utilize rail travel, since round trip journeys are required to bring them back to their automobiles.
The Yukon River steamer trip may also be included in this itinerary. It balances against flight from Whitehorse to Fairbanks and travel by bus or rented car from Fairbanks to Circle. Repetitious travel over the Steese Highway is avoided, but no chance is afforded to see the Tanana River valley between Fairbanks and Tok Junction. The plane-tour should be made clockwise, for the best air view of autumn foliage; the boat-tour would best be made counter-clockwise, for faster passage downstream.