Alaska – Getting There
by Jo Curran
Getting to Alaska is no longer the adventure it once was. The easiest, quickest way of course is to hop on a plane. Most of the flights to Alaska from the lower 48 are from Seattle, but it is possible to fly through Chicago and Vancouver. Anchorage now enjoys a new, greatly expanded main terminal. It’s a building which does justice to Alaska’s slogan “The Great Land” and can finally cope with the million cruise ship passengers who also transit through its halls between May and September. Several Asian airlines stop in Anchorage on their polar route flights. In the winter months there is frequent service to Hawaii and Mexico. Anchorage, and even more so Fairbanks, are very important hubs for international air freight.
Flying north from Vancouver or Seattle try to get a seat on the right side of the aircraft for spectacular views if the weather is clear on a daylight flight.
If you have a little more time to spare, an interesting way to travel north during the summer months is on the Alaska Marine Highway. There are ferry sailings out of Bellingham, Washington with many ports of call on the way to Skagway which takes about three days. This is no cruise ship. There are a few cabins, but most passengers stake a claim on an airline type seat, deck lounger or pitch their own tent on the deck. Food is straightforward cafeteria or restaurant fare. If you intend to take a vehicle with you it can get expensive as you pay by the length of the vehicle. For departures early in the season reservations need to be made months in advance, but by July things are nowhere near as tight. In July 2006, one passenger and a minivan traveling one way cost just over $1100.
For travel within the Yukon and Alaska there is no better guide book/reference book than The Milepost. It is re-issued annually, and although not cheap at $26.95 (2006), it is “The Bible” and completely invaluable. It also has all the ferry schedules in it.
To learn more about Alaska I find the Alaska Almanac, also re-issued annually ($12.95) very useful. It is chock full of interesting information and is very user friendly. Ditto The Yukon Fact Book.
From Skagway you can connect with other, less frequent ferries to Prince William Sound and Whittier, and from Whittier along the Aleutian Islands to Unalaska. The last stop before Skagway is Haines, and from both Haines and Skagway you can enter the meager road system. In both cases you have to cross a sliver of British Columbia to get to The Yukon. Via Skagway you join the Alaska Highway at The Yukon’s capital, Whitehorse. Then from there you can either go to Haines Junction (where the road from Haines joins this historic road) along the beautiful St. Elias Mountains (Kluane National Park) to Beaver Creek and Tok. Much more interesting from an historic point of view, you can travel to Dawson City, a full day’s drive from Whitehorse, the hub of the Klondike Gold Rush.
Dawson is a delightful, authentic relic of days gone by. The streets remain unpaved and the sidewalks are boardwalks. Many of the buildings are owned by Parks Canada. The shop windows are museum exhibits, apropos to former owners of the store that include coffins at the undertakers and French fashions at Madam Tremblay.
Up until the 1960′s there was no road from Whitehorse to Dawson. Stern-wheeler boats plied the Yukon River from breakup to freeze-up (April/May to September/October), Once the Yukon was frozen solid it could be used by horse or dog team drawn sleds, though many cut through the bush. Whichever way, the journey took the best part of a week. The boat took two days downstream and four upstream. This isolation, plus the collapse of the mining industry, led to Dawson’s demise and its preservation. It was as good as a ghost town when the road arrived.