National Geographic : 1959 Jul
The National Geographic Magazine While enjoying the beauties of one of the many placid sloughs off the Stikine River from a flat-bottomed skiff, I was startled by the sudden leap of a 15-inch rainbow trout. The fish struck the gunwale and hung there, bal anced, for a precarious moment. To my relief it slid back into the water. Had fortune's finger tipped that trout into the boat, my reputation for truthfulness would have been shattered beyond repair! An outdoor people for much of the year, Alaskans have developed the characteris tics of friendliness, helpfulness, generosity. Neither caste nor class exists here; no work is considered menial. If you order a cup of coffee in an Alaskan cafe, do not be surprised if the waitress steps around the counter to join you with a cup of her own. The "Alaska tux edo"-whipcord trousers and hunting jacket is not improper male attire at a dinner party. State's No. 1 Need: More Roads As Alaskans enter statehood, they face problems resulting from long neglect. These are principally in the field of transportation. During the first 40 years of Federal aid for highway improvements, from 1916 to 1956, Alaska's share was negligible-though Alas kans paid all Federal taxes. In consequence, Alaska has only 4,100 miles of road. Few of its communities are con nected by highway. Its one major railway extends only 470 miles, from Seward to Fair banks. Passenger service on the only Ameri can steamship line offering it between Seattle and Alaskan ports was suspended in 1954. As a result, Alaska depends almost wholly on air transportation. In this respect the 49th State is unique. A dozen airlines and some 300 airfields have sprung from the bush-pilot operations of past decades. Then, and to some extent even now, frozen lakes, winding rivers, mud flats, and gravel bars served as landing fields. Modern aids to navigation were nonexistent. And when one flew from, say, Fairbanks to Nome, one prudently wore "walking-out" clothes. Twice in years past I have gone down in forced landings in single-engined bush planes. Once we skidded to a halt on sea ice only six feet from open water, off Little Diomede Is land in the Bering Strait. On the second occasion, between Wainwright and Point Lay on the Arctic coast, a search plane found us stalking a herd of caribou, preparing to "live off the land" until rescued. Even so, I would feel as safe flying from Ketchikan to Kotzebue with a skilled Alaskan bush pilot as crossing Chicago in a taxicab. Alaskans Face Future Confidently High among Alaska's past problems has been legislation, passed in 1920, which im posed the highest maritime freight rates in the world. This, in turn, brought high living costs and related handicaps which Alaskans now hope gradually to correct. Some of Alaska's greatest potential re mains to be developed. Besides pulp and petroleum, the State has the largest undevel oped water-power resources on the continent; less than one-quarter of one percent have been harnessed. Valuable resources of natural gas and critical minerals are little tapped, for lack of transportation. As they embrace statehood, Alaskans are imbued with two desires which they hope are not in conflict. One is to develop Alaska. They want to diversify its economy and place it on a firm and enduring foundation. They want to se cure for themselves and their children all that is best in the American way of life. They want to increase the cultural content of their society, to forego none of the blessings of mod ern civilization. They want to enlist new comers to Alaska in this great adventure. At the same time Alaskans cherish their wilderness, with its beauty, abundance, and mystery. They appreciate that it is one of nature's last great strongholds on the conti nent. They want to preserve it. Most of us believe we can do both. We do not expect to achieve these twin goals without hard work, devotion, public spirit, sacrifice, and applied intelligence. I am confident that Alaskans are ready and eager to accept the challenge, that they can and will succeed. Winter's Brief Sun Warms an Eskimo Girl at the Door of Her Sod Home At autumn's chill warning, Eskimos of Anaktuvuk Pass fold their caribou-hide tents and retreat to winter quarters. This girl, not yet at the marriageable age of 18, shares her parents' house. Her pearl hair clip, printed shirt, and zippered jacket exemplify the trend from homemade clothes to trading-post garments. KODACHROMEBY THOMASJ. ABERCROMBIE,NATIONALGEOGRAPHICSTAFF © N.G.S.