National Geographic : 1940 Oct
Our Air Frontier in Alaska that special clothing must be devised. There are fewer than 250 suits of the proper type of clothing obtainable in all Alaska. More suits must be made from reindeer fawn by Indian labor at the missions. The Army Air Corps is not alone concerned in the building of Alaskan bases. The Civil Aeronautics Authority has been busy for more than a year laying out emergency fields. These are vital to any scheme of air defense. We flew to many of them to observe them from the ground or from the air. We chose sites for five weather stations to belt the perimeter of Alaska. Alaska Brews Weather for the States When these weather stations are occupied this fall, their equipment installed, and their upper air soundings coming in, we shall have our hand on the continental weather pulse for the first time. Much "flying weather" down in the States originates up Alaska way. New stations for charting upper air currents and temperatures will help to indicate what weather will descend upon us in the Temperate Zone and when it will come. We studied the broad aspects of the air defense system in Alaska, comparing map and ground and noting how our bases co-ordinate with the Navy's stations at Sitka and Kodiak. We saw the Aleutian chain, pointing like an accusing finger toward the vast expanses of the Pacific, and noted how close our Alaskan shoulder, from Nome to Point Barrow, comes to Siberia (map, page 490). Alaskan friends told us of Russian air-base work across the Bering Strait and of activities on lonely Big Diomede Island (page 504).* Also we learned that German and Japanese walking parties have recently been touring Alaska. After a detailed inspection of the new Fair banks air base, we started on a long trek into the interior by automobile and canoe to ex amine the country, check auxiliary landing fields, and perhaps do a little fishing. Our hosts and guides were Dr. John Sutherland and E. B. Collins, two sourdoughs and proud of it, who came down from the Klondike in 1904. We drove through the chilly morning along the Richardson Highway, which leads from Fairbanks south to Valdez, a little more than 410 miles. This is the longest motor road in Alaska. As our highway trailed the Tanana, our host told us tales of this treacherous stream in the early days, and how if one fell overboard his clothing would be so filled with silt within a few minutes that he would sink. The Tanana has been flowing from glaciers for centuries, and the mills of the gods have been grinding great stones to a granite dust finer than gun powder and depositing it in the stream. Motor Roads Supplant Dog Trails Every few miles, as we followed the winding highway, we came to deserted cabins. These, our guides told us, were roadhouses where trapper or prospector rested his dog teams at mealtime or for the night. "Mary's" is a log roadhouse at Big Delta, on the Tanana, built to serve not only old timers but also motorists. There is no bridge across the Tanana where the Delta River flows into this stream, and automobiles must cross on a crude cable tram, or flying ferry. Mary Hansen was born of Italian parents in Alaska. Last winter she decided to go to the hospital in Fairbanks, as it was but a few weeks until her infant was to be born. She hitched her dog team to a sled made by her husband and in two days mushed alone the 96 miles over the frozen crust of a 5-foot snow to the hospital in Fairbanks. A month later, when her infant daughter was two weeks old, she wrapped the child in furs, placed her on a sled, and again drove the team of six huskies back to her home by the ferry. Every year Mary enters her dog team in the races for the championship of the northwest, finishing well up among the ablest of her male competitors. Bert, her husband, is a clever Scandinavian who has sailed the seven seas. He finally drifted out of Bering Sea up the Yukon and the Tanana to join Mary, and to build the roadhouse by the ferry. As the sun climbed over the crest of Mount McKinley, highest point on the North Amer ican Continent, we dropped canoes into the murky waters of the Tanana and headed up stream. The sun was hot and the glare and heat reminded us of a summer day back home. The fir and birch forests which lined the banks were unmarked by ax or saw. Why Carl "Settled Down" In the afternoon we paddled around a great bend and our host said, "Now we are coming to Carl's cabin." A tall, heavy, hairy-chested trapper was standing by the river, ready to pull our canoes to shore. We exchanged greet ings and a cold bottle of beer for a glass of his spring water. * See "Exploring Frozen Fragments of American History," by Henry B. Collins, Jr., NATIONAL GEO GRAPHIC MAGAZINE, May, 1939.