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"The Ship Creek area played a significant role in Alaska's history and the development 
of the state's transportation network. The Alaska Railroad established its headquarters near 
the mouth of Ship Creek and Anchorage began as a tent city in 1914. The railroad was
followed by development of the Port of Anchorage and a highway system linking
Alaska's major communities."
~ from one of several interpretive panels near the beginning of the Ship Creek Greenway,
located near the Alaska Railroad headquarters and the Ulu Factory

When I got back to the truck from my bike ride on the Coastal Trail this afternoon we drove down the hill to nearby Ship Creek to see the beginning of the Ship Creek bike path, walk over the wooden trestle bridge where people watch the salmon run (silver salmon should be running now, but arenít yet), and go through the Ulu Factory.

In the process we learned some more interesting Anchorage history. I'll start with the Ulu Factory first, though.

[Since I'm writing this entry several months after June 21, I'm taking the liberty of including some photos Jim and I took of the Ship Creek area on four different occasions on and after that date. We ended up spending two weeks in Anchorage in June, two weeks in July, and two weeks in August. Yeah, we like Anchorage and it's convenient for lots of day trips to other places.]


What the heck are ulus, you ask? 

Ulus (pronounced OO-loos) are traditional fan-shaped Alaskan knives made of steel and used for scraping and cutting. The handles are made of various materials like horn, tusk, or wood.

Some artists decorated the handles with carvings or engravings, usually of animals, while others were plain and simply functional.

Several types of ulus made at the Ulu Factory

Ulus have been used by Native Alaskans for centuries. In addition to being quite useful, they were also given as gifts and traded to relatives and other Native groups.

We've already seen some very old ulus in visitor centers and museums in Tok, Valdez, Anchorage, and Wrangell-St. Elias National Park. This collection of old ulus is on display at the Whitney Museum in Valdez:

By the 20th Century ulus had become popular with other settlers in Alaska and with the people who came to visit. They are considered functional art. Many visitors purchase at least one for themselves or for a gift while they're in Alaska.

We first learned about ulus from RVersí blogs and state promotional materials we read before our trip.

When we got our teeth cleaned in May our dentist asked where we were going this summer. We told him Alaska. He said, ďHey, can you bring me back an ulu?Ē Heís been here before and purchased an ulu to fillet fresh fish. He loved that ulu but eventually lost it on a fishing trip.

Entrance to the Ulu Factory

We didnít buy one for him on our first trip to the Ulu Factory. We were in a hurry and just scanned the merchandise. We did purchase one for him at another location later in the summer.

Visitors to the factory can take a free tour of the production rooms, which we just viewed through windows the two times we were in the store:

Personable store employees provide ulu demonstrations near the entrance so visitors can see how to use the knives and keep them sharp:

The store also has a display of ancient ulus and Native artifacts, a variety of new ulus to purchase (some come with wooden bowls or display stands), and other local Alaska-made gifts like birch syrup and berry preserves.

The Ulu Factory stays busy because it is located near downtown in the Ship Creek area where visitors have many other things to do. It's within walking distance of the visitor centers, salmon-viewing area, and Saturday Farmers' Market -- or you can park for free in the Ulu Factory's small parking area for 30 minutes.

Jim took the next picture from the high vehicular bridge over Ship Creek during a bike ride in August. The Ulu Factory is under the arrow I drew. Downtown is in the background. I'll talk about the wooden trestle bridge in the right foreground in a little bit.

The Ulu Factory also provides a free trolley ride that takes people from the visitor center a few blocks away to the factory/store; itís fun to ride and great advertising:

The free ice cream cones they offer just for stopping by are another nice perk. The Ulu Factory is good, free entertainment -- unless you buy an ulu!

Note that there are other companies in Anchorage and Alaska that also make authentic ulus. If you purchase one in a retail store in Alaska, look carefully to see where it was made and whether it has a warranty. At some other shops, farmer's markets, and in the BX on base we saw some that were made in China. You can get a good Alaskan-made ulu with an unconditional lifetime guarantee for as little as $10.

Seems a little silly to go to Alaska and come back with an ulu made in China. Just sayin'.  (And I'm about as frugal as they come.)


The area where the Ulu Factory is located is rich in history.

About a hundred years ago -- well before Alaska became a state in 1959 -- President Woodrow Wilson asked the Alaska Engineering Commission to chart a railroad route from a southern ice-free harbor to the interior of the territory so the vast area could be opened to commerce.

Between 1915 and 1923 five thousand men built 500 miles of railroad track between Seward, one of the state's ice-free ports, and what eventually became the city of Fairbanks in Interior Alaska.

Antique Alaska Railroad train engine on display across from the Anchorage Depot

A railroad construction camp was built near the mouth of Ship Creek. This early growth and development established the foundation for Anchorage, now Alaska's largest city (by far).

The federal government set aside a large chunk of land for the Alaska Railroad terminal. The historic Anchorage Depot was built on W. First Ave. in 1942 remains the hub of the railroad:

The Alaska Railroad's corporate offices (above) and terminal (below) on W. First Ave.

There are historical photos and a gift shop inside for visitors. There is no charge to look around. Train tickets vary in cost.


The original 196-foot-long timber trestle bridge spanning Ship Creek was built in 1916. It was rebuilt in 1938 and 1956 -- timber bridges don't last forever.

This is a photo of the original bridge from a nearby interpretive panel:

The track was eventually relocated and a steel and concrete bridge was built to carry train traffic. The old wooden trestle bridge was converted to a pedestrian-only bridge in the mid-1990s and placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2006.

The old timber-trestle bridge is popular with residents and visitors who enjoy walking over the creek and watching people fish during the summer. No fishing is allowed from the bridge itself.



Views from pedestrian bridge (above) and walkway (below) of Ship Creek and a restaurant that spans it

Above and below:  a high vehicular bridge also spans the creek; the Ship Creek bike
path starts in this area behind the Ulu Factory (out of sight to the right).

Since the salmon weren't running yet by the third week of June we didn't get to see anyone fishing on our first visit to the Ship Creek viewing area.

I took this picture of folks fishing near the bridges the last week of July:

Salmon fishing in general was poor in Alaska this summer. That happens sometimes, for various reasons.


Jim took the remaining pictures on two separate bike rides two months apart when he rode from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, where we were camped, to the Coastal Trail. They show the relationship of Ship Creek to downtown, the wooden trestle, and the busy Port of Anchorage.

The first three photos scanning from south to north are from June 30. He took them from the vehicular bridge above the Ulu Factory (brown roof in second picture):

Toward downtown

Toward Alaska RR buildings

Toward the port

The highway system and Port of Anchorage took longer to develop than the railroad. The deep ice-free ports in Prince William Sound at Whittier, Seward, and Valdez saw a lot more action than the early docks at Ship Creek because of floating ice in Cook Inlet in the winter.

Ironically, it was the great earthquake in 1964 that wrecked the ports in Prince William Sound that led to the increase in shipping at the port in Anchorage. Since then Anchorage has handled the bulk of freight coming by water to South Central and Interior Alaska. By 2002 the dock served 80% of the land area of Alaska and 90% of its population.

The international airport in Anchorage also handles the majority of cargo and passenger air traffic in the state.

Jim took these photos from a different spot on the high bridge on August 22. They show a little different perspective of the old wooden trestle bridge and the port:


Next entryour hike with Cody to the top of Flattop Mountain, another popular recreational venue in the Anchorage area

Happy trails,

"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, and Cody the ultra Lab

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© 2012 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil