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.]
THE ULU FACTORY
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
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
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.)
EARLY ANCHORAGE HISTORY
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
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
SPANNING SHIP CREEK
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
I took this picture of folks fishing near the bridges the last week of
Salmon fishing in general was poor in Alaska this summer. That happens
sometimes, for various reasons.
JIM'S "AERIAL" PHOTOS OF THE SHIP CREEK AREA
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 Alaska RR buildings
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.
Toward the port
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 entry: our hike with Cody to the top of Flattop
Mountain, another popular recreational venue in the Anchorage area
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil,
and Cody the ultra Lab
© 2012 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil