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Introducing: The Ketchikan to Haines highway!


December 04, 2021
Saturday AM

Ketchikan, Alaska -
Recently, a potential visitor to Our Fair Salmon City asked if it was possible to make a day trip from Ketchikan to see Denali," the tallest mountain in North America."

jpg  Dave Kiffer

Yes, he wrote it in exactly that over-emphasized way as if he was telling me something I didn't already know. Like maybe I'd missed the memo that Denali is "the tallest mountain in North America."

I did know, of course, but I let it slide because I just find it humorous to humor to humorless.  

Anyway, you know the tone. And now that visitors are returning, sort of, we are hearing it again.

The "I know more than you even though you live there" tone.

Maybe it is just their natural tone.  

 Maybe they just can't help "tourist-splaining,"  

 Maybe they stayed in the Holiday Inn Express at SeaTac on their way here.  

 But I digress.  

 Trying to be helpful, I pointed out that, theoretically, you can fly from Ketchikan to Anchorage and then on to Fairbanks and see the great peak in in the late afternoon glow.  

 That, natch, was not what he meant.  

 Nope, nope. Not at all.  

 "No, we were thinking about driving," he wrote back. "You know, get a rental a car and drive over to see it."  

 When I pointed out that would be a more than 1,000-mile trip, he asked about somewhere "rustic' to stop off on the way. A nice place to "overnight" while "driving from Ketchikan to Denali."  

 I told him you couldn't drive from Ketchikan to Denali without taking ferries and an 800-mile detour into Canada.  

 Naturally, he acted like I had no idea what I was talking about.  

 "Ketchikan," he patiently explained. "Is on Alaska State Highway #7."  

 There was truth in that.  

 We are on the highway.  

 And I may have no idea what I am talking about.  

 I have never actually driven directly from Ketchikan to Denali in one day.  

 But that interaction got me to thinking. Which is always a dangerous thing.  

 There have been numerous proposals over the years for roads into and out of Southern Southeast Alaska. Yes, technically you can drive "into" Hyder. But any road between Hyder and Ketchikan would be a real thrash.  

 A beautiful thrash, but still a thrash.  

 And yes, there are roads into Haines and Skagway. But what would Alaska Highway #7 actually look like if you could take it all the way from Ketchikan to Haines or Skagway and hook up with the road system so you could drive from the First City to Denali?  

 Of course, it would still be a 1,000+-mile drive to Denali, so you would still get an Iron Butt Certificate when you arrived.  

 But I digress, again.  

 Anyway, here is an entry in the bible of regional travel, The Milepost, - Circa 2035!!!! - for Alaska State Highway 7 from Ketchikan to Haines, if it were ever to be built.  

 MILE 0 - Downtown Ketchikan was once the bustling center of Ketchikan's visitor industry but is now a relatively unvisited locale since all the visitor activity moved north of town. Over the past the decade, the more than two dozen jewelry stores in the downtown section of the First City have reverted to their previous status as bars. But since the median age in Ketchikan is now 83.5, the bars all close by 5 pm. Plan accordingly. Many of the people who previously lived the rural life north of Ketchikan have had to move into the Downtown and the south end of Ketchikan in order to avoid the congestion happening out north (see Mile 6 below).  

 MILE 3.5 - Gravina Access Construction. Now in its second decade, this long running project has delayed traffic in Ketchikan for more than 15 years, forcing most community economic activity to relocate to the north. Expect two-hour delays at this location. Sisyphus Construction has now been paving and repaving this section of road every two weeks. Every. Two. Weeks.  

 MILE 5.5 - Ward Cove. Ketchikan's main cruise port. During summer months 19 Post Mondomax cruise ships are docked here each day, disembarking approximately 76,000 daily passengers. Bus traffic is a hair on the intense side. Expect 15-17 hour waits to transit via #7 through Ward Cove.  

 MILE 6 - Beginning of the North Tongass Visitor Zone. Once a relatively rural area, the number of road-side attractions has increased exponentially in the past decade to a point that it now rivals Pigeon Forge and Rapid City. In 2034, there were approximately 173 visitor related businesses along the highway ranging from Madame Tussauds to the Wayne Newtown Dinner Theater to the Ringling Brothers, Barnum and Otos Circus. Expect numerous delays due to bus traffic, golf carts, ATVs  and walker traffic on the highway.  

MILE 6.5 – Always worth a stop, “New Ketchikan” featuring the Welcome Arch, the Dave Rubin Statue and a life-sized mural of Deer Mountain.  

 MILE 14 - The Robin Taylor West Behm Canal Bridge. This six-mile bridge spans Behm Canal. Expect significant delays at the central drawbridge which must be opened for ship traffic accessing the Southeast Alaska Acoustic Measurement Facility. Be on the lookout for whales and rapidly surfacing submarines.  

 MILE 20 - The Cleveland Peninsula. Expect frequent delays on this 78-mile stretch of highway due to road repairs caused by sludge run off from adjacent logging operations and dust raised by helicopter flightseeing operations. With the closure, in 2030, of the Misty Fjords National Monument due to "over visitation," this area of Cleveland Peninsula has now been named renamed Proxy Fjords National Monument, AKA "Yosemite with Trees." At least the unlogged parts.  

MILE 32 - "World's Tallest Middle Finger" carved out of 300-year-old hemlock by the Meyers Chuck Community Association.  

MILE 33 - Turnoff to the armed, gated community of Meyers Chuck. Call ahead if you need supplies. They only take Bitcoin.  

MILE 47 - Note the Mountain Goat crossing signs. Decades ago, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game transplanted goats at this location assuming they would populate the nearby mountains. But the goats chose to stay at lower elevations and have now been determined by franticly fundraising environmental groups to be a distinct sub-species, the Alexander Archipelago Tidewater Goat. Because they spend all their time grazing on the highway medians and shoulders, they are - not surprisingly - endangered.  

MILE 65 - More road maintenance challenges, primarily because of forest blowdown from hurricane force winds hitting the areas adjacent to the clear cuts. Expect delays of up to 2 hours.  

MILE 90.5 - Anan Creek Bear Observatory Bypass Road. Through drivers should take this bypass.  

MILE 91 - Anan Creek Bear Observatory. During the summer, visitation tops 50,000 a day. The best public access to the observatory is between the hours of 3:06 am and 3:19 am. Use bus parking lot 124-A.  

 MILE 91 - Frank Murkowski Thoms Place Bridge. This 10-mile bridge spans Seward Passage and connects with Wrangell Island where the road hooks up with the Zimovia Highway. Expect perpetual road construction delays on the highway due to previous bad state decisions on contractor selection.  

MILE 122- City of Wrangell. a lovely place to overnight on trip up State Highway 7. After all, it has taken you 31 hours to drive here from Ketchikan.  

MILE 124 - The 28-mile-long Ernie Haugen Sumner Strait bridge connects Wrangell Island, Kadin Island, Rynda Island and finally Mitkof Island where it meets the South Mitkof Highway which connects with Petersburg. Expect relentless road construction delays on the highway due to previous bad state decisions on contractor selections.  

MILE 161 - City of Petersburg. Another place to overnight. In general, it takes 19 hours to drive from Wrangell.  

MILE 161.5 - The Mark Jensen Wrangell Narrows Causeway connects Petersburg with the community of Kupreanof, best known for being the location of the former "World's Tallest Middle Finger." Kupreanof is also now an armed, gated community. No services available.  

MILE 180 - Community of Kake. The Capital of the Kupreanof Island Autonomous Zone. A good place to overnight, after the 16-hour highway trip from Petersburg.  

MILE 189 - The Walter J Hickel Frederick Sound Tunnel. At 39 miles, this is the longest underwater tunnel in the world. Unlike every other portion of Alaska Highway #7, the $40 billion tunnel was privately funded with more than $35 billion alone coming from Greenpeace because a traditional above water bridge was expected to have long term negative effects on Alexander Archipelago Left Whale populations. Near the half-way point in in the tunnel is the only underwater truck stop in North America. We recommend the Flatulence-Free burritos.  

MILE 228- The Hickel Tunnel empties out onto Admiralty Island and the recently completed Xootsnoowu Wilderness Highway. The Highway is one of the newest designs in environmentally friendly road construction, designed to be only operational during daylight hours. Every third mile of the highway retracts during the overnight hours, allowing wildlife - especially brown bears - easy access to either side of the island. The highway was also designed to require minimal harvest of the old growth forests on the island. allowing it to retain its USFS wilderness status. Because of the old growth stands still growing in the middle of the highway, the maximum speed is 2 mph. There are no "facilities" along the Xootsnoowu Highway. Because of the brown bear population, stops are not recommended until vehicles reach Angoon.  

MILE 269- Angoon. Angoon is the home of the "World's Third Tallest Middle Finger" and became a gated community in 2031. But the Xootsnoowu Casino and Resort at Mile 270 is open to travelers 24 hours a day. Supplies can also be obtained at the truck stop at the Greens Creek Mine at Mile 290.  

MILE 304 - The Gov. Jessie Kiehl Stephens Passage Bridge. This 22-mile-bridge connects Admiralty Island with Douglas Island and the People's Republic of Treadwell. This location is an excellent place to overnight because you left Petersburg 49 hours ago.  

MILE 324 - The Alaskan Capital City of Juneau. Actually, they moved the last state employee to the Theocratic Republic of the MatSu in 2031 but the state continues to lease empty building space in Juneau. Juneau is a good place to overnight after pushing your car for 20 miles on Douglas Island, where motor vehicle operation of any kind has been specifically banned.  

MILE 351 - The Gershon Cohen Lynn Canal Tunbridgle. Completed in 2034, this 15-mile bridge is the last connector for Alaska State Highway #7.  Its unique design involves alternating "overwater" and "underwater" sections to limit negative effects on the biosphere of Lynn Canal, home of the endangered Alexander Archipelago flying fish, the only fish to live both above and below the water in equal amounts and with a top speed of more than 100 mph during the common Canal windstorms.  Frequent travelers recommend multiple doses of Dramamine. The "Tunbridgle" connects with the Haines Highway and with the rest of the road system into northern Alaska.  

Expect significant traffic delays to due to previous bad state decisions on contractor selection. 

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Dave Kiffer is a freelance writer living in Ketchikan, Alaska.

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