Carroll County Times
Carroll County Times Opinion

Dayhoff: Alaska, the last frontier, misunderstood by many Americans

Denali, the highest mountain in North America appears on the horizon as one approaches Talkeetna, in the interior of Alaska the ‘Last Frontier,’ where a cat has reigned as the elected mayor of the town since 1998.

By midday on Friday, Nov. 30, many in Carroll County were aware that a major earthquake had struck Anchorage Alaska. Many folks were in touch because this writer has family in Alaska — and my wife and I had just returned from a visit and posted a travelogue of pictures on Facebook.

Now, just several short weeks later many of same places that we had visited, and taken pictures, were being featured in the news with photos and videos of a great deal of damage. It does give one pause for thought.


In an interesting commentary, On Dec. 2, The New York Times ran a story by Jose A. Del Real, “In Unfazed Alaska, a Major Quake Is Just a Bump in the Road.” “Many in the state reacted gleefully to the [earthquake] story: That is so Alaskan. … The state is called the Last Frontier for a reason, and residents pride themselves on their rugged endurance. … Daily life in the state can be harsh, but there is also much dignity to be found in resilience…

“The earthquake drew instant comparisons to the one that heavily damaged downtown Anchorage in 1964. That earthquake, the most powerful on record in the United States and the second-strongest anywhere, was magnitude 9.2; it killed more than 100 people …,” reported the Times. “Friday’s earthquake struck just seven miles from Anchorage. … There have been no casualties reported in connection with the earthquake …


“Alaska became a state in 1959, but it remains deeply misunderstood by many Americans who have never lived there…,” according to the Times. This puts it mildly. Yes, Alaska is as mysterious as it is fascinating. There is a certain intellectual stoicism about the rugged existence of day-to-day life juxtaposed against the vagaries of harsh cold winters, volcanoes, earthquakes, and snowstorms. And if you think worrying about hitting white-tailed deer on the roads in Carroll County is a concern; in Alaska, moose, and bears have the right away — and they are quite a bit larger than deer.

If you ever get a chance to visit Alaska, do it. My wife and I have taken a number of trips to Alaska. There is no end to the adventure and excitement, from railroads to history, museums, art and cultural events, the heritage of the indigenous people, wildlife, mountains, ice, snow, and sea. All presented with an unpretentious sophistication.

I have written a number of articles on my visits. I had the pleasure of interviewing the mayor of Anchorage, Mark Begich, for a national publication in December 2007. He served as the mayor of Anchorage from 2003-2009 and U.S. Senator from Alaska from 2009-2015.

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In 2007 we stayed at the Captain Cook Hotel which is incidentally the same hotel where one of Alaska’s heroes, our own 39th vice president of the United States, and the 55th governor of Maryland, Spiro Agnew, stayed on an impromptu stopover in 1981.

Yes, you read that correctly. According to an article published on November 9, 2006 by Anchorage Daily News columnist, Mike Dunham, Agnew is considered to be “arguably the most important man in Alaska history after William Seward.” For an historian, Agnew is a fascinating topic and I have written a number of articles about his life and times.

According to a number of historic accounts, including Dunham’s article, “clearing the way for the 800-mile Alaska pipeline literally required an act of Congress” in 1972 and 1973. The Trans-Alaska Pipeline Authorization Act of 1973 had passed the House of Representatives with votes to spare but ran into a storm of controversy in the Senate. “The vote on July 17, 1973, was deadlocked: 49 senators in favor and 49 opposed… as president of the Senate, Agnew cast the tie-breaking ‘yea.’ Nixon signed the bill, and as winter came on, the Pipeline Boom hit like a tsunami of money…,” according to Dunham.

On our recent trip to Alaska, in addition to visiting family, we wanted to witness the northern lights — the aurora borealis. For that we traveled to Talkeetna in the interior, the place where the quirky 1990s hit TV series, “Northern Exposure,” was based.

While we there we ventured to the mayor’s office at Nagley’s Store, where we informed that the newly elected mayor, a cat named “Denali,” was out patrolling the town. Yes, re-read the last several sentences. The mayor of Talkeetna, since 1998, is a cat. You cannot make this up.


All this with a steady backdrop of the Grateful Dead playing in the background. I am not sure if Jerry Garcia ever visited, but perhaps he was channeling Talkeetna when the band released its second album on August 18, 1977, “What a Long Strange Trip It's Been.”

I cannot wait to go back.