Bears, bald eagles and ball-peen hammers in Haines
Dave Pahl has a museum on Main Street featuring more than 1,200 kinds of hammers. "I like hammers. " Jim Szymanski spent four years roaming remote regions of Alaska to collect...
Special to The Seattle Times
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"I like hammers."
Jim Szymanski spent four years roaming remote regions of Alaska to collect antique salmon-canning machinery for his cannery museum downtown "because salmon canning is a big part of our history. But my wife says I have a hobby that got a little bit out of control, and she's probably right."
Debra Schnabel and Greg Brask built a golf course and fishing resort called Weeping Trout in a roadless area near here. "This started as our family getaway cabin," Schnabel says. "We cleared the brush around the cabin to get rid of the mosquitoes, and then someone suggested we put in a putting green ... and, well, now we have a nine-hole, par-29 golf course."
And just out of town is a refuge with the world's largest concentration of bald eagles at the Alaska Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve.
"It's fair to say that we have some of Alaska's most unusual visitor attractions," says Michelle Glass, executive director of the Haines Convention and Visitors Bureau.
But because Haines is not on itineraries for most of the cruise ships touring Southeastern Alaska, this town of 2,800 welcomes fewer tourists than a freeway-hugging Wal-Mart.
"You won't get trampled here, that's for sure," Glass says.
Most visitors arrive aboard the ferries of Alaska's Marine Highway System, and hurry through Haines with their RVs to reach the heartland of Alaska and Canada's neighboring Yukon Territory. The connection is the 152-mile-long Haines Highway that stretches northwesterly from Haines, Alaska, to Haines Junction, Yukon Territory.
But there may not be a more scenic setting anywhere in Alaska than Haines: a backdrop of skyscraping mountains with glaciers and waterfalls; groves of cottonwood trees loaded with bald eagles along the Chilkat River; quiet valleys with moose, bear and other wildlife; wilderness trails for hikers and cyclists plus a history laden with tales of native Tlingit Indians and long-ago gold stampeders.
Where is this place?
Just 80 miles or so north of Juneau, Alaska's capital, by way of a glacier-clad fjord called Lynn Canal.
"This is all like a dream," says Marlene Maes, of Albuquerque, N.M. "We're coming back."
We met Maes and her husband, Max, at the Weeping Trout Sports Resort on Chilkat Lake. They were relaxing by the golf course, sipping glasses of merlot after a successful day of fishing.
Seven-mile-long Chilkat Lake is the destination for annual salmon runs averaging 140,000 sockeyes in July and August, then 40,000 cohos from late September into October. Guests are not the only fishers bears are, too.
We met Dave Pahl as he was guiding visitors through his Hammer Museum.
Hammers: to make horseshoes; fasten straw to broom handles; shape cobblestones; repair musical instruments; chip blocks of salt during desert treks with camel caravans; anchor railroad ties; perform autopsies; etc.
There are hammers from the Roman legions and a Tlingit warrior's hammer said to be at least 800 years old.
What a find!
"I found the Tlingit hammer when digging a new foundation for my (museum) building," Pahl says. "There was just a little point poking out of the frozen earth."
The Haines area is the longtime homeland of the Chilkat Indians of the Tlingit nation. The Chilkats are amazing artists. Several of their totems still decorate this postcard port.
One of Pahl's favorite tools is a 19th-century file-maker's hammer that looks something like a tomahawk. It required 22,000 blows from the hammer's chiseled point to fashion a 10-inch-long metal file for carpentry work.
Jim Szymanski's Tsirku (Tlingit for "Big Salmon") Canning Co. museum is a tinker's delight.
His set of vintage salmon-canning machinery is the only one left in existence.
"We had 11 canneries in Haines between 1882 and 1970," he says. "Now there is none."
Stanton H. Patty, a Vancouver, Wash., writer, is the retired assistant travel editor of The Seattle Times.