Anyone who likes road trips would like Kris Valencia’s job. Every summer, she takes a leisurely drive on the Alaska Highway, looking for anything that has changed since her last trip, whether it’s a new turnout, a gas station that has newly opened, or a café that has closed.
Valencia is the managing editor of The Milepost, the guidebook that is an essential tool for anyone planning a trip to Alaska. Each year, she and a small crew of field editors drive all the roads that tourists might take on a trip to Alaska. Their findings go into The Milepost, a nearly 800-page compilation of every scrap of information you might possibly need while traveling through Alaska and western Canada.
The Milepost is the most thorough travel guide you will ever find. It lists everything mile by mile in meticulous detail—road conditions, turnouts, rest areas, rock slide dangers, historic markers, viewpoints, campgrounds, motels, gas stations, cafés, general stores, museums, wildflowers, stands of trees, trails, etc. It shows you where you might want to take a photo or cast a fish line and where you should watch out for bears and could see a moose or trumpeter swan. Notes on the area’s history and all sorts of other facts are interspersed throughout. No detail is overlooked. Plus, there are maps, photographs, travel planning tips, cruise information, ferry schedules and everything else you might need for a trip to Alaska.
Checking It Out
Valencia, who has been working at The Milepost for 20 years, said she and her crew travel the roads from mid-May to mid-September. She makes the drive in a Volkswagen Eurovan, covering 100 to 150 miles a day. She could travel faster, she said, but why hurry when there are so many sights to see.
She makes the trip by herself, and because people are so neighborly, she feels comfortable doing it, even while traveling in remote areas. “If you break down,” she said, “somebody is going to stop and help you.”
It’s important for the editors to drive all the roads every year because conditions change. It might not matter in the Lower 48 whether a gas station or café along a highway has shut down, but that’s crucial information in Alaska. There are long, lonely stretches of road, and if you forgot to fill up at the last gas station, you need to know where you can refuel again.
The staff uses GPS units to pinpoint locations along the highways as they log what they see. It’s a painstaking job, but essential. As one field editor pointed out, a person pulling a large trailer in a big rainstorm may be desperate to find a rest area or campground or place to turn around. That person is counting on The Milepost’s accuracy.
Rooted in the ‘40s
The Milepost was started by William A. (Bill) Wallace, who worked for the Interior Department’s Alaska Fire Control Service during World War II. In 1944, he drew a sketch of Alaska’s highway system to mark the location of fire stations and other services, and it was published by the agency in a brochure. In 1948, Wallace formed a company to publish a large foldout map, and in 1949, he created the first edition of The Milepost, with the help of publisher Bob Atwood. Wallace drew upon his many trips on the Alaska Highway to compile 72 pages of practical information. In the beginning, Wallace was the editor, advertising salesman and distributor, while his wife, Helen, handled mail orders.
Publisher Robert Henning acquired The Milepost in 1962 and the book continued to grow, expanding from glove-compartment size to magazine size and reaching 498 pages by 1975. Morris Communications, a publisher of newspapers and magazines, bought The Milepost in 1997, and it is now sold everywhere.
When Alaska tourism was booming in the 1990s, The Milepost printed as many as 100,000 copies a year. Circulation fell this past decade as tourism declined because of 9/11, high gas prices and the recession, but 60,000 or more copies will be printed this year.
Available on the Web
The Milepost makes a lot of highway and tourist information available at its website, themilepost.com, but purchasers of the print edition also have access online to a digital edition with videos and even more information. However, Valencia said she always travels with the print edition because there are places in Canada and Alaska where you won’t find cell phone or Internet access.
Valencia said Alaska seems to be less crowded with tourists than it was in the 1990s, so there are more opportunities for travelers to book at the last minute, or spontaneously change travel plans. So, this is a good time to visit Alaska for the first time or make a return visit.
As far as Valencia is concerned, you can’t make too many trips along the Alaska Highway. No matter how many miles she has traveled on it, she said, “it never gets boring.”
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