Sometimes the smallest venues can tell the biggest stories. In Alaska, it falls to the state's intimate museums to relay information about touching, unique, and truly unforgettable aspects of the Last Frontier.
Often overshadowed by Alaska's major history and art museums, these smaller facilities are often run by volunteers and don't receive large funding sources other than that donated by visitors and the community. And yet, onward they push, dedicated to their mission to provide as much information as possible in a truly authentic manner.
During your Alaska vacation, visit the museums listed below. It's all but guaranteed you'll come away with new facts about the state, and understand more about people who built the Last Frontier.
Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum. Spotless, warm, and friendly, this museum is located on the "back 40" of a hotel complex property. Open year-round (winter hours are spotty, so check well in advance), this is not just a museum for car buffs. All vehicles are in pristine condition, they all run, and intermixed with the displays are vintage clothing pieces to tantalize anyone with an eye for history. The 1920's music just adds to the charm.
Dog Mushing and Sled Museum. It's not difficult to figure out the focus of this tiny museum tucked away in downtown Fairbanks. Mushing is as much a part of Fairbanks life as snow, and if you want to learn more about the history and culture of sled dog transportation, here is the place. Adjacent to the Fairbanks Community Museum (another good stop), the dog mushing museum is full of old posters, race bibs, and newspaper articles, along with mail sleds, racing sleds, and sleds for fun.
Talkeetna Historical Society Museum. Most people visit Talkeetna for the cinnamon rolls at the Roadhouse, or to take a flightseeing trip over Denali, but this tiny town's museum is integral toward understanding its roots. To make the most of visiting the red building located off the main street of town, pay your paltry $2 fee, then park yourself at one of the many books of old newspapers and articles about Talkeetna's early days. Homesteaders, railroad workers, and mountain climbers all made their home here, and it's worth a read.
Then go next door to the annex, where a complete history of Denali (Mount McKinley) climbing teams is carefully archived. See how equipment and processes have changed over the years, too, making this an excellent place to ponder the legions of individuals who have attempted the mountain.
Alaska Law Enforcement State Trooper Museum. Never heard of it? Not surprising, since the museum does very little promotion aside from rack cards at the visitor center. Located on 5th Avenue in downtown Anchorage, this is the place to learn more about the Last Frontier-style of law enforcement, from Alaska's early days to the present. There's even a restored Hudson Hornet, lights, siren, and all, inside the museum. Browse the artifacts of handcuffs, secret paperwork, and photographs while talking with the all-volunteer staff.
Since the state is still very young, much of the focus is on territorial cooperation with the Royal Northwest Mounted Police of Canada, and it's fascinating.
Alaska Aviation Museum. Identified by a collection of wartime and civilian jets parked outside the building along Lake Hood, this museum is the best place to learn more about Alaska's vibrant and critical air industry. All the great names of aviation are there, with restored aircraft, military displays, and a simulator to test your take-off and landing skills. Three hangars are available for visitors, and the outdoor yard to explore the jets. Don't forget the "cab" of a control tower, either, located just outside the front door.
GoTip: So close to the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport, the museum makes a great place to stretch legs after a flight, or on the way to drop off a rental car.
The Hammer Museum. Yes, really. Were you aware that hammers were Man's first tool? The volunteers at the Hammer Museum know this, and more, and are happy to share the reason for this little place in tiny Haines, Alaska, located in Southeast about 5 hours from Juneau by ferry. More than 1,500 hammers and hammer-type tools are tucked away in this tiny building that has an enormous (of course) hammer out front. Kitchy, cool, and definitely photo-worthy. GoTip: To prevent crowding in this small building, visit first thing upon arrival, or just before you depart, if on a cruise ship.