ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — On your next wilderness excursion to, say, a well-visited glacier, you may encounter another adventurer staring at his iPhone. Don’t imagine that he’s tuning out nature. He’s more likely to be tuning in with a new and free application designed to put a comprehensive guide to Alaska’s wonders in the palm of your hand.
With the Alaska App (thealaskaapp.com) the hiker might be listening to an expert describe the geography and history of the site. Or getting directions to an unusual relic or spectacular view just a short distance off the beaten path. Or checking the availability of the nearest Forest Service cabin. Or finding a Japanese restaurant in the closest town. Or watching video of an air tour over the top of the very glacier at whose terminus you’re both standing.
If the Alaska App is not the first mobile travel guide for Alaska, it’s surely the most comprehensive, with the most extensive and wide-ranging data base for the inquisitive traveler.
The app is the brainchild of Bob Kaufman, the Anchorage entrepreneur who came up with the Alaska Channel seen on hotel televisions, the Alaska Activities Guide, alaska.org and other information outlets aimed toward tourists.
“It’s not just for visitors,” he said. “My hope is that everyone will use it and contribute to it and it will be a platform to share really cool finds.”
Many travel guides, for instance, will direct you to the footbridge into McCarthy or the nearby mines. The Alaska App will also tell you where to find the locals’ favorite swimming hole, the scenic creek near town and a historic railroad turntable somewhat hidden back in the woods.
Kaufman has arranged for experts to voice audio guides for numerous locations, from the Kenai Moose Range to the Alaska Zoo, the Anchorage Museum and the Aviation Heritage Museum.
Other audio guides on the app, accompanied by pictures, tell you where to look up to see bear markings on trees, or down to see where glaciers have left their scratches in the rock. “Make some noise along the way,” says a gravelly-voiced trail guide at one point. “Lets the bears know you are coming.”
Some features direct people to the most likely places to see eagles, bears or whales. Users can post their own sightings along with videos or photos. And if you want the photos to look their best, click to a tips page where you’ll get professional photographer Clark James Mishler explaining how to get the most out of your camera.
You can also post ratings and reviews of restaurants, hotels, RV parks and campgrounds. Or check the weather on any functioning weather cam in the state. Or view videos of flyovers across various scenic destinations.
But then most people don’t plan to visit 10,000 points of interest.
“We have 246 parks in Anchorage,” he says. “But what people really want to know is, ‘Where are the best parks within a mile of me?’”
With the iPhone’s GPS function, users can narrow their searches to their particular vicinity. From there, Kaufman hopes, they can find the things that make Alaska special but are known to few outsiders — and maybe not even that many locals.
“The idea for this is: ‘Let me show you something cool. I’m going to make you an insider,’” he said.
That means more than describing the history of the Hope Social Hall, for instance. It means practical information like where to find the nearest trail head, the nearest wi-fi or the nearest toilet.
Residents in some towns were nervous when they found out what he was up to, he said. But he’s tried to be sensitive to the concerns of small communities. In researching information for the app he came across several fragile archaeological sites that he decided not to put on the map.
The most detail in the present version of the app is found along the road system and in Southeast. There’s little information about the Aleutians or the lower Yukon.
That’s partly due to the fact that Kaufman needs on-site collaborators to supply data in different regions. People on the tourist-savvy Kenai Peninsula were very supportive, he says.