Alaska … land of the midnight sun … the last frontier. These two descriptions provide only a glimpse of what Alaska contains.
The state has many other noteworthy qualities. It’s the largest state in the Union (over twice the size of Texas). Within its borders lie seven of the ten largest parks in the United States, including the three biggest ones. Twenty percent of Alaska’s current population of 732,984 are Alaska Natives, or those whose ancestors have lived in that land for eons.
It’s all well and good to quote slogans and statistics, but what is life like for the Alaska tourist?
My wife and I recently spent two weeks in the North, and here is what we gleaned from the experience.
1) Alaska in August is rainy. Of the 14 days we were in the state, it rained almost every day. We had varying lengths of sunlight on three of days (including a phenomenal sunset over Anchorage’s Cook Inlet). We wore our raincoat and rain pants and didn’t let the moisture deter us.
2) Alaska is an expensive place to visit. Your Kansas dollars won’t go as far as here in the Sunflower State. For example, a meal at a typical, not even fancy, restaurant will cost you from $60 to $70. Groceries cost anywhere from 1 1/3 to twice as much. Gasoline is generally about 80 cents per gallon higher than Pratt. Lodging also can be quite expensive, especially near national parks. We stayed at Airbnbs instead and paid between $100 to $135 per night, which usually meant a room in a home with a shared bathroom (and had some great experiences at some of those locations).
3) Alaska is massive and beautiful. It is simply amazing how long you can drive and drive and drive, with wilderness and opportunities to explore stretching in all directions.
4) Aurora borealis. Wild Alaska salmon. Need I say more (I will in a future column)?
5) Alaskans are some of the genuinely friendliest people I have ever met. You are made to feel welcome during your visit. The Alaskans we encountered along the way were generous with their time and means (more on that in another column). We were never honked at when we were slow to leave a stoplight just turned green (not even in Anchorage). Most Alaskans do not tailgate (that’s a nice change from Highway 54/400).
And so begins my Alaska series of columns. My wife and I would love to move there, but two factors dissuade us: the high cost of living and the length of darkness in the winter. Otherwise, we would probably pull up stakes and head north, after finding jobs, of course. Speaking of going north, here are some lyrics for reflection from the John Denver song, “American Child:”
“Going up to Alaska, Up to the land of the midnight sun, Where the whale and the polar bear run, O’er the icy blue sea, Going up to Alaska, Up to the north and the pioneer life, Where courage and strength still survive, And a man can be free.”