Home Again. Home Again…Jiggity Jig.
This update is for those of you considering Alaska as your next vacation destination.
If I say Alaska, what word immediately comes to mind? For most people, the word is cruise. Everyone going to Alaska cruises. Everyone. Okay, we didn’t cruise, so maybe only almost everyone is cruising.
Everyone who does not go on a cruise is retired and toodling through Alaska in their RVs. Okay, we didn’t drive the RV that we don’t own and … I’m not retired. Everyone who is not cruising or retired and driving an RV is backpacking and camping through Alaska.
Camping enthusiasts train to camp in Alaska. It takes skill to successfully camp in the Alaskan National Parks. It also takes equipment and well, let’s just say most of the campers were not much past 30-something. We took an easy to moderate hike and I can swear it was 1 1/2 miles uphill both ways. The mosquitoes are fierce, and the temperatures in June are cold. After June, they get colder. We did not camp through Alaska. If you don’t cruise, you don’t RV and you don’t camp … then the question becomes, “Now what?”
We fell into the “Now what” category.
We flew into Anchorage. Airfare was reasonable. We rented a car. Car rental is expensive. Alaska is 2 1/2 times the size of Texas. You can, of course, take a train or a bus to your destinations and back, but if you have limited time, you need a car to see more of Alaska.
From Anchorage, we drove five hours to Denali National Park. Consider this: the Alaska season is very short, running from May 1st through September 15th. Denali starts shutting down after the short season ends. The park does stay open, but buses don’t run, it’s dark a good portion of the day, and the temperatures dip down to 40 below. So let’s agree the short season ends. The opportunity to make money and boost the economy is short.
Our Denali accommodations were expensive, small and no-frills. For three people, we never paid less than $60 for dinner without alcoholic beverages. This is when an all-inclusive cruise begins to make sense. Once you reach Denali, hiking is free. Mt. McKinley viewing is both priceless and free. The popular glacier flights start at $300. Everything else starts at about $100 per person: Jeep Safaris, ATV rentals, rafting, and bus trips through the park. Every activity we pursued was worth it. Every activity was delivered (and often over-delivered) as promised. Denali was very good to us, and we were also very good to Denali. I’m pretty sure we will get a Christmas card this year inviting us to please come back soon.
Leaving Denali, we took the scenic route back to Anchorage covering about 700 miles. We were delighted by the moose along the way, and at times, the scenery was beautiful. Plan your stops, though. Many times a town is no more than a “filling station” and a place to pick up snacks and use the facilities. Alaska roads are rugged. Basic hotel rooms are about $140 per night.
I found it Odd that beautiful scenery was often the backdrop for makeshift homes with lots of old broken down cars in the front yards. It cost $350 to recycle a car in Alaska. There are no junkyards in Alaska, so many people just choose to abandon their old cars.
I also found it Odd that most of the places we traveled through did not emphasize any type of recycling. Denali National Park was the exception. Anchorage tries. Cities are rugged, not charming. Costco, Sam’s, and Wal-Mart rule supreme. Buying in bulk and a large selection is important. The locals hunt, fish, and really don’t worry about the environment or the land very much. Life is hard. If Styrofoam plates make it easier, the choice is a simple one. There are 700,000 people in the entire state of Alaska, compared to Chicago metro area of over 9 million. If you want to compare state to state, Rhode Island has over 1 million people. Alaska is a frontier, not the set of a Disney movie.
Everyone in Anchorage is nice. After the Anchorage airport TSA agents smiled at me and chatted with me as they checked me through airport security asking how my trip was, I feel I can safely say every single person in Alaska is nice, friendly, and helpful. Or at least every single person we met was nice, friendly and helpful. Happy tourists spend money, sure, but it was more than that. It was about inviting you to have an experience you would want to share with your friends, and making sure you left with a friend. It was about connecting with the lower 48. The locals are proud of their state and enjoy sharing it with you. Or maybe they are just starved for new conversation after the long winter months. Either way, it works.
A cruise is by far the easiest way to see Alaska. If you have the time, traveling by RV is perhaps one of the best and most economical ways to travel through Alaska. However, if you want to feel the heartbeat of what truly is America’s last frontier, rent a car and combine a trip to Denali National Park with travel off the beaten path, where our travels showed us beauty: hard, rugged, and very real.
Glad you were in my Odd neighborhood. Feel free to drop by any time. Odd Loves Company and odd loves you and you and you!! I would love to hear from you in the comment section of this blog, or on Facebook or Twitter!