2012  HIKING, CYCLING,

& RV TRAVEL ADVENTURES

 

   
 
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 TRAVELING TO ALASKA: OBSERVATIONS & TIPS

p. 1: INTRODUCTION TO THIS SERIES +
SOME GREAT REASONS TO GO TO THE FAR NORTH

TUESDAY, OCTOBER 9

 
"It's good to have an end to journey toward, but it is the journey that matters in the end."
 
~ Ursula K. LeGuin
 
 
Although our road trip to Alaska appeared to end when we crossed the Canadian border into the Lower 48 in mid-September, we're still playing it out in our minds. We'll probably continue to do so until we head that way again.

Jim and I had a great time in Alaska for almost three months this summer and fall. It was all we expected from our research, and more. Like many first-time visitors to the "Last Frontier," we want to go back in a few years -- after we forget the long drive there and back!


The long and lonely road along the mighty Liard River in northeastern British Columbia  (9-9-12)

Even after traveling through the South Central and Interior parts of the state from June 12 to September 6 we don't consider ourselves experts on visiting Alaska. No way. We were there longer than most summer tourists but feel like we barely scratched the surface of the things we were interested in seeing and doing.

We do have some observations to share with readers, however, and tips for other intrepid travelers who are considering their first trip to the Far North.

Much of the information in this series of pages applies to travel by passenger vehicle or RV from the Lower 48 states through Canada and within Alaska. Some of the information should also be useful to anyone who flies into Alaska or gets there on a cruise ship, then explores the state on their own.

Even if you don't plan to visit Alaska, scroll through the photos to see the state through our eyes. Maybe you'll decide to go someday!


Colorful fireweed blooms in the foreground at the North Denali viewpoint along
the George Parks Hwy. east of Denali National Park. If you explore Alaska in
your own or a rental vehicle your schedule is more flexible than on a tour.  (8-5-12)

Keep in mind that Jim's and my perspectives are from RVers, not travelers who ate meals at road houses and restaurants or spent the night in cabins, B & Bs, motels, or resort hotels along the way.

I originally planned this series of entries to be just a couple of pages. Like most things I do, it mushroomed into much more than that! I'll try to organize the topics into a coherent flow of information and may update the series as I think of more things to include.

Enjoy! I hope this inspires you to visit -- or re-visit -- Alaska.

SOMETHING FOR ALMOST EVERYONE

Why would anyone want to visit the "Last Frontier," one of Alaska's nicknames, in the first place? It's a long way to reach from many places in the USA and the rest of the world, it's cold and under snow much of time, and it's not as developed as the other 49 states.

Some folks see those as negatives. Many like us see them as great reasons to visit! A trip to Alaska appeals to different people for many different reasons.


My #1 priority was seeing Denali Peak on a clear day. We totally lucked out and had many
opportunities to see The High One in its full glory, with and without a few little clouds.  (8-11-12)

One of many reasons Jim and I wanted to go to Alaska is simply because we've never been there before. We wanted to experience a very different part of the continent and it's a place we could reach in our RV.

Jim has now traveled in all 50 U.S. states. I was happy to add Alaska as my 49th state.

(Hawaii is the only other U.S. state I haven't visited. I'll go there when they build a long enough bridge! I love to fly but it's too much of a hassle since 9-11.)


A motorboat overtakes a sailboat in the picturesque bay at Seward.  (7-8-12)

We found all we were seeking and more in Alaska.

We enjoyed the solitude of the wilderness, the awesome scenery, the abundant wildlife, lots of friendly people, thousands of years of cultural history, millions of years of geological history, and unique things we hadn't seen or done before.

We learned many new things about living in a totally different kind of world than the one we're used to in the Lower 48.

All that, and the residents even speak our language!

DON'T FORGET YOUR CAMERA

Alaska is a photographer's, nature lover's, and sightseer's dream.

The scenery is endless -- coastlines, mountains, lakes, glaciers, ice fields, fjords, tundra, river valleys, dramatic skies, boreal forests, meadows full of flowers:


Deep-water harbor and pier at Valdez in northern Prince William Sound (6-15-12)

There are numerous state and national parks and preserves, including the biggest national park in the USA and the highest mountain in North America:

 
20,320-foot Denali Peak (officially called Mt. McKinley),
 as seen from the shuttle bus along the park road on August 11

Wildlife is abundant. In one day you have the chance to see grizzly bears, caribou, Dall sheep, wolves, lynx, foxes, moose, and more at Denali National Park -- or at a wildlife preserve:


A handsome male caribou with showy rack saunters past a tan tour bus and green
shuttle bus at Denali NP like he owns the road (critters do have priority!).  (8-15-12)

Alaska is also a birder's paradise, with many species migrating in and out and others tough enough to live there year-round:

Above and below:  thousands of ducks, geese, sandhill cranes (the tall birds below), and other species
feed at Creamer's Field in Fairbanks. Hundreds of acres have been set aside as a park and preserve. (9-4-12)

The changing seasons offer a variety of visual delights -- colorful spring wildflowers, a profusion of summer rainforest plants, bright fall leaves, pristine winter snow:


Intense fall colors along a trail above the Savage River rest area in Denali NP  (8-30-12)

There is interesting architecture to photograph and enjoy all over the state -- old Russian Orthodox churches, abandoned hunters' cabins, modern urban structures, and more:


Old homesteader's cabin at the Kenai Natl. Wildlife Refuge near Soldotna  (7-12-12)

There are old gold and copper mines with relics from the Gold Rush days, usually in scenic mountain settings:


Jim and Cody explore some of the many buildings that remain
at the old Independence Mine north of Palmer.  (7-28-12)

You'll never run out of subjects to photograph along the coast, from boats to wildlife:


Old fishing boat graveyard along the road on Homer Spit, framed by lupines in the foreground  (7-14-12)

BE A GOOD SPORT

Alaska is a year-round recreational paradise (if you like snow sports, too).

You can enjoy hiking, running, trail and road cycling, rock and mountain climbing, canoeing, kayaking, sailing, camping, fishing, bird-watching, hunting, gold-panning, skiing, snowshoeing, dog sledding, and other sports.


Kayaks for rent at Byers Lake in Denali State Park north of Anchorage  (8-4-12)

LESS ACTIVE ENDEAVORS

Some of the more sedentary activities visitors to Alaska enjoy are cruising the Inside Passage, taking day cruises out of Valdez, Homer, Seward, and other coastal towns, taking flight-seeing tours of magnificent scenery (some land on glaciers), doing your own driving tours to interesting places (like the Arctic Circle!) or letting someone else drive, watching the aurora borealis, visiting museums,

Above and below: exterior and interior views of the modernistic Loussac Library in Anchorage  (7-27-12)

admiring the beautiful flowers that grow in abundant summer sunshine, wandering around farmers' markets held in every town, visiting the state fair, sampling various restaurants, bakeries, wineries, and breweries, touring a musk ox or reindeer farm, riding a gondola up a ski hill in the summer for a bird's-eye view of Turnagain Arm, and shopping for unique hand-made Alaskan items.

There are numerous things to do, many of them unique to Alaska, and they appeal to a wide variety of people from all around the world. I'm sure there are many other activities I didn't think of when writing this entry.

SPRECHEN SIE DEUTSCHE?

I was a little surprised by how many foreign visitors we saw/heard in Alaska, especially in late August and early September.

Makes sense -- after the prime tourist season ends in northern climates, airfares come down in price.


Flags from numerous countries are displayed at the ranger station in Talkeetna.
This is where climbers from all over the world go through a mandatory orientation
before they are permitted to climb Denali Peak in late spring/early summer.  (8-2-12)

The foreign presence was most obvious to us in Denali National Park because we were closer to more people there on the shuttle bus trips, in the campgrounds, and at ranger talks than we were in most other places we visited. Many of the visitors were from the Pacific Rim countries, particularly Japan. Lots were from Germany, Austria, France, Great Britain, and other European countries. I also talked with folks from South and Central America and Australia.

Many Canadians travel to Alaska in the summer, too, but I could rarely tell who was from the U.S. and who was from Canada -- they all sounded alike!

A surprise was seeing some distinctly German RVs in both Canadian and Alaskan campgrounds that folks shipped over here. That's gotta be expensive:


We saw this German RV at Teklanika Campground at Denali NP.  (8-10-12)

Perhaps if they leave them over here, like German ultra runner Hans-Dieter Weisshaar and his wife did for many years in the Lower 48, it's more cost-effective than flying to Alaska repeatedly and renting an RV.

ABSORBING THE HISTORY & CULTURE

If you travel to the Far North I encourage you to spend time in as many visitor centers, cultural centers, and museums as you can in both Canada and Alaska.


The Chugach National Forest Visitor Center in Valdez sits in front of a beautiful waterfall. (6-15-12)


Colorful flowers lead to the visitor center and cultural museum in Fairbanks.  (9-4-12)

There is a museum for every interest and many of them are free or very low-cost.

The abundance of monuments, interpretive signs, and historical markers will also enhance your understanding of the people and places you are visiting.


"Whispering Giant," a 30-foot tall tribute to Native Alaskans by sculptor Peter Toth.
It is made from a Sitka spruce tree and is displayed in Valdez.  (June, 2012)

ALASKA IS NOT FOR EVERYONE, HOWEVER

There are probably some people who shouldn't consider traveling to Alaska. I think they already know who they are. Although the larger cities have upscale restaurants, nice resorts (I assume, haven't been in one), and a variety of cultural opportunities there isn't a lot of pretension or sophistication.

And that's one of many reasons why we enjoyed Alaska so much!

The Alaskans we met are down-to-earth, hard-working, hard-playing, friendly folks. Natives are proud of their heritage and transplants are glad they chose to relocate there.

It's not an easy life for many residents, however. Among the challenges are the rugged terrain, long distances, small population, harsh weather conditions, minimal sunlight during the winter, and a high cost of living.


High on the saddle above the Eielson Visitor Center at Denali NP.
Everyone we met on the trails was very friendly, too.  (8-11-12)


I took this photo at about the same spot two weeks later,
just after the first snowfall at this level.  (8-29-12)

As "Outsiders" we felt welcomed wherever we went.

Tourism is one of the primary industries in Alaska. When your livelihood depends on showing off the good things about your state and making visitors comfortable, you do your best to cater to them so they stay longer and/or come back again.

That's one reason why it's fun to travel in Alaska!

Next page:  maximizing your chances of having a good time in Alaska

Happy trails,

Sue
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, and Cody the ultra Lab

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2012 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil

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