Summing up Alaska

Truck is fixed and we are are headed home (more details in next post), but before we left I wanted to share my thoughts in summary on our Alaska adventure.  It’s important to note that our experience in Alaska wasn’t necessarily the “traditional” one.  We worked, for one thing, and established a home base rather than traveling from place to place in the state.  That being said, I think I have learned enough from both our experiences and those of our friends to summarize my thoughts on visiting here.  Of course your mileage will vary to some extent, but I think in general these apply to most visitors.

Alaska is vast.  Not big or spacious, but huge.  It really is not like anything you have ever experienced.  Add to that only a relatively small amount of the state is easily accessible by road and you should probably make your peace with the fact that unless you have unlimited time and budget, you won’t see everything.  

The roads are rough. There are certain areas that are relatively well maintained, but these are the exception to the rule.  The more remote the location, the worse the roads, and their condition changes as the summer progresses.  Vast distances, plus rough roads, equals long drive times.  If you are not a fan of long driving days this may not be the place for you.  Yes, you can stop frequently along the way, but most people are trying to get to a particular area, and the in between is frequently not that hospitable.   Also keep in mind that several of the most interesting roads are dirt/gravel roads and big rigs or rental cars (unless you pay extra) cannot be taken on them.  

Alaska is expensive. Absolutely everything costs more money than in the lower 48, even locally produced items, and the bargains are few and far between.  Couple high prices with poor selection, and staying on a budget can be challenging.  You can mitigate costs somewhat by stocking/filling up in Anchorage, Fairbanks, Palmer, or Wasilla but the more remote the area, the bigger the budget challenges.  If you fish you can help keep costs down, but keep in mind a fishing license runs $150 and a deep sea fishing trip runs around $350.  So yes, you can fish and it is plentiful, but there is a cost associated with it.  Unlike most places we have been there is little local meat/fish for sale.  Most people here hunt and fish for their own subsistence needs and expect to pay premium prices for salmon or any exotic meats. One good piece of news is although traditional campgrounds are on the high side at $35-$45 dollars a night, there are many free or inexpensive spots to boondock.  There are some places though that if you want to visit you will need to pay for a spot somewhere or leave your rig and travel from a remote site.  All of those extra costs are doable, but when you add in the money to get to Alaska and back to the lower 48 it really adds up.  Gas prices, the Canadian exchange rate, and ability to boondock are all big factors in determining the cost the trip to Alaska itself will take.  If you would like to see a detailed cost accounting from our friends Les and Sue who traveled and didn’t work camp,  check out this great blog post.  They show both total cost and incremental cost and personally I would look at incremental because no matter where you are you’ll be spending something.  In the case where you need to work and decide to not work while in Alaska, you should take into account both incremental cost and lost revenue. Personally we could never have done this if we hadn’t chosen to work.

Services are limited.  Internet of course is sporadic outside of the cities, and service is crushed in certain seaside towns when the cruise ships come in.  You always need to keep an eye on your gas tank, because although gas is available in most places, the prices can vary by as much as 50 cents a gallon.  Restaurants are not that common,  and in our estimation mostly over priced, and underwhelming.  Mechanical issues are common (see the roads are rough) and choices for service providers are limited.  Our experience is that largely those folks do good work, but expect long wait times, especially for parts.  

It rains a lot.  Coastal towns are the worst, but the interior sees batches of heavy rainfall as well.  It’s nearly impossible to chase the weather here because the weather forecasts are often inaccurate.  Mountain ranges and ocean fronts change the weather very quickly, and at some point you will get really tired of the rain.  That being said we had far more beautiful days than I was planning on, and the temperatures were largely very pleasant and once I got used to the long days we took advantage of them to extend our travel days. 

Wildlife is not as prevalent as you would think. Everyone (myself included) comes here with a mental list of animals they want to see.  But the wilderness is vast and again you only have access to a small portion of it.  Don’t get me wrong, the animals are here, but there is a huge element of luck in each and every animal sighting.  Most of our sightings have taken place in the early morning, late evening, or during cloudy weather, and once the hunting season started those sighting were reduced to a trickle.  If you can help yourself don’t come with a mental list that you need to check off in order to call Alaska a success.  If you can’t help yourself cheat a little and visit the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center.   I will say though that one of the most impressive things about the state is how well they manage their animal resources.  They take poaching very seriously up here and there are constant updates on hunting and fishing regulations.  If you plan on fishing, stop at a visitors center and get the regulations and keep your ears open changes to those policies.  King Salmon, for example, were restricted completely right after we got here and they were not open for taking for the rest of the summer. 

So why do it, if all the things above are true, why come here? Because...Alaska is breathtaking.  I mean forget to breathe in the moment breathtaking.  And there are so many of those moments.  It’s not one scenery that plays itself out multiple times or one really great thing that you have to see and then can check the box.  It’s wild and vast and ever changing.  It changes with the weather, as the snow melts, when the leaves turn color.  As a matter of fact the rain makes it more special because you can’t see everything all the time, so when you do, it matters.  It is like no place I have ever been and this sentiment was reiterated by the many foreign visitors I have met who are much more traveled than I am.  It is the experience of a lifetime, but it is not without it’s challenges or costs and as such should not, in my opinion,  be a trip that is undertaken lightly. So think it through, but find a way and come.  It’s totally worth it. 

But Lee's was amaing

Lee’s amazing eagle pic

Spencer Glacier

Spencer Glacier

Fishwheels

Fishwheels

Sea Otters

Sea Otters

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Whittier

Me, Kelly, and Jo on my 50th birthday

Me, Kelly, and Jo on my 50th birthday

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Independence Mine

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Standing on a piece of ice on Valdez Glacier Lake

Northern Lights

Northern Lights

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The road to Anchorage

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Matanuska Glacier

Jim and Barb

Jim and Barb at the Fireweed Grill

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Caribou baby trying to cross the river in the Yukon

The hot part was up where the stones are.

Llaird Hot Springs

The small office I work in

The office where I worked all summer

I'm touching a glacier!!

Touching Worthington Glacier

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Liberty Falls

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Moose on the road to McCarthy

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Kennicott Mine

New friends Jonathon and Sue

New friends Jonathon and Sue

I was a little nervous to be honest taking this pic but they were actually [pretty gentle

Hanging out at the reindeer farm in Palmer

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Tazlina Glacier

Me, Lee, Bill, and Kelly

Amazing dinner at Moose Tooth Pub with Kelly and Bill

Trumpeteer Swans, Nelchina AK

Trumpeteer Swans

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Denali Highway

Rock Ptarmigan Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, AK

Rock Ptarmigan Wrangell-St. Elias National Park

On the way back we sat on the second story of this train car which had huge glass windows

Alaska Railway

Lee carrying on the licking stuff tradition

Lee being silly in Seward

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Our first wild fox on Denali Highway

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Denali State Park

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The road to Fairbanks

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Pipeline

Look at those teeth!!

Amazing sea otter sighting in Seward

and a few steps away is this amazing view

The lake view where Carole and Scott are volunteering

And became less and less of a path

Extreme geocaching look for Steve and Debs Big Foot trackable

Les making me the absolute best piece of fish I have ever eaten Fresh caught halibut...yum

Les making me the absolute best piece of fish I have ever eaten.   Fresh caught halibut…yum

So nice being with other people so we can get pictures taken

Ben took this great pic of us inside the Horsetail falls

Giant Beaver!!

Giant Beaver!!

Hikers Tree

Roadside Attraction in the middle of Denali Highway

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Glacier view from our sea cruise

Bridal Veil stood over 300 feet tall

Bridal Veil Falls

Sheep

Our up close sheep encounter in B.C.

BC Bear

BC Black Bear (yes sometimes they are brown)

Pretty proud of these

Puffins!!!

Denali Highway

Denali Highway

The river view

Keystone Canyon

And Santa even came out and talked to everyone for awhile

Santa’s House in North Pole, Alaska

Alaska Wooden Bowl Company

Alaska Wooden Bowl Company and my pretty new bowls

Denali

Road between Fairbanks and Denali

Hatcher Pass

Hatcher Pass

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Mount Denali in all its glory


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15 thoughts on “Summing up Alaska

    • The fish wheels are used by native Alaskans to catch salmon. They turn in the water, catch the fish, and deposit them in baskets on the sides. Only certain people are allowed to have them and they are really hard to see close up. I had to go pretty deep into a neighborhood and hang out in a church parking lot to get these shots and a local had to tell me where to go. It was a bit of a quest for me to find some and this was the closest I could get 🙂

  1. Your posts are like eating a yummy hot fudge sundae…with a cherry on top! Sweet, and very satisfying…thank-you for taking the time to share.

  2. Great summary Tracy! Lee’s pictures capture the Alaska adventure perfectly! We knew not to expect the sunny blue sky photos in the brochures, but this year was a near record for rain. Thanks for leading and documenting the way. Safe travels home.

  3. Thankyou very, very much for the journal entries along your way. Your recap/overview is an excellent read. For those of us that will never get this opportunity to visit other than through vicarious expeditions of others, I could not have had a more enjoyable experience.

    Safe travels on your “homeward” journey and looking forward to reading of this experience.

  4. I love every thing about your total trip. The pictures are beautiful, The whole experience,good,bad, and the ugly.It will happen to everyone some time in there travels. You showed how to deal with it. I lost # 4 fuel injection line in Nebraska. and was told every 100 thousand miles it will go out again. The mech.was great. Safe trip back to the lower USA. God be with you.

  5. Pingback: Time vs Money vs Quality of Life – Camper Chronicles

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