Great Alaskan Adventure: The Final Edition

23 07 2011

The search was now on for an overnight parking place in Anchorage.  We had to turn in the RV the next morning, so we needed to find some place close.  This turned into the hardest task of the trip, as there were no campgrounds and most parking lots had signs up saying No Overnight Parking.  We finally found a parking lot with other RVs and large 18-wheeler rigs.  Unfortunately, the constant street noise and activity made for a sleepless night.  Our flight plans to go home were crazy, not leaving Alaska until 11:30 pm, taking us through Denver and Chicago before depositing us in Columbia at 5:01 pm the next day.  At least that was the plan.  Sleep the night before such a trip would have been nice.  Oh, well.

We turned in the RV at 10:00 am.  Faced with a whole day before our flight out, we took a cab downtown to see one final museum.  The Anchorage Museum was as good as any I’ve ever been to, including the Smithsonian and the British Museum.  Having all day, we were able to read and study each and every exhibit, although I must admit that not all members of my party shared my enthusiasm for this activity.  We took the bus back to the RV rental place, where we picked up the luggage we had stashed there for the day and took a shuttle to the airport.  There we sat for eternity, only to find that our plane was delayed for an hour and a half due to storms in Denver.  Finally taking off at 1:30 am, we were able to make all our connector flights, although by the time we got on the plane in Chicago, I was so exhausted I remember very little of the actual flight.  By 5:00, we walked off the plane and into that warm, sticky embrace we call “Southern Summer.”  Yet Alaska, so far away, was still close by; in fact, Alaska was now a part of me.

Ten Things to Consider, if You’re Considering a Trip to Alaska:

1. Pass up those high priced tee shirts and other souvenirs that are thrust upon visitors at every gift shop at every stop.  Instead, find a Walmart, Target, or other similar store.  They will have the very same items, but much cheaper.

Skate egg case

2.  Better yet, go for natural souvenirs.  For little or no cost (other than the ribbing of my co-workers and friends), I was able to acquire moose poop and bones, caribou antler, beaver fur, lynx fur (not sure how I feel about this one, but I bought it without doing too much thinking), various dried sea creatures found on the beach, feathers, porcupine quills, birch bark, mastodon tusk bone, and smallish rocks collected in memorable spots.

Cow parsnip, bluebells, fireweed, and a dandelion

3. If you go in the summer, invest in a book of Alaskan wildflowers.  The flowers are everywhere and are quite different than those around my neck of the woods.  If you have any curiosity about natural things, you’ll want to put names to them.

4. Another summer tip: the sun never sets.  We could read in the RV at 11:00 pm with no lights turned on.   If you need dark to sleep, bring an eye mask.  Also be aware that Alaskans don’t sleep in the summer.  We saw young kids playing soccer on a field late late at night.  We were told that Alaskans get very cranky by the end of the summer.

10:55 pm in Denali National Park

5. If you despair that going to Alaska in the summer means no snow, fear not!  Cottonwood trees are in full bloom in late June/early July, meaning that just about wherever you go, you will encounter “summer snow” without any of the discomfort brought about by the cold, wet stuff.  You might consider bringing a mask, though; the stuff is pretty thick in places, making breathing difficult at times.


6. On mosquitoes: yes, there are quite a few, and they seem to increase the farther north you go.  However, although they are big, numerous, and bothersome, we did not get a single bite, leading us to believe that they prefer moose and bear blood.  Southern mosquitoes, on the other hand, are not nearly as particular.

7. On weather:  Prepare for it all.  Most days we were comfortable in long sleeves and long pants.  It will be VERY cold if you go on a day cruise.  And it usually is overcast with light showers common.  Enjoy the sunny days thoroughly.  There won’t be many of them.  The interior of Alaska is classified as a desert, with less than ten inches of rain yearly.  Just about every day, we had a shower or two.  Go figure.  Clothes you won’t need: dressy.  Living is very casual here.

8. Alaska is expensive.  Save money by not going to restaurants.  Do not try to save money by passing on the side trips.  The day cruise out of Seward to see the glacier and the flightseeing tour that landed on the glacier were very expensive, but worth every penny.  They made memories that will last long after I miss the money.  And if the weather is not conducive to seeing Denali or landing on the glacier, ask for a later flight.  You might luck up.  We did.

9. Renting an RV is a good way to go.  Tent-camping is only for the very adventurous: bear are not easily dissuaded by nylon, and frequent rain makes staying dry difficult.  Cruises are fine, but very expensive and you are stuck with their timetable.  Driving and staying in motels is the second-best option, but realize that motels are few and far between.  RV rental didn’t save us much money, but it did offer flexibility.  We were able to eat most meals in the RV (except for fish, Alaska is not known for their haute cuisine).  Camping in a campground was optional, since Alaska allows RVers to camp overnight on any of the numerous scenic overlooks or pull-off areas.  We did find out the tank for gray water filled up within a day or two, so we planned our stays accordingly.  The only place we had to make reservations was in Denali.  Other than that, we were free to stay wherever we landed.  The RV came fully equipped with everything we needed: linens, cookware, and bedding.  Never having driven one before, we chose a relatively small RV at 25 feet, which was a little close quarters for four of us, but we soon adapted to our surroundings.  Just like the natives.

10. As seen on a wall in the Anchorage Museum, “Esghallghilnguq, Nagagullghilnguq, Nanghiillghilnguq, Naliuksaghqaq.”  “What you do not see, do not hear, do not experience, you will never really know.”  I hope I spelled that correctly.  I hope you have the chance to know Alaska.  I’m glad I did.

Ending a day and a trip at Byer's Lake in Denali State Park