* The state is Alaska is huge. HUGE. Unimaginably huge for an small-state dweller like myself. In fact, take a look at this graphic I found online at marciesalaskaweb.com:
Yeah. I know, right? Lengthwise, the entire state is the same as all of the lower 48. Here's what that means: driving anywhere is not a ten or fifteen-minute ordeal. We're talking hours. My brother (whom we were there to visit) lives near Fairbanks. We flew into Anchorage. To pick us up, they drove seven hours. We drove 3.5 from Anchorage to Seward to catch the Kenai Fjords Cruise. We drove 4.5 hours from Anchorage to Denali National Park. Then, another 2.5 from Denali brought us to Fairbanks. Then, we did it all again at the end of the vacation. Also, Alaska is a primitive state in many ways, not fraught with twisted highways systems and whathaveyou. Most of the western part of the state is traveled to via planes. One highway took us from Anchorage to Seward and from Anchorage to Fairbanks. And, Alaska's roads are nothing like I-80 or similar with its endless flat expanses...it's windy, hilly, and surrounded by trees and mountains. You don't really drive at 90 mph lest a wayward moose decides to cross at that time.
* However, the drive may be longer...but it's much more beautiful than anything I-80 could pony up. Especially, the Seward Highway...sandwiched right in there between the Chugach Mountains and Turnagain Arm (of the Cook Inlet). I lost count of how many forest-covered mountains we rounded to a spectacular view of low-hanging clouds and snow-covered peaks. Honestly, there wasn't any place I didn't travel in Alaska that was ugly (of course, bear in mind that I only saw a fraction of the place).
* Speaking of ugliness, there isn't much of it in Alaska - want to know why that is? Because the people and the state are all about PRESERVATION. Denali National Park and Reserve, for instance, is a six million acre government-protected piece of land. One road runs 92 miles into the entire park and only 15 miles of that can be traversed by private vehicles (e.g. you and me). Otherwise, you pay for a tour bus. You see, here's a state that puts the ecosystem first, instead of humans. Kind of awesome, really.
* Sure, though, there are urban areas. Anchorage is home to about 300,000 people (my state's capital and largest city, Des Moines, only has 200,000ish). Then, the next largest city? Fairbanks at 32,000. Then, third, the state's capital, Juneau, at 30,000. Apparently, urbanness is relative. Fortunately, Alaskans don't really give much a flying hoot about this. Anchorage is home to an actual skyline, many shopping malls, fast-food joints, car dealerships, etc...so yeah, get that idea of igloo living out of your head. However, for my brother, it would be a seven-hour drive from Fairbanks to a Best Buy, Target, or Kohl's. It would be even more (way more) for folks who lived in Nome or Prudhoe Bay or Barrow.
* Your natural body's rhythm stands to be totally screwed up in Alaska. The summer solstice is not until June 21, and yet, we still wore sunglasses at midnight. That means the daylight hours are still growing! It's easy to lose track of time...and no big deal to still be up and about and outside at a time when most of the lower 48ers are in bed. And I totally get it. When many Alaskans deal with insane hours of darkness and cold temperatures a significant part of the year, it makes total sense that they'd take advantage of the long days.
* Moral of the story? Go. You should. There are many things I saw and did that will imprint themselves in my mind and heart forever. And while I love a larger-than-life city like Las Vegas (Alaska's total opposite), the wilderness and quirks of The Last Frontier inspire the same kind of awe, but I dunno, they do it in a pure, right way.
Anyway, before I get too Thoreau on you, here's just a sampling of the vistas:
|The sun tries to make an appearance along the scenic stretch of the Seward Highway.|
|A view to the world below from a hilltop at Denali National Park.|
|Mountains, trees, and water - in one go - Kenai Peninsula.|
|These types of views were all too common (and yet still stunning) in Resurrection Bay - Seward.|