It’s tourist season in Alaska.
The last couple of years have been a bit bright for visitors, given COVID protocols. It seems that they are back in force this summer, full of curiosity and questions about our state. As citizens, we sometimes get questions that are a little difficult to answer.
The following are some of the answers you may need.
Where can I See a Brown Bear?
Kodiak is a good place. Kodiak has 12% of Alaska’s brown bear population. There is a bear every 3/4 square mile. The Alaska Peninsula is another safe bet for big bears. There are fewer bears per square kilometer, but every town or village has bears that roam around. Brooks Falls in Katmai National Park and Preserve are the site of guaranteed bear interactions. But it will cost thousands to get back and forth – it will be if you eat pilot bread and peanut butter and go to sleep under a willow.
[3 men get fines, prison and park ban for wading into Alaska’s Brooks River while viewing famous bears]
Denali National Park and Preserve has grizzlies along the park road. They are common sights from the bus. The bus trip is worth the trip.
Visitors imagine Alaska teeming with wildlife. They are disappointed not to see a moose around every turn. Caribou should pose picturesquely on every hill. The reality is quite different.
Alaska does not have food to support a large number of large ungulates. Georgia, which is about a tenth the size of Alaska, shoots nearly 300,000 deer each hunting season. This is almost double the moose population in Alaska.
Texas hunters catch almost as many deer a year as our entire caribou population – 750,000. Denali Park or Denali Highway are the best places to discover caribou. The city of Anchorage is the best place to see a moose.
We have fish. Sport fishing is better in most states in the United States than in Alaska if you are talking about throwing in a lake. But – we have salmon. Salmon is real fish, nothing like a small squirter pan-fish that the southern states have to offer.
It is difficult to find a place to fish for kings these days. There are many places to catch pink, silver and sockeye. Sockeye put other fish to shame in both combat and taste. After eating sockeye, even the Wisconsinites will shake the walleye off the hook.
Once tourists have received answers to their animal questions, they want to know about mountains. Denali is 20,310 feet high. Mount Sanford, easily visible along the road system near the town of Glennallen, is just over 16,000. The reason mountains look so big in Alaska is because they rise from near sea level. The highest highway passes in Alaska are the Atigun Pass on the tail road and the Maclaren peak on the Denali Highway. They are just over 4,000 feet. People think the Tetons are tall, but in Wyoming you can drive two-thirds of the way up a mountain and still build a campfire in the trees.
With tourists, the conversation always comes back to bear.
“Is it safe to walk in the woods?”
“What about bears?”
You can tell your visiting friends and relatives that it is “relatively safe.” There were 66 bear attacks in Alaska from 2000-2017 that required hospitalization. By 2020, nearly 600 people were injured by deer in the state of Wisconsin.
Worldwide, more than 700,000 people die from mosquitoes each year. Seems like a good idea to use insect dope in Alaska because we have mosquitoes. Fortunately, Alaska mosquitoes do not carry diseases. They can be extremely annoying, but not dangerous. Deet is the chemical answer to keep mosquitoes at bay. It works pretty well, but is not foolproof.
There are 100,000 glaciers in Alaska. Less than 1% are named. The easiest glacier to discover is the Matanuska Glacier, 100 miles off Anchorage on Glenn Highway. Alaska has 3 million lakes – 3,200 of them are named.
Visitors who want to see Alaska need to get out of Anchorage. A cruise ship to the coast is not Alaska either. Tell your friends and relatives who come to visit to get off the road system. The best way to get a glimpse of understanding about our state is to take a charter for a small plane. Take an hour’s flight out of town to anywhere.
When you leave the road system and see how quickly civilization is left behind, the infinity of Alaska hits you.
Cities are the same no matter where you travel, but getting the feel of Alaska’s wildness will either scare you or attract you. Either way, the experience will not be forgotten.