Our Alaska 2000 trip report is divided into two parts. Part 1 contains the mountaineering expedition to Denali, and part 2 contains our following trip through Alaska. The same applies to the corresponding "practical hints" pages. This page contains the second part.
Practical hints for organizing your own trip
Part 2: General information about Alaska
Flight from Europe to AlaskaWe flew on May 12 from Frankfurt to Anchorage via Las Vegas and Seattle. Leaving Frankfurt around noon, we arrived in Alaska after midnight, corresponding to a flight duration of 23 hours. From mid-May on (probably after May 15), Condor flies Frankfurt-Anchorage directly, and that takes only 9 1/2 hours. If we had known that before, we probably would have begun our vacation half a week later. The price of our flight was DM 1500.
Weather and daylight in Alaska in May/JuneIn southcentral Alaska (Anchorage, Matanuska-Susitna Borough) the weather is rather changeable. Along the coast south of Anchorage, precipitation is highest, and mid-May the snow still can reach down to sea level. The days in Anchorage are around 10-15°C in May, daily lows mostly being above freezing point. In early June it can be 20-25°C. Interior Alaska (Fairbanks) is a little warmer in summer, and the bad weather is weakened by the Alaska Range.
Alaska is situated in Alaska-Hawaii time zone which is an hour before Pacific Time, or GMT-9h. Since during the summer daylight saving time is effective like in central Europe, the time difference is -10 hours in summer and winter. The main part of Alaska is around the 150th median (and not around the 135th), so the lowest sun position is reached an hour after midnight (two hours in summer). From mid-May on the nights are not completely dark north of Anchorage, and in early June the light is sufficient to read 24 hours a day. You can find graphs to read the times of twilight and night at different locations in Alaska on a separate page.
Prices, shopping, foodThe Alaskan price level can in general be described only by the word "astronomical". Especially hotel prices are considered outrageous even by locals. Affordable accomodation is hard to find; we stayed in a hostel in Anchorage for $15 per person and night. On the way, we mostly used campgrounds; that costs $6 to $12 per night and tentsite.
The supermarket prices for almost every article read almost as at home - but here they are in US$ and at home in German Marks! Far more expensive are fresh fruit and vegetables. Often a problem for a traveler is also that many articles are offered only in huge package sizes. Useful, on the other hand, is the standardized nutrition value table on almost all food. Currently, apparently everything must be "fat-free", because somebody seems to have identified the calories from fat as particularly evil. Nobody seems to complain about the yoghurt containing lots of sugar instead. Generally it is difficult to get many calories with least possible weight, e.g. for mountaineering.
Alcoholic beverages are not sold in the supermarket, but in the liquor shop. Concerning the quantities, the same again: Often the 12-pack in total is cheaper than the sixpack of beer cans.
Restaurant prices are as what one can expect from the general price level: A pizza can be below $10, but you can also pay $15. Dishes with meat are around $15-$25, seafood (in the south) from $15 on. Soft drinks from $1 on, beer $3-$5 (per pint). We haven't visited the big curved "M" and its competitors, so we cannot tell about their prices in Alaska. We had diner in the restaurant or prepared our own stuff at the campsite.
Let me mention at least one thing that is cheaper than in Germany: Fuel costs $1.50 per gallon unleaded, so even considering a US$ exchange rate of DM 2.10 it is only about 40 percent of what we are used to pay at home. Outside Anchorage the prices rise by 10 to 30 cents, and in Coldfoot the gallon is $2.15.
TelephonePhone calls paid with coins are very expensive; better pay a phone card which is e.g. available at the hostel, starting from US$ 10. Unlike our German phone card, not the card is read at the phone, but you enter a toll-free number and the code on the card, giving access to the card account. From Alaska to Germany, the cost was only several cents per minute, plus one dollar per call. Some of these cards can, however, not be used in other states of the U.S., but especially the local cards offer the bigger savings - so ask before you buy.
MoskitosAlaska's moskitos are a little lazy compared to ours at home. There's no problem in killing a single moskito. But unfortunately at some locations they are so abundant that you could in no way get them all. High season is said to be in July and August.
Moose and caribouElks are called moose, and reindeer are caribous in north America. You can distinguish them keeping in mind that:
Alaska in generalWith 1.53 million square kilometers, Alaska is by far the largest state of the U.S., and it is 4 1/2 times the size of Germany. It has 550000 inhabitants, so in average every inhabitant can enjoy about 3 km2. The population density therefore is about 700 times smaller than in Germany. If Berlin were inhabited at the same density, it would count about 300 people; Manhattan would have 16 inhabitants.
Alaska was discovered in 1728 by Vitus Bering on an exploration on behalf of the Russian Tsar. Until end of 18th century, a large part of the coasts of southern Alaska was visited (and partly struck) by Russian fur-traders, and many Russian settlements were founded. In 1867, the U.S.A. bought the territory of Alaska from Russia for 7.2 million US$.
AnchorageThe capital of Alaska is Juneau with about 30000 inhabitants. Like many villages in the "panhandle", Alaska's southeast, it can only be reached by ferry or plane. Other larger cities in Alaska are Fairbanks with also about 30000 inhabitants (in Fairbanks-North Star Borough about 80000), and finally Anchorage with about 250000 inhabitants, being Alaska's largest city. Some people say it would be the only city in Alaska; I prefer not to comment on that. Anchorage is Alaska's main airport and the major highway node of southcentral Alaska.
Anchorage is situated on a flat peninsula west of the Chugach Mountains, between the two inlets Turnagain Arm and Knik Arm. The city center is found in the north at Knik Arm; for shopping (food, equipment etc.) the area around Northern Lights Boulevard, 2 km south, or Dimond Center (8 km south) might be better.
There are several bus lines, including one to the airport (since May 2000!, No. 6). Ths bus costs $1, a day pass is $ 2.50 (must be purchased in advance in the center).
By bicycle from Anchorage to SewardSeward Highway from Anchorage to Seward is 127 miles long and paved all the way, Except for mile 29 to 10 (calculated from Seward), the shoulders are always wide enough for bikers. From Mile 117 to 80 the road follows Turnagain Arm; traffic is rather strong for Alaska. But the view to sea (in case it doesn't happen to be low tide) and the mountains is nice. Beyond Girdwood/Alyeska, and latest beyond Portage (Mile 80) traffic gets considerably weaker. The highway leaves the sea and crosses the mountains in several loops over four passes (between 700 and 1400 ft above sea level) southward to Seward.
SewardSeward is named after the secretary of state William H. Seward who signed the purchase of Alaska in 1867. The "city" is the only harbor in the east of Kenai Peninsula, having about 3000 inhabitants. The surrounding mountains have glaciers even at rather low altitude, and the tongue of Exit Glacier northwest of Sewards reaches the valley; west and southwest of town a large glacier plateau - Harding Icefield - is spreading, unfortunately not visible from anywhere in the valleys. The icefield sends several glaciers down to the sea. From Seward, several different excursions can be made for viewing the fjord scenery and wildlife in the sea and on the shores.
Parks Highway from Anchorage to FairbanksAfter first part with four lanes, at the Palmer/Wasilla junction the highway reduces to two lanes. Anyway all of this 350 mile is technically in an excellent condition, and it is Alaska's only highway allowing 65 mph (others are only 55 mph). For the bicycle it appeared rather hilly to us, and a lot of traffic. 237 miles from Anchorage, the road to Denali National Park branches off.
Denali National ParkWhile we had entered the park from Talkeeta by the "back entrance", the main entrance of Denali National Park is the Visitor Center at Parks Highway, mile 237. There (and only there) you can make reservations for the campgounds within the park. For the smaller sites further inside there may be waiting times of several days. You can (knowing your scheduled date in advance) also reserve on a long-terme basis. Especially in July and August, the are lots of people. But the park offers very good opportunities to watch the wildlife.
Campsites are not very cheap. For 2 nights in the park, we had to pay $42: 2 x $12 for the campsites, 2 x $4 reservation fee for the two nights(!), and $5 per person entrance fee to the park.
The buses (beyond Savage River, mile 17, the road is closed to the public) cost about $20.
FairbanksIn Fairbanks the weather is said to usually be better than in Anchorage. But the landscape appears more boring, and the moskitos are more aggressive. The museum of University of Alaska is worth visiting.
Dalton Highway to the northDalton Highway is the haul road for the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, leading from Fairbanks to Prudhoe Bay where the oil is produced. Since 1994 the road is open to the public up to Deadhorse, a couple of miles south of the Arctic Ocean. This so-called "high speed gravel road" (50 mph is allowed and usually also possible) is the only road of the U.S. crossing the arctic circle. Traveling on this road gives a nice impression of the vast landscape of the north, and besides Dempster Highway in the Yukon it is the only possibility to experience the "real" midnight sun by car. From the beginning of the road, 73 miles north of Fairbanks, the distance to Deadhorse is 416 miles. Since there is a gas station in Coldfoot, one can master all parts of the Dalton Highway with a usual tank fill. The road is generally in good shape, but everywhere construction and improvement are going on.
Richardson and Glenn Highway from Fairbanks to AnchorageThe roads of central Alaska are arranged around a central triangle with the corners Anchorage, Fairbanks, and Tok:
Parks Highway (Anchorage - Fairbanks)
Alaska Highway (Fairbanks - Delta Junction - Tok (-Whitehorse))
Glenn Highway and Tok Cutoff (Anchorage - Glennallen - Tok
From north to south, this triangle is crossed in the east by the Richardson Highway (Delta Junction - Glennallen - Valdez).
Except for Seward Highway and the road to Kenai, now practically all paved roads in Alaska are described. Consequently there are not too many possibilities for a round trip. We drove back from Fairbanks to Anchorage via Delta and Glennallen. As far as Delta Junction the road follows the wide river valley, then it rises above the treeline in a rather alpine landscape, then descending again via Paxson to Glennallen. Mount Sanford is towering directly above the village, a very characteristic mountain. From Glennallen towards Matanuska Valley, another pass is crossed, offering a nice view to the huge glaciers of the Chugach Mountains. Through the Matanuska Valley towards Palmer, the road is sometimes rather narrow. All the way from Delta via Glennallen to Palmer there is hardly a shoulder, therefore for the bicycle Parks Highway would be worth thinking about instead of Glennallen, despite the heavy traffic on the Parks.
Where we spent the nightsThe following table shows the location that we chose to stay the nights.
LiteratureThe "Lonely Planet travel survival Kit Alaska", 5th edition, 1997, ISBN 0 86442 414 0, helped us a lot during this part of our trip.
WWW addresses(neither representative nor complete)
© 2000 Hartmut Bielefeldt
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