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6 Inconvenient Things About Alaska in Summer
WAIT! This Wasn't In the Brochure!
Alaska is majestic, beautiful, wild, rustic, a sportsman's paradise, and all of the other adjectives that are usually applied to it. I should know. I've lived here for over twenty years! And in that time, I've not only come to know the great things about the state, but, a few of the less appealing aspects of it as well. The list that follows is primarily negatives pertaining to the summer months in Alaska. Although some could certainly apply year round. Being as unique and remote as Alaska is, it's bound to have a few quirks that go along with it. If you've never been to Alaska, please understand that this is in no way designed to discourage you from coming. There are far more positives than negatives about the forty-ninth state. However, some fair warning and a few realistic expectations may go a long way in helping you prepare for the inevitable and unavoidable. Taken in stride, these things may just enhance your experience and add to the intrigue factor of the stories you'll tell after your visit!
1. It's Daylight...A LOT!
One of the things that took me the longest to adapt to here in Alaska is the LONG summer days. Now, this may not concern some people and many may think this is even pretty cool. You'll be enjoying a nice, relaxing evening around the campfire, talking and laughing. That's when you look at your watch, believing it's only about 9pm, when, in fact, it's midnight! EGADS! You also realize at that point that you planned on getting up at 5am to go fishing! How much daylight you get during the summer depends on where you are in the state. Soldotna, on the Kenai Peninsula in the south central part of the state (where I live), gets about 19 hours of daylight in the middle of the summer, while Fairbanks, in the center of the state, gets roughly 22 hours. And in Barrow, on the northern shore of Alaska, on the Arctic Circle, the sun won't set at all for almost four months! It takes some getting used to. One thing people do here to trick their bodies in to believing it's bedtime is to cover any windows with dark fabric. You also have to keep a closer eye on the clock because you certainly won't know what time it is by looking at the sky.
2. Alaska is Not a Safari Park
My wife works as the coordinator at our local visitor center and one of the problems she encounters quite often is tourists expecting to see wildlife and asking where they can find it. They see all sorts of glorious images on the Internet and in brochures of bears fishing for salmon in the river, eagles soaring majestically, whales breeching above the water, and moose with gigantic antlers strolling across the road. Well, those things certainly DO happen in Alaska. Just not everywhere at all times and CERTAINLY not on demand. I've seen plenty of wildlife in my time here. I've probably seen more moose than anything else. I'll be driving to the store, for example, and a cow moose and its cute little twin calves will be munching on foliage next to the road. However, I didn't know they would be there. It was a surprise. I may also go for days without seeing another one. I've also encountered entire herds of caribou crossing the highway. This maybe happens a couple of times a year. But, again, I wasn't expecting it when it happened. Depending on when you visit, how long you're here, and the weather conditions, it's very possible you'll see no wildlife whatsoever! Take my aunt and uncle, for example, who came to Alaska a couple of years ago. It was September and they were visiting from New Mexico on an anniversary cruise. They looked everywhere for wildlife and, guess what? Nothing. Now, I won't say their experience is typical. However, seeing wildlife in Alaska is not a guarantee. You also have to consider that there are over a half a million square miles in the state for them to hide out in. You could, of course, increase those odds and spend some money to go where they are and book a bear viewing trip or go on a whale watching cruise from Seward, for example. These can be pricey, but, you're probably going to see something at least and it's money well spent. Especially if the wildlife isn't cooperating by hanging out by the road where you can easily see them for free.
3. Moose Are Jaywalkers
Now that I've told you that seeing wildlife in Alaska isn't a guarantee, let's hope the wildlife you DO see isn't from an inch away after it's smashed through your windshield! Moose, in particular, don't pay much attention to traffic. They pretty much cross whenever and wherever they decide. So, as a consequence, many moose are hit in Alaska each year. So many, in fact, that there are signs by the road that tally the number of moose killed by vehicles. Usually, it's the moose that gets the worst of it and most people walk away from the incidents unharmed. However, some haven't been so fortunate. Therefore, it's a good idea to always be scanning the sides of the road as you drive. Thankfully, moose are large and move slowly and the summer months are brighter so this gives you some advantage in spotting them in time.
4. Fish Aren't Guaranteed
Fishing is probably the number one reason people come to Alaska during the summer months. When the salmon are running, you'll often see armies of waterproof waders lining the rivers (sometimes almost shoulder to shoulder) with their fishing poles waving back and forth. It may look like chaos to the casual observer, however, sport fishing in Alaska is a highly managed and regulated activity. There are limits to the type of fish you can catch and how many. You ARE being monitored by game wardens so it is always best to have a current fishing license and be certain you are abiding by the rules. Also, be aware of fishing patterns for different species. Many people have spent their life savings to travel to Alaska with the dream of catching a world record King Salmon, for example. Just to get here and find out that the King Salmon numbers are low (or they haven't shown up at all) and fishing for them has been suspended indefinitely. Although much of what goes on here is dependent on natural forces and can't be predicted or controlled. It's always a good idea to maybe leave the option open of extending your trip to allow for unforeseen circumstances. You may also want to visit various sites, such as the Alaska Fish and Game website, and familiarize yourself with the most updated information.
5. Be Prepared to Stop
Summers can be short in Alaska so every opportunity is taken by the Department of Transportation to use the warmer weather to repair and expand the highways and roads. If you're traveling by car or RV in Alaska, you will, most definitely, stop for construction sooner or later. At times, you'll see more dayglo orange and green safety vests than you ever thought possible. Depending on the size of the project, you may even wait for up to a half hour in many instances. Not only that, be aware that construction zones carry a double fine for infractions, so, watch your speed! With this in mind, allowing for extra time when traveling in Alaska during the summer is always a good idea.
6. Alaska in Summer Can Seem Like an RV Owners Convention
I know there are some out there reading this who own an RV. It certainly isn't my intention to offend anyone, but, there are certain indisputable facts about campers...they hold up traffic. In a way, you can't blame them. There's lots to take in and they want to take their time. The problem is, the rest of us have somewhere to be and we usually get stuck behind them. And during the summer, it can feel as though every RV ever manufactured has found its way to Alaska. I have been stuck behind them many times (often on the same journey) and I have found my patience severely tested. I know I'm hardly alone in this. Thankfully, in recent years, pull off lanes have been constructed that allow the RVs to veer to the side and let the line of vehicles behind them pass. This isn't just sensible, it's actually the law. In Alaska, it's illegal to back up traffic by more than five vehicles. There are also plenty of passing lanes now too at various intervals which makes life easier for those of us hopped up on caffeine.
Well, I'm sure I could come up with a few more, but, those are the big ones. Anything else would just be nitpicking. For all of the inconveniences, they're certainly worth putting up with to visit such a memorable place as Alaska.
OH, I will say one more thing, however. It does get crowded in Alaska during the summer with all of the tourists. Many visitors wing it and wait to look for a hotel the day they arrive somewhere. Soldotna, in particular, is extremely crowded with visitors in July and it can difficult (if not impossible) to find lodging. Even campgrounds can fill up. So, whenever possible, book your stays as far in advance as possible.