A Guide to the Best of Alaska
We’re not selling anything. We don’t accept advertising. We have no investments in tourist properties. But we do care deeply about Alaska.
So why bother doing this? A few reasons:
1.) Every year friends come up to visit and ask about the cool places to go, the best hikes, and generally how best to sepnd 10 days or two weeks or whatever they have. The problem: Alaska is about 20% of the United States. Giving suggestions for excursions is a bit like recommending, say, a particular hike in the western United States. No easy task, but one we’re willing to try. What’s here is basically what we tell our friends when they show up. This is our way of being better hosts.
2.) For environmental reasons. Indulge a little explanation. Currently, tourism is the third largest industry in Alaska (after oil & gas, then commercial fishing) but Alaskan tourism is mostly geared towards high-volumes/and low-quality visitor experiences. At least 60% of our 1.7 million annual visitors are cruise ship passengers - passengers who are coralled and herded between cruise ship owned excrusion companies to cruise-ship-owned retail outlets to cruise-ship-owned hotels. Most have a good time but there is a huge missed opportunity. As is, most tourism earnings are sent outside to large companies based in Miami and Seattle, companies which spend most of their political capital trying reduce port fees and weaken regulations for dumping pollution at sea.
Yet most tourism, even the mass tourism variety, is environmentally low-impact, especially compared to oil and gas development. A stronger, higher-value, lower-volume tourism industry could provide a strong counterweight to those Alaskans who’d like to drill in pristine places, shoot wolves from planes, construct the largest dam in the world, and build roads to really bizarre places. If through a little tough love, we can nudge the industry to improve the tourist experience, then there will be more stakeholders – restaurant and inn owners, guides and pilots, marketing people and brochure designers and support people in all fields – who will pressure legislators to do the right thing. With a population of 620,000 (about half the size of Memphis) it doesn’t take too many calls from these kind of stakeholders to affect a legislator’s vote.
3.) This gives us an excuse to visit and experience Alaska in a structered way (though we do so annomyously and don’t receive freebees or discounts from any of the places we review.)
How it this different from other guides?
Well, for one, it’s patchy - there are a lot of cool places we haven’t been. Printed out this is just 25 pages compared to Fodors at 498 pages. We don’t include phone numbers, exact prices, hours, and addresses - figuring that links directly to vendors provide the most accurate info anyway. Besides, we’re not a substitute but a compliment to those guides, another voice to consider. But voice being the opperative word. We’re opinionated. We tell you what we think is good and as well as what sucks and why it sucks.
A Word on Alaska, The Brand
For over a hundred years Alaska has been portrayed as a rugged wilderness. Some of that has been done by self-promoters, eager to inflate their own exploits (i.e. Jack London.) But some of that is because of a receptive public – Americans, it seems, like to think that the American West exists, that true wilderness awaits, ready to be tamed by only the hardiest American spirts. And Alaska fulfills that need. Shows like The Deadliest Catch tap into and further that at the same time. (So, for that matter, do politicians like Sarah Palin.) And in full disclosure, Alaska’s rugged brand helps those of us live here feel hardy and pioneerish, even if Kodiak has a Wal-Mart, even if the highest-grossing TGIF is in Anchorage, even if the average Alaskan experiences a milder winter than a Chicagoan. The Alaskan brand can be a problem too. Some visitors become convinced that Alaska is too rugged, too remote, too extreme to visit unless under the most coddled of conditions. Yet in the summer, on the road system, or marine highway system, Alaska is as tame suburban Seattle. Just with grizzly bears.
Okay, enough. Here is our take on the funky, unexpected, uncontrived, and wildest bits of Alaska, some of which we've actually been to.