Outdoors/Adventure

Each summer, tourists have pressing questions about Alaska. Here are some answers.

It is tourist season in Alaska.

The past couple years have been a little light on visitors, given COVID protocols. It appears that they are back in force this summer, full of curiosity and questions about our state. As residents, we are sometimes asked questions that are a little tough to answer.

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 mile, but every town or village has bears wandering around. Brooks Falls in Katmai National Park and Preserve is the place for sure bear interactions. But it will be a thousand bucks to get there and back — that will be if you eat pilot bread and peanut butter and curl up 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 ride is worth the trip.

Visitors picture Alaska teeming with game animals. They are disappointed not to see a moose around every bend. Caribou should be posing picturesquely on each hill. Reality is quite different.

Alaska doesn’t have the feed to support high numbers of large ungulates. Georgia, which is about a tenth the size of Alaska, shoots nearly 300,000 deer each hunting season. That is almost double the moose population of Alaska.

Texas hunters take almost as many deer annually as our entire caribou population — 750,000. Denali Park or the Denali Highway are the best locations to spot caribou. The city of Anchorage is the best place to see a moose.

Fishing?

We have fish. Sportfishing is better in most every state in the U.S. than in Alaska if you are talking about casting into a lake. But — we have salmon. Salmon are real fish, nothing like little squirter pan fish that southern states have to offer.

It is tough to find a place to fish kings these days. There are plenty of places to catch pinks, silvers and sockeye. Sockeye put other fish to shame in both fight and flavor. After eating sockeye, even Wisconsinites will be shaking walleye off their hook.

Once tourists have their animal questions answered, they will 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 a bit 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 Atigun Pass on the haul road and Maclaren summit on the Denali Highway. They are just over 4,000 feet. Folks think the Tetons are tall, but in Wyoming you can drive a car two-thirds of the way up a mountain and still build a campfire in the trees.

With tourists, the conversation always comes back to bears.

“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. In 2020, almost 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 wear bug dope in Alaska because we do have mosquitoes. Fortunately, Alaska’s mosquitoes don’t carry diseases. They can be extremely irritating, but not dangerous. Deet is the chemical answer to keep mosquitoes at bay. It works fairly well but is not foolproof.

There are 100,000 glaciers in Alaska. Fewer than 1% are named. The easiest glacier to spot is the Matanuska Glacier, 100 miles out of Anchorage on the Glenn Highway. Alaska has 3 million lakes3,200 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 glimmer of understanding about our state is to take a small aircraft charter. Take an hour flight out of town to anywhere.

When you leave the road system and see how quickly civilization is left behind, the immensity of Alaska hits you.

Cities are similar wherever 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.

John Schandelmeier

Outdoor opinion columnist John Schandelmeier is a lifelong Alaskan who lives with his family near Paxson. He is a Bristol Bay commercial fisherman and two-time winner of the Yukon Quest.

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