The appeal of Alaska is hard to pinpoint, but its status as a wilderness worthy of the most hardy of travellers is hard to dispute, says Alvin Thomas.
Smack me in the head and call me crazy; my perfect vacation involves cozying up into a ball in the peak of winter and in the middle of nowhere. I don’t care much for the Internet or amenities such as a movie theatre or café. Brace yourself to sprint far and long if you’re even planning on suggesting a night of club-hopping. In fact, I’d much rather be snowed inside (yes, I need snow!) a treehouse and start a fire to sit around and roast marshmallows.
By all means, I’m describing Alaska. It’s a humble state up in the United States that I frequent every time I’ve racked up a few weeks away from work. It’s calm, serene, and could be the ideal home to those who’ve fallen from grace and just want to live out their lives in peace.
Hollywood has done its share of bringing its name to fame but Alaska remains silent for most of the year – and I love it. The climate has a lot to do with that. Temperatures border in on the extreme minuses in winter while it hovers along the early-10s in summer. It’s hardly a call back to my days in Oman that I spend counting down the scorching summer days.
First timers must know two things about Alaska: one, it’s ominously known as ‘the land of missing people’; and two, the fabled but mythical Alaskan bushman could be behind all the disappearances.
No jokes though. There are several mysteries (and rumours) surrounding Alaska, most of which do a great job in warding off too many tourists. Those that make it up here, meanwhile, do it to experience the sheer beauty of the snow-covered peaks and life in silent towns.
All of that sets Alaska apart from other American tourist destinations. Crystal-clear fjords, tall mountain peaks and greenery are its hallmarks – and all of this is best experienced while camping out in the forests.
The scenery is mesmerizing, to say the least – and it casts shade over the state’s past. It’s worth noting that the Alaska we know today came into being when the United States purchased the land from the Russian Empire for US$7.2 million in 1867, thereby creating the country’s 49th state.
I’d claim that it’s a wise purchase, for with its myriad islands Alaska has nearly 55,000kms of tidal shoreline to its name. While this allows for an abundance of fish to be consumed and exported into other parts of the US and the world, it has also made for some of the nation’s most lucrative oil fields.
Like Oman, Alaska relies heavily on oil production.
Much to our annoyance, Alaska also has long days – 19-hour-long days, to be precise! If you thought nights in Oman were short, try wrapping your heads around how exasperating nights in Alaska can get.
That said, the trip is still worth your time in gold. The towners are friendly and will assist in showing you around town if you’re strapped for cash, and there are plenty of sights you can cash in on for some truly stunning Instagram posts.
My favourite place- Having settled into my very own campervan at the Williwaw Campground in Girdwood over a cold weekend, I go exploring the locale by foot. Here, you can interest your mates in fishing for some pink salmon, or trekking into the forest for some (legal) hunting or sightseeing. Setting a fire and gathering around it for some chitchat with friends at night works too – though it’s best to keep an eye out for animals and mosquitoes.
Highlights- Alaska has plenty of pluses; most of them revolve around how it’s slowly becoming a lucrative locale to migrate to. While the cost of living is still on the higher side so are salaries. This means it’s welcoming more expats. Apart from that, it has long been believed to be home to adventurists looking to scale up mountains or head out skiing, and budding movie makers who can film a horror flick for little to no budget using only the surroundings for props. All of this means that tourism is slowly gaining traction – and the cold temperatures coupled with snow is turning it into a hub for sporting activities.
Lowlights- The weather can be unforgiving – and it’s best to prepare yourself, with winter clothes. Temperatures can fall to -33-degree-Celsius in certain parts of the state in January.
Souvenirs- From spicy chocolates to Alaskan native art, there are plenty of options for you to go through when shopping. The latter includes woven birch baskets, handmade dolls, masks, trinkets and traditional ulu knives.
Getting there- There are no direct flights to Alaska from Oman. Your best bet would be to fly to Seattle with Emirates and then take a connecting flight to the nearest airport at Fairbanks.
Where to stay- Time and temperature willing, it’s best to stay at a campsite. The Williwaw Campground is a great place to pitch your tent. Meanwhile, hotels in the vicinity can set you back upwards of RO40 per night.
1. Drive on up to the Denali National Park and Reserve.
2. Gaze at the reflection of Mt. McKinley against the Wonder Lake
3. Kids can learn about local arts at the Anchorage Museum.
4. Explore the 19th Century Dolly’s House Museum Gift Shop.
5. Study arctic ecosystems at the Murie Science and Learning Centre.