Photo by Mattanaw. View from his 80-acre parcel in South Anchorage, Above Potter Marsh.
Friday, June 24th, 2022, at 12:39 PM Alaska Time
Alaska has gotten considerable attention over the last decade due to having many television shows on the Discovery Channel and other networks glorifying the surroundings and creating interest in the strange bush inhabitants. Like the shows, much is false in the life in Alaska, and much has been embellished to continue getting attention, and for Alaskans to persevere in pretending their lives are not still harder than elsewhere, in ways that are not deserving of special attention for entertainment. The difficulty is due to living in the slums and for having an untrue connection with nature which does not permit honesty of personal presentation. Some live well but most do not.
After being an Alaskan resident for many years, and owning property in Anchorage, and travelling the state extensively, I feel it is necessary to correct some clear lies and fabrications of entertainment and the travel industry. [About the Author]. What I intend to share is not a polarized view simply obverse to what the entertainment industry presents, but a more accurate depiction, that does however, emphasize what is really not so glamorous.
Alaska is a Great Visit. (Usually False. Usually an OK visit.) There is amazing scenic beauty accessible in Alaska, but to act as though Alaska alone is the place to see such sights is a plain lie. I have roughly 700,000 miles of driving experience in North America, and almost anything in an Alpine location in the mountains in the West, and anything from Idaho/Montana northwards, which is many thousands of miles of territory, incluing much that is great in Canada, already provides to you with better access, and better sights, and all that you might think you will get in Alaska. Alaska has few uniquenesses, and the northern part of the globe is very consistent in terrain, over vast expanses of territory, in Asia and Europe, and all across North America. You really will not see anything better in Alaska that you would not have already seen in Jasper, Banff, Yoho, Glacier NP, or all the places in Washington State that are amazing, but more importantly, classy and still rustic. These locations have better access, better safety, and less lies about what you can and cannot see. You have roadway networks that provide just as remote access, but in more locations. While I enjoy Alaska, I have to say, I enjoy Canada more. Canada is simply a much better place to visit, with better health prospects, better people, less fabrications and lies, and less disappointment regarding the quality of tourism. If I were to recommend a trip to the mountains and Glaciers I would recommend Jasper and Banff, and a drive through British Columbia, which is so vast and remote one couldn’t see it all. Alaska will seem a more lackluster vacation by comparison, and it would be a riskier trip to make.
The State is Large. (This is misleading). There is a sense in which the state really is a large one. It’s this: the land mass with the recorded boundaries really has the land area and the coastline that it would have, based on spatial measurements. However, does anyone live off of the main roadway, and the main miniature railway which parallels it?
The answer to that is: very few people know anything at any distance from that main roadway. Alaska is an “up and down” single roadway state. There is not a network of roadways. There is no east and west transit. Only north and south, and only on one line (with one wide loop to-from Fairbanks). This is largely the truth if one looks at the roadway map. One can hardly claim to have any access at all in the largest of states if one really just gets views along a string, amounting to far less of a roadway system than even the smallest states in the nation.
Your experiences in Alaska will be tethered to pavement. If we measure the pavement, there is not that much compared with other states like Montana, or British Columbia and Alberta in Canada.
The state may have spatial characteristics making it large, but if undeveloped, one might say that Siberia provides the same enjoyment opportunities, and ability to experience a similar land area. The braggadocio mentality in the State of Alaska concerning the size of the phallus is a false tale of “I really couldn’t go anywhere or see much of it, but I could drive up and down the same path over and over again.” They’re not exploring the frontiers of the north. Someone might be but they have no claim to that themselves.
You’ll see the Aurora (Only if You’re Not Comfortable). I’ve written about this before and won’t linger long on this point. But to see the Aurora, you need clear skies and darkness. You have good darkness half the year, but not clear skies. At least not in places you would want to be, like Anchorage. You won’t see the aurora clearly or easily in Anchorage even in the winter. You could go someplace else in Alaska to see the Aurora, but then you’ll be staying in the slums for certain. You have Fairbanks which is not a nice place to be, and you have the Native Villages which are basically impoverished hubs of drug use.
You’ll see whales. (You could, if you can endure long cold stares). Oddly, out of Anchorage, there doesn’t appear to be much as far as boating. I don’t think prospects of seeing whales is very promising either, and the environment isn’t well suited to waiting long periods staring at open water. There is the Alaskan Marine Highway, where you can ferry around looking a the water in the cold, and there are Alaskan Cruises, which to me seem rationalized vacations (It wasn’t that nice but I’m going to pretend the Caribbean wouldn’t have been better), but other than that, I don’t see any amazing whale watching experiences. I’d remind the reader that waiting to see a whale might be better in Hawaii. The whales like to seasonally leave Alaska too, just like Alaskan Residents who can afford it do.
Eating out dogs? People aren’t eating what’s inside furs. There is this idea that Natives are treating animals with special respect, and that the Iditerod is kind to dogs, and that anything that a fur providing animal was made of was used in some useful purpose. The reality is nobody is eating the dogs out of those dog pelts, and the iditerod shows dogs are kept in really disgusting cages on the backs of vehicles, and the owners are clearly not doing well. There may be some few Iditerod racers with well-cared for animals, but one is immediately uncomfortable seeing all the racers because most of them look poor, and their cages are tiny and disgusting. But more importantly, there is this Fur Rendevous which they celebrate yearly, which includes trades of large amounts of pelts from unknown dog victims of various species, including wolves, which do not appear to have been eaten out. The Fur Rendevous is effectively a Buffalo Hide sale and show and tell, and no Native is taking the time to utilize all of the parts to substitute those parts for modern techology. For example, do you think the Natives are not using fishing nets? Do you think they eat out the wolves and utilize all their parts for artistry and for utility? All of that material is surely discarded, and between that and the Iditerod, it’s certain, that the entire celebrations around animals is covered in false acting, and underneath is cruelty and laziness, and false native values.
Native Culture is Preserved. (Native culture can’t be felt. You’ll see them though). Being in the State of Alaska as a resident a long time now I can say there aren’t any signs of Native Values at all, that aren’t known everywhere else as cliché. The Natives in Alaska are stuck in crime and drugs and violence, and supposedly are the excuse for Alaska having the highest crime rate. In other words, when explaining the high crime rate, Alaskans simply go “that’s just in the villages” which is plainly false, but also true because the villages really are that bad. But the implication is that they blame the crime on the Natives. The Natives, furthermore, are pushed into Christianity via the missionary position, and instead of holding and sharing unique and diverse tribal views about religion and protection of the earth, they are pseudo-jewish in their worldviews. What one really gets exposed to is slow-talking “I heard this already everywhere else” shallow and undetailed worldview that is really a secondary front. They are truly odd blends of christian-jewish impoverished people, who are blamed for inflating the crime, in a horribly crime-ridden state. Alaska has the worst crime and rape statistics in the nation, and people really do think that’s mainly just the Natives. They were right in that the Natives really do have that bad of crime, but what they are incorrect about is that their tourist towns have the worst crime in the nation too.
People are self-sufficient pioneers. (They are self-sufficient delivery/take-out orderers). This might be the furthest from the truth in the list. Living in Alaska a long time I’m well acquainted with how people really live. People are eating pizza and supposedly exceed the rest of the United States in per capita consumption of ice-cream. While obesity seems to have decreased over the years (it was horrible around 2010), people are still extremely sedentary, and are relatively unathletic, and poor at sports, and are not building cabins by hand in the woods. They are sitting around drinking coffee, eating food which trends towards obesity, drinking beer and alcohol often, and are hardly doing anything outside. There really are grizzly bears and black bears all over the state, and spending too much time running or hiking puts one at risk of being mauled or eaten by a large scary animal. Moose are also known for being dangerous and up close they are beautiful but somewhat frightful, for the ease in which they could kill anyone who they become irritated with. On my property I witness hikers passing through, and they have dogs, company, or they look worried. People don’t even go outside to enjoy the outdoors of their state the same way they could in Washington State, or other location with mountains and northwest climate that doesn’t have the same animal related dangers.
In Alaska, life is much like the slums. There are tourist areas to go, but even the richer areas are shallow, in that if one looks close, one starts to see poverty. I live in a more luxurious location in the hillside of Anchorage, where the people ostensibly have more money, but on inspection, they appear quite low and even have signs of drug addiction, discontent, and perhaps poverty. It’s very much appearances that people are and could be self-sufficient in AK. I’ve even noticed in time that I’m appearing to have more skills than life-long Alaskan residents as far as ability to self-care and potentially make use of land for living. It’s a fabrication that they are homesteading people and that they fulfill their needs without the local market. They prefer the local market, and instead rely on the many pizza businesses and restaurants, and grocery stores, to fulfill each and every need they have, and their needs appear to be more complete and variously dependent on the market than elsewhere.
Alaskan Railroad Toy System. Alaskan Railroad Hardly Exists. The Alaskan railroad is touted as a nice way to see the countryside, depending on perceptions of the long history of the national railroad system and its many successes. However, the Alaskan railroad is not a part of any railway network, and like the roadway system, is a north and south, up and down line segment in isolation. It doesn’t serve any really important commercial purpose, as is easily recognized by anyone who is held up in Anchorage by a railroad crossing with a train passing through. One might see a locomotive and a few cars, and then it is over. This is very unlike elsewhere, where trains with many hundreds of cars might have to pass through loaded with materials, which indicates a useful purpose. The railway is also a kind of tourist anachronism, promising no luxury whatsoever, and no fresh air for those who take a trip. The railroad parallels a road that could be taken instead for the same sights with real freedom. Anyone who takes the railway will be tethered to the Tyco-inspired trolley system that is plainly a kind of tourist concoction, that must lead to the same kind of disappointed travel as I indicated above. Unlike the American and Canadian railway systems which are disconnected by this line segment by thousands of miles, Alaska has no reason to continue it which is justifiable, and so it feels false. I have not myself taken this rail system because I can tell it is not worth it, observing it routinely from outside. It passes near my location of residence frequently, and I have driven all the locations in which it parallels by vehicle, where I have seen the same terrain many times, and simply think, again, it is part of the Alaskan attempt to pretend their tourism access and quality is higher than it is. This railway system now appears to me to be a “one off” railroad system, that somewhat resembles a toy train running through someone’s property in the middle 1900s, and not a really valuable, luxurious, or self-differentiating tourist attraction. It is pretending to be what it can’t be, and it doesn’t have the funding to get any better.
Alaskan hotels have a rustic cabin beauty in nature. (Alaskan hotels are overpriced and in the slums). Since my own property is off grid, and I have a long driveway up in the hillside, I have faced challenges getting to my own property. Under those conditions, I’ve stayed in many hotels in Anchorage. For a time I also lived in Anchorage hotels to remain comfortable. I’ve also had guests in from out of town, and have witnessed their experiences. I’ve also been all over the state, wherever can be driven, and some places only accessible by boat or plane, like Juneau, Sitka, Petersburg, and many remote locations.
The hotels in Alaska right now, in the summer, are about $300-$500 per night. Even hotels that were about sixty dollars a night in the winter, in the slums, are over $300 per night right now. I’m a lifetime platinum Marriott status traveller, and I’ve stayed in each and every Marriott in Alaska. They are all, every one of them, in the slums. None are very nice. Some are fairly comfortable, but the locations are not great. The best location I can think of is the Springhill Suites Marriott by the University. In that location it is more protected, however, nearby restaurants and places of convenience are in the slums.
Being a traveller who visited places like Fiji, New Zealand, Hawaii, Miami Beach, and other places of luxury, in 5-star resorts, I would never pay to visit Alaska and stay in one of these hotels, or any hotel, at these rates. I would be tempted potentially do to an outdoor excursion, being well-familiar with the area, and knowing what to do and where to go, if hotel prices were under 100 per night, and the weather is known in advance to be good. In other words, I would travel to AK knowing what I know, if the hotels were 1/6th to 1/10th the cost only, and I would book right before leaving to ensure it isn’t dreary the entire time. Nowadays I would advise against trips to Alaska, unless there are special reasons. But there are few special reasons I can think of.
The hotels are standard hotels. There is very little that feels rustic Alaskan about them. Some few locations in Anchorage that do feel rustic are much poorer in quality and location. Areas that are rustic outside of Anchorage can seem quite nice, but also might seem even more inflated in price for what is gotten. An old hotel with old stinking taxidermy for a couple hundred a night on a dirty roadway is not worth it, even if what is gotten feels closer to that Alaskan Cabin experience you were wanting.
If I had a choice between a La Quinta hotel for $400 per night, or a $179 dollar night at a St. Regis on an island off season, I would certainly choose the St. Regis. Given other considerations, like being in the slums, and being lied to about tourism, I would maybe choose something entirely different than Alaska. From all I’ve seen in Canada, even far north, and all I’ve seen in entertainment about northern Europe, I think people can do much better, and recognize their knowledge of Alaska is based on entertainment.
Much about life in Alaska has been genuinely falsified by the media and entertainment industry, and by tourism. Photography about terrain and wilderness is beautiful but access is poor, and drives are repetitive for lack of having a real roadway network to explore and see what Alaskans claim to have. Travel is not nearly as nice to parks of Alaska as compared with parks of Canada or other locations in the Rockies and Pacific Northwest. There are a number of parks but they are basically wilderness areas you can’t get to. I think the tourist industry of Alaska has to be largely a disappointment to those who make trips. They may have been sold on things to have high hopes, and may have great trips by luck of good weather. However it is more likely that trips will disappoint or provide much less in comparison to other locations, in an obvious way, and that people who visit will be somewhat pretended in their experiences. If you have been on an Alaskan vacation, or know someone who has, it would be interesting to try to broach an honest conversation about how it really was. How would it compare with a trip to Norway, Sweden or Finland, or Canada, or Switzerland? How would it compare with trips to Kauai, or other spots that people consider spectacular. I don’t think a high percentage of people who fly into Alaska will find it spectacular, and I think nearly anyone who has traveled extensively on cruises will think the climate too dreary to justify an Alaskan cruise in retrospect.
I have been many places in Alaska, even very remote locations. I can tell that if I were with someone who is not me, it would not be pleasant or enjoyable, and the urge would be to return to Anchorage, see what’s around town only, with a few short excursions, and get something to eat and drink at what to me now are, the same old restaurants.
Mattanaw is a landowning Alaskan, creator of Alaska Landowner’s Association, with an 80-acre parcel near Chugach State Park, with sources of streams for the wildlife refuge at and near Potter Marsh, a popular destination for tourists visiting Anchorage.
He is former Chief Architect of Adobe Systems, Inc, and former Chief Architect and Advisor to numerous large enterprises worldwide. My Linkedin Resume.
For more information, see Mattanaw’s Bio.
Cavanaugh, C (2017). No, You Really Won’t See the Whales and Aurora Boralis. Retrieved from: http://www.mattanaw.com/no-you-really-wont-see-the-whales-and-aurora-borealis.html
Mattanaw, M (2022). Alaskan Travel Advice for Mariah. Retrieved from: http://www/.mattanaw.com/alaskan-travel-advice-for-mariah.html
I am a semi-retired social architect and consultant, with professional/academic experience in the fields of computer science, psychology, philosophy, and more recently, economics.
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