I was lucky enough to call Alaska my home for a period of time while I worked a summer job. To many, Alaska evokes images of mountains, snow, and dog mushing - but after my stay, I learned a few things worth sharing.
First: It’s big.
Alaska is the US’s largest state, accounting for 18% of the land in the entire US. It is big enough to contain the smallest 20 US states inside it. And, an entire country (Canada) separates Alaska from what the locals refer to as “the lower 48," (though it's unclear if they refer to them as such from a solely geographic standpoint).
The expanse of land and the freedom that comes with it is a great source of pride for all who live there.
The first time I asked an Alaskan “why Alaska?” I got the short, simple reply: “there aren't many people,” in that straightforward, no-frills demeanor adopted by many locals.
Second: it’s beautiful,
which a place might as well be if the sun is shining on it 24 hours a day.
In Alaska, the trees grow tall, the clouds hang wispy on the mountaintops, and the air is fresh and crisp. There are ample opportunities for day hikes, trails, and mountains to climb, plenty of moose and bears to see (when caution is exercised) and there are just enough retail shops, restaurants, and activities to keep you busy in Anchorage.
Photos here do more justice than words.
Third: it’s extreme.
Besides being extremely big and extremely beautiful (as per above), it seems that almost every aspect of Alaska is superlative in some way.
Alaska is home to North America’s tallest peak, Denali (formerly known as Mount McKinley) in Denali National Park.
According to NOAA. the Turnagain Arm, just a short 20 minute drive outside of Anchorage, is home to the largest tidal changes in the US. The tides there change up to 12 meters in one day - picture here a three story building. There were days when I left in the morning passing a choppy ocean view, and when I returned back along the same road in the evening, the entire inlet had transformed into a sandbar.
In the summer, the sun never dips below the horizon; on the shortest day of the year, it never rises, casting the state in a ghostly predawn light for all 24 hours of the day.
Fourth: it can be very dangerous.
Slate.com's Corey Adwar explains why it's one of America's most dangerous states. It's not the weather or wild animals, but the people themselves.
Alaska's violent crimes rate is 64% higher than the national average, and in 2012, the reported rapes there were three times the national average, leading several sources to label it "the Rape Capital of America." The state's remote regions make it difficult to send quick police or medical response teams, and the 75 Native American Alaskan villages in the state don't have law enforcement.
In downtown Anchorage, numerous buildings lie abandoned to give shelter to those without homes. People holding brown bags of liquor, having frantic conversations with themselves, or fighting with each other are not rare sightings. “I don’t know if I’d choose Anchorage as a place to be homeless,” said a co-worker. I can’t help but agree; in the winters, it’s possible to see temperatures of -40F.
When going on hikes or walking downtown, I suggest taking a buddy and some bear spray to put your mind at ease.
Last: I firmly believe
that each and every person should visit the state at least once. I could never get used to the way every road in Alaska took me somewhere I wanted to be, or the postcard-picturesque landscape that surrounded me even as I was running the most mundane of errands. Everything you do in Alaska seems tinted with surrealism, as if you can't quite believe you're there.
I could never get used to it - but I'd like to try.
That's the Creme de la Em.