Alaskan odyssey: Everything is bigger in Last Frontier

Mt. McKinley, or Danali as its called in Alaska, is the tallest peak in North America at 20,300 feet. Only about 30 percent of the tourists who make the trip to the majestic mountain actually see it in all its glory. BY RON MACARTHUR
July 17, 2012


It's impossible to describe the beauty of Alaska in a few paragraphs. Spending a few days in the Last Frontier was a dream come true, but it was only a small taste of what the massive state has to offer.

I'll go off The Circle and include some thoughts and photographs of my Alaskan odyssey over the next few days. Spending five days in the Denali National Park area and seven days on a Princess cruise in the Inland Passage offered just enough to wet my whistle for another sojourn to Alaska sometime in the future.

My first impression of Alaska was its immense size and lack of people. More people live in little Delaware than Alaska. Less than 750,000 people live in the state that is bigger than Texas, Montana and California combined. It doesn't take long to understand why – the remoteness and weather.

In Fairbanks, temperatures in the winter are routinely well below zero – and double digits as in 30 to 40 below at times. School children still go outside for recess when it's 20 below zero. That's hard to fathom when we cringe when its 30 degrees. In other towns, such as Ketchikan, it rains most of the time. When sun rays break through on rare occasions, Alaskans take full advantage of it and enjoy the natural bounty just outside their doors.

During the few, precious summer months, crystal-blue water, endless waterfalls, breathtaking mountain vistas, colorful wildflowers and wildlife are everywhere you turn. But it doesn't last long; Alaskan summers end before most realize the season changed.

During our stay, the average daytime temperature was in the 50s. On July 4 – while Sussex residents were baking in near 100-degree heat – we were dressed in winter coats and hats fighting a cold 48-degree day in Juneau. In a state filled with oddities here is another one: The state capital of Juneau is only accessible by ferry or plane.

While Minnesota claims to be the Land of 10,000 Lakes, Alaskans are proud of the fact they have 3 million lakes of 20 acres or greater. Everything is bigger in Alaska.

North America's most western point, Attu Island in the Aleutian Islands, is actually closer to Tokyo, Japan, than Anchorage. Attu is the place intrepid birders go to see some of the rarest birds in North America.

Yet, only 20 percent of the state's few roads are paved and the number of planes per resident is greater than any other state because many places are only accessible by seaplane.

It was also extremely challenging to acclimate to Alaska's crazy daylight hours. On June 25 in Fairbanks, the sun set at 12:46 a.m. and rose again at 3:01 a.m.; the day was 21 hours, 45 minutes long. It was hard to get used to twilight at 11 p.m. into midnight in the Land of the Midnight Sun.

  • Ron MacArthur has lived and worked in Sussex County all his life. As a journalist for more than 40 years, he has covered everything from county and town meetings to presidential visits. He also has a unique perspective having served as an elected official and lived on both sides of the county.

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