Alaska

In this pandemic summer, Alaskans, like pretty much everyone worldwide, are finding their lives upended. Plans laid for summer back in January were cast aside in March, and are only now being revived and/or revamped. The downside is, most of us probably won’t be touring abroad in the coming months. The upside is, we live in a world class travel destination. And this year we have it to ourselves.

Alaskans tend to be globetrotters, and our bookshelves reflect this. In many homes you’ll find travel guides to warm weather destinations like Mexico, Thailand and Hawaii. Less commonly seen are guidebooks to our own state. We tend to make our plans based on what we’ve heard from others about where to go and what to do.

But as we set out to explore our own massive backyard more closely than usual, a dependable all-in-one resource is a good thing to have, and longtime Alaskan outdoors and travel writer Lisa Maloney has provided just that. The second edition of “Alaska,” published by Moon Travel Guides, has recently come out, and it’s packed with ideas for planning your summer (or winter) staycation.

Maloney gets us up and running in the opening pages with a list of 15 peak experiences including bear viewing, whale watching, backcountry hiking and scenic drives. Then she provides a 21 day itinerary for those who want to see all the highlights the state offers.

The itinerary is just a jumping off point, of course. Readers with either insufficient time on their hands to pursue the entire route, or an interest in exploring one or more places in further depth, can peel out a section of this plan and dig deeper.

There’s plenty here to assist in that endeavor. Maloney divides the state up into the usual regions. Southeast, Southcentral, Interior, Arctic and Southwest Alaska each get in-depth coverage. The usual things one finds in travel books are included: accommodations, restaurants, museums, activities, cultural centers and more. And, owing partly to Maloney’s extensive background in hiking and writing about it, an abundance of outdoor options. The book invites readers to get out of town, out of their cars, and into the wilderness.

Maloney is an engaging writer, and unafraid of allowing her personal views and experiences color her descriptions of what visitors can expect. Thus, in the opening paragraph of the section on driving the Dalton Highway (a.k.a. the Haul Road), she warns, “Before you drive up the Haul Road, make sure you understand what you are getting into: It’s extremely rough and almost completely unpaved, with only two gas stations and essentially no services between Fairbanks and Prudhoe Bay. If you have any loose fillings, do yourself a favor and skip this trip.”

I can attest to this. It’s awesome, but not comfortable.

Lots of travel guides feature largely sunny descriptions of destinations, but Maloney wants her readers alert to the potential pitfalls as well. There are plenty of other ways to get in trouble in Alaska, from being swept into rivers deep in the wilderness to wandering into the wrong bar in Anchorage, and she provides helpful advice for navigating the wilds and the cites alike.

Maloney has a rock solid health and safety section, and even seasoned residents would do well to visit it for important reminders on water safety, bear defense, hypothermia and frostbite. She warns about things we sometimes forget, like insuring adequate hydration, contracting possible food or water poisoning when grabbing a quick bite or a cool drink from what’s at hand in the wilderness, and not going wandering out on the mudflats at low tide. She also includes a handy checklist of vital supplies for those venturing into the backcountry, advises readers on how to prepare for a Bush flight, and discusses local customs.

Most of the book, however, is about having fun. Other than passing through Skagway on a Chilkoot Trail hike, it’s been nearly 30 years since I last traveled the Southeast. Maloney offers a 10 day itinerary for this part of the state, with additional side excursions for those with more time, and she has me wanting to return to this part of Alaska, culturally closer to the Pacific Northwest where I grew up than the less scenic but more rugged Interior where I’ve made my home.

It’s hardly the only place she’s piqued my interest in. I’ve visited Anchorage countless times in my three decades up north, but I’m reminded by her suggestions that there are quite a few things I have yet to see or do in the state’s largest city.

Like many residents, Maloney clearly has a soft spot for Talkeeetna, which she describes as “your quintessential quirky Alaskan town.” She notes that the tiny community reverts back into itself when the tourist buses leave, but this year they won’t be coming. So go visit, spend some money, and experience Talkeetna more as it used to be before the large hotels appeared.

Maloney’s sections on Kodiak, Nome and Utqiagvik, meanwhile, remind readers that these far-flung regions of Alaska each have unique and distinctive histories and cultures all their own.

While the state has lifted all COVID-related restrictions, some local municipalities have maintained stricter rules for now. And many businesses listed in this book will not be open this summer. So before heading out, double check to be sure that what you want to do is accessible. But by all means, take this book along. The information is extensive and the photographs are spectacular. We’ve got Alaska to ourselves this summer. Take advantage of it.

David James is a freelance writer who lives in Fairbanks. He can be emailed at nobugsinak@gmail.com.

“Moon Alaska”

By Lisa Maloney

Avalon Travel

Hachette Book Group

496 pages

2020 (2nd Edition)

$24.99