100 things to do in Alaska before you die
By Fran Golden and Midgi Moore, Reedy Press, 202 pages, 2021. $ 19.95
Summer is making its way to Alaska and the people of Alaska are eager to get around after another long winter. And even though the pandemic appears to be drawing to a close, it can be assumed that many people will always stay closer to home than usual, looking for things to do. The trick is to figure out what these things could be.
Most longtime Alaskans have at least one well-researched copy of “The Milepost,” which is good for charting the intricacies of planning a road trip, such as where to find gas and a burger. But it doesn’t offer a passionate argument to get you out of your car and actually explore things. At the other end of the spectrum is Lisa Maloney’s very comprehensive “Moon Alaska: Scenic Drives, National Parks, Best Hikes”, which should be featured in every library in Alaska. Maloney tells readers where they should go in the state and enthusiastically explains why they should visit these places and what they should do when they arrive. The problem here is to sort its suggestions until a route compatible with your schedule.
So for those looking for a quick start guide to Alaska, a book that offers a handful of ideas on what to see and leaves readers to take from there, “100 Things to Do in Alaska Before You Die. “could be the ticket.
These “100 Things to Do Before You Die” books have been out for several years, attempting to provide readers with a to-do list for their visits to all corners of the world. I admit that I have always been a little put off by the title of these books. Not so much for the macabre aspect as for the presumption of it. But with their brief summaries of exactly 100 options, they serve a purpose and are clearly popular. So it was only a matter of time before Alaska was introduced.
For this book, our guides are Fran Golden, who does not live in Alaska, and Midgi Moore, who lives in Alaska. Some Alaskans might take offense at anyone on the outside telling us what we should see in our own state, but it actually makes sense. For potential tourists, knowing what a frequent visitor to our shores considers worthy of mention is useful information.
Of course, useful information includes food, and that’s the section that opens this quick little book. It was a pleasant surprise to find 229 Parks Restaurant near Denali on the opening page as it offers upscale cuisine and creative dishes rather than the usual fare. Beyond that, the section directs readers to a handful of trendy cafes, dive bars, and some of the many distilleries and craft breweries that have sprung up over the past two decades.
One thing that becomes immediately evident in this section is that the Southeast is disproportionately represented in the book. Moore lives in Juneau and operates a tourism business, so it’s no surprise. But for residents of Anchorage or Fairbanks who are loading their trunks and heading out for a weekend getaway, those options will be a bit more difficult to access.
The history and culture section that follows goes further. In addition to the opportunities available in the Southeast, the authors suggest several more remote options, including spending a night in Coldfoot, although I recommend pitching your tent at the Marion Creek Campground a few miles north, which they don’t not mention. It’s more picturesque and less dusty. And the historic town of Wiseman a little further afield, which has fewer amenities but much more interest, hardly deserves a mention.
This is where the problem lies with these kinds of books. Ask any local and you’ll always find that there are better options than listed. As soon as an Alaskan picks it up, they’ll notice things that aren’t there (McNeil River’s absence from the list of bear-watching locations being one of the more egregious examples).
On the other hand, these same books can inform the inhabitants of things that they did not know existed. I haven’t walked through Haines in over 30 years and was unaware that the city is home to the Hammer Museum, dedicated to humanity’s oldest tool of mass construction and, if need be, destruction. Now I have a new item on my bucket list if I ever end up in this town.
The authors of these books must distinguish between acknowledging that most of their readers will not stray from creature comforts and gently encouraging them to do so anyway. So when Golden and Moore suggest a visit to the sand dunes in the remote Kobuk Valley National Park, they let readers know that they should book an air taxi “from the village of Kotzebue, 80 miles away, where is a heritage center, the only establishment park with bathrooms.
Much of what is in this book is passive in nature rather than presenting things to do. But the pair do offer a few choices for those who want to get their body moving. The hike on the Chilkoot Trail is well worth the effort, although oddly enough, although they also mention driving the White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad, another must-see trip, they neglect to inform readers that this combination of hiking and riding can be made into a perfect loop out of Skagway.
But again, this is where talking to Alaskans is important. The Alaskans will also spot some errors that should not have gone through the fact-checking process. The details on McCarthy and the Muskoxen are simply incorrect, the use of the term “Eskimo” is considered derogatory (how did they miss that?), And the snow machine is one word in Alaska, not two.
Despite these flaws, it’s a quick and fun book, and if it gets you out of your house, it did its job. Just make sure this is just the starting point for your own list. Alaska has no limits. Don’t limit yourself.