Sunday, July 3, 1988



My family and I recently returned from a trip to Alaska, a place that combines spectacular natural beauty with a breathtaking amount of tax-deductibility if you write a travel article about it, which is what I'm doing here. I'll start with some Facts at a Glance:

WHERE ALASKA IS: Way the hell far from you. Beyond Mars.

HOW YOU GET THERE: You sit in a variety of airplanes for the bulk of your adult life (longer if you take a child).

WHAT THEY HAVE THERE THAT WILL TRY TO KILL YOU: Bears. I am quite serious about this. Although Alaska is now an official United State with modern conveniences such as rental cars and frozen yogurt, it also contains a large number of admitted bears, striding freely about the landscape, and nobody seems to be the least bit alarmed about this. In fact, the Alaskans seem to be proud of it. You walk into a hotel or department store, and the first thing you see is a glass case containing a stuffed bear the size of Nigeria. Our hotel had two of these. It was what we travel writers call "a two-bear hotel." Both bears were standing on their hind legs and striking a pose that said: "Welcome to Alaska! I'm going to rip your arms off!"

This struck me as an odd concept, greeting visitors with a showcase containing a major local hazard. It's as if the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce went around setting up glass display cases containing stuffed cocaine smugglers, with little plaques stating how much they weighed and where they were taken. (Which is not such a bad idea, now that I think of it.)

Anyway, we decided the best way to deal with our fear of bears was to become well-informed about them, so we bought a book entitled Alaska Bear Tales. Here are some of the chapter titles, which I am not making up:

"They'll Attack Without Warning"

"They'll Really Maul You"

"They Will Kill"

"Come Quick! I'm Being Eaten by a Bear!"

"They Can Be Funny"

Ha ha! I bet they can. I bet Mr. and Mrs. Bear are a bundle of hilarity as they tussle playfully over the remaining portion of a former tourist plumped up by airline food. But just the same, I'm glad that the only actual, nonstuffed, practicing bears that we saw were in the Anchorage zoo.

We did, however, see a great deal of nature. Alaska is almost completely covered with nature, including several million spectacular snow-capped mountains, any one of which is so awesome that if you were to relocate it to an average semiflat state such as Indiana, the residents would all quit their jobs and form cults and worship it. But Alaska has so many amazing mountains that after a while you hardly notice them, which is a good thing because it frees you to watch out for the moose poop, which is all over the place in the form of egg-shaped units known as "moose nuggets, " which local people use -- this is also the truth -- to make earrings and other souvenir items to sell to tourists who have no taste or decency. We bought some.

Speaking of the local people, they are as nice as any we've ever met. This is probably because there are only about 85 of them, and they all seem to know each other. It's an informal state, the kind of state where if you stayed for a couple of weeks and didn't shoot anybody, they'd probably let you be lieutenant governor. (Alaska has a fully operational state government, complete with buildings, Legislature, etc. The front-page issue being hotly debated while we were there was: salmon.)

As you'd expect, Alaskans tend to be hardy, outdoor- oriented individuals. For example, we were invited to dinner at the home of Craig Medred, an Anchorage newspaper columnist, and we ate a caribou that he, personally, had shot. With a real gun. This is very rugged behavior, for a journalist. For most of us, a real Wilderness Adventure is to operate a nonriding lawn mower.

Another rugged Alaskan we met was Cynthia Toohey, who operates the Crow Creek Mine near Anchorage. This is a genuine gold mine, with a sign on the entrance road stating:



Toohey lives in a house with no electricity, phone or plumbing, and no way to get in or out during winter except by snowmobile. "When the tourists come, " she said, "they ask me, 'How can you get by without a trash compactor?' " She had Pepsi cooling in a snowbank and a loaded gun over the front door. I asked her if she'd ever had any trouble with bears, and she said, yeah, she had; but she seemed more concerned about fern-pickers.

Not far from the Crow Creek Mine is the Bird House, a tiny, truly wonderful bar that is falling down a hillside and has reached such a steep angle that if you don't hang on to your beer bottle, it will slide away and fall off the bar. Not that this would matter: You couldn't possibly make a mess in the Bird House, because it already contains two-thirds of the world clutter supply. Every surface is covered with objects left by patrons -- business cards, underpants, numerous brassieres (some the size of tank parachutes) and, of course, an artificial leg.

Alaska also contains glaciers, avalanches, earthquakes and a large quantity of "tundra" (an Eskimo word meaning: "nothing"). These are all very important in terms of geology, and you should definitely visit them. But stop by the Bird House first. And save your receipts.


© 1988 Dave Barry. The information you receive on-line from
this site is protected by the copyright laws of the United States.
The copyright laws prohibit any copying, redistributing, retransmitting,
or repurposing of any copyright-protected material.

NOTE: We're happy to have you link to this page on your web site, or send the link to your friends in email. But please don't copy the columns and put them on your site, or send them out in email. Thanks.

Go back to Dave's Columns