Posted July 25, 2012 04:02 pm

Be a tourist at home

Whale rib arch in Barrow/Browerville
That's me standing beneath the whale rib arches in Browerville (part of Barrow/North Star Borough) with the Arctic Ocean and sky as my backdrop.

There are locals who won't step foot downtown during the summer months because of the locust-like swarms of tourists — living downtown, sometimes I wish I could practice avoidance — but the tourists, when they find their way out of the diamond stores, are on to something. We live in a super great place. That's why we live here, after all. 

But how often do we not do certain things because "we're locals." It took me three years to shell out some money for a flightseeing tour (oh-my-gosh-the-icefield-looks-like-Antarctica), about four years to get on a whalewatching tour, and I'm really close to just doing the Tracy Arm tour, even if nobody ever comes to visit me. So far, each tourist activity was totally worth it.

I have friends who were born and raised in Juneau, but whose travel in Alaska is only as extensive as a ferry trip to Haines. Last year, I finally made it to Fairbanks and Denali, but there are people my age who have been as close as this  their whole lives who haven't made the trip.

This past weekend, I made the northernmost journey I'll likely ever make, ever. It cost 15,000 Alaska Airlines miles. I went to Barrow. I saw the Arctic Ocean. I experienced a wholly different part of this state, sort of like a tourist, sort of like a distant cousin come to visit. 

It's alien up there, dusty and flat and the sky is endless, extending into the mirror-like ocean punctuated with ice floes. The tundra wears the colors of every season and breathes air thick with insects. There are melt ponds and lakes where the winter's melted ice collected. You could encounter a polar bear.

Everyone wanted to know why I was excited, why I was going to Barrow — for the same number of miles as a trip to Anchorage, I visited a new world. Sure, Barrow is usually cold and it doesn't have a single mall, but what an experience a trip like that is!

So, next time you are planning a trip and you only have 15,000 miles, see how far those miles can take you. Go past the malls of Anchorage (you may get stuck with a long enough layover to fit that in, anyway), past the roads even (we don't need roads, we're Southeast Alaskans!), and visit someplace wild. Or stick close to home and see our own wild wonders from a boat, from atop a mountain or from the air. It's not so bad being a tourist in Alaska, if you know there's more to it than diamonds and t-shirt shops.


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