Grandpa Points: At Last, Visiting Alaska in Retirement

Jul 20, 2015

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I encountered the Alaskan names, Tundra, Yukon, Kodiak, Ram, Aurora, Avalanche and Denali, so frequently that they had become a part of my daily life. While this may sound ruggedly exciting and somewhat romantic, and one might assume that I had my own set of keys to the Palin’s snowmobile, the reality is they were just the car, truck and SUV names I would see as I went through a local car dealership on my frequent run/walks. However, finally, they are no longer just vehicle names as we can now happily report that we have BTDT ( been there, done that ) and personally experienced the real story behind those exotic names because yes, Virginia, I mean Alaska, there is a Santa Claus.


We (drum roll, please) went to Alaska.


While we do not think this qualifies us for the Blanket Toss at the Eskimo Nalukataq Festival, we do feel like celebrating.

Picnic view with sister-in-law

We think this is quite the accomplishment for us Texans whose spirit is willing and eager, but whose finances are modest to meager. It is not easy to get to Alaska from the bottom of the lower 48, and it is not cheap. We were able to do it because of a desire to get it done, the use of saved airline miles and hotel points, and due diligence on securing the lowest car rental rates and the most bang for the buck lodging. We were able to further cut costs by enjoying many picnics both roadside and in room, and it always helps to have an extra family member go along to share the fun and the costs. Our flights were covered by some forgotten American Airline miles (thanks Mommy Points!). We flew round trip at the SuperSaver award level for for 25,000 miles each. Four of our lodging nights were on IHG points obtained via the IHG® Rewards Club Select Credit Card varying between 15,000 and 35,000 points per night.  Check out this post for examples of hotels available in Alaska on points. 

Stayed at Holiday Inn Express in Seward on IHG points.
Stayed at Holiday Inn Express in Seward on IHG points.

One night was booked through an Orbitz Cyber Monday Sale that saved us about $100. The remaining 7 nights were at hotels and cabins with a price tag of $175 – $275 a night. We stayed as often as practical at locales that provided free breakfasts. We found the average price of goods and services was about 30% to 50% higher in Alaska than we normally pay in Texas. We are still looking for any $5.00 footlongs and the dollar value menus in our 49th state.

Because we are essentially retired, we have the gift of time and the pleasure of convenience. We chose late May and early June for our expedition (another vehicle name) in order to get ahead of most of the summer visitors. The crowds were a non-factor and the roads were often virtually empty except for the occasional wildlife sighting.

DSCN9716We also opted for this time period so as to experience cool temps and to see the mountains with as much of the winter and spring snow still coating their upper slopes as possible. We also thought we could avoid the mosquitoes before they got the size of vultures. All joking aside, Alaska does have mosquitoes, but we found them to be more of a slight nuisance than a deterrent. On hindsight, maybe it was because we didn’t bathe for 10 days. Just kidding, just kidding!

Alaska is huge. Even us native Texans have to wave the white flag when it comes to the biggest state category. As would be expected with a landmass this big, Alaska is very geographically diverse. As you approach from the air, islands of every shape and size and in numbers far too many to count, rise from the water and appear as stepping stones leading to the mainland. In the south and central part of the state, millions and millions of Sitka and Black Spruce trees grow abundantly and close together as if for company and warmth.

DSCN8288 (2)

Snow capped mountains reach to and greet the sea.


Age old glaciers extend their massive gnarled and icy fingers into valley floors and also push themselves into the blue/green waters of secluded bays.



Flowers line the roadsides and dot the landscape with colors and volume that exceed description.Alaska Flowers
Alaska flowers and mountains

And even in a year of below average snowfall, the streams and rivers flow vigorously, the waterfalls crash with a deafening roar and the glistening, mirror like lakes are full and reflect the beauty they accent.

Alaska stream

Alaska waterfall

Alaska landscape

And then rising above all else, there is Mt. McKinley, aka Denali. Denali means “High One” or “Great One” in the language of the early inhabitants. It is rumored that Fred Sanford, ( I’m showing my age here ) was heard to say, “Elizabeth, it’s the big one” when he possibly saw it for the first time. This monster of a mountain looms over the landscape like an NBA player at a junior high school. That is, when it wants to be seen. Denali often acts like a very shy child and hides behind its blanket of clouds. Will I see it? Do I see it? Is that it? There it is! No, that’s not it! Denali can be a fickle find.

The common saying about Denali is that if you see all of it, you become a member of the 30% club. Apparently, it is visible with only that degree of frequency. I suggest the visual fraternity be called the 4 Mile High Club. I suggest this to honor its 20,000 – 21,000 foot height and in an attempt at some elevation humor.  The question is, would it be high brow or low brow?

Alaska is a land of land as compared to a land of people. I was quite shocked to discover the total population of Alaska is only 750,000. Folks, that is only about 1 person per square mile. Our nearby city of Houston has 3700 people per sq. mile and Manhattan in New York City has over 70,000 crowded into each similarly sized area. If you want to get away, need to get away, Alaska may be the zip code for your Nirvana.

The Alaskan highway system is pretty simple and straightforward. It is almost as easy as 1,2,3 and 4. Visitors can navigate most of the state using these four numbered state highways.


We found the roads to be mostly at low elevation and in mountain valleys. They did not present the frequent pulse quickening, breath taking and white knuckled steering wheel gripping that can be experienced in the mountains and passes of Colorado. I do not think the Alaska DOT has to budget much for road signs that warn of steep grade ahead or hairpin turns.

Our (probably) once in a lifetime trip involved the airways, railways, waterways, highways and byways of Alaska. It was a great ride and we are excited to share some highlights with you in upcoming blogs. So, if Alaska in on your to do list or if you have already visited but want to be reminded of the beauty that Alaska is, then like the saying goes, Stay Tuned…..It’s gonna be fun.

Grandma Points and her sister in Alaska

If you want more Alaskan vacation adventures right now, here are Mommy Points’ posts on their Alaskan trip from last summer…

Flying Seven Hours with a Kid to Alaska

Review of the Sheraton Anchorage Hotel and Spa

What Alaska Hotels Need to Learn from Las Vegas Hotels and Casinos

Don’t Wait Until You are Retired to Visit Alaska

Holiday Inn Express Seward Review

Fun Activities for Families Near Anchorage

Restaurants, Dog Sledding, and More in Seward

Log Cabins, Horseback Riding, and Gold Panning in Alaska


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