By Caroleine James
Wrangell Sentinel 

Answering tourist questions is part of the summer fun

 

August 23, 2023 | View PDF



Anyone who’s spent the summer in Wrangell knows that tourists often say — and do — the darndest things, whether it’s standing in the middle of the road or inquiring about the town’s elevation as they look out across the water, only yards below them.

With just over a month left in the tourism season, the community’s guides, tour operators and service workers reflect on their most amusing tourist tales from this summer and beyond.

Several summers ago, Zach Taylor of Muddy Water Adventures was guiding a tour up the Stikine River. As the group rode along, he pointed out sights along the way, including several popular moose hunting trees, where limbs had been chopped off to help hunters get a better view. An hour or so later, a woman approached him with a question that she had clearly been “chewing on” for a while, Taylor recalled: “I didn’t think moose climbed trees,” she told him. “I thought they were land animals.”

When he explained the confusion, “she was just mortified,” he said. “She was a good sport about it though, we had a laugh.”

Alicia Armstrong, a barista at the Stikine Cafe, also fields questions from tourists, many of whom aren’t aware that Southeast Alaska’s climate is different from the Arctic Circle. “Where are the polar bears? Do you have penguins?” she recalled them asking. Servers get those questions “all the time.”

Tourists have asked Mark Galla of Alaska Peak & Seas why Alaskans don’t clean their icebergs or why they aren’t seeing whales on a tour upriver.

“I looked at her thinking she was kidding and she was totally serious,” he said of the woman who suggested giving the icebergs a good scrub-down.

“I often pull a chunk of ice out of a lake … to throw in my cooler,” he continued. “I had a woman ask me if I should really be doing that. The only thing I could assume was her concern for global warming. I’m pretty sure that wouldn’t affect it.”

Money is another frequent source of confusion. “I had a lady ask … ‘I only have (U.S. dollars), is that OK?’” said Armstrong. Apparently, some people assume that Wrangell has its own currency, or is a part of Canada. “I was behind the machine, I was about to die laughing,” she said.

“We get tipped in a lot of Canadian money,” agreed Grace Wintermyer of 56° North. Many visitors are also confused about the island’s geography. “It’s funny how many people get off the boats and don’t realize that it’s an island,” she said. “Or that there are no bridges.”

Wintermyer leads plant tours around the nature trail, familiarizing visitors with the area’s abundant flora. In mid-July, a young couple joined her tour and “when we were on that back part of the Volunteer Loop Trail, they hung behind for a minute,” she said. She waited for them to catch back up and when they came around the corner, the woman was bawling.

“I was like, ‘oh no, what happened?’” Wintermyer recalled. “And the guy was like, ‘can you take a picture of us? We just got engaged.’”

The whole tour group applauded, but after a few minutes, Wintermyer had to make the awkward transition back to the topic of plants. “We enjoyed that for a minute and then I had to be like, ‘… and so more about these ferns! These salmonberries have lots of manganese!’”

Though Wintermyer finds tourists’ questions as amusing as the next guide, she isn’t one to judge them too harshly for being curious. “I know it’s easy to bash on tourists for asking silly questions,” she said, “but I like being reminded of how unique our lives are here. People come with a stereotypical vision of what Alaska is and our little community in a lush rainforest just blows their minds.”

 

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