Sunday, June 26, 2011

Alaska Zoo

It is no San Diego Zoo by any means. Actually, it doesn't even come close to the variety of specimens in the one in Salt Lake City. But that is the beauty of the Alaska Zoo.  You will NOT find elephants or giraffes or lions here. Why? Well, frankly, they'd freeze their butts off here.  So, you will only find native species and several foreign animals that can survive the harsh winter conditions of this region.

It's a small facility in comparison to zoo standards, but this has become a favorite destination for the fam. Yes, even including myself.  Before, a trip to the zoo meant hot sticky heat, the sun baking the top of my head, and ice cream melting down in rivulets down the girls' arms. Here, it's a cool respite walking through the gravel trails winding through the wooded grounds. 

They have a pair of adult polar bears with an orphaned cub coming soon. Anybody recall that clip of a polar bear grabbing a dumb woman who jumped over a railing to take a closer picture on "When Animals Attack"? Yep, that happened here. And Binky the polar bear is just fine. 
One of the girls' favorites is the pair of bull moose. One of the great things with small zoos is that the kids can take their time and observe their favorites and get to know their personalities. (There is a neurotic wolverine that runs non-stop in circles around his pen, and Sophie loves going there just to say, "Still at it, huh?") Dylan loves watching the grizzlies play around and try to swipe at the birds pecking at their food. I, myself, like to observe the ravens (I know, exciting, huh?) push their food out of their cages to feed the wild ravens who come for a visit.

The zoo is also open in the winter, and many come pulling sleds instead of strollers then. I love the fenced in trails, the girls like to run ahead a bit, and I don't feel they'll disappear somewhere.

The fam purchased an annual membership ($85 or so for a military fam) and we have gone five times in the last four months we've been here. This summer, the girls are requesting to visit at least once a week. We are definitely getting our money's worth. We are looking forward to booking our VIP tour that will let us tail a zookeeper for a couple hours and have up-close encounters with the big animals. 

If you haven't come by yet, do so. Just don't expect a big city zoo. This is Alaska, after all, and everything here must be done in Alaska fashion.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

First Bear Experience

It was bound to happen. You can't live in a place like Alaska and not have at least one encounter with wildlife. We've spied moose everywhere...gas stations, parking lots, outside our's a frequent occurrence to say the least. But, bears? We know they're around. And we hear and read many warnings to stay on the ready just in case we run across one. Regardless, aside from purchasing bear repellant spray (it's just a jumbo can of mace) and making lots of noise where we go (they say bears stay away from humans), we really never thought it would happen.

Two weeks ago, we stayed the weekend at the Otter Lake Recreational Grounds. Beautiful place on base. The Mister had taken leave to relieve himself in the porta-potty a little ways from our cabin. As I was watching the grill, I hear Dylan yell, "MOM!!! Bear! Bear! Bear!"

I look back towards him and see this humongous lumbering black bear trudging up the main road behind our cabin, about a hundred feet from us. I yell to the kids to at least get on the porch, I leave our barbecue chicken on the grill and join them. And then I remember my husband is in the porta potty, that he should be about done to be heading back towards us, and he is in the bear's path. YIKES!

I call him up: There's a black bear headed your way. Stay there inside.
Mister: Okay.

I walked towards the back of the cabin to where I can sight the cluster of porta-potties. By that time, the bear was shielded from my view by a line of trees. I wondered if he was still headed that way or maybe up the mountain and away from us.  Suddenly, I spot a porta potty door open and the Mister step outside. He is facing the road, looking like he's trying to find something.

--Train of thought: So I think maybe it's not there anymore.
But then a truck rounds the bend behind the hubster heading towards me and stops.
--New train of thought: Yep, the bear is still in the road. Dammit, Lou, get back in there and lock the door!

And thank goodness, he does. I breathe a sigh of relief, "Yay, my husband is thinking straight and is safe." Everyone is safe, the end, right? WRONG!

That dang door creeps back open. YES, it does! I kid you not! It opens! ANNNNND, my husband's head, which can fit right into a mature bear's mouth, slowly peeks out from behind it! ANNNND at that moment, I, myself caught sight of the bear, walking to the porta potty!!! My heart jumps in my chest, but my head is saying, in the most controlled and calm reasoning voice, "No, he can definitely see it now.  Shut the door! He will shut the door!"

Did he shut the door? NOOOOOO!

Mister pops OUT from behind the door, arms out, and runs sideways down towards the boathouse. Now, the bear can react one of two ways: 1) His chasing instinct will be triggered and it's goodbye husband, hello widowhood to yours truly or 2) Buddy Bear will get startled and run the other way.

Oh, thank goodness for number two. The bear was just as surprised as I was at the Mister's impulsive reaction to coming within three feet of his own death and jumped away. The bear headed back up the road.

So yes, everyone is safe.  The end.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Otter Lake Weekend

 We spent a glorious weekend out at Otter Lake, renting a cabin for two nights, grilling out, sitting by the firepit, and boating on the lake.
These cabins sleep a maximum of six, with electricity, a small fridge, beds, & wood-burning stove. 
E-1 thru E-6 = $50/nt
E-7 & above = $55/nt
Minimum two night reservations during the weekend, and three during the week.
If you want to rough it a bit more, there are others available (although they are not lakeside) that are rustic all the way.

This was taken close to midnight.  The kids were already sent to bed, and the Mister and I just sat out there, taking it all in.
 There was a double bed and a set of bunks in the rear bedroom, and a pull out double in the front room.
 I always love the lake first thing in the morning, when the wind is still, and the surface mirroring the mountains. It's breathtaking.
 Trolling motor boats and pedal boats are available for rent from the boathouse for a mere $25 every 24 hours. 
 The kids loved going out on the water. We had our own boat dock in front of our cabin, and we would just hop on and out onto the lake throughout the day. We even had a picnic lunch on the boat our second day there.

I love that we have this place so close to our house. Twenty minutes, tops, and I am showered and clean and back at the campground. (I know it's a bit prissy of me. I can't help but want to be clean when it's so easy to do from here.) Please note, for those prospecting to do this as well, you need to get a recreation pass from any of the base gates (Ft. Rich gate is much less busy). Reservations can be made 30 days out from the Ft Rich Outdoor Recreation Center.


 Last Tuesday marked the summer solstice and the official start of the summer (although the kiddos have been out of school for over a month already). This is definitely a unique summer experience for the fam!

First off, I have never seen a community as a whole embrace and rejoice in summer as Alaskans do. No joke. And really, what would you expect, after being trapped in the dark dark cold for over six months? While everyone else marvels at their tulip-strewn Easters and blooming cherry blossoms in April, we folks up here in the Yukon are still snuggled in our down jackets and trudging through snow. So when the big bud break extravaganza happens in the deciduous trees in this area (around mid-May or so), the sudden burst of lime green sends everyone into a frenzy.

Suddenly, Fridays call for driving in the neighborhood extra carefully, since all the recreational vehicles of all forms are parked in front of houses, spiffing up for the big getaway for the weekend.  If it's not a trailer full of four-wheelers, it's a full-size RV. Alaskans do NOT take summer for granted, no sirreee.

And what a lovely summer it is. Here are some summer impressions of a newbie in Alaska:

1) Yay to clear roads and lane markings. I don't think I've missed lane marks on the road as I have this winter. I can see where I should be driving! Yippeee! That solid blanket of ice on all roadways that has made me crawl into a corner, bite my nails to nubs, and sob uncontrollably whenever I HAD to get behind the wheel is no more. The blessed visibility has given me back my nerve.

2) Sunlight! We have so much Vitamin D-filled hours, it's ridiculous. The solstice gave us 19.5 hours of full sunlight, with the remainder of the day in this weird twilight/dusk. The sun doesn't seem to fully set or sink below the horizon; it is never truly dark. I may be imagining this, but I find I have more energy during the day...and I can do yard work nearing midnight and I don't need a spotlight! LOL

3) Here's a thumbs down...Alaskan mosquitoes are the size of vultures. The ground shakes when they land. I kid, I kid. But, I have mistaken a mosquito for a small bee. Yep, I have become a big investor in OFF!

4) The dandelion is the (unofficial) state flower. Every square inch of yard/field/garden sprouted in full force along with the bud break. They were in so much abundance, it almost looked like landscapers did it on purpose. I hate dandelions. My Utah arch nemesis has followed me here.

5) There are days I still require a hoodie to keep warm. Love this about Alaska. Absolutely love it.  I do not like heat or sweat or humidity. This place is perfect! So far, the temps have not exceeded 70. Most days, it is a nice 67.  With the sun in full force. The kids still wear long sleeves, and a light jacket if it's breezy at night. It doesn't bother me to take the kids to the playground at noon (which was unheard of in UT unless you had a desperate wish for heatstroke). I love it, the kids love it, my flowers love it!

Our travel radius has only gone as far as Seward in the south, and Eagle River to the north. But this next couple months will seriously change that. This perfect weather calls for some serious hiking and exploring, and perhaps a trip to Denali Natl. Park. We have visitors coming next year around this time, and testing out activities for their itinerary is a great excuse to go see what's out there.

I've been absent from this blog, but not because I'm just too lazy to do it, really...I'm just having too much fun!