Reindeer, Moose and Bears, oh my!

It’s been a week since I arrived back from Alaska. I jumped right into fall term registration (a shout-out to my Region 8 peeps on the quarter system) so it was a little while before I had time to reflect on my trip to the Last Frontier. After the conference planning meeting, I took the opportunity to play tourist. Just a short drive away from downtown Anchorage is the Alaska Native Heritage Museum, an interactive exploration of the indigenous cultures of Alaska.

While the main facility is impressive and educational, the walking tour outside is what makes the museum really come alive. Six life-sized ancient dwellings representing the 11 culture groups of Alaska give you a chance to literally walk into a native Alaskan home. Cultural ambassadors in each home share stories and experiences and detail what daily life is like. Some imagination is required though; the dwellings were built with ground level doors for easy entrance. However, several guides pointed out that some actual “front doors” are through a ceiling or in a tunnel that is dug under the structure. One particular structure has an extremely steep and increasing narrow doorway…to keep the polar bears out.

Judi and I joined the rest of the “Visit Anchorage” group on a train ride to Girdwood, a town within the Anchorage Municipality. Before we left downtown Anchorage though, she introduced me to Star The Reindeer. Star lives just two blocks away from the conference hotel. You can befriend Star on Facebook. The locals tell us that some times you can catch Star going on a walk through the park. When we visited, Star was pretty far away from the photo op glass so I didn’t get very good pictures. But I can now safely say I’ve met a reindeer. At this point, I’ve yet to meet a moose…

At Girdwood, I stayed at the Alyeska Resort. It boasts year-round activities but being nestled against the Chugach Mountains, an obvious attraction is skiing. We took the aerial tram up to the top of the mountain. The views were spectacular. The air was crisp and cold. And it was snowing. In May. The locals were none too pleased. They were bemoaning their lack of spring. I was bemoaning my lack of a winter jacket.

It was finally here, on the grounds of the resort, that I saw my first moose. I was at breakfast, he was right outside the window, and I didn’t have a camera with me. *facepalm*

A short bus ride away from the resort is the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center (AWCC). Had I not seen a moose by this visit, I was guaranteed to see one here. They did not disappointment. Moose, caribou, bison, musk ox, a couple of lynxes, bears and a porcupine named Snickers. More about him later. AWCC makes for a great educational side trip. You can either drive through the center and/or park and walk around for a closer encounter.

Speaking of closer encounters…the trip ended with a meet and greet with Snickers the porcupine. If you think something this prickly couldn’t be adorable, you could not be more wrong. I learned he loves munching on things. (On this occasion, he was happily munching on carrots and looking for more.) I also learned he doesn’t spray his needles. That’s a common misconception. Snickers is a YouTube star. Search “Snickers the Porcupine.” Or even better, see “Porcupine who thinks he’s a puppy.”

It’s pretty clear Alaska has a lot to offer the first-time visitor. And while we’ll mainly focus on the conference from here on, I hope that if you haven’t been here before, you’ll use the excuse of the regional conference as also an excuse to explore this magnificent state. For my colleagues and friends from Alaska, thank you in advance for your hospitality. Thank you for your (hopefully) almost 20-hours of daylight, your (hopefully) crisp and bright weather, and your (hopefully still valid) lack of a sales tax. See you next April!

~ Sally Garner, Communications Coordinator

P.S. I had to wake up at 4 a.m. to get ready for a 7 a.m. flight out of Anchorage. I finally got a picture of downtown Anchorage when it was dark!

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