May 28, 2015

The Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center

Living in Alaska sometimes means you get so busy living that you forget that you live in Alaska. Tourist pay thousands of dollars to come and enjoy this place we call home... Why should we let them have all the fun? So recently we headed to the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center.

The Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center is a nonprofit organization dedicated to conservation, education, and quality animal care of Alaska's wildlife. AWCC has provided care for hundreds of displaced animals that otherwise would have died in the wild.

Kuma is a male black bear that was brought to AWCC in May 2002, weighing only three pounds. He was found alone in a hole in a backyard in Trapper Creek, AK. The homeowner was putting in a septic system and when the mother bear passed by, the cub fell in and was unable to climb out. When the cub was discovered, the sow was nowhere to be found. One of Kuma’s favorite hangouts at AWCC is high up in the cottonwood trees. He spends hours napping comfortably in the high elevation and doesn’t appear to be bothered by heavy rain or high winds!

 There are 3 brown bears at the AWCC, but they are in a 20 acre enclosure, giving them plenty of room to hide. The closest I was able to come to seeing them was spotting their tracks in the silty mud.

The Wood bison is the northern cousin of the Plains bison that roams many states down-below. It is bigger than the Plains bison and a large, mature bull will often weigh 2,250 pounds versus the 1,900 pounds of the smaller Plains. A mature cow will weigh about 1,000 pounds. Calves are born in May to July and are a reddish color for a few weeks. They begin to grow horns and develop a bison’s “hump” at about two months.

 After more than 100 years of extirpation throughout Alaska, wood bison have found their way back to the state!  In collaboration with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, AWCC was able to reintroduce the wood bison back into the Alaska wild. In 2003, 13 wood bison were brought to AWCC from a disease-free herd in the Yukon Territory in Canada.  The goal is to release the AWCC herd back into the Alaska wild. Currently, AWCC is home to the only wood bison herd in the United States. The first wood bison calves born in the state of Alaska in over 100 years were born at AWCC in 2005. In 2008, AWCC received 53 calves from Canada and placed them with the existing AWCC herd. Since 2006, AWCC has seen the birth of multiple calves every spring.

 Muskox are members of the goat family. They’re an arctic survivor with a thick coat consisting of long (up to 36 inches) guard hairs covering a dense winter coat of harvestable warm fur called Qiviut. Qiviut is considered to be one of the warmest materials in the world.

 During the summer of 2004, a working firefighter spotted month-old lynx  kittens in a recently burned area in Interior Alaska. Three kittens were found alone and suffered from burns on their paws, legs, faces and ears. The whereabouts of the mother was unknown. Had she died in the fire? Had she left some kittens behind, but carried as many as she could as she fled to safety? In need of treatment and knowing the kittens could not survive on their own, the firefighter put them into his backpack and carried them back to camp where he could make arrangements for their transport. Unfortunately, one male kitten died soon after the rescue, but the two females were flown to the Anchorage airport and transported to AWCC for treatment and care on July 20th. In the wild, lynx stay with their mothers for almost a year in order to learn hunting and survival skills. Since these lynx were orphaned at such a young age, a permanent home has been provided for them at AWCC.

 Adonis arrived at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center in 1995. He was found near a remote village in Alaska and had been shot. His left wing required a full amputation as a result. Even though it is illegal to harm an eagle under the Bald Eagle Protection Act, an estimated 2,000 – 3,000 eagles are shot or injured in the United States each year. Since Adonis cannot fly, he has found a permanent home here at AWCC.

May 26, 2015

The Tram at Alyeska Resort

Living in Alaska sometimes means you get so busy living that you forget that you live in Alaska. Tourist pay thousands of dollars to come and enjoy this place we call home... Why should we let them have all the fun? So recently we headed to Girdwood to enjoy the Alyeska Tram.

The tram ascends 2,000 feet up the mountain to the Upper Tram Terminal, which is also home to the Bore Tide Deli and the Seven Glaciers restaurant. The tram can move at 26 miles per hour, making the trip in 4 minutes. In the summer, they slow it down to a 7 minute ride to give you time to enjoy the view. In the winter, the tram is part of a network of ski lifts to move skiers up the mountain.
The Alyeska Tramway, designed by Von Roll Tramways, Inc. of Switzerland, has a regenerative drive system. AC power is converted to DC, allowing the tram to operate at varied speeds – slow for scenic rides and fast for powder days.
The tram operates two cars on a counterweight system -- as one car goes up the other car comes down.

 The views are amazing. Below you can see the Girdwood Valley and the Turnagain Arm. To reach Girdwood and the Alyeska Resort, you take the scenic Seward Highway south from Anchorage along the Turnagain Arm. Girdwood is a funky ski resort town with some great restaurants.

With the valley below,the views above are all about the mountains, snow and glaciers. You can see several glaciers from the Upper Tram Terminal.

You can do the tram on it's own. It's also how you access the fine dining Seven Glaciers restaurant. The Roundhouse Museum is part gift shop and part museum with some displays explaining the history of skiing in the area. You can also purchase a ticket that includes a dining credit for lunch at the Bore Tide Deli.

Our group ordered an assortment of soups, sandwiches, fries and chicken strips. All of it was pretty good. But the real star attraction is the view from up top.

Even though we've been having summer weather down below, it's still winter up on the mountain. It'll be another month or more before the snow completely melts away.

Some years there is still skiing on the upper mountain into May and early June. This year we had a mild winter and Alyeska struggled to have enough snow to stay open.

 The tram runs every fifteen minutes or so into the evening. (Check the schedule for exact times...) So after eating you can explore as much as you like. Just pay attention to any signage marking a closed area.

The Alyeska Resort is one of Alaska's nicest hotel complexes. In the winter its a skiing hotspot. In the summer there's plenty of hiking that can be done on the trails in the adjacent Chugach National Forest.

On the way back down we managed to spot a black bear sow and her cub on the hillside below. Seeing wildlife is not guaranteed, but it does happen.

Your tram ticket is good all day. So after some other sight seeing we went up again. No bears were sighted this time, but it was still worth doing a second time.