Anchorage Part 2

Arriving in Anchorage mid-week of the Fur Rondy events, we opted first for an indoor activity.  Trying to ease the transition of traveling from Florida where temperatures were in the 70’s, to the snow and ice of Alaska, we decided to visit the state’s largest museum.  The Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center in downtown provides permanent exhibits on Alaskan history and art.  It also features the Smithsonian Artic Studies Center Exhibition.  The 10,000 square foot Study Center displays not only hundreds of Alaskan Native objects but also provides videos of contemporary life and recordings of Alaskan Native storytellers.  This newly opened portion of the Museum is a treasure trove of information on the culture and lives of the aboriginal settlers. 
Braving the cold, we layered up and headed to the Log Cabin Visitor Center.  Obtaining the “Official Rondy Guide”, we caught some lunch and then drove to the Snow Sculpture Competition.  The forms created from the 8ft. X 8 ft. X 8 ft. blocks of compressed snow, were impressive.  Divided into 4 divisions, 3-Member Teams, Jr. & Sr. High School, Family/Corporations and Solo, the Division 1 Team winners get to travel to the U.S. National Snow Sculpting Competition to represent Alaska next year.  All of the creations were winners in my book.

While the Reindeer Sausage Eating Contest may draw a crowd, it was something we decided to bypass.  Instead we found our way south of the city to the Moose Tooth Pub and Pizzeria, one of the top rated restaurants in the area.  Serving gourmet pizzas and homemade Broken Tooth Brews, it seemed that a sizeable portion of folks in town for the Rondy and Iditarod had the same idea. 

Every night I checked the updated Aurora Borealis forecast for the evening and for the following night.  Knowing that Anchorage would not be the place to take prize-winning photos, we traveled the next day to the Eagle River Nature Center (locally noted as one of the best spots for taking Northern Light photos) to scope things out.  About 45 minutes north of the city, the Nature Center is located NE of the half million acre Chugach State Park.
 Upon our arrival at the Center, it became clear to both of us that we would not leave without hiking on one of the trails.  Surveying our options, we decided on the Albert Loop Trail.  The 3-mile trail starts at the Nature Center and travels down to the banks of the still partially frozen Eagle River.  Trees devoid of their greenery allowed incredible views of the mountains surrounding us, as we traipsed over the packed snow trail.   
A low to moderate (3 out of a possible 10) forecast for the Aurora was predicted for that evening.  As we drove back to Anchorage, I kept looking behind us, to the North, for possible signs of the Lights over the tops of the mountains in the night sky.  They did not appear.

Choosing a faster pace for the next day, we drove 45 minutes south to Girdwood.  Having made reservations earlier in the week, we would be downing extra layers to hop on board a snowmobile.  Driving on Seward Hwy, we traveled alongside the dramatic and beautiful Turnagain Arms.  Reaching our destination, we were suited up in heavy waterproof boots, helmets, goggles and one-piece ski attire over the top of our own outerwear.  Climbing into the Glacier City Snowmobile van with several others visitors, we were driven up into the Alaskan backcountry.  Due to the “warm” winter weather, we were unable to experience the glacial tour, which had been deemed unsafe by the rangers of the Chugach State Park (yes, it’s the same park.)  But, we did spend 3 hours navigating through thick tracks of snow beneath the majestic Chugach Mountains, including a lunch stop for reindeer hot dogs and hot Russian tea (a tea, Tang and spice concoction) next to a fire assembled by one of our tour guides. 

Discovering information on the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center (AWCC) the day before driving to Girdwood, we decided to add this onto our day’s adventure.  After warming up a bit from our morning outing, we headed south.  This non-profit organization provides homes for orphaned or injured animals.  The AWCC provides interactive educational programs at area schools and opens the facility to hundreds of school children for field trips in the spring.

Providing a wonderful opportunity to get close to many of Alaska’s wild animals, such as bears, moose, elk, reindeer, musk ox and wood bison, the facility offers large separate grounds for each type of animal in their care.  Many of the animals will be returned to the wild.  Others, such as the female grizzly, cannot be released because they do not have the skills to survive on their own.  The 2-mile road through the AWCC can be easily walked, but due to the cold weather we choose to drive between areas and make appropriate stops along the way.  A map is provided at the entrance.  Snow was falling as we traveled through the Center, providing a beautiful backdrop and thinning the throngs which will be at this top rated visitors stop a few months from now.

Stayed tuned next for the Iditarod tales.

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