Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Alaska - The Reindeer Farm and Hatcher Pass

A while back there was a Groupon for the reindeer farm in Palmer. I jumped at the chance. You know I’m a sucker for animal parks and Chris, Ben, and my mother-in-law Cherie were sweet enough to tag along for the ride. 

It’s lovely having a toddler: I get to say we’re doing all these fun activities for his benefit when really I’m the one that wants to visit the zoo, ride the tiny trains, and play mini golf. Plus he’s too young to disagree. :) 

Anyway, back to the reindeer farm. Besides making tasty sausages, reindeer are also prized for their hides, antlers, and milk. We learned a bit about the animals and then ventured into the pen to meet the wee beasties, kibble in hand. Anybody know the difference between caribou and reindeer? Ten points to you. 

They are not at all shy:

Ok, let’s take a minute to check out this guy’s rack!!! Or maybe it was a lady reindeer. Both sexes grow antlers. Know the difference between antlers and horns? Another ten points!

Despite their somewhat intimidating appearance and eager begging for food, the animals were completely gentle. I bent down to take a picture at one point and got my ear slobbered on by a hopeful beastie. Perhaps there is food in here?

Ben was content to be carried and direct the doling out of treats. Probably a place you wouldn’t want to put your toddler on the ground anyway. Too many feet/hooves. 

After our reindeer experience we had a little meet-and-greet with Denali the Moose. 

Let’s just say that getting close to a male moose is an experience. They are gigantic. 

They had this thing where you could volunteer to place a banana in your mouth and Denali would come pluck it from between your teeth. Can you say Moose drool?!  We passed on that particular experience. 

Cue the disappointed moose face.

We promptly fed him willow branches to get back in his good graces.

The petting zoo is always a hit. 

Prices are $7 per adult$5 per child (ages 3-11) Under 3 are Free.

Going for the ear grab in 3...2...1..

And the pony rides. Ben’s all-time most favorite activity of the month. [Side note: Oh yeah, there’s that Abercrombie shirt...from 1998. I was never cool enough to rate the Abercrombie threads]

This kid is going through a serious cowboy phase

You could hear him shouting “Giddyup, giddyup, Yeeehaw” all the way around the track. The pony was not so amused.

It’s really a shame that our zoo no longer has their pony rides. Ben would be their biggest customer.

Here are the details:

Palmer Reindeer Farm

5561 S. Bodenburg Loop Rd. Palmer, AK 99645

7 days a week, 10am-6pm
No appointment necessary 

Next we headed up to Hatcher Pass, on the other side of Palmer. It’s worth it, just for the drive alone:

There are lots of hiking trails and beautiful scenery:

Hatcher Pass is also the site of Independence Gold Mine (now defunct), which is a charming peek into the workings of a small 1920’s mining community. 

Be sure to check out the interpretive center. You can also mosey around the buildings, read the sign boards, or go on a ranger-led hike through the mine itself. 

Most of the buildings are still mostly standing, although many of them are having a rough life in Alaska’s climate.

We elected to skip the ranger talk as our little cowboy was dead tired and getting a little cranky. 

Whoa. Pregnant lady alert. 

These are slightly out of order as this series was taken before the meltdown episode. Gotta love those toddler mood swings.

Seriously, Alaska looks exactly like all the illustrations from my geology text books back in college. Would you like to learn about erosion today? Well then study this photo:


Independence Mine State Historic Park

Here is a pretty nifty map of the site.

The Visitor Center phone number is 745-2827 [Sonja here: haha, I love how Alaskans never bother to put the whole telephone number because THE ENTIRE STATE HAS THE SAME PREFIX: 907]
The Visitor Center is open Wednesday through Sunday from 11 a.m to 6 p.m. from mid June through Labor Day.
The gate on the road from Independence Bowl to Independence Mine opens at 9 a.m. and closes at 9 p.m.Wednesday through Sunday. Park pedestrian visitors can access Independence Mine after hours from the Independence Bowl parking area.
A day use parking fee of $5 applies at Independence Mine—no overnight camping

And the answers to our daily double:

There really isn’t much difference between caribou and reindeer. Reindeer are said to be the semi-domesticated versions of caribou. A very anal biologist might disagree slightly, especially since many of the reindeer in Alaska were imported from Siberia a while back, and since wild caribou tend to be a bit larger than their friendlier brethren, but that would be splitting hairs. 

Antlers vs. Horns:
Antlers fall off every year (moose, deer, caribou). Horns are permanently attached (sheep, goats, etc).