WHEN LEAVES BEGIN to crunch and crackle underfoot and the air takes on a sharpness, it’s time to think about settling in for another Alaska winter. Human residents of the 49th state haul out the warm clothing, boots and snow shovels. They switch out tires and chop wood, all in the name of preparation. Alaska’s animals who don’t migrate to warmer climates prepare, too, by growing winter coats, eating a lot, or digging out a bed for that extra-long nap.
The months of September through November are excellent for capturing the essence of autumn in Alaska. Everything that flies, crawls, walks, or runs is feverishly preparing body and mind for six months of snowy, icy conditions, according to instinct. We humans have a front-row seat thanks to a number of family-friendly venues.
Jack the Moose enjoying some Alaska cabbage
In southeast Alaska, visitors to the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center in Portage can observe enormous antlers appearing on the facility’s moose, and hear the odd call of a bugling elk as he trumpets his desires to the ladies in an adjoining pasture. Bears gorge on pumpkins from generous Halloween leftovers, and the musk oxen grow ever shaggier, if that’s possible. The center is open from 8 a.m.-8 p.m. through September 13, then 10 a.m.-5 p.m. through January first.
Anchorage is fortunate to have a wide variety of far northern critters at the Alaska Zoo, where a party celebrating our largest ungulate is scheduled for September 8th. “Moose Madness” will be full of family fun from noon-4 p.m. this Saturday, with crafts, a scavenger hunt, and lots of moose-info for all ages. The zoo is open daily throughout the year, but hours vary according to daylight, so check the website for ever-changing hours.
image via RunningReindeer.com
Willow shows off her velvet
Nestled in the Goldstream Valley area of Fairbanks sits the beautiful Running Reindeer Ranch. Guests to the ranch can take a hike through a boreal forest with these gentle creatures, learning about their habits and habitats, while observing their personalities firsthand. All visits are personal tours, by the way, and owner Jane makes sure kids have a chance to feel a hide, touch a horn and feed a hungry calf. Open all year. Admission is $35/adults, $15/kids 3-12 for a few hours of strolling, snacking, and reindeer games.
Learning about eagles at the Alaska Raptor Center
In the southeast section of Alaska, the Alaska Raptor Center provides not only an interesting venue, but a deeper look at the tenuous existence of raptors in our state. Located in Sitka on a beautiful 17-acres of forest and field, the Raptor Center closes to large groups in late September, offering instead private tours to see the current list of residents, including owls, eagles, falcons, and a few assorted cheeky ravens (even though they’re not raptors, ravens are always fun to watch). The huge indoor flight center is a highlight for most visitors, as injured or ill birds learn to spread their wings again, offering a real chance for survival upon release, no matter the season. Do hike the nature trails on the property and enjoy the chattering calls of these beautiful creatures. Admission is $12/adults, $6/12 and under.
Alaska’s creatures know. Take the time to watch, learn, and discuss how seasons cause changes in all of us, wild or not.
Erin Kirkland is the publisher of AKontheGO.com, a website dedicated to family travel and outdoor recreation in Alaska. She lives in Anchorage with her husband and youngest son.