~Saturday, July 23, 2022~
Day 33 of Alaska Trip
Reflecting on our trip 769 days in, we are grateful that it has allowed us to step back from the hectic pace of life and regain our sense of wonder beyond our “backyard”, our so-called “bubble”. Slowing down has allowed us to look at all the details that make up a big picture and be more present with every moment. Our hope is that this revitalization continues into our next chapter when we’re not seeing things through a trip’s lens.
Speaking of a sense of wonder, never in a million years did I think we’d meet a reindeer face to face. Just like Santa Claus, they DO exist. I admit it……I’ve never given up on Santa Claus. BELIEVING holds the magic! I’ve actually believed in Santa Claus more than reindeer, especially the flying kind. Anyway, they ARE the real deal though we didn’t see any take off for the skies today. Other than the North Pole, what other perfect place would be ideal to meet one than in Alaska!? The Reindeer Farm in Palmer, AK allowed us to not only see them up close, but we got to feed them. Tom and Gene Williams had established the farm in the late 1980’s with the first herd consisting of 20 reindeer. Today, the farm has around 100. Their daughters carry on the legacy today, having added elk, bison, yaks, alpaca, turkeys, a pig and Rocky the Moose who was born in 2017.
Evidently, Rocky was found in a gravel pit in Kenai, Alaska. When he was found by Fish and Game, they determined he was about 3 days old, which prompted a 5-mile radius search in finding its momma.
Since she was never found, Fish and Game determined Rocky would not survive living in the wild on his own and decided the best home for him would be the Reindeer Farm. He’s thrived ever since. What a personality too! It was quite entertaining watching him munch on his favorite food……willow tree leaves.
After meeting the rest of the animals, we headed over to the large enclosure where they keep the majority of the reindeer.
Each person was allowed to feed 1 dixie cup-sized portion. The pellets contain oats, alfalfa, and wheat. There were a few greedy adults so I went more for the younger ones who have a lot of growing to do. Here are a few fun facts about these domesticated creatures:
🦌Caribou are simply wild reindeer.
🦌Their antlers are soft, tender and blood filled and serve as a cooling system.
🦌Antlers grow in three months, hardening in June/July.
🦌Velvet is rubbed off in August-September.
🦌Deer go into Rut in September/October when bulls use antlers to attract cows and fight other bulls and predators.
🦌Bulls drop antlers in November/December; unbred cows drop antlers in Feb/March and bred cows drop antlers in March/May after their calves are born.
🦌Between 1892-1902, 1,280 domesticated reindeer were brought from Russia. That number increased to 600,000 by 1929. Today, there are over one million in Alaska.
🦌They have 4 stomachs.
🦌The upper jaw has no front teeth. It is a chopping block for the sharp bottom teeth.
🦌Lichen is their main winter food.
🦌Reindeer usually have single births. Gestation is seven months where they’re born between March and May.
🦌Their lifespan is between 10-15 years
Gosh, between meeting Musk Ox and Reindeer for the first time, what’s next? Such a worthwhile visit. Hopefully we’ll be back next time with the grandkids in tow.
Afterwards, we stopped at the Little Susitna River on our way to Hatcher Pass. This powerful force of water begins its descent from Mint Glacier in the Talkeetna Mountains running through a glacier deposited boulder canyon.
One would think that these large boulders were moved from the force of the water, when in fact they were deposited by a much more powerful force…..glaciers.
Since we were already in Palmer, and the weather, beautiful, it made sense to do the drive to Hatcher Pass TODAY! Just 4 days before, we missed the opportunity to see the Pass when we were at Independence Mine because of the crummy weather. There was no way we were going to miss it this time and little did we know we would drive the entire scenic 60-mile drive. Hatcher Pass in the Mat-Su Valley begins in Palmer and ends in the town of Willow. This route was used by Alaska gold rush miners in the 1930’s and 1940’s. The road is mostly hard packed dirt/gravel with the occasional pothole which we dodged easily. Originally our plan was just to drive up to the Pass, but as we continued forward, it simply drew us in wanting to see more. This is the quintessential landscape I envisioned before coming to Alaska. The persistent snow on top of the green blanketed mountains all around us, continues to melt into ribbony creeks (more like rivers because of the recent rains).
It is THE most stunning drive of our trip, as I knew it would be….only in Alaska! One thing I’ve noticed about Alaska is it doesn’t take a lot to get to AMAZING. You don’t have to take long hikes to get to stunning alpine lakes, or climb up 14,000 feet to get off the chart views. Hatcher Pass is a perfect example of this since the highest point is only 3,386 feet above sea level. Once we got to the top, we had no idea we’d see a glacier-fed turquoise lake just below the summit, appropriately named Summit Lake. And as if this wasn’t enough entertainment, we had the opportunity to watch a few hang gliders soar through the skies, right over our heads. From our stunning perspective on the ground, we couldn’t imagine what the views must look like from up there.