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  • Writer's pictureInger and Jeff Latreille

Wonderful Sanctuary!

~Sunday, July 31, 2022~

Day 777 (Travel Day)

Day 41 of Alaska Trip

Gosh, it’s too bad Alaska doesn’t play the Lotto or we could be 2 lucky winners. With today being Day 777 of our trip and the fact that 7 is my lucky number, it kills me that we can't take advantage of the situation. I think the lotto is currently at $1 billion (a record).

As always we met some really cool people at a dump station in Girdwood where we emptied and filled up with water for our next dry camping spot. The guys waiting in line behind us were from Alaska and we struck up a conversation about cracked windshields. He said, if you’re from Alaska, you don’t even bother fixing your windshield until the snow begins, especially up north where the roads are constantly being worked on and the fact they’re mostly gravel. We also got on the topic of the Aurora Borealis, something we hope to see sometime in September before heading back to the Lower 48 to which he replied, “Now don’t head south too late. The weather really starts to turn in mid to late September.” He was happy to hear we’ll already be in Canada at that point. I swear Alaskans are some of the friendliest people!

The travel day today….only 20 miles. We arrived to Williwaw Campground in the early afternoon to our reserved double site #20. Pretty shady and tucked at the end of the loop among all the trees, it’s a beautiful spot, but not suitable for 50-60 degree weather when you don’t have hookups. It certainly affects solar charging. Just before unhitching, Jeff tried to open the compartment on the trailer where we store our chocks. It was jammed. For about 30 minutes Jeff tried everything to open that door. He even broke a key in the process (good thing we have a backup). That’s when kitchen utensils come in handy. After trying a few of those out with no success, he could only resort to pulling hard on the door, bending the lock mechanism. Luckily he was able to bend it back. Gee, I guess if someone really wanted to break in, it wouldn’t be that hard would it? The culprit was one of our rubber chocks placed too close to the frame of the compartment. It’s kind of amazing this hasn’t been an issue before. Lesson learned, make sure they’re tucked away in there.

After getting situated at the campsite, we headed for the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center (AWCC). Originally founded in 1993 as Big Game Alaska, they changed their name in 2004 to what it is today. We had heard great things about this place and became very fond of their mission. For 25 years, founder Mike Miller was the face of the wildlife center sharing his experience, wisdom and knowledge about all the resident animals with millions of visitors. In its 140-acre parcel, the center is a sanctuary dedicated to preserving Alaska’s wildlife through conservation, education and research. Most of the animals that come to AWCC have either been injured or orphaned.

Upon entering, you have the option of walking the 1-½ road to visit the wildlife or tour by car. Because we had Sadie with us, we had to sign a pet waiver that allowed Sadie to remain in the car while we toured the grounds.

If any pet shows signs of distress, they will immediately retrieve your pet, without hesitation, even breaking a window to do so. We saw elk, porcupine, coyote, moose, reindeer/caribou, wolf, an entertaining black bear named Kobuk, musk ox, and brown bears JB and Patron. Well, we didn’t actually get to see JB and Patron who have called this their home since 2004. Every animal’s story really tugs at your heartstrings, but the one about the brown bears really struck us. It goes something like this…….

JB and his sister Patron came from a sow who was shot by a resident from Willow who witnessed her killing a moose calf in his backyard, afraid his dog would be next. In Alaska, if there’s danger to property, people, livestock or pets, you are allowed to kill it. Sadly, the man did not realize she had 2 cubs nearby which prompted him to call an area wildlife biologist to notify him of the situation. The biologist who happened to be a former gymnast, daringly climbed to the top of the skinny tree to retrieve the cubs. He was able to grab the smaller male cub by its rear leg, gently placing it in a fish net. The second cub was more of a challenge…a female. The only way to get her down was by injecting her with a light sedative where he was able to grab her by the scruff. As he began to climb down, the skinny birch tree began to bend and crack where the tree bent all the way over, delivering the biologist and the cub safely to the ground!

After their rescue, they came to the AWCC where they have thrived ever since. The center’s done a great job ensuring their home is very much like it would be in the wild….offering a 14-acre enclosure for the two. I really wasn’t surprised that they would make an appearance since brown bears really try to avoid humans.

Another intriguing story is the one about their restored Wood Bison. Slightly bigger than a Plains Bison, their

numbers were near extinction until the AWCC stepped in to supervise replenishment efforts. Since 2003, the Alaskan herd of Wood Bison has been maintained and grown thanks to their mission. In fact, in 2015, in cooperation with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and other supporters, these majestic animals were returned to the Alaskan wilderness. A small herd remains at this location for education and research purposes.

Another great stop at the wildlife center is the boardwalk that leads out to the area of Turnagain Arm. There are interpretive signs along the way that help explain the significance of the area. Our first question was how did it get its name? Simply enough, famous explorer Captain James Cook and his crew ventured into the inlet many years ago, finding no way out other than to “turn again” to return to the open sea. Other than attracting famous explorers, the Arm boasts some of the most extreme tidal fluctuations in the world. These tides which can reach 35 feet come in so quickly they occasionally produce a wave known as a bore tide. The moving wall of water travels 10 to 15 miles per hour and can reach three feet in height. The wave can sound like a train as it travels up the Arm. Many kayak and surf enthusiasts are known to ride this wave. From the glittering waters of Resurrection Bay where we were in Seward to the breathtaking Chugach Mountains along Turnagain Arm, the Kenai Mountain area holds one of the most interesting breathtaking regions in Alaska.

Recommended to us by a local, we stopped at pet friendly Girdwood Brewery where Sadie once again relished attention. Luckily, they offered free WiFi service, something I’m always looking out for when we’re without cell service. We enjoyed their nice, lively patio area with really good beer. Have you ever seen benches made out of skis? Well, Alaska has them and so does Colorado. What better way than to repurpose something old so it doesn’t end up in a landfill. They’re indestructible and super sturdy in those rough Alaskan winters, and a work of art in a way. As we were heading out, we noticed someone had left behind a very expensive camera and case on one of those benches. We brought it in to one of the servers who said they’d be around until 9:30, after 8:00 closing time, so hopefully the owner of that expensive hardware will make it back in time, so they don’t lose sleep over it. Speaking of closing time at 8:00 p.m. here are a few interesting facts about drinking establishments in Alaska…….a brewery can only pour 36 ounces of beer per person per day. And it’s actually illegal to be drunk in a bar and furthermore, you cannot enter a bar if you are already drunk AND you cannot stay if you become drunk. Along with that, it is also illegal to give beer to a moose. Ha ha!! 🤣🤣

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