Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center


We awoke to, guess what? Another day of cloud cover! Yes, indeed. We are thoroughly sick of cloudy days and are longing for our beloved Colorado sunshine!

However, despite the clouds and with today being our last day in Alaska, we were determined to make the 2-hour drive down to the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, which happens to be very near Portage Glacier, a visit we made last week. The Center is a 140-acre facility that houses bison, bear, elk, caribou, coyote, lynx (not there today), eagle, owl, moose, deer, and bear. Most of the animals brought there are injured or orphaned, and although some are able to be returned to the wild once healthy, most are unable to survive in the wild and have found a permanent home at the Center.

As is usually the case with Tim and I during our drives, we had a great conversation: this time about a few aspects of my business. Always encouraging and enlightening to get his perspective!

We arrived at the Center and proceeded to drive along the 3/4-mile park road. It was cloudy, windy, and rather cool (in the low 50s), so we chose to drive rather than walk through the park. First up: bison. We feel somewhat jaded when it comes to these animals, having seen them regularly along I-70 in Colorado, plus in Yellowstone and in British Columbia. So we ignored them and went on to the elk.

Now, we’ve also seen our share of elk, having been to Estes Park several times and seen the elk lying down in city park, grazing on the golf course, and crossing the road when and where they choose. This was very similar, though this small herd of rescued animals had their own pond and area for grazing, trees to rub their antlers on, and more. Most of them were lying down close to the fence, which made for easy viewing and photographing.

After a few minutes of enjoying the elk, and Tim making a short video with narration, we drove along to the next area in the park, which contained several musk ox. These ice-age type animals are interesting in appearance. As Tim said, “They look like they have a bad hairpiece on their heads!” They were a bit too far away from the viewing area to get any good photographs, so we continued on to the grizzly bear area.

This stop was incredibly enjoyable, as 2 of the 3 grizzly bears at the center were sitting about a foot away from the fence. Of course all of us humans gathered to watch them were fascinated by their every move: yawns, scratching themselves with their paws, sitting on their haunches just looking back at us looking at them, and more. It turns out they were Patron and Joe Boxer, with the third bear (Hugo) resting about 100 yards back on a ridge.

The viewing arrangement for several of the park’s animals is such that the animals and people are separated by an electric fence with another non-electric fence situated on the human side about 2 feet away, and people can stand there to see the more dangerous animals. This made for quite a few photographs with fence wire in the shot, unfortunately, because we couldn’t get the lens close enough to the electric fence to eliminate the lines with a wide aperture.

After the grizzlies, we eventually drove on and saw a herd of wood bison, apparently the only herd of these type of bison in the United States. We again didn’t stop, because we have seen so many bison.

Next up was a pen that, as far as we could see, contained only one small black-tailed deer. It was way off in the distance, so we drove on and were excited to see several caribou grazing near the fence. They weren’t too interested in us, despite our quiet attempts to get their attention, and continued to show us their backsides, but we took a few photos and Tim made a video, and on we went to the moose area.

There were 3 moose in the Center, and the fence situation was the same here as with the grizzlies, so our moose photos also have some fence in the shots. 🙁 But it was neat to see these big animals, some still with velvet on their horns. Very cool! And with the gorgeous mountains as a backdrop to all of the animals in the park, it was easy to be impressed by what we saw, even with the fences.

By this time, we were right beside the Visitor’s Center and gift shop, as well as the two aviaries in the park, one of which houses a majestic bald eagle, and the other 2 owls.

The next animal we saw was an orphaned musk ox, which looked less like a musk ox and more like a really hairy, kind of lumpy, miniature horse. It was busy grazing, and seldom raised its head, so despite my waiting a while to try to get a better shot of it, what you see below is the best I could get.

The next area contained 2 black bears, but they were sleeping inside the wood cabin that I guess serves as their shelter from the sun (when it’s actually out!) and the elements. So we decided to drive around the park again to see the other animals one more time before leaving, and this time the musk ox were closer to the fence, and I was able to get some good shots!

Patron the grizzly was still hanging out near the fence, but Joe Boxer had gone down to the water for a bath, and we could only see his head and occasionally a paw as he cleaned himself. It was fun, though, to see these incredible animals at such close proximity!

This time when we got back around, the black bears were out and we stopped for several minutes to watch them play. Tim took a few videos of them playing and scratching themselves, and I took some shots with fence in them. But they were delightful to watch as they mock-fought and romped around playfully.

We spent a few minutes in the gift shop, but left without purchasing anything and on our way out stopped to photograph a haltered caribou and the gorgeous fireweed with the mountains in the background! We hope you enjoy the view in the images below…we sure did! Oh, and don’t forget to visit our Facebook page to see the numerous videos Tim took today!

The rest of the afternoon consisted of our driving back to Wasilla, stopping for supper at the Ihop (and having lots of trouble getting served simple breakfast meals), getting quarters and doing 5 loads of laundry in preparation for our trip back to the lower 48, and then catching up on a few work-related projects.

We will be packing up the trailer tomorrow morning and beginning our trek back along the Alaska Highway, with the goal of stopping at the following locations:

  • Haines Junction, YT, on the 12th
  • Muncho Lake, BC, on the 13th
  • Grande Prairie, AB, on the 14th
  • Kalispell, MT, on the 15th & 16th (visiting my good friend and fellow photographer Valerie McIntyre)
  • Sheridan, WY, on the 17th
  • Denver on the 18th
  • Colorado Springs from the 19th-21st, then between Denver and the Springs until September 12th.

We will be without email until the evening of the 14th, and without phone until the 15th when we cross the border back into the U.S., so we likely won’t be able to post until the 14th.

Enjoy the rest of your week, and we’ll catch you on the other end!

by candy

show hide 3 comments

08.12.2010 - 6:30 am

Joy Thanks for the tour thru the wildlife park! And for including some flower shots – love the gorgeous blue delphinium! Praying for safe travels as you head back home.

08.13.2010 - 4:08 pm

Bill Rice Hope you have safe trip back to lower 48. As always watch out for idiots.

08.15.2010 - 12:51 am

candy Thanks Bill! We’ll do our best! 🙂

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