Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Alaska Adventure Day 6: Palmer

I wrote the previous Alaska posts, at least in part, while I was in Alaska. The last three days, though, I didn't have much writing time, so I get to put those together after the fact. Here's the first:

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Sunday we decided to venture north to Palmer, about a 45-minute drive from Anchorage. Palmer is in the Mat-Su Valley, Alaska's agricultural region (yes, they do grow crops in Alaska, much to my surprise). On the agenda: visits to a reindeer farm, a musk ox farm, and the Alaska State Fair. The Reindeer Farm was interesting. Random fact #1: Reindeer and caribou are the same species. "Caribou" is used in North America to describe the wild animals, while "reindeer" refers to domesticated herds (raised for meat). In the rest of the world, they're just reindeer. In addition to Santa's means of transport, the Reindeer Farm had elk, including a huge bull elk named Awesome Eddie. We were warned about him: He can be aggressive, they said. He can pee about 30 feet, including all over the tourists, they said. Maybe so, but while we were there, he seemed primarily interested in food:

Jerry was a little wary of Awesome Eddie, but he became good buddies with some of the cows:

Our next stop was the Musk Ox Farm. Musk oxen are Arctic animals with lots of hair. They are raised for that hair and sometimes for meat as well, but the farm we visited raises them only for their wool--which sells for $400 a pound!! Clearly I'm in the wrong business. We need to move to Alaska and start raising musk oxen. Their wool is eight times warmer than sheep's wool and makes wonderfully soft scarves and hats, which sell for over $150. No, I didn't buy any, but I did look at them longingly for awhile.

The musk oxen themselves are really cool beasts. It was near rutting (a/k/a mating) season, so the males were a bit feisty. They win the right to mate with females by facing off and crashing head first into each other, just like football players:
Facing off

Instead of mating with cheerleaders, however, the victorious musk ox gets one of these:

We ended our trip to Palmer with a visit to the Alaska State Fair:

It was a beautiful sunny day, so apparently the entire population of the state decided to go to the fair. We had to endure the first real crowds of our trip. Even Saturday Market, with its busloads of cruise ship passengers, wasn't nearly so crowded. But we persevered. The fair contained the usual stuff you'd expect: a Midway full of loud children and teenagers, booths selling all manner of overpriced stuff from various merchants, an animal barn, and other assorted fair things (quilts, flowers, 4H stuff... you get the idea). I really wanted to see the giant vegetables--apparently Alaska is famous for them, especially 100+ lb. cabbages--but they weren't there. I guess the veggie competition was later in the week.

All in all, the fair was a disappointment. But we did get to meet Chad Carpenter, the cartoonist responsible for our new favorite comic, Tundra. Tundra really deserves its own post, but for now I'll just say that it's a little like The Far Side but with a Northern twist. Chad had a booth at the fair, so we got to meet him and add to our collection of Tundra gear.

We also noticed a few things about the fair that were different from your average state fair. For example, you know you're in Alaska when:

  • The fair has halibut stands (halibut tacos... *yum*)
  • The fair's hot dog stands feature reindeer sausage

The elephant ears, however, were standard issue--and delicious.

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