OK, Not Really

AWCC-Brown bear up close

Brown bear, a little close for comfort

…just bears at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center!

Much of the drive to the wildlife center is along the inlet. Imposing and majestic mountain peaks outline the inlet and the cliffs alongside the highway are scattered with marshes, meadows and waterfalls.

Once at the center you can either drive through the refuge or get out of your car and walk on a gravel road that winds throughout.

AWCC-Elk at feeding time

Elk at rest

The highlight for us was the bear walk. You can walk along a raised walk that goes over the brown bear and the black bear habitats. We arrived in time for the bear feeding and were able to watch the guide throw fresh salmon and crabapples to the bears below the walk. The refuge caretakers were extremely friendly. They explained the differences between the brown bears and black bears, and some of their behaviors. They also allowed us to ask as many questions as we wanted when they were through.

AWCC-Brown is territorial

Territorial overlord

At one point I was one foot away from a bear and could have reached out to touch it (through a barbed wire fence with an electric fence behind that)! Still, it was exhilarating! Besides the bear, there are foxes, lynx, wood bison, moose and more.

The refuge’s center is about 20 minutes past Girdwood.  Girdwood is home of Alyeska Ski Resort and some of the prettiest neighborhoods in Alaska, in my opinion. It is also very close to Portage Glacier so you can see several Alaskan highlights within very close proximity to one another.

AWCC-Brown bear

Brown surveys

Tip: If you plan on seeing all three, start early!

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Written by Laurel on September 29th, 2014 - Adventures, Places

One overcast day in July we awoke to coffee and the beautiful morning view of Jade Lake, nestled in our cabin in Big Lake.  It was one of those overcast, semi-sprinkley days.  It was beautiful but it was also a time for a change in scenery.

What to do?  I know what, let’s go to Portage Glacier!  The glacier is located about an hours drive south of Anchorage.   We would drive to Anchorage (about 90 minutes to the vicinity of the airport), make a few stops then head to the glacier.

We were not dissappointed, the drive thru Wasilla and past Eagle River and through Anchorage always has many sights and sometimes even a moose or two to gawk at.  South of Anchorage we drove on the Seward highway along Cook Inlet for about 48 miles, then turned inland.  Only a few more miles to go and we’re already getting chilly!!

Say "Big Blue Glacier!"

At the visitor center we secure passage on the mv Ptarmigan, the only boat operating on Portage Lake, and wait with warm drink in hand.

Once on the boat our experienced US Forest Service ranger proceeds to tell us the history of this glacier as well as educating us on the geology and glacial mechanics involved in an active glacier.  Top notch all the way!

As we chug across the lake to get up close and personal with this very blue ice we had the option of staying in the heavily windowed cabin area or heading topside into the blustery… might I say it – quite glacial, wind.

Now that's a glacier!


The boat stayed a few hundred yards away for safety but the binoculars brought us up close and personal.  Even from that distance we could hear ice cracking and creaking.

All hopes were to see some calving while the boat lingered for 30 minutes or so.  It was not to be.  The glacier itself was a rich blue in color.  A heavy contrast to the overcast, rain on and off again skies.

mv Ptarmigan at Portage Glacier in Alaska


Visit Portage Glacier Cruises website  to find out why this is such a popular attraction for Alaskans and non-Alaskans alike.

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Written by Dave on July 29th, 2009 - Places

One of several Alaskan villages to tour

There are two site seeing excursions that I think are a “must see” when visiting the Anchorage area in Alaska.  One of them is Alaska Native Hertitage Center.

This center is amazing!

They have outdoor life-size replicas of different types of traditional Alaskan homes, buildings, and art used by Alaska natives, they offer live performances of traditional Alaskan dance and storytelling, a museum, art and craft store and many on-site docents to answer any questions you might have.

If you are interested in a cultural experience that will help you to understand the diverseness and rich cultural heritage of Alaska’s native peoples, this truly is a must see!

Live performance of the native story

Come on in!

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Written by Laurel on July 29th, 2009 - Places

The Alaska Zoo in Anchorage is untamed, open and refershingly natural.

The zoo says that more than half the animals came to the zoo because they were injured, abandoned or orphaned. The animal habitats felt very comfortable in the surrounding area. Most zoos are associated with major cities and almost all seem like an amuzement park, an artificial environment created to “feel” right.

The Alaska Zoo feels at home in Alaska.

Black bear at the Alaska Zoo

Our friend the polar bear was obviously quite content as well. The temperature was in the 60’s overcast and generally Alaskan coastal climate.

..after a long day's work

Is dinner served?



More than one of the guests was taking it easy.




The zoo is laid out like a meandering walk through the woods. This seems quite natural as many of the inhabitants are native to that woods-like environment.


If you enjoy small community zoos or have kids this is the place to go.  It is only minutes from the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport.

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Written by Dave on July 17th, 2009 - Places

Iditarod dog sledding on the summer

Think the Iditarod can only be enjoyed in the winter?  We made a stop by the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Headquarters to check out the museum and gift shop and were pleasantly surpised.

We had no idea that those sledding dogs need to stay on shape during the non-snow months as well.  As it turns out there was a team of dogs who are more than excited to take a family out for a spin.  But one word of advice.  HANG ON!

The sled easily accomodated 4 of us and the musher.  Once he gave signal, the dogs we were off – and at no feeble pace!!  That wheeled sled went from 0 zero to who knows what in seconds and the first turn nearly threw us out.  We had no idea how fast a few well trained dogs can be.  It was a small circuit but well worth the adventure of a lifetime.

We highly recommend you visit the Iditarod headquaters while in the Wasilla area.  It’s only about 20 minutes from our cabin.

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Written by Dave on June 16th, 2007 - Places

Big Lake is only minutes from our cabin… on foot.  The Big Lake North State Recreation Site is almost as close – less than 2 miles distant.

Family gathering at Big Lake

There is a boat launch and picnic area with small beach.  On several occasions we have packed a small lunch or snack and met other family members at the lake. 


The water temperature matches the comfortably warm air. 

Dragonfly checks out the fun

You have your choice of covered picnic area or just sitting out in the grassy areas nearer the lake.  There are several charcoal grills and plenty of water access.




Not every day of the Alaskan summer is this nice.  SO one thing is certain.  When you get the day in Alaska, you take it! 

Chillin' during the long Alaskan day



This is definately the place to go on an nice Alaskan summer day when you’re icthin’ to get out.

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Written by Dave on June 10th, 2007 - Places

Not many can say they’ve been to the North Pole.  Well, it was exactly THE north pole but it was North Pole.

Let me begin by saying that our cabin has a southerly view of the sky.  A 10 minute walk around the “block” takes you to the southern shores of Big Lake.  On many summer days you will find a breathtaking view of Denali (Mt. McKinley, the highest point in North America) from this same shore.

My mind begins to wander – what is past this majestic mountain?  Knowing that Fairbanks is only 300 miles up the highway the family jumps into the car off to see the wonders up north.

Santa at North Pole, Alaska

 So what does Santa and the elves do all summer?
Prepare for Christmas, that’s what! 

Not Rudolf, then who?

There are shops to tend, gifts to make and reindeer to fatten up for the coming trek.  North Pole, Alaska is just a few miles outside Fairbanks and rounds out the Alaskan interior tour. 

North Pole village


Don’t forget to see what the elves have already placed on the shelves for the one-of-a-kind Christmas gifts!
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Written by Dave on August 11th, 2005 - Places

Before the construction of the Alaska Highway, the establishment of military bases and Alaska’s induction into the union as the 49th state, Fairbanks was an energetic mining town at the center of the largest territories in the United States. Italian immigrant, Felix Pedro is credited with the initial discovery of gold in 1902. As luck would have it, Captain E.T. Barnette’s goal of building a trading post on the banks of the Chena River coincided with this, as well as other key gold strikes north of town. Subsequently, Fairbanks was incorporated by a 75% majority vote in 1903.

More than one hundred years later, our small boomtown has a diversified economy, with oil, gas, gold and coal mining, military, tourism and the University of Alaska as key components. Fairbanks continues in its role as the services hub and gateway to Alaska’s Interior and Arctic. With a population of close to 31,000, Fairbanks’ citizenry swells to almost 97,000 when including the surrounding Fairbanks North Star Borough.

-from: Explore Fairbanks

For us Fairbanks was an overnight excursion.  Only a 6 hour drive to the north past Denali National Park and into the Alaskan interior, we enjoyed our leisurely drive to this borough. 

With Denali looming ever larger as we’d traversed past open tundra and the occasional moose we waited expectantly to see what was in store for us.  We were not disappointed.  Fairbanks offered way more than we expected.  There were several museums, tours and downtown historical sights available.

Photo shoot in the center of Fairbanks

We opted to enjoy our visit by walking the streets of downtown on a self-guided tour after stopping at the visitor center.  In another post we’ll talk about our dinner cruise on the Chena river – a highlight for sure! 

I personally marvelled at the modern structures that stood only yards away from dirt roofed houses.  Old meets new.  This city has stories to tell.

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Written by Dave on August 10th, 2005 - Places

Hatcher Pass (3886 ft) is a mountain pass through the southwest part of the Talkeetna Mountains, Alaska. It is named after Robert Hatcher, a prospector and miner. The nearest incorporated communities are Palmer and Wasilla, approximately 12 miles to the south, and Willow, approximately 26 miles to the west.

The above description does not do justice to the views and sites at Hatcher Pass.  This is the site of the Independence Mine State Historical Park.

 There’s not only gold in them thar hills.  This was a site of a geocache.  Imagine finding treasure hidden on the site of an old gold mine!


After our young ladies retrieved their treasure we took in the sights at the state park.

There is a an informative museum, lots was walking tours and even a few buildings still in a state which allows one to enter and look around.

There’s nothing quite as interesting as walking in the footsteps of a day gone by.

Since this first trip, we have journeyed to Hacther Pass during the various seasons.  The views of the pass and the Mat-Su valley have never disappointed. 

This is a must see for all who journey to our vacation rental in Big Lake, Alaska.

We have never journeyed over the pass from Wasilla to Willow.  It is a drive we have begun on more than one occasion and one we will make some day.  This road is gravel, rough and pretty slow going at least for the 5 to 10 miles we have trekked over it.

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Written by Dave on June 21st, 2004 - Places

The word is that Big Lake got its name from geologists, who after many years of government research grants and a myriad of studies, looked at a map and said, “Wow!  That’s a big lake, what should we call it?”  Of the 1000’s of lakes in Alaska this lake has the distinction of being named for it’s size.

It has several very small islands and most contain a house and dock. 


There is a plane, a boat or both docked in the summer months and in the winter a snow machine (snow mobile for those from the lower 48).  I can say that one winter there was a pickup truck docked at the dock.  An unexpected sight for sure.

The in-laws have all the toys that are worth having.  So here we are enjoying the lake and it’s connected-by-canal sister lakes.

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Written by Dave on June 19th, 2004 - Places

Alaskan Chalet @ Jade Lake

Memories of our time with Alaska