Light up the night at the Alaska Zoo.

If there is one thing Alaskans take very seriously, it’s exterior illumination. From Ketchikan to Fairbanks and well beyond, Alaska residents can be seen tacking up strings of twinkling holiday lights soon after Halloween, if not before. It’s dark up here, and nothing lights up the night better than a little cheerful glimmer from the great outdoors. Perhaps that’s why the Alaska Zoo in Anchorage invented their version of ZooLights. Between now and January 5,  then again from February 20 through March 2, 2014, the state’s only zoo will brighten many a dark, dreary winter evening. And we’re grateful for it.

Operating Thursday through Sunday between 5 and 8 p.m., ZooLights is in its fourth year, and just keeps getting better. Adding new sounds, displays, and interesting locations, zoo staff know how to ramp up an excited youngster for the holidays, while still focusing on the animals who call the facility home.

At $7/per person, or $5/per person for zoo members, the lights are a pretty good deal, especially when you consider the amount of electricity and manpower required to keep these switches, dials, and musical interludes operational. The good news? Alaska Zoo animals, many of them, enjoy the cold evening weather and dark landscape, and are often more active. There’s something surreal about walking next to the zoo’s wolf pack in the glow of icy blue lights, and feeling the equally-icy retort from the pack’s howls and yowls in your year. Yikes, that crew can send shivers up  my spine, but they are a beautiful bunch, and I never miss a chance to hear them sing, especially during the holiday season.

 

AK Kid and I visited Sunday evening around 6 p.m., and found uncrowded walking paths, a quiet atmosphere, and tons of curious animals who seemed quite willing to yield their night to us. We spent about 90 minutes strolling the zoo’s perimeter, then criss-crossed our way to the coffee shop and hot chocolate. A fresh blanket of snow, nearly two feet of it in fact, quieted our steps and provided a canopy of white over our heads.

Do remember, however, that walking the Alaska Zoo at night is a different experience than daytime visits. Dress for extremely cold weather, taking special care of infants or toddlers who won’t be walking on their own. Wrap up small ones in blankets or a sleeping bag, and add hand warmers to older kids’ mittens. We usually bring a backpack of holiday treats, and a thermos of hot chocolate, if we skip the coffee shop. It’s fun to stand under the glowing arch of lights and sip cocoa and listen to the chortle of “jingle Bells”. In the photo above, you’ll also see a reflective light on AK Kid’s jacket. I put it there so I could find him as he wandered around.

ZooLights at the Alaska Zoo are a perfect outing for visiting family and friends, combining a bit of northern critter viewing with a smattering of holiday cheer. That’s a win-win, right there.

Need more information about the Alaska Zoo, or ZooLights? Listen in to the Alaska Travelgram Show Saturday morning at 11 a.m. on KOAN 95.5 FM, when the zoo’s marketing director Eileen Floyd will be our guest. She’ll have some tips and tricks for making the most of your ZooLights visit.

Let the holidays begin!

~EK

 

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