Who would have thought that a walking mop would garner so much attention? It would if its forebearers lived say, thousands of years ago. Not only lived, but provided Man with a garment more toasty than anything North Face can come up with.
At the Musk Ox Farm in beautiful Palmer, Alaska (a mere 45 miles north of Anchorage), guests are treated to a look into the past-past; a time when Man relied heavily upon the Beast, and that Beast was no bigger than our own domestic cow, but a lot more, um, fluffy.
The AK Fam decided to visit the Musk Ox Farm on Mother’s Day (awww, isn’t that sweet? Take Mom to a farm for her day off) because that is the day of days when new calves are presented to the public, and all Mamas get in for free. Actually, the whole day was essentially free because Dad only cost a dollar, and youngest child was no charge at only four years old. Normal admission is $8 for adults, $7 for seniors, and $6 for kids 5-12. Still not too bad considering the cost of Alaskan attractions these days.
The Farm is nestled in a valley that presents panoramic views of truly spectacular mountains from all sides. The facility boasts a small red barn that doubles as an interpretive center, gift shop, and meeting place for tour groups. On this day, a festival air was about the property with at least a few hundred curious visitors munching on hot dogs while listening to well-schooled volunteers share about these incredible animals.
Musk Ox are survivors from the last ice age, and one glance at their shaggy hides explains why. It’s due to the qiviut (that’s ki-vee-ute); the light, silky-soft, and incredibly warm underhair that is guaranteed to keep anyone toasty warm, whatever the conditions. All oxen shed at least twice a year, and the calves shed three times their first year, so there’s plenty of this feathery stuff to go around. In fact, quiviut is the reason the Musk Ox Farm was started, when a man by the name of Teal started domestication of the critters to provide an economic supplement to remote Alaskan communities, and a cooperative was born. Now known as the “Oomingmak” Musk Ox Producers’ Cooperative, visitors to Alaska can visit the Co-op’s store in downtown Anchorage on 6th an H streets. The fuzzy fur isn’t cheap, however, by any means. I don’t know anyone who owns more than a scarf made from quiviut; it is not uncommon to pay hundreds for a hat with a particular village’s unique knitting pattern.
Life on the Musk Ox Farm, however, for all its shedding animals, is quite serene. The Farm depends upon volunteers to keep it in operation, and it truly can be a family affair when everyone, from preschoolers to young adults help keep things in apple-pie order. During our visit we were treated to a up-close and personal cuddle with a 3-day old calf named Storm, who, I will say, was the cutest, softest creature I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. Staff say the interactions are important; Storm and another calf were rejected by their mothers (not uncommon) and needed to be confident and comfortable around people, so, there we were, being nuzzled by a little creature with no top teeth and legs that looked like tree trunks.
It’s a working farm with a purpose; educating the public about an animal that has survived modern-day marvels like oil platforms, roads, and gore-tex. There was something simple, something decidedly comfortable about visiting the Musk Ox Farm in the midst of a harried kick-off to tourist season. Just a bunch of bulls, cows, and their calves happily munching on spring grass, unconcerned by the questioning eyes of we gawkers.
Visit the Palmer Musk Ox Farm daily; hours are 10 a.m.-6 p.m. mid May through September. Hours are extended during busy tourist months of June-July. The Farm sits at mile 50.1 of the Glenn Highway in the scenic Matanuska Valley. 907-745-4151, www.muskoxfarm.org