With a call not unlike that of a bear cub, the little musk ox calf staggered toward the fence line, eager for his share of the proffered fistful of grass from an eager young visitor.
“Always hungry,” said our tour guide. “Always, always hungry. That’s all they want these days – food.”
I had taken a detour from my Palmer city chores last week; with sun shining and puffy clouds skittering across a Matanuska Valley sky, it seemed only right that I spend as much of the day outdoors with my camera. So when Archie Road came into view along the Glenn Highway, I made a left, down the tree-lined route to the Musk Ox Farm.
One of two locations in Alaska where an active breeding program strives to retain the purity and history of an ancient bloodline of prehistoric-like creatures (the other one is Large Animal Research Stateion, or LARS, in Fairbanks), the Musk Ox Farm is located in lush farming territory of Palmer, with sweeping views and green fields just right for raising these walking shag carpets. Run almost entirely by volunteers and a non-profit status, the Musk Ox Farm is a seasonal stop for any Alaska visitor.
While most locals choose to visit on special event days like Mother’s Day (opening day for the farm’s summer season) or the Running of the Bulls (5k), visitors from out of town flock here on a daily basis, if for no other reason than to sink hands in the softest, warmest natural fiber known to man; quiviut. That hair, falling in ropy strands each spring, has provided necessary material to humans for centuries, and guests will see why once they wrap themselves in a scarf or clump of hair held out by a guide.
All tours are guided, meaning kids can’t simply run around near the pastures, but volunteers are friendly and allow a certain amount of straying if it means engaging younger ones in the ways of the four-legged. That said, there is a great picnic area just prior to entering the pastures, perfect for lunch or snacks, or even a game of tag before moving on to other adventures. A small visitor center/museum is in the red barn but probably won’t attract kids for too long; adults are generally the ones getting the most bang for the admission buck, here. A guided tour generally lasts 45 minutes, max, and includes ample time to feed the calves, which is why most of us go, in the first place.
Admission, by the way, is $11/adults; $9/seniors; $5/ages 5-17; FREE for age four and younger. Not too bad, but can be pricey if you’ve a passel of grownups in tow. The farm is open 10 a.m.-6 p.m., seven days a week, through mid-September.
Find the Musk Ox Farm about 40 miles from Anchorage along the Glenn Highway. Plan a visit if you’ve other activities in mind, like Hatcher Pass/Independence Mine State Historical Park or the Reindeer Farm. That’ll fill up the day nicely, and with plenty to see and do.