Alaska Excursions

Alaska Excursions

A wide range of trips throughout Southcentral Alaska.

Iditarod 41

Photos and stories from the last great race.

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Musk oxen in Alaska

A newborn musk ox stays close to its mother at the Musk Ox Farm near Palmer. The herd's calves are born around Mother's Day each May.

Anchorage Daily News

A newborn musk ox stays close to its mother at the Musk Ox Farm near Palmer. The herd's calves are born around Mother's Day each May.

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More on Wildlife viewing

Baby Dall sheep finds home at Alaska Zoo

A baby Dall sheep explores its new home Thursday, June 7, 2012, at the Alaska Zoo in Anchorage, Alaska. The 15-day-old lamb was rescued after it became separated from its mother during a sheep research project and could not be reunited with the ewe.

A snowy white baby Dall sheep has a new home at the Alaska Zoo in Anchorage.

Wildlife

Wildlife can often be spotted along Alaska's roads. This young brown bear was foraging just off the Richardson Highway near Valdez.

Alaska is the place to see moose, sheep, bears, eagles, caribou, whales and more.

Wolves in Alaska

A wolf shows a formidable set of teeth as he yawns at Denali National Park after several hours of successful hunting for arctic ground squirrels.

Where to find: Wolves inhabit as much as 85 percent of Alaska, but they're rarely seen.

Loons in Alaska

A common loon moves across Long Lake near Palmer.

Where to find: Look -- and listen -- for loons on lakes. The entire state has loons of one species or another -- common, yellow -billed, red-throated, Pacific and arctic.

Musk oxen in Alaska

A newborn musk ox stays close to its mother at the Musk Ox Farm near Palmer. The herd's calves are born around Mother's Day each May.

Where to find: After being reintroduced in the 1930s, musk oxen took hold on Nunivak Island in the Bering Sea.

Hairy beasts are "the animal with skin like a beard"

Where to find: After being reintroduced in the 1930s, musk oxen took hold on Nunivak Island in the Bering Sea.

Members of that herd were later transplanted across Alaska -- to adjacent Nelson Island, to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, to Cape Thompson (the Point Hope area in the Arctic) and to the Seward Peninsula north of Nome -- as well as to Russia's Wrangel Island and the Taimyr Peninsula,the northernmost part of Asia.

People flying over the Seward Peninsula may see the musk oxen, as might drivers on the Dalton Highway on the North Slope.

But the easiest way to see a musk ox is to visit the Alaska Zoo in Anchorage or the Musk Ox Farm just east of Palmer.

Tips: The musk ox has an undercoat of fine hair -- qiviut (kiv'-ee-ute) -- that is collected, then woven or knitted into extremely warm shawls and scarves.

A mature bull, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, stands about 5 feet high and weighs up to 800 pounds. Cows stand 4 feet high and weigh up to 500 pounds. Calves, born in the spring, weigh as much as 30 pounds.

Musk oxen are well suited for the arctic environment. Their two-layer coat provides a lot of insulation over their stocky bodies, and their horns and thick skulls are good defensive weapons against animal predators. But because they don't dig well through snow, they spend the winter in areas where the wind blows the snow off the vegetation.

The heavy coat of these ancient beasts prompted the Inupiat people of the Arctic to call them "oomingmak," or "the animal with skin like a beard." The name "musk ox" is not proper, biologists say, because although the animals may smell a little musky, they don't have musk glands.

Hunting is allowed by subsistence users and in some game-management units by other Alaskans and by nonresidents. According to the Department of Fish and Game, "Muskox meat is highly valued among those who have tried it."

In 1990, according to the state, 2,200 musk oxen roamed freely, with more than 100 others living in research herds and in the Alaska Zoo in Anchorage.

Musk oxen have been kept since 1954 at the Musk Ox Farm just east of Palmer, where their extremely fine underwool -- qiviut -- is harvested. The wool is distributed among 250 Native women in rural Alaska who knit the hair into distinctive and warm winter garments.

Many of the products are sold at the Oomingmak cooperative store, 604 H St. in downtown Anchorage. A scarf that's 4 feet long by 1 foot wide costs between $220 and $315.

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