Wednesday, September 8, 2010


Jenni, Brandon and I went to LARS - the Large Animal Research Station - last Wednesday.  It was another beautiful day in Fairbanks and rather than go on another campus orientation tour, we decided to make one of our own.  It's a good thing that we did because apparently the school was supposed to take Biology majors to see LARS, but canceled and Monday, September 6th is the last day the farm has public hours.  So we squeaked in under the proverbial musk ox wire!

LARS is an interesting place.  It started from the donation of a farm to the university by a fellow named Mike Yankovich.  They have, "Greenlandic muskoxen from Nunivak Island in western Alaska, Siberian reindeer from western Alaska and barren ground caribou from central Alaska. Research at LARS has focused on the different ways arctic herbivores use their food and conserve their body stores, to survive, grow, and produce young despite the harsh conditions of a long winter and the brief respite of a northern summer."

At LARS they collect the underwool of the muskox which is called "qiviut" (pronounced KIV-ee-yoot).  It is incredibly soft and extremely fine.  For a knitter especially, it is a very special fiber!  I got some for my mother this summer (in the color Lingonberry of course) and it felt very nice.  The LARS gift shop carries it in several varieties - as 100% qiviut or a blend with merino and other wools.  I am excited to see how it knits up.  By all accounts it gets warmer as you use it and it does not shrink.  Sounds great!  At LARS they work with Oomingmak, which is the Alaskan co-operative that has brought exquisite Qiviut items to you as a unique northern gift since 1969. It is owned by approximately 250 Native Alaskan women from remote coastal villages of Alaska who knit each item by hand.  They work with other family-operated mills as well, and all the yarn comes with information about the animal that provided the wool.  All the yarn they sell comes from their own muskoxen.

The muskoxen themselves are funny animals.  They move very slowly around the pasture and liked resting and snacking in the shade of the boreal forest.  Their hair hangs down around their legs so it looks a little bit like a skirt.  They have skinny legs and big hooves.  I get the feeling that they are mostly wool.  However, they have BIG horns that are parted in the middle of their head.  They look a little bit like they have an Alfalfa hair-cut. But make no mistake!  Those horns can do a lot of damage.  As peaceful as the muskoxen look, they apparently get riled up.

Take a look at this gate that they've left on display to show the damage a muskox can cause!  This gate was dented by a muskox named Albert one day - which Jenni is kindly re-enacting.  That must have given him some headache!

We walked the perimeter of LARS to catch a glimpse or two of the muskoxen lounging in the shade and then went looking for reindeer.  They were far off, at the rear of the pasture - too far for a good look.  We could hear thunder in the distance and saw heavy black clouds rolling in, so we decided to hedge our bets and went to the Experiment Farm at UAF to look at reindeer up close.  I'm not sure what kind of experiments go on at the farm, but the reindeer looked very happy.  We even saw some baby reindeer...which were too cute! Although, the baby muskoxen are pretty cute...

Since we were in the neighborhood, we visited the Georgeson Botanical Garden.  Brandon and Jenni hadn't been there yet and we also found the gardens were much more extensive than Adam and I had thought.  There were more vegetable gardens, more shade plants and a whole children's garden which we hadn't seen!  We saw many volunteers and that's a good thing - the budget has been drastically cut and the future of the garden is insecure.  This is the northern-most public garden in the United States and they're doing a lot of good things.  It would be a real shame if they were forced to close. 

Brandon and Jenni took some spectacular photos of flowers and they were almost as impressed with the cabbage as Adam.  We enjoyed the Babula Children's garden.  There were tiny log cabins and interesting garden tunnel mazes.  We could have spent hours playing, but the skies continued to look ominous, so we took a vote and decided that ice cream was next on the agenda.  So we took one last look around, hopped in the Blazer and headed down to Cold Stone.

Alaska has amazing weather.  You can see it coming from an amazing distance. The sky often presents two totally different scenes.  Here [photo above] we saw storm clouds rolling in and decided to head out, and when we turned around, we were greeted by glorious sunshine [photo below]!  But we played it safe and left.
After Cold Stone, we went over to Fort Wainwright to pick up Adam.  It was fun to give a brief tour of the post.  Adam showed Jenni & Brandon around his building and explained what he does.  We went over to the motor pool and looked at all the stryker vehicles.  We drove past the airfield and the hospital and I think that I learned more on this tour than I had on the first one!  I just want Brandon & Jenni to be comfortable with being on post.

What a fantastic Wednesday!  I had so much fun!  It's nice to have two such amiable people to tour Fairbanks with.

On a separate note, I'm sorry that this took so long to post.  I was having some trouble with Blogger and uploading my photos, but I think I've fixed the problem.  Expect to hear lots more over the next few days!  I have a list of things to share and lots of photos!!


  1. I'm really enjoying your blog, it looks very professional :) You are such a clever girl ;)

  2. Well, she does come from a clever family.