In the late 1960s, Anchorage's grocers held a contest to see who could sell the most toilet paper. One of two first-place prizes was $3,000, but the victor chose the other—a baby Asian elephant. He quickly realized he couldn't take care of her, so he put her up in the heated barn of local horse rancher Sammye Seawell. Sammye fell so in love with this small pachyderm that she began housing other abandoned creatures—enough to fill a zoo. More than 40 years later, The Alaska Zoo's keepers and veterenarians continue this simple but powerful mission: to rescue orphaned, injured, and captive-born animals of the Arctic, sub-Arctic, and similar regions.
Today, the zoo’s habitats house more than 110 animals from 53 cold-loving species. In semiaquatic zones, polar bears nap, harbor seals swim, and river otters attempt to solve calculus equations. In terrestrial environments, amur tigers play with a ball attached to a zipline, and black bears lounge in a hammock made from recycled fire hoses. Other habitats house residents such as snow leopards, reindeer, and wolves.
In addition to caring for these animals, staffers conduct Iditarod-focused educational events in March and use animal-themed light displays to celebrate both the summer solstice and approaching winter holidays. They also raise awareness for wildlife through educational programs, such as seasonal adventure camps and zookeeper shadowing, and join in conservation efforts, such as serving as ambassadors for Polar Bears International and the Toupees for Bald Eagles Project.
Built in 1968 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the purchase of Alaska from Russia, the Anchorage Museum’s mirrored skin now holds an immense collection of exhibits that celebrate Alaska’s history and innovations in art and science. Using grants awarded by the National Endowment for the Arts and other organizations, Anchorage Museum was able to devote four floors and a small but well-appointed fourth dimension to art, cultural history, natural history, and science and technology—all represented by more than 25,000 objects.
Through a series of permanent exhibits, visitors embark on a cultural and geological voyage. More than 600 Alaskan Native artifacts on loan from the Smithsonian Institution join miniature dioramas of indigenous lifestyles in illuminating the cultures that first shaped the area, while other collections peer into the gold rush era, World War II, and the process of becoming a state. Itchy hands find relief in the Imaginarium Discovery Center, a playground for DIY discovery where visitors of all ages can touch sea stars, shoot air cannons, and learn more about what makes a volcano erupt or the aurora borealis cast its eerie glow.
The most popular films at the Alaska Experience Theater covers a monumental moment in area history: the devastating Good Friday Earthquake of March 27, 1964. After learning about the quake's massive power in the adjoining museum, viewers enter an earthquake simulator, shaking along with hydraulic tremors as a brand new documentary drives home the quake's destructive scale.
The Alaska Earthquake Experience is just one of the
various short documentaries on Alaskan history and lifestyle screened at the theater throughout the year. In the 96-seat main theater, a 40-foot screen commands attention. The theater displays longer documentaries along with cult classics, independent films, and wide release blockbusters. In addition to hosting these screenings, the theater can also be rented out for use in weddings, conventions, or other memorable events.
The Alaska Experience Theater's dedication to lively historical learning also extends outside of its walls. Out in the marketplace, two permanent exhibits reveal more information about the earthquake and display the full collection of prints by Alaskan artist Fred Machetanz.
Growing up in Chicago Heights, Illinois, Kelly Lee Williams was more focused on crossing the finish line at high school track meets than crafting the perfect punch line. In fact, it wasn’t until he took the stage of a Chicago-area comedy club in 2001—after stints as a soldier, an IT worker, and a DJ—that Kelly truly immersed himself in the world of professional comedy. In the years since his life-changing career shift, Kelly has honed his comedic chops with performances for audiences from New York to Montego Bay, coaxing forth laughs with witty self-penned songs. His plunge into the entertainment business has taken him across the country and earned him diverse gigs that include serving as a member of the Chicago Bulls’ Incredibulls squad to gracing the big screen with a speaking role in the recently released Drew Barrymore film Big Miracle. After making the move north to Anchorage with his family and pet rubber chicken in 2008, Kelly branched out again, adding the role of teacher to his expanding arsenal of occupations.
With its craggy mountains, monochrome tundra, and verdant valleys, Alaska itself stands as a monument to the beauty and power of nature. Focusing on the state's prehistory, the Alaska Museum of Science and Nature's sprawling collection of artifacts educates the public with engrossing and educational dioramas and displays. Among the museum’s notable exhibits is its newest installation, Ice, which delves into the profound geological changes wrought by the last Ice Age. Likewise, the Schmidt Mine exhibit lets visitors touch and pick up craggy specimens from the collection, including meteorites and fluorescent stones. Ancient mammoth bones and fearsome saber-tooth tiger jaws show patrons the fauna encountered by Alaska's first human inhabitants, whereas fully assembled dinosaur skeletons transport viewers even further back in time, way before the Jurassic Park movie came out.
In a steady procession, waves rear up to 4 feet high before collapsing and delighting waders with blasts of spray. Unlike ocean waves, these aren’t governed by the moon, and they don’t crash against a beach. Instead, they rhythmically rise and fall in the wave pool at H2Oasis Indoor Waterpark, which stays open year-round and is the state’s only indoor water park.
Outside of the wave pool, park visitors can find watery solace floating down the 575-foot lazy river with its gentle current. For a higher-octane experience, the Master Blaster water coaster rockets riders through a splash-filled adventure much safer than riding a scooter into the shower. And when it comes to entertaining the younger set, the four cannons on the park’s pirate ship evoke intrigue on its waters, and the placid children’s lagoon gives tentative youngsters a haven for safe play.