Alaska Public Lands Center
Alaska is huge. I don’t think that’s news to anyone. One of the predominant reoccurring jokes we heard from Alaskan natives was: ‘If you cut Alaska in half, Texas would be the third largest state’. Alaska’s National Parks are also, like, really, really big. It’s difficult to both be in a National Park and also be near the information center to get a stamp unless you have specifically planned your trip around it, which unfortunately, we did not.
All this aside, I did a little bit of research and found out that one of the National Parks featured on the website but not in my stamp book was the “Alaska Public Lands Information Center”. I was confused. There were four of them featured in prominent Alaskan cities, and because National Parks in Alaska were so vast, I thought that they were potentially hubs for some of the larger parks if you could not access their individual information centers.
We would be spending a majority of our time within the Wrangell – St Elias National Park & Preserve, so I figured we could drop by the Alaska Public Lands Information Center, check off the stamp for W-SE, and then continue on to the brewery we had planned for the conclusion of our first Leg in Anchorage.
I was wrong.
We entered the Alaska Public Lands Information Center and were greeted by an array of taxidermied Alaskan wildlife. After taking a second to look around, Megan and I approached the counter and presented our stamp inquiries to the two employees present. Apparently, we learned, the Alaska Public Lands Information Center was considered a National Park, despite it’s absence in my stamp book, and that the Iditarod National Historic Trail was also a National Park, with a stamp available at the center.
Having grown up on Balto (in fact – I stopped writing this post to order Balto on ebay. I tried Amazon Prime but the best deal was $5 as an add-on item. I don’t have another $25 worth of stuff I wanna buy right now. I mean, I could probably find some stuff, but I don’t need to be spending any money. Is Balto not in popular demand enough to be a regular prime item? They also don’t have it on blu-ray, I don’t think. I didn’t want to buy Balto 1&2, which was another option. I mean, whats the point even? The most important journey was completed in the first movie so the second one doesn’t even serve a puprose. To be fair, I haven’t seen the second one. But I don’t really want to. So I had to buy it on E-bay, but then I was signed out of my account and forgot my password, and then I realized I haven’t used E-bay in awhile so my credit card was wrong and so was my address. It was an ordeal, really. But Balto will be here in a week, and I guess that’s what’s really important at the end of the day), I perked up. Picking up on my enthusiasm, the employee smiled and pointed toward the left, indicating a point of reference outside of the building. “Actually,” he said nodding toward his outstretched finger. “There’s a Balto statue a couple blocks down from here on 4th street.”
Before I could stop myself, I blurted out: “Like the one in the movie?” Immediately realizing the one I was referencing was in New York City, not in Alaska. The employee furrowed an eyebrow. “May…Maybe?” Ah. He had never seen Balto before. Why did I assume he had seen Balto? Oh only because he lives in Anchorage fucking Alaska. At least my error would go unchecked. Besides, now we had to add seeing the Balto statue to our list.
After we stamped off our National Parks passports, I glanced up to see the Junior Ranger vest with an affixed badge on the front pocket. Earlier this year, one of my coworkers informed me that you could get junior ranger badges even if you weren’t a junior. An adult human, as Megan and I were, could become a junior ranger. All we had to do was ask. Which we did.
The employees behind the counter handed us the two junior ranger books with instructions to fill them out. If we did three activities, we would receive the badge. If we completed the entire book, we would receive an additional two badges. Well, alright then. Challenge accepted.
We spent the next half an hour or so as adult human beings filling out a children’s activity book. There was an activity where you drew your totem pole story (I drew a crow, a tiger, and a spider – apparently they represent creativity! Megan drew us landing at the airport and eating eggs), a word search (pretty difficult, tbh), a math section calculating how rapidly glaciers are melting (two terrible things: global warming and basic arithmetic), a maze, a word scramble, a coloring page, and a couple of other small things, including a section where you interviewed a ranger. Megan interviewed the gentleman who had informed us about the Balto statue. We found out when we turned in our booklets at the end that this gentleman was, in fact, not a ranger. So rude. Megan had to interview another person on staff before they would give us our badges. They take the junior ranger program very seriously in Alaska.
They actually swore us in, which was delightfully over the top. We wore ranger hats and they made us raise our right hands and repeat after them. We were cheesing so hard throughout the process my cheeks hurt when we were done talking. The ranger who initiated us (I forget her name, so lets call her Kristina) threw in an extra line about “promising to travel every summer” in reference to a conversation we had with her when we first came in, and our grand adventure plans that we had mapped out theoretically in our futures. Megan and I glanced at each other, faces stretched back in sheer elation. Now we were sworn to it. Looks like, by junior ranger code, we were travelling every summer.
We finished our swear-in ceremony and they presented us with the badges they had promised; one nice, metal badge that had “Alaska Public Lands Center” printed across it, and two patches – one that said “junior ranger” and featured the hat, and one that was specific to the center. We were ecstatic.
“Where are you guys headed next?” Kristina asked us, as we gathered our stuff to leave.
“Well now we have to go to the Balto statue,” I responded, with fake exasperation. “But then we were going to check out 49th State Brewing Co.!”
“Oh! My friends work there,” Kristina responded. I forgot their names, so lets call them: “Michelle and Don. Tell them I said hey!”
“Will do!” Megan and I answered in unison. We exited the establishment and walked a few blocks down to 4th Street to find Balto, who we snapped a few pictures with before moving on to the brewery.