Museum of the North
One of Alaska’s finest collections on art, human history, and natural history, the University of Alaska Museum of the North (907/474-7505, www.uaf.edu/museum) is housed within the state’s most distinctive building. A new wing designed by renowned architect Joan Soranno opened in 2005, with a gleaming white exterior that curves and swoops like an enormous chunk of glacial ice.
The interior is equally interesting, both as a structure and for the contemporary and ancient Alaskan art. There’s even a “Great Alaska Outhouse Experience” that’s bound to amuse. Don’t miss the door marked “The Place Where You Go to Listen,” where the lights and sounds give voice to real-time data from movements of the sun, moon, seismic activity, and auroras.
The second (older) half of the Museum of the North houses collections divided according to the state’s five geographical areas, and includes hands-on objects, dioramas, and videos. The wildlife and gold exhibits are mind-boggling; the Russian artifacts and the permafrost display are exceptional. So is an exhibit dealing with the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II; read the heartbreaking personal letters from the families pleading for compassion.
Other highlights include Blue Babe, a mummified 36,000-year-old steppe bison discovered in 1979 at a placer mine, a 1,250-pound brown bear, a video on whaling, fist-sized gold nuggets, ancient ivory carvings, dinosaur bones from the North Slope, and lots more.
Back in the new wing you’ll find a fine gift shop, a café, and an auditorium with daily demonstrations by World Eskimo-Indian Olympic athletes. On a clear day, Mt. McKinley—across the broad Tanana Valley—can be seen in all its awesome eminence from the museum’s tall windows.
The Museum of the North is open daily 9 a.m.–9 p.m. mid-May–mid-September, and Monday–Saturday 9 a.m.–5 p.m. the rest of the year. Admission costs $12 adults, $11 seniors, $6 ages 7–17, and free for younger children. Add $5 for admission to the 30-minute auditorium shows, offered hourly in the summer.
© Don Pitcher from Moon Alaska, 10th Edition