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6 Rare Things You'll Only See In Alaska

If you're on the fence about taking a trip to Alaska, keep in mind that there's a lot more up there than snow. On top of great food and spectacular wildlife, there are many rare attractions that you'll only see in the Last Frontier.

Here are six things you won't find anywhere in America except Alaska.

1. Aurora Borealis

Northern Lights

You can see the northern lights in a few northern countries, but the only American state featuring the mesmerizing spectacle is Alaska. But you have to plan your trip carefully to catch it. The best time of year to see aurora borealis is the dead of winter, when nights are at their darkest, longest and clearest in Alaska.

If you're not up for braving the state's extreme cold, there's a good chance of seeing nature's light show as early as September and as late as the middle of April (up to and including 4/20 - if you're into that sort of thing).

The best place to see the northern lights is Fairbanks. The state's third largest city's located right in the "aurora oval" -- where the northern lights are most visible. You can watch them by driving a short distance out of town. But if you want to really feast your eyes, book a special flight-seeing excursion or road trip with guides who know the best places to watch the night skies and the best scenic routes around the Alaskan wilderness.

2. Mendenhall Ice Caves

Outdoorsy tourists looking for a unique adventure should check out the Mendenhall Ice Caves, which are only a dozen miles away from Juneau -- Alaska's capital city. But the short drive is only the beginning of the journey. Before you can explore the caves, you have to hike along the West Glacier Trail -- a 3.5 mile trek through Alaskan rainforest. The expedition gets more arduous the closer you get to the glacier, but the hard work pays off once you get inside the caverns, which look like a blue glass palace.

But words can't do them justice. Here's a sneak peak.

3. Mendenhall Gardens

If caverns aren't your thing, you can skip the caves and bushwhack through the Mendenhall Gardens -- home of "upside down planter trees." These odd plants are crowned with a thick canopy of roots that form a basket for their flowers. They're a beautifully bizarre sight to see -- even if they do make you feel like you've got vertigo.

On your trek, you can also check out the Mendenhall Glacier - just don't step too heavily since there are people excavating the caverns below.


4. Wyatt Earp's Gun

If history is more your cup of tea, then let the rest of the family check out Mendenhall while you scope out Juneau's historic sidearm. 

In 1899, legendary gunfighter Wyatt Earp -- famous for Gunfight at the O.K. Corral -- went into the saloon business in Nome, Alaska. A year later, he visited the newly incorporated city of Juneau, where he had to check his pistol. And he never returned to pick it up, so it's now a local attraction at Juneau's Red Dog Saloon -- where you can take in local history along with a pint in the state's capital.

Wyatt Earp gun Red Dog Juneau

5. Palmer's Prehistoric Farm

Less than an hour's drive from Anchorage, you'll find a sanctuary for Alaska's prehistoric creatures. The city of Palmer is home to John Teal's Musk Ox Farm, a conservation area dedicated to preserving musk oxen -- which used to romp around with mastodons and saber-toothed tigers in the ice age.

The farm houses 80 musk oxen, ranging in age from adult bulls to frolicsome calves. On top of keeping the species alive, farmers harvest qiviut -- the soft underwool of these beasts, which are actually ancient relatives of sheep. Visitors are welcome to stop by and check out the herd as well as the products made from qiviut.

6. Mummified Bison

The musk oxen aren't the only remnants from the ice age on display in Alaska. The Museum of the North in Fairbanks is the final resting place of Blue Babe -- a prehistoric bull that was mummified in ice over 35,000 years ago after being killed by an American lion that didn't get a chance to finish its dinner.

And this isn't just any old bull. This creature was a member of the long-extinct species of steppe bison, which appeared in early cave paintings. And the artifact in Fairbanks is especially rare because the mummification process turned the bull's hide blue -- hence the name Blue Babe. Pictures don't really do it justice, so you'll have to head north to catch a glimpse of it.

museum of the north 028


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