Palmer, Alaska - the agricultural center!

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Touring the Matanuska Valley and Palmer

Located in the heart of the Matanuska Valley, the city of Palmer sprang from an agricultural experiment In 1935, over two hundred families were transported from the Mid-West to create an agricultural colony. The long summer hours and rich, fertile land made the Mat-Su valley an enticing prospect for farmers. The fruits of their labor - giant vegetables and lush flowers - can be seen each August during the Alaska State Fair, held in Palmer.

This tour begins by leaving Anchorage to drive north to the Valley. On the way, you'll pass by the beautiful Mirror Lake, a popular water-recreation area. Your first stop is Eklutna Historical Park, which provides a fascinating glimpse of how the Russian Orthodox missionaries impacted the Athabascan culture. Visit St. Nicholas Church and view the colorful "spirit houses" that decorate the cemetery.

In Palmer, stop by the Visitor's Center to get a walking-tour map so you can visit the city's many historical buildings. Right next door you can see the vegetable and flower gardens of the Matanuska Valley Agricultural Showcase.

Interested in wildlife? Swing on over the the Musk Ox Farm. Home to a herd of domesticated musk-ox, the farm offers a small museum and tours every half-hour. The musk ox help support an Alaskan cottage industry - knitting. The workers at the farm remove the soft under-wool that lurks beneath the stiff outer hair of the musk oxen. This wool - quiviut - is sent to a group of Native Alaskan knitters who create beautiful scarves, hats, and gloves, using patterns particular to their village. Because the quiviut is what protects the musk ox from the Arctic winds, it is warmer even than wool; but its softness rivals that of cashmere.

You can also visit the Reindeer Farm. Not sure of the difference between a reindeer and a caribou? Well, reindeers are domesticated and caribou are not. The farm's reindeer can be petted and photographed.

Or if you want to take a trip back in time, head out to the Independence Gold Mines. Nestled in the heart of majestic Hatcher Pass, the mine was closed in 1951.

Then you'll wander over to Wasilla to visit the Museum of Alaska Transportation and Industry where you can see trains, planes, and Alaska's first fire engine. If you visit in July, be sure to catch the Wasilla Water Festival. And of course, you'll want to stop by the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Headquarters to see memorabilia from past races and try a dog-sled ride!

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