One of the best parts about travel is the opportunity to learn about other places and customs first hand through new experiences. I can’t think of a better way to learn about dog sledding than by meeting some sled dogs. Our visit to the headquarters of the Iditarod Trail Dog Sled Race in Wasilla was one of the highlights of our trip to Alaska last summer.
The small museum is a good place to start. A short film gives an overview of the Iditarod Trail Race and the museum houses displays with memorabilia from past races. You can also pose for a picture with a statue of the famous sled dog, Balto.
Before airplanes and snow machines (what the lower 48 refers to as snowmobiles), dog sleds were a primary method of transportation in Alaska. The Iditarod Trail was a primary route through Alaska during the Gold Rush era. In 1925 when a deadly diphtheria outbreak threatened Nome, 20 sled dog teams comprised a relay to race medicine across the state from a train station in Nenana where it had been rushed from Anchorage. Balto was the lead dog on the team that ran the last leg of the journey. Not long after that, air travel replaced dog sled teams as the primary method of reaching remote destinations.
Decades later, a history buff named Dorothy G. Page and a musher named Joe Redington, Sr. collaborated to organize a dog sled race over the Iditarod Trail to preserve both the history of the trail as well as the tradition of dog mushing. In 1967 a new Alaskan tradition was born, the annual Iditarod Trail Race. Page and Redington, Sr. are now recognized as the Mother and Father of the Iditarod.
We had the privilege of meeting Joe Redington, Jr. and his dogs on our trip. The dogs are Alaska huskies and were smaller than I expected they would be. My kids were absolutely thrilled to be able to play with the puppies. Because it is very important for pups to be socialized, they encourage visitors to play with the dogs as much as they want. We were happy to oblige.
It was a very good thing for me that these puppies weren’t for sale because it was love at first sight.
After playing with the puppies for quite some time, we took a ride. There was obviously no snow at this time of year, so the dogs pulled a wheeled cart instead of a sled. It wasn’t a long ride and cost $10 per person, but was worth every penny.
What the pictures don’t show and what I’ll try, but probably fail to communicate, is how much these dogs LOVE to pull. I think you might have to see it to believe it (which is OK, because I don’t blog just to tell you about all the places we’ve been; I want you and your family to go too). When the dogs get any hint that they might soon get to pull, they go wild with excitement and anticipation. It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before.
Later in our trip we had the opportunity to meet Lance Mackey, four-time winner of the Iditarod Trail Race and the first person to win both the Iditarod and the Yukon Quest in the same year (and he did it twice!). I purchased and asked Lance to sign a copy of his autobiography, The Lance Mackey Story. I found it fascinating and couldn’t put it down. This would be a great read for teens also. We also have The Bravest Dog Ever: The True Story of Balto (Step-Into-Reading), which I recommend for younger kids.
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