We knew that bears and moose roam freely throughout Anchorage, not only
in the adjacent Chugach Mountains but also right in town. Reportedly
there are about 1,600 moose living within the city boundaries and
at least 250 black bears, which can also be brown in color.
I was excited to learn that moose and black bears also roam (mostly)
freely through our heavily-forested campground.
What Alaskans call brown bears are grizzlies. In the Anchorage area they live in the nearby Chugach Mountains and foothills/river valleys but aren't
sighted as often in town as black bears. That's good. Although any bear
can be aggressive toward humans, even "city" bears, I'd much rather run into a black bear
than a grizzly when I'm hiking or cycling. My chances of scaring off a
black bear are better than with a grizzly bear.
One of the first things visitors to Alaska need to learn is how to
avoid bears in the first place, how to identify which type of bear is
which, and how to protect themselves from an attack
if they do encounter one. Black bears and grizzlies respond
differently to encounters with humans.
It's easy to find all this information online before arriving in
Alaska and in every visitor center, public lands center, sporting goods
store, campground, and
park once you're here.
We haven't seen any moose in the campground yet but
they've been here because of the droppings (above) in our
Knowing that bears wander through this campground means being extra careful with Cody (keeping him on a
leash when walking, not leaving him tied up outside the camper, etc.)
and not leaving any tempting edibles outside the camper. We're used
to rules like that in other campgrounds where we've stayed in the Lower
48 where bears are present.
It's well worth the extra precautions we have to take to have the
opportunity to see bears and moose right at our campsite.
It didn't take long to see our first bear at Black Spruce. I was
walking Cody through the campground early this morning and spotted one
near another 5th-wheel in our loop. I just happened to have my camera
with me and got this distant photo of a black
bear next to the RV's satellite dish:
another case where I wish I had a better camera because it's hard to
tell in these photos that the black blob is a bear! I hope we'll have
some more bear sightings while we're here.
This entry provides some information about the Black Spruce
Campground and Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson (JBER) in general. This is just
our second day here so I'll be adding more information later about the
things we've done on base and what other visitors might find
Note that the two campgrounds at JBER are open to active and retired
military personnel, DOD employees, and their immediate families. I'm not
sure about non-military guests or extended family members.
Right now we don't know how long we'll be here. Initially we've paid
for one week. Visitors can stay for up to two weeks at a time. If sites are
available at the end of two weeks and we want to stay longer, we can. If
the full hookup sites are full then, we could move to a
dry camping site until another full hookup site is available.
There is so much to do in the area that Anchorage may become our base
for day trips. That would be easier than moving the camper frequently.
So far we love it here.
WHAT A GREAT CAMPGROUND!
Fort Richardson and adjacent Elmendorf AFB were merged several years ago
during the major military effort called BRAC (Base Realignment & Consolidation) into Joint Base
Elmendorf-Richardson, abbreviated JBER and pronounced JA-bear.
Big rigs should use this gate (Richardson, at MM 8
on the Glenn Hwy.) regardless of which
campground they're using on base. It doesn't have
barricades to impede large RVs.
This is the Boniface Gate, one of several other
gates on base. Don't bring a large RV in this way.
There are barricades on the other side. It's OK to
take a big rig out this gate, though.
The base and post now have a joint military hospital and BX but each has
a separate campground. Jim researched both campgrounds on the internet before we
arrived. Both sounded good but the Black Spruce Campground at Ft.
Richardson received more positive feedback from campers so we checked it
We immediately liked
the looks of Black Spruce
so we paid for a week and might stay more. After driving
through the Elmendorf FamCamp later we're happy with our choice. [We
later talked with folks who prefer the one at Elmendorf, so to each
This will probably be one of our Top Ten Favorite Military Campgrounds
anywhere in the U.S.
unless something goes terribly wrong. The cost is $21/night for full
hookups. There are about 40 full-hookup sites and another five with
water and electricity. Those sites cost a little less. We got a site
with a sewer
since we’ll be here at least a week.
There are also some
dry camping sites and an overflow area in the grassy fields near the
cabin at the
entrance to the campground:
can do self-registration here. I think the CG hosts used to park here.
are full hookups behind the building but so far no one has been camped
This is a view east toward the CG entrance and the
Chugach Mountains. The cabin is out of view on the left.
Folks who don't have a sewer connection can use the restrooms and
showers that are located near the laundry room in the middle of the
Although the pull-through, roadside sites aren’t as large as those at
some of our other favorite military campgrounds the heavily forested setting feels
very secluded. Each site faces the woods. We can’t see the RVs on the
other side of our loop and the ones across the road from us in our loop are on the
side where we have the fewest windows. In addition, most sites are staggered to allow
We’re near the back of the full hookup loop where there is less traffic
– and probably more bears!
That's our Cameo on the left.
Sites cannot be reserved but several were open when we came in yesterday
at lunchtime and we had some choice of which site we wanted. Almost all
of them will accommodate large RVs.
There's a good variety of camping units at Black Spruce, from small
travel trailers to big Class As. Retirees tend to be in the larger
units, younger families of active duty service folks in smaller units.
There are two couples who are campground hosts. The ones on duty when we
arrived yesterday, Don and Alice, have been very helpful to us as
newcomers. So have Rick and Laura, the other hosts that we met today.
The campground rules are sensible, not overbearing. The laundry is free,
although three of the five washers don’t work (each family is allowed to
do only two loads at a time and there is a sign-up sheet). We probably
won’t use the rest rooms or showers. Nearby is a playground and large
grassy area for kids to play in.
Our campsite (on right) from the other direction
We still have extended service on our Verizon cell phones. The signal is
weak at our site so we have to drive out to the entrance of the
campground to avoid getting cut off in the middle of a call. That means
our personal Verizon MiFi signal is slow and sporadic, too.
The campground doesn’t
offer WiFi. We can get it several places on base if Jim wants to haul
his laptop to one of them to save our gigabytes. The closest location is
the library, which is less than two miles away. He can probably also go
to the mall where the BX is located.
We can get all the major TV networks and some other stations clearly and
Jim discovered that the Anchorage AM 700 radio station carries our favorite talk show host,
Neal Boortz. We can get FM on our camper radio but not AM so he listens
to it on his MP3 player.
Cody inspects something outside our camper. We can walk around
in the woods to the left; there are no RVs on that side.
Trail going back into the woods from our campsite
The only other downsides we've discovered with this campground are occasional gunshots from the
nearby skeet-shooting range and aircraft flying over us on their way to
and from the runways at Elmendorf AFB. There are a lot of noisy F-22s
and cargo planes in and out of this base.
All the trees muffle the gunshots pretty effectively, however, and we've
just gotten used to (most of) the aircraft coming and going after camping
on Air Force bases as much as we have.
In addition to the
two campgrounds at Richardson and Elmendorf, JBER also has tent and RV
sites and rental cabins at Otter Lake, located several miles north on
Otter Lake Road. This base is HUGE, with about 95,000 acres of property.
Nice view of the Chugach Mountains going east on
Grady Hwy. on base;
I can't wait to get up in those mountains to hike!
Yesterday afternoon we got to ride through part of both Richardson and
Elmendorf as we hunted for the Outdoor Recreation Departments on both
sides of the base. Each one has some different responsibilities. Both were
busy on a Monday morning.
We went to Outdoor Rec on the Richardson side to pay our campground fee with a
credit card. You can pay by cash or check at the campground. While Jim
waited his turn to pay . . .
. . . I wandered around looking at all the recreational
equipment service people and retirees can rent, including these large
nets for dip-net salmon fishing:
We have a lot to learn about salmon fishing, a
huge commercial and tourist industry up here. Many Native Alaskans and
other residents are also dependent on salmon for subsistence. Sometimes
the interests of these three groups are at odds.
We had to travel several miles to the Outdoor
Rec building at Elmendorf to
inquire about discounted tickets for flightseeing tours over Denali (not
booked by the base) and sea cruises out of Seward (10% military discount
if booked here, but we don’t know when we’ll be down there yet).
Warriors and their families can enjoy the Arctic Oasis
community center on the Elmendorf side of JBER.
From what I've seen of JBER I think it's a very attractive place to work
and live. There is a lot of forest and green space and the housing and
other buildings are mostly quite attractive.
We found gas stations at both Richardson and Elmendorf that have diesel
for $4.19/gallon, the least we’ve seen in Anchorage (up to $4.29 at
other stations in the city).
Last evening Jim washed the camper down with a hose at our site. It’s nice that
we’re allowed to do that in the campground. He took the truck to the car
wash on base to clean it more thoroughly.
STARTING TO EXPLORE JBER
At 95,000 acres JBER
offers many, may miles of interesting roads for fairly safe cycling.
Most of the streets are paved. There are also some dirt
roads where we can ride near our campground that are more remote and
have less traffic.
In addition, there
are many miles of paved bike paths linking the multiple residential,
school, shopping, and work areas on the sprawling base.
There are lots of blue and purple lupines in our
campground, just starting to bloom.
Jim's already been
out for two moderately-long bike rides on base. He's found all kinds of
interesting things, like a static aircraft display and two nearby
rescued bald eagles in a large enclosure. He's ridden near the flight
line so he could see the planes coming and going, found the mess hall
and the fast-food joints he likes, and has gone through the national
cemetery, the Elmendorf campground, several residential areas, and around the BX/commissary/mall
I haven't ridden my bike here yet but
Jim showed me some of these places as we drove around the base in the truck
yesterday and today.
Cody and I have been out for several
walks through the campground and on nearby roads. I'm enjoying the flora
and fauna, although I haven't spotted any more bears or a moose yet.
The mosquitoes are pretty bad in the campground but not so bad that
we've had to use the head nets we purchased before coming up here. It's
OK as long as we're moving. They're all over us and Cody if we stand
still. Even though we're careful to close the door quickly it's
impossible to keep them out of the camper. The ones that have gotten
inside drive us nuts.
On Thursday the campground is scheduled to be sprayed. We'll use that as
an excuse to go somewhere for several hours.
Both yesterday and today we went downtown. I'll talk about that in the
next entry. The weather was so nice both days, up to 70 F. yesterday.
That's the warmest
temperature we’ve had in several weeks. We really enjoyed it.
When we went to bed about 10:30 PM last night the sun still hadn’t set.
the summer solstice, the day with
the longest number of daylight hours -- about 19˝ hours of sunshine and 22 hours
of "functional daylight" in Anchorage. We're getting used to going to
bed before sunset and getting up after sunrise.
We love all the daylight! We
can't imagine what it's like to be "in the dark" all winter, though.
Anchorage has only 7˝
hours of functional daylight on the winter solstice, with less sunshine
Farther north at Fairbanks
they'll have about 22 hours of sunshine this week and it won't get
totally dark at all. I’m hoping by late summer when we plan to get there
that it gets dark early enough to see the aurora borealis.
Next entry: becoming acquainted with Anchorage
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil,
and Cody the ultra Lab
© 2012 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil