2012  HIKING, CYCLING,

& RV TRAVEL ADVENTURES

 

   
 
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   FORESTED RV RETREAT IN THE CITY:
THE BLACK SPRUCE
CAMPGROUND AT JBER
(JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON)

TUESDAY, JUNE 19

 
"Always be on the lookout for wildlife in the area. Alaska is unique in many ways,
and moose and bear are plentiful . . . Fort Richardson is prime bear habitat.
Indeed, bears can be found anywhere on Fort Richardson, including
the golf course, housing areas, mountains, and Black Spruce Campground."
 
~ information in the packet of information we received at the campground
 
 
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. Cool!!

BEAR-LY THERE

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 we know
they've been here because of the droppings (above) in our campsite.

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:

 

That's 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 interesting.

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 out first.

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 his/her own.]

 

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:

 
 Campers can do self-registration here. I think the CG hosts used to park here. There
are full hookups behind the building but so far no one has been camped there.


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 campground.

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 maximum privacy.

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). 


The Arctic Warriors and their families can enjoy the Arctic Oasis
at the 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 area.

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. Tomorrow is 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 than that.

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 

Happy trails,

Sue
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, and Cody the ultra Lab

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© 2012 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil

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