Elmendorf Air Force Base and the the Army's adjacent Fort Richardson
were combined in 2010 during the Defense Department's base closure and
realignment efforts to increase the country's military efficiency and reduce costs.
JBER, pronounced JAY-bear, has two large campgrounds, one on the Elmendorf side and one on
the Richardson side. We prefer Black Spruce Campground on the Richardson
side because it has full hookups. The other campground, simply called
FamCamp, is spacious and
attractive but it has just water and electrical hookups.
When we were here in 2012 we stayed at Black Spruce three separate
times for a total of about six weeks. We loved it. Although each
pull-through site sits close to the gravel roadways on the utility side,
the door sides all have lots of privacy and space facing the forest.
That was great for walking the dogs and watching for visiting moose
and bears. We also liked the two host couples, who were retirees.
Things are different this year -- not only are half of the electric
sites totally non-functional (just water and sewer) because of aging lines,
budget restrictions, and someone running over a transformer last year,
but half of the remaining sites have very low voltage. Only one-fourth
of the sites are fully functional.
To make matters worse, prices have also increased significantly and there
aren't any retired couples hosting this year. That has changed the ambiance
and services provided.
We knew about the problem with the electrical snafu before our arrival
from reading the June 14, 2015 campground review by
Larry Farquer, the owner of the
We really didn't know what to expect when we arrived on June 22 but assumed we'd
be in either a site without electricity or an overflow site for at least a few days.
Our first site this summer; all the sites are
pull-through with utilities right by the campground roads.
Even though more
people are visiting Alaska this year it
worked out better than we expected. Other people apparently knew
of the problems so the campground has been less full while we've been
We were initially assigned to a site in the far loop where the voltage
was much lower than it should have been. We couldn't run our AC or
microwave unless we used the generator but most other uses (coffee pot,
computers, TV, lighting, WaterPik, etc.) were OK.
View from the camper to the woods out our door in
the first site
We got on a waiting list for a site with fully functioning
electricity and were able to move after a week to the first loop.
If we'd gotten on the list sooner, we could have moved sooner. We stayed
optimistic for too long that we could manage happily with
After moving, we had no problems with our 30-amp service and we ended
up staying for 18 days. (There is an initial 14-day limit but you can
stay a little longer if no one else comes in on your 15th day.)
We weren't the only ones requesting an
electrical upgrade. The whole time we were in the campground was
like a game of musical chairs, with people moving into the twenty or so
sites with decent electricity as soon as one became available.
site looks similar, our second one had a well-functioning electrical
We got every excuse in the book from MWR re:
why they couldn't just fix the electrical problems. Although we saw
some electrical engineers assessing the situation the power was still
out in half the sites when we left July 10 and not working well in half
of the remaining sites.
The campground would get more revenue if the
problem was fixed. Our government at work . . .
Meanwhile, in the last three years the price for
full hookup sites at Black Spruce has increased from $21/night to
$33/night and the campground washers and dryers are no longer free.
There is no weekly rate.
Even though we had only partial electrical
service the first several days MWR wouldn't discount our rate. If we
hadn't been able to move to a fully functioning site we would have moved
to a private campground downtown where we made tentative reservations
but the cost would have been about 50% higher. Guess we shouldn't
Partial hookups at Black Spruce with
just water and sewer have been increased to $25/night. Dry (no hookup)
sites are $12. Sites at the FamCamp on the Elmendorf side with
electricity and water but no sewers are now $30/night,
also a significant increase from three years ago.
That's the attitude! This rock guard is on
the back of a classy Class A Allegro motorhome.
The laundry facilities at Black Spruce were free in 2012 but the washers
and dryers didn't always work.
Now there are new, more efficient machines. The front-loading washers
cost $1.25. Dryers cost $1.25 for 50 minutes. Those prices are in line
with other military campgrounds where we've stayed and more
convenient/less costly than doing laundry off-base.
We have 2-3 Verizon bars on our phones, which is better than we had in a
couple of the sites we occupied here in 2012. Our MiFi works fine
(no free WiFi here) and we get several TV stations quite clearly with
just our camper antenna.
Above and below: partially-opened fireweed
blooms in the campground.
It's hard for me to articulate the difference in the campground hosts.
We miss the amenable retired couples that were here three years ago.
This year a 30-ish couple with several young kids is using the cabin at
the campground entrance for an office and living behind it in a small
trailer. They don't seem to have any meaningful assistance for whatever it is they
are supposed to do beyond assigning incoming guests to a
site and trying to answer questions.
They don't have the knowledge or gracious communication skills most
retired hosts display at military campgrounds. Perhaps they'll be more
experienced and comfortable with retirees by the end of summer?
In 2012 we had numerous moose and several bear sightings in the
campground. That was one of our fondest memories of our first Alaska
trip. We hoped to replicate that experience at Black Spruce again this
Since he arrived this spring Dan, the young campground host, has seen a
large male moose and seven black bears, including a mom
with three cubs. We were disappointed to see no moose in the campground
this time, but we did have several bear sightings.
The day we moved to our new site we saw either two different yearlings
or the same small bear twice and Jim happily remarked, "This is the
Alaska I remember!" I didn't have a camera with me when I had the first sighting while
walking Cody near our site.
Later that day I was able to get a butt shot
of a bear out the back window as it walked next to our camper:
The dogs were going nuts, of course. They can always smell a bear, even
from inside the camper. We do not leave them outside unattended in bear
When we were here in 2012 the bears seemed to have free reign in the
campground. This summer Dan summons a game warden every time someone
tells him they see a bear. I don't know if they are tranquilized and
relocated or just frightened away with gunshots. We have mixed feelings
about it so we haven't reported all of our sightings. We have warned
other RVers, though.
Our best sighting was on a day in early July when this larger fella
climbed into the back of our truck to inspect three bags of empty soft
drink cans we were waiting to recycle. The next seven pictures are in
Hmmm . . . something smells good up there.
I think I'll just climb in here for a closer look .
Phooey. That was a waste of my time and effort! I'd
better mark my spot,
though, in case they leave some real food out here
by mistake some day.
Granted, we shouldn't have left the empty cans in the bed of the truck; we just didn't
think about the odor attracting a bear. Our bad.
On the other hand, no one got hurt, the bear meandered off to inspect
the nearby dumpster when it realized there wasn't anything to eat in the
back of our truck, and we got some great pictures.
Cody noted later that the bear peed behind the truck, apparently marking
his territory like a male dog.
Above and below: I'll just mosey on over to the dumpster. Sometimes
two-legged creatures don't latch the lids like they're supposed
to . . .
Better look around to see if the game warden is
Another day I was walking Cody on the far side of
the campground when he caught the scent of a bear (the same one,
perhaps?) that a game warden had been chasing. The warden was just
getting back into his truck when I walked by his truck.
A woman in one of the campers came out to warn
me that a bear had recently run through the area. I went the other way
(I thought) and Cody suddenly stopped to smell the ground and sniff the air toward the woods.
His hair bristled up.
As the game warned pulled his truck toward me I
pointed at Cody's body language. The warden rolled down his window and told me that's where
the bear reportedly went into the woods. I said I know, Cody has done that
before when a bear is nearby.
I joked that he could borrow Cody to help find
the bear, if he wanted. He grinned and declined. I said, "Seriously.
You need a Labrador retriever on your team."
Our keen-scented Labs both sure know
when a bear is close.
Above and below: Busy little squirrels amuse
us at our campsite, too.
We did much better with bear and moose sightings on our bike rides and
hikes on base, especially near Ship Creek and the fish hatchery. I
included some photos of them in the next section below.
In 2012 we also had several close encounters with bears and moose along
the Coastal Trail in Anchorage. We didn't ride there as often during
this visit and didn't see nearly as many large critters.
They are probably still there; we just weren't at the right place
at the right time.
HIKES & BIKE RIDES ON BASE
Every day at JBER we've gotten outside to ride our bikes (Jim,
mostly) and walk (Sue, mostly). We have lots of places to do both on
this large base.
Oddly, the weather is often nicer late in the afternoon and evening
than in the morning or early afternoon. Some days have been overcast
and/or windy earlier in the day, then absolutely gorgeous in the evening
hours after we've already done our rides or hikes. A few times we waited
until after supper to go out since it's sunny till almost midnight.
Above and below: Two
different bike trails on base; the roads are perfect to ride, too.
I can't believe I'm saying this after the cool, wet summer we had up
here in 2012 but the area really needs more rain this summer.
Southcentral Alaska had a low snowfall this past winter season and less
rain in the spring than usual.
Wildfires and dust are a problem and
plants need more water.
Jim rides with Casey on the Walkie Dog attachment almost every day,
providing her with some slow running of two to nine miles at a time.
Both Jim and Casey love these rides:
Jim and Casey head out for a ride/run.
The world's happiest pup!
Since he's training for a 100-mile bike ride in July, Jim also got in
some long solo rides of up to 50+ miles. He did most of his mileage on
base, with some additional rides north to Chugiak or south in Anchorage
(more about our rides on city bike paths in the next entry).
My favorite place to walk the dogs on base, besides in the campground,
is a gravel trail along Ship Creek. The dogs enjoy getting into the
water and that's where we've seen a mama moose and her twins several
View of Ship Creek from the bridge on the bike
below: Jim took these shots of the moose trio with his cell phone.
Above and below: Another day I spotted Mom
and her twins farther back the trail.
Any time we stay at an Air Force base or Army/Navy base with aircraft we
can expect some noise overhead. JBER is no exception. It was fun in 2012
to watch the F-22s and cargo planes come and go on a daily basis, and we
even lucked out with out timing-wise when an air show was scheduled
during one of our visits.
This year we've seen/heard even more fighter
jets and other aircraft overhead because of the Northern Edge joint
military training exercise, described in this article dated June 23 on the
Alaska Dispatch News
June 23, 2015
The sparse expanses above Alaska are a little more crowded this
month as nearly 200 military aircraft are taking part in an annual
Nearly 6,000 military members from all four branches are taking
part in Northern Edge 2015, which includes naval exercises in the Gulf
of Alaska and some operations involving ground troops. The U.S. Pacific
Command exercise, coordinated by command leaders in Alaska, tests the
readiness of the nation's troops and isn't in response to any increased
tensions with any other nation, said Lt. Col. Tim Bobinsky, who is
helping lead the exercise.
Northern Edge is normally held every two years, but this is the
first exercise since 2011. The government shutdown, or sequestration,
forced the cancellation of exercises in 2013.
Above and below: Moose
feeding by one of the main roads at JBER; note the pretty blue lupines.
Bobinsky said Alaska offers the military a unique training
opportunity, including 65,000 square miles of air space. "As everyone
knows, Alaska is very large," he said Tuesday. "And because of that we
have some great opportunities to have some large training air spaces
that give us awesome opportunities to conduct things that we can't do in
very many other places, not just in the United States but around the
Alaska also offers land and sea to accommodate maritime and ground
forces exercises. Three U.S. Navy destroyers and a submarine are taking
part in simultaneous exercises in the Gulf of Alaska, but not without controversy.
Some people in gulf towns such as Cordova and Kodiak have
protested the exercises, worried about what the Navy's presence might do
to salmon and other marine life. One of those ships, the guided-missile
destroyer USS Shoup, is expected to sail up Cook Inlet and dock at the
Port of Anchorage on Wednesday.
Although we ran errands all over town that day we forgot to drive
close enough to the port to see the destroyer.
NEW STORES NEAR JBER
Since we were here in 2012 a new super WalMart and Sam's Club have been
built closer to JBER than the other WM and SC stores already in the city.
Pretty flowers at the footbridge over Ship Creek
The Sam's Club is right outside the Muldoon Gate, near Target, Lowe's,
and PetsMart. Unlike the other WalMarts and Sam's Clubs in the area,
this one has a fuel station with both diesel and gasoline.
The new WalMart is at the intersection of DeBarr and Muldoon.
THE EARTH IS MOVING!!
One day we were over at the Outdoor Recreation building on the
Elmendorf side of the base when we literally felt the earth move --
a 5.8-magnitude earthquake hit about 80
miles northwest of our location.
That's the first time I've felt an earthquake that strong. We were at a tall
counter when it rocked back and forth as if it was on wheels. Everyone
did a double-take, then someone said in a blasé
manner, "Oh, that's just another earthquake."
Just another earthquake . . . Alaska does get more of
those than most places.
Next entry: scenes from cycling on several bike
paths in Anchorage
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil,
Cody the ultra Lab, and Casey-pup
© 2015 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil