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Names can be deceptive at Running Reindeer Ranch, located in the hills outside of Fairbanks, Alaska. Olive, Ruby, Jasper, Daisy, Rufus and Buttercup may not accurately detail the physical appearance of these animals, but they do describe their personalities, much to the delight of adults and children who visit.
Clients shouldn’t expect to photograph reindeer through a fenced enclosure. Here, reindeer walk with the visitors, and watching children pet the animals is worth the price of admission. Even the adults wear smiles that won’t quit.
“It is a ranch, but so much more interactive,” said Heather Fries, public relations manager for Explore Fairbanks, who accompanied me on the tour.
I was skeptical at first, but then the fun began and I was hooked. Jane Atkinson, co-owner of the ranch, released the herd from the fenced corral — which keeps the animals from wandering into the next county and protects them from wolves and bears — and the reindeer quickly funneled through the gate and into the surrounding birch and spruce forest, interacting with the guests. A few started up the trail and looked back, waiting for the rest of the group.
“They know it’s time for their daily walk, and they love it,” Atkinson said.
Observing a herd of 240- to 450-pound reindeer run around like puppies delighted the guests. Reindeer flanked us on all sides, some walking the trail while others roamed the woods.
Watching reindeer behavior was educational and entertaining. They sniffed out succulent spring sedges beneath the snow, ate them and moved on to find more. They would play and chase one another for what seemed the sheer pleasure of running through the snow.
When it was time to head back to the ranch, the reindeer sensed that a rewarding treat was in order. As we slugged through the snow, reindeer dashed effortlessly past us from all directions. At the ranch house, there was time for another petting and photo session before we were invited in for snacks and hot drinks.
Atkinson and her husband, Doug Toelle, began presentations about reindeer biology, habits, distribution and behavior. Spring calving takes place in late April at the ranch, and newborn reindeer are adorable to observe and photograph.
Running Reindeer’s tour is exceptional not only for its entertainment and photo opportunities, but also for the insights it provides on reindeer mythology; how the animals evolved to survive in the Far North; and their wild cousin, the barren-ground caribou. It’s an up-close-and-personal tour that’s sure to please.
All walks are by appointment only. Tours are commissionable and offered midday during the winter and either mornings or evenings during the summer. The cost is $50 per person; $30 for children ages 3 through 12; and free for children under the age of 3.