PALMER -- Workers put the finishing touches on booths and buildings Wednesday, prepping for the opening of the Alaska State Fair at noon Thursday.
The fair is always about food, rides, music and people -- and this year is no exception. Organizers hope the weather will hold and draw even larger crowds than the almost 300,000 people who attended last year.
In the midday sun, a flatbed truck carried heaps of vegetables down a road lined with vendors. Chickens were judged in the livestock exhibits barn. Spa salesmen uncovered and arranged hot tubs on the deck of one booth.
The first whiffs of burger grease filled the air.
Best time for grown-ups to hit the fair this year? Weekdays. Kids are in school. The crowds are thinner. And fair organizers are offering deals to entice potential fair-goers.
• Adult tickets Monday through Thursday are $10 (they're $12 on weekends). Kids and seniors pay $6 instead of $7.
• Thursday would also be a good day for saving money. Entrance to the fair between noon and 2 p.m. is only $2.
• Friday, kids under 12 get into the fair free.
• Sept. 1 and Sept. 2 are Buddy Days, where entrance to the fair and rides are two-for-one.
Another secret for thrifty fair-goers: Buy concert tickets at the fair box office, located behind the Borealis Stage fence, and avoid online convenience fees.
At the fair, food is king. Coming with an empty stomach is essential.
"Food is the number-one attraction," said Dean Phipps, fair marketing director.
Of the approximately 475 fair vendors, 70 sell food. Old favorites remain. The cream puff stand sits across the road from barbecue turkey legs. Elephant ears, pork chops on a stick and corn on the cob are all available. There are three new booths on the purple trail selling Thai, chowder and gourmet hot dogs. Feeling adventurous? Original Gourmet Ice Cream Bars is serving up chocolate-covered bacon.
"I walk 12 to 15 miles per day so I can eat here," Phipps said. "I could drive here, drive there, but (walking) at least allows me to indulge myself once in a while."
Over at Brad's World Reptiles, terrariums are placed in groups around the large warehouse, partially disguised by wild grasses that give the exhibit a desert theme. The reptiles on display include everything from a palm-sized baby tortoise to an alligator named Jose. To get the cold-blooded animals to Alaska, they are put in chilled boxes and flown here, said Paige Newcomb, an educator for the exhibit.
"Snakes on a plane," she said with a laugh, while she swept the exhibit floor.
In the big barn, poultry judge Phyllis Burney held a Rhode Island Red rooster named Jehosaphat by its ankles, running her hand along its breastbone. She estimated she'd be looking at 100 pens Wednesday, evaluating farm fowl for the poultry competition.
A good bird has intact feathers, a comb that hasn't been blackened by frostbite, and clean feet, she said.
"Give 'em a pedicure, give 'em a manicure, take some Dawn soap and give it a bath," she said. "Those chickens love to be pampered."
Fair question of the day: What's your favorite drink at the state fair? Post your response in the comments field below.
By KAYLIN BETTINGER