Saturday, June 14, 2014


We knew there was a lot to see and do in Fairbanks so we decided to stay for a week to explore and get caught up with some chores.  Even that was not enough time, as there were a couple of stops on our list that we did not get to visit.  Another reason to return.  Someone asked about seeing critters on our Arctic Circle tour.  They told us before we left that it was not a wildlife tour and we should not expect to see animals.  I don't know why that is the case.  We did see one moose, but I did not get a picture.
It really has taken some getting used to having daylight 24 hours a day.  This is what the Chena River looks like at 11:30 PM.  It never gets dark.  I'm really glad we covered the windows in the bedroom, it sure makes falling asleep a lot easier.  In the morning when I wake up I have no idea whether it is 4 AM or 8 AM. 
We explored a few of the sites in downtown Fairbanks.  Left is the "Unknown First Family," a tribute to the native people.  Center I am under the arch of antlers and Nanc is checking out a common Fairbanks parking lot item, an outlet to plug in your car in the winter.  Right is a statue honoring the connection between Alaska and Siberia during WWII when US planes were flown through Alaska to the USSR as part of the lend lease program to arm them against Germany.  I guess you really can see Russia from here:)
We always check out the visitors center when we arrive in a new place.  In Fairbanks it is much more than just tourist info.  The Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Center has many exhibits about the native cultures, the changing seasons, the economy and even live entertainment.  There is also an Alaska Public Land Information Center with information about all the different public land agencies, BLM, park service, forest service and Alaska state parks.  The people working there were all very helpful so don't miss this stop.
Another must see is Creamer's Field, an old family dairy farm that is now a wildlife sanctuary.  Creamers is a major stop for migrating sandhill cranes and many water fowl.  Most of the cranes had headed on north, but we did see a few.  We also discovered the they have a huge population of native mosquitoes.  There is a saying in Alaska, "There is not a single mosquito in Alaska, they are all married and have large families." 
Another day we did a 60 mile road trip to Chena Hot Springs to soak our bones.  There are indoor pools and whirlpools, but we chose to spend all of our time in the outdoor hot springs.  I loved the fountain in the middle of the springs that spouted cooler water.  Who would believe that Nanc would be lounging by the pool on a sunny but 65 degree day?
And, as you can see, there were very few people in the water.  There is a ice hotel and bar at Chena Hot Springs, but we opted to only do the hot not the cold.  There is also a RV park at the Springs, so we decided when we return to Alaska we will definitely spend a few days here so we can take advantage of all it has to offer. 
The Museum of the North is another great stop in Fairbanks.  We saw a movie about winter in Fairbanks and it sure reinforced the fact that we do not want to be here for that season.  They have dioramas showing all the different animals of the state.  I guess this has to count as our first grizzly since we have not yet seen one in the wild. 
The museum's Gallery of Alaska has great exhibits on the state's native cultures divided by the regions of the state, from the Southeast coastal groups to those on the Arctic coast.
There is also a display of prehistoric animals.  Many fossils of mammoths and other ancient animals were uncovered during gold mining when miners were using powerful hoses to wash away the surface soil to get to the bedrock where the gold was found.
Of course no exhibit on Alaska history would be complete without a display on mining.  Each of these tray sections holds one ounce of various sizes of gold.  I would be happy just to find one of those nice nuggets like the one on the right.
Another day we took a ride on the Riverboat Discovery on the Chena River.  The cruise gives you a look at several different aspects of life in Alaska starting with the boat.  It is a real stern wheel driven boat that can operate in the very shallow water of the state's rivers.  After leaving the dock a float plane did a take off and landing right by the boat.  Float planes are such a big part of Alaska's aviation that there is a lake at Fairbanks Airport to accommodate them.  
NOTE: If you take the riverboat get a seat on the left, that is where you will see most of the action.   
The tree covered boat on land is an old riverboat and in the water is what is left of the barge it used to deliver supplies to river villages.
The next stop was at the home of Iditarod winner Susan Butcher.  Susan died from Leukemia in 2005, but her husband Dave Monson and their daughters continue to train and race dogs.  For summer training they hitch the dogs to an ATV.  They were so ready to run the ATV was tied to a huge stake to keep them from taking off. 
The dogs cooling off in the Chena River after their run. I was surprised how small they were.  When we got off the boat at the native village we could get a closer look and even a lick from the dogs.
The tour stops at a Chena Indian Village for an up close look at how the Athabascans lived in the past.  They have a small herd of reindeer, tame caribou (who knew?) 
These are the kinds of shelters the ancient, nomadic Athabascans would have used.  The ones covered with boughs would have been temporary shelters for a hunting party.  The one covered with fur was for use in the winter.
This is the type of home they built after their contact with Europeans when they began to settle in more permanent villages.  The high structure was for storing food and furs.
This is a modern fish camp.  The wheel in the water scoops up the salmon as they swim up stream.  This young native guide demonstrated how they fillet and then dry the fish.  Some are left out to dry in the sun while most of it is put in the smokehouse for a couple weeks.  I asked her about the new modern smokers and she said her family tried one, but the fish did not taste as good.
Our two guides were Athabascans who are doing this as a summer job while attending college.  Here is one modeling a beautiful fur coat that took several months of daily sewing to make.  The tour of the village was very neat.
The Discovery went as far as the Tanana  River, the largest glacier fed river in the world.  The river will get deeper throughout the summer as the glaciers melt.  As the glaciers freeze up in the fall the water will recede and get clearer.  There were two people sitting on the island by the boat and two eagles perched on a branch on the far island. 

We had a great time in Fairbanks, even checking out a very good local brew pub, Silver Gulch.  We have now moved south to Denali for a week.  We are hoping to do some hiking, get a closer look at the mountain and see some wildlife.  But right now the forecast continues to look bleak.  That said, we have discovered that if you don't like the weather wait a few minutes and it will change.  Quoting our friends Mark and Renita, clear skies.

1 comment:

Bobbie and Jim said...

Read every one of your blog posts and are finding them fascinating. Glad you are having such a wonderful time. Miss you both. Bobbie and Jim