Wow, we’re really in Alaska! After all of this time of planning and driving! Pinch me!
After our incredible trip from Dawson City, Yukon Territory to Tok, AK, we stayed at the Tok RV Village for the night, a very nicely wooded park and they had plenty of camp sites. No Caravans here! Next morning we were on the Alaska Highway by 10:00. A very nicely paved road, no dirt or gravel, with just a few frost heaves. (A frost heave is a section of highway that literally freezes during the winter. Come spring thaw it pushes up the pavement. It looks like a highway with seams and small rollers.)
Delta Junction was our first stop, because it is the end of the historic Alaskan Highway. We pulled into the visitor center to take pictures. Grant bought some bumper stickers that say: “I DROVE THE TOP OF THE WORLD HIGHWAY AND SURVIVED”. We also got our official “I TRAVELED THE ALASKA HIGHWAY” certificates. Then he asked, “Where is there a good place for lunch?” The friendly person at the center said we could leave the rig parked there and walk over to a nearby roadhouse. There were lots of local people, which always is a good sign! Since we had our buddy, Raider, with us, we sat outside at the last table with an umbrella and enjoyed a great lunch.
Then from there we traveled the Richardson Highway up to Fairbanks. It was such a beautiful drive. We saw a huge bull moose on the left side of the highway, but nowhere to pull over to take a picture. Darn! We also saw a mink run across the road. I always thought they were small like weasels but they are the largest member of the weasel family at 27 inches long!
Things were looking familiar from our 2 other trips to Fairbanks. Having made reservations at the River Edge RV Park, we didn’t have to worry about getting a space. Which was a good thing! There were at least 2 big RV Caravan groups there! Back on our 2002 trip through Alaska we had stayed at the River Edge Cottages, also affiliated with the rv park and enjoyed it! It’s located right on the Chena River, which runs through the middle of town.
For the last 6 years I have checked out 2 main webcams up here on a daily basis. One is the www.FestivalFairbanks.org (only use Firefox it doesn’t work on Internet Explorer) and the http://newsminer.com/arcticcam/. It was so exciting to go downtown and actually see the building where the cameras are! The Festival Fairbanks cam was up on the third floor window looking down on Golden Heart Plaza. The camera for the Arctic Cam is across the way in the Fairbanks Daily news-miner newspaper building. We could actually see that camera.
Time to call Tim, our oldest son in Chicago, who is a wizard with computers. (We called him when we were in Yellowstone to take our picture at the Yellowstone Web camera!) Fortunately he was at home and was able to “print screen” both websites photos of us waving at the web cams 3,240 miles away. So cool! That’s the three of us bottom right in the picture.
One thing everybody should try when in Fairbanks is the Pioneer Park Salmon Bake. That is a misnomer, because it’s an “all you can eat” dinner of halibut, cod, prime rib and of course, salmon. A little pricey, but go when you’re hungry! The halibut and cod were so delicious we both went back for seconds, skip everything else! There are several shops inside old historic log cabins that used to be located downtown. Due to redevelopment they were moved to the Park for safekeeping. Since it was late when we were done with dinner most of the stores were closed and we figured we could come back for that later.
Gold mining was, and still is, a major source of income up in the Fairbanks area. Especially with gold currently over $900 an ounce! Gold Dredge #8 is just a few miles up the road and we took time to tour it, plus try our hand at panning for gold. Each person is given a “poke” of sand (which has been salted with a few flakes of gold) and the guide gives you a demonstration on how to do it properly. Between the 2 of us we had a combined weight that was worth $28. At $940 per ounce it doesn’t take much gold for $28. But I don’t think we will be taking up prospecting soon. I can’t imagine standing there for hours a day trying to filter out possible gold. The gift shop put the gold in a clear locket for me to wear! Nice souvenir for the afternoon.
Every year in March people gather from around the world to see the Fairbanks Ice Show. The local volunteers gather huge blocks of ice from the area ponds and river. Artists carve them into some wonderful creations. Some are saved at the Ice Museum downtown. First you see a great slide presentation done by Patrick Endres, a local photographer, http://www.alaskaphotographics.com/
It explains the Ice Show, since most people can’t quite make it up there in March. Some of the ice is preserved at the museum in deep freezers that you can walk through. It was 15 degrees F above 0 and that’s cold! Then there is an ice carving demonstration on a small scale to show all of the instruments used to create these sculptures. A great place to go on a very hot day!
The next day we did the Discovery III river boat tour on the Chena River. Even though we did this the first trip in 1998, it is a “campy” thing to do! It was a much better day than we had in August of 1998! Then it was cold, drizzly and we had to sit on the top deck with umbrellas because the lower decks were full! Jump ahead 10 years and it was sunny, clear and approaching 80 F! There are some wonderful homes along the river, none of them look alike. Some are very nice log cabins while others look like they from HGTV programs! There was a float plane demonstration, where he took off right beside the boat and landed on the other side!
The river tour came down to where the Chena River meets the Tanana River and you can see the difference in the water. The Chena is shallow and dark, while the Tanana gets glacial water so it is filled with the fine silt and makes the water look cloudy. There on the sandbank another bush pilot gave us a demonstration with his yellow Piper that had balloon “sand” tires. He was so fast; I couldn’t get a picture of him actually getting up in the air. All of a sudden he’s buzzing our boat! He was airborne at only 42 miles per hour!
On our first Discovery trip in 1998, the highlight was when Susan Butcher, the Iditarod dog sled racer, came out to greet the boat as we went by her kennels. I was absolutely in Seventh Heaven, because Susan’s been my hero as one of the winners of the race multiple times!! There she was in real life, cuddling one of her new born puppies inside her jacket! She gave a demonstration of how they practice during the summer. Hitching the dogs to an ATV, that has the engine removed. If we could only record the howling they did, it would be great. All 70+ dogs were barking with excitement, even though about a dozen were actually running! Unfortunately, this brave lady passed away in August 2006 after a battle with Leukemia, leaving behind her husband, Dave and 2 young girls, the oldest was 11 and the youngest was 6! My heart goes out to her family for their loss, but they are continuing on with her dream of raising fine sled dogs. Fast forward to 2008 and Dave was giving a demonstration of the dogs practicing.
Just then, Murphy’s law threw a monkey wrench into the photo work and my huge memory chip was full! Quick, delete some photos and resume!
Helping him with the demonstration was Jesse Royer, also an Iditarod Racer, she did very well this year placing 14th to cross the finish line! She has 60 dogs of her own and she’s helping with Dave’s 75?! We got to stop off at a replica of a Native Alaskan Village and she was there for a closer look at the dogs and even a one on one question time!
During the Village tour we had some very sweet Athabascan guides to explain how their ancestors managed to live off the land. They displayed some fine costumes and parkas that would have been worn to fight off the cold. Now it was getting closer to 80 degrees out and the one young lady was wearing a full tunic, plus she pulled up the pretty “sunshine hood”. All made with animal skins and fur that would have been in the area.
Then Dixie, a fine artist on Native Alaskan beading, showed some of her work. As we found out later, some of her work is even displayed at the Smithsonian Museum in Washington DC. Later she did a demonstration on filleting salmon, which would then be dried and smoked for later use. She was done in 60 seconds with this great big fish!
On our return trip we floated by the Pump House Restaurant, where we had lunch the day before. It was so pretty outside; we ate out on the deck. Great food, ambiance and of course, fine beer!
One day we decided to go for a drive up to the Arctic Circle Trading Post in Joy, Alaska. We saw exhibits on the great Alaskan Pipeline along the highway and of course, got up close and personal to the pipeline. It is an amazing piece of engineering. We had been to the trading post back in July, 2002, while on our tour to Prudhoe Bay, we had stopped for souvenirs. We were on our way up past the Arctic Circle, so we just had to get our t-shirts that said “I Crossed the Arctic Circle”. The lady that ran it, Joy, and her husband had adopted about 17 children. Plus they had about 5 of their own biological children. They all were kept busy and away from the temptations of the “big city”. She home schooled them until they were able to go off on their own.
Some of those shirts have faded after all these years so we HAD to get replacements, without crossing the Circle again! It is about 90 miles north of Joy. This was our most Northern point of our trip. 90 miles short of the Latitude 65!
When the 4th of July came around, we were beat, with all of the running around, we decided to take a day off and just stick around. Since there is no dark at night, sunset is around 12:30 AM and sunrise is at 3:15, fireworks are not in the picture up here. They wait until New Year’s Eve for that, because it is very dark out then! Besides it was about 85 F, time to rest under the AC!
Saturday, July 5th, we went to Pioneer Park to see the stores that were closed when we were there the other day for the Salmon Bake. But just our luck, it looked like none of the stores opened until noon and it was 11 AM. Grant was really heart broken! NOT! However, Kathy found one that was open and she helped Grant find a great anniversary gift. A Malachite necklace that she’d been wanting for a long time! Our 37th is on July 10th, how timely!
After that we went back to the Pump House for another fine lunch and a gorgeous day on the river! From there we went to see the University of Alaska Fairbanks Museum. Just the building alone is quite a work of art, but all of the many wonderful items inside were great to see! From a skull with tusks of a mastodon, to a fully mummified ox that is now extinct, lots of natural science specimens and art work. They don’t allow flash pictures in the museum, so no photos. Then there was the “Aurora Boreallis” presentation. Something I have always wanted to see in real life. Some day! There was so much to see, it took over 3 hours to see most of it!