Founded in 1903, Fairbanks had a reputation of colorful bars, brothels and belligerence. Gold was discovered 16 miles north of Fairbanks. It is the second largest city in Alaska and lies along the banks of the Chena River in the Tanana Valley.
University of Alaska Museum of the North is filled with exhibits of Alaska’s cultures, wildlife, geography and history of each of Alaska’s five major geographic regions. ‘Dynamic Aurora’ 30 minute movie of the midnight sun aurora borealis was interesting and will be the only time we ‘see’ the borealis. It is not dark in Fairbanks at night and we are glad all our RV windows have black out curtains.
Gold Dredge #8 showed Alaskan gold history. We viewed the huge half-boat, half-tractor gold dredge that tore up the countryside. We were given a poke sack of pay dirt and took a turn panning for gold and cashed in $31 of gold. The bank teller would not give us cash for the gold but instead they will sell you a gold locket pendant to fill your miniature gold nuggets into. Steve thinks each bag has gold slivers planted in it so to buy their jewelry. It did seem odd that everyone panned about the same weight of gold.
Alaska Pipeline runs 800 miles from Prudhoe Bay to Valdez. It cuts through Fairbanks by the Gold Dredge #8. Three years of pipeline construction from 1974 to 1977 cost $8 billion. The pipe has a diameter of 48 inches, spans three mountain ranges and more than 30 major rivers and streams. Since the oil has a high temperature, it was placed above ground in areas of permafrost. The steel supports holding the pipeline serve to keep the frozen ground from thawing out. Pipeline elevation allows for big game animal herds to cross under it. It carries 500,000 to 600,000 barrels of crude oil a day.
We took a three-hour cruise on the sternwheeler Riverboat Discovery III. We stopped at the Trail Breaker Kennels, home of acclaimed athlete Susan Butcher four-time winner of the 1,100 miles Iditarod Race. It was fun to see the championship sled dogs and young puppies at the kennel.
The boat traveled on the Chena and Tanana Rivers. These rivers are an excellent example of the ‘wedding of the rivers’. The clear Chena’s waters and the silt-laden, grayish glacial-melt waters ‘Glacial Flour’ of the Tanana flow alongside each other then join into one.
One night we went to the Pioneer Park for a buffet dinner of Alaska Salmon Bake and Prime Rib. Afterwards we attended the Palace Theatre Golden Heart Revue song and story about Fairbanks early gold-rush era.
North Pole, Alaska celebrates the spirit of Christmas all year round. It is a Christmas themed community where the destination of thousands of letters to Santa arrives each year. The entire town turns out to answer all the letters to Santa from kids across the world.
DENALI NATIONAL PARK: AUGUST 2-5, 2016
Denali National Park and Preserve was established in 1917 as Mount McKinley National Park, and covers over six million acres of wilderness in south central Alaska. The park was renamed Denali in 1980. Denali means ‘The High One’ named by the Athabascan Indians of the region. The 20,310 feet mountain was officially renamed Denali in 2015. The Park is open from May to mid-September. For the 8 months of winter with temperatures dropping to -50 degrees below Fahrenheit, the road is unplowed and access to the park is by skis, snowshoes or dog sleds.
Within the 6 million acres, most visitors will see only a fraction of the Park from the 92-mile long Park Road. There was a mudslide and we were limited to 66 miles of the Park Road. It was cloudy, rainy and foggy so seeing the mountain was not happening. Traveling on the narrow and intimidating dirt road, our bus windows would get caked with mud. Our driver would stop frequently to wash them. We saw caribou herds, a big bull moose, and a lone grizzly bear in the distance.
Patty and Steve had a wonderful hike around Horseshoe Lake in Denali National Park. We witnessed a mother and baby moose eating by the lake’s edge. There were more varieties of mushrooms on the path’s perimeter. Steve was trying to pick out the magic ones!
One evening Steve and Patty took a drive to Cantwell, Alaska. We drove on the rocky Denali Highway crossing the MacLaren and Susitna Rivers. Cantwell is just below tree line. A few miles south of Cantwell on Parks Highway is Broad Pass a high tundra area with dramatic views of multicolored rock and soil layers.
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