Saturday, June 5, 2010

June 5, 2010

Drive to Denali NP



We left Fairbanks at 7:30 this morning. Overcast skies. After a stop for gas we were headed south. We didn’t make it to the Arctic Circle but the only thing there is a sign. We did manage to experience 21 hours of true daylight and 3 hours of twilight in a day. Darkness? What’s that?

The whole morning was rain, fog (cloud), drizzle. Good road with little traffic. Just wet. We got to RV park a little after 11:00. The rain started to let up as we got settled in.

Had lunch and then off to Denali NP to reserve bus trip into park. Here as with a number of places so far we found that we were just a few days early. The very early bus trips start (better for wildlife viewing) start in three days as do the full slate of ranger programs. We got the early bus for tomorrow and there are still many things to do and see without the whole lineup. While we were getting our bus tickets the ticket lady mentioned that the sled dog demo would be starting in about 25 minutes. We hustled up to the visitor center to find out about that. We were told to go out in front of the center, look down, and follow the trail of dog paw prints painted on the ground to the shuttle bus. Did that and ended up at the bus depot where we boarded the shuttle for the ten minute ride to the kennel. Thankfully the rain was gone and sun was working its way out. Large kennel with about 30 dogs individually housed. We all admired the dogs for a while and chatted with the handlers.


Then a presentation on the dogs and how they are used in the park followed by a demo of a small team pulling a sled followed by questions and photo ops.


Then back on shuttle to visitor center.

The dogs in the park are different than those we saw in Fairbanks. The park dogs are workers. In the winter they are used to pull freight and patrol the back country (which is pretty much all the park). The dogs in Fairbanks are race dogs. Smaller and more lanky. A handler here used the analogy of comparing race dogs to work dogs as being like a marathon runner compared to a football player.

We walked the exhibits in the visitor center and then drove the park road as far as private vehicles can go (15 miles). There is a spot where you are supposed to be able to see Mt. McKinley (way off in the distance) but there was too much cloud cover that direction. DSC04122

McKinley in in the clouds behind this peak.

Pretty country though.

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Friday, June 4, 2010

June 4, 2010

Preparing for moving on

We got a guided tour of North Pole this morning from a very nice school teacher on summer break.  Something the RV park does for guests.  Actually sort of interesting to get off the main streets and see where people live.  We learned some history and some more about life in Alaska from a local. 

Off to Fairbanks to restock.  We spent quite a while wandering Fred Meyer.  Pretty much a one stop location.  Far more than even a Wal-mart superstore.  We got a few items there and then over to Sam’s to finish up.

Back to North Pole for the afternoon.  I checked air filters on the vehicles, filled the fresh water tank, and emptied the dump tanks.  One last bout with the laundry and cleanup of accumulated tourist info that we are done with.

Right now it is raining.  Afternoon thundershower.  First we have had in weeks.  We really have been pretty fortunate with weather.  We’ll see how that holds as we head south to the wet part of Alaska.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

June 3, 2010

Pioneer Park

We took a short hike on a nature trail behind the RV park and then did a short drive around North Pole.  Difficult to do a long drive around North Pole. 



Here is the ‘official’ north pole











Statue outside Santa Claus House/Santa Land Rv Park






After noon we went to see Pioneer Park.  Hard to describe.  Sort of a Playland type park with history.  A number of old cabins from Fairbanks have been rescued, relocated to this park, and restored.  Some have museums in them, some are small shops with crafts and foods.  There is a huge restored river boat, air museum, railroad museum, live theater house, merry-go-round, mini-golf course, duck pond, play ground, dance hall, and other venues including an excellent Alaska museum. Most spots are free.  One fun spot is called “–40 Fairbanks”.  It gives tourists an opportunity to experience 40 degrees below zero.  It is just a small food locker but the temperature is real.  They give you a cup with a small amount of hot water in it.  Throw the water in to the air and it vaporizes and freezes instantly.  They have a nail partly stuck in a board and a frozen banana for you to drive it with.  Also some motor oil in a jar to show why all cars up here have engine heaters and all parking lots have power posts to plug in to.  With a parka it wasn’t too bad.  We didn’t have proper lower body clothing so that part got cold.  Dressed properly, one could bear that temp for a little while.  Would not want to stay in it too long though.

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That thermometer is actually pointing to –50.









Block from a quilt in the museum.  If Alaska were divided in half, Texas would be the third largest state in the US.




It was an interesting, low key afternoon, but enjoyable.

Sue wanted to point this out:

20100603-52 coffee and ice cream

That is a coffee drive-thru.  They all sell soft ice cream cones also.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

June 2, 2010

Bird Sanctuary, Farmers Market, Windshield Repair

On the north edge of Fairbanks is a bird sanctuary that used to be a dairy.  There are a number of walking trails associated with it.  We stopped by in the morning thinking we would look around and maybe walk a trail.  They were just about to start a guided walk so for over two hours we walked through a variety of land types and learned about the land, the plants and trees, the animals, and the birds of the area.  Actually quite informative.  Even got to use our bug stray for the first time.

After the bird sanctuary we stopped at the local farmers market.  Pretty typical.  Baked goods, some crafts, some vegetables.  What was not typical (for us any how) was the quality and prices.  One four inch rather sickly looking cucumber cost a dollar.  Yesterday in Wal-mart we saw oranges for $1.25 apiece.

The city of Fairbanks has a self-guided walking tour.  They give you an I-pod type device and you walk the town listening to narration about various spots.  Pretty extensive.  We only did about a third of it.



Statue dedicated to Unknown First Family





We managed to hit Jo-ann.  Couldn’t let it go by I guess.

On our way back to carbus a large rock thrown by a small car put a pretty good chip in our windshield.  So, we turn around and head back to town.  I had noticed a auto glass repair place as we left Jo-ann parking lot.  Guy looked at it and said no problem.  Fifteen minutes later we have a repair that looks like new (almost – pretty good though).  Back to carbus leaving lots of room behind cars in front of us.

Air is much better today.  We had a pretty good breeze yesterday. We can see hills around Fairbanks and clouds and blue sky and  bright sun.  Hope the trend continues for the next five days or so.

June 1, 2010

University of Alaska Fairbanks Museum

Pretty slow day after yesterday.  UAF has an outstanding museum that touches on just about everything one could associate with the north.  Many excellent displays on all things Alaska.  Also three movies on different subjects, one of them being life in Alaska in winter.  Several galleries of art.  They advise planning on four hours and we were there just about that long.



Mastodon skull









Very large bear.







One danger of spending a few days in one place is that there is time to search out fabric stores.  We visited two and made purchases in each.  There is also a Joann store which we will probably get in to.  Probably no purchases though.  No coupons.  :)

We visited a company that makes wooden bowls.  Fascinating to watch half a round of wood be turned into three or four bowls of decreasing diameters.  Rough cut takes about 30 minutes for three bowls. 

Wal-mart for bread then back to carbus.

The rest of the afternoon was devoted to doing two weeks of laundry

Monday, May 31, 2010

May 31, 2010

Oil, Gold, Sternwheelers, History, Culture

On our way to our first tour of the day we stopped at a spot set up to view the Alaska Pipe Line.  This brings oil from the arctic ocean overland the entire length of the stat to Valdez over the most unforgiving land and climate conditions anywhere.  There are many engineering features to deal with the harsh environment. 


We have several other pictures which we will put in an album. 

First goal was Eldorado Gold Mine.


Tour involves a train ride DSC03969 with onboard narration and entertainment DSC03973 DSC03975 which stops several places and gives demonstrations  of how gold was mined.  One stop is inside a permafrost tunnel to explain where gold was located.  DSC03981


Pointing to junction of permafrost ground and bedrock.




Final stop was a large demonstration of a sluice. 



This sluice is probably 100 feet long.










Water is started down sluice.












Pay dirt (hopefully) is poured in to moving water at top of sluice. Grate that lines bottom of sluice has astroturf under it (used to be burlap mats).  Gold gets trapped in mats.  Dirt and gravel is washed away.


Placer mining in action.


Working a panfull if dirt.


Gold contained in that one pan of dirt.  This stuff is not salted!

Final part of tour:  Everyone (well over 100 people) goes through a tunnel and is handed a small bag of dirt.  20100531-60 At other end of tunnel is a large room with panning troughs and benches along the troughs.  There are gold pans and small plastic containers (similar to film canister) at each station.  We sit down, empty dirt into pans and start panning.  There is lots of help and instruction available.  The amazing thing is that every bag of dirt has gold.  They guarantee it.  At least eight flakes (one for each star in the Alaska flag) or you get another bag to pan.  Fun to start with a pan of dirt and gravel and end up with shiny gold flakes in your pan.  I ended up with about the same as in the pan above.  Sue a little less.  After collecting your gold you go to gift shop where they weigh it.  You can then put it back in the canister or in various styles of jewelry.  Sue now has a new pair of earrings.  :)



















This nugget was available to handle (under supervision  :)  ) to feel how heavy gold is.  the value is at the value of gold in 1995.  Now a lot more.

Afternoon tour was Riverboat Discovery.  Very large (four decks) stern wheel paddle boat. 


This boat can carry over 900 passengers.  there were 300 today.  Tomorrow will have 700.  Boat travels down Chena River for several miles.  There is constant narration along the way. 



This was the first Riverboat Discovery.  Things have grown a bit.




We passed a number of houses of all shapes and sizes.  The only common is that they are on the very peaceful Chena River.  A lovely place to live – for five months out of the year.  The other seven are pretty severe.



President and Nancy Reagan once stayed here.





There are several stops for demonstrations.  Bush pilot doing short takeoffs  and landings. 20100531-104


Sled dog demonstration at home of Susan Butcher (now deceased) who won the Iditarod sled race four times.  DSC04052

Demonstration is presented by her daughter (15 y/o).  DSC04051



This creek which is less than ten miles long produced more gold than any other ten miles in Alaska and maybe the world.  Millions of dollars when gold was $35/oz.  Today’s value:  several billion.


Journey to confluence of two rivers.  Hour long stop at very complete demonstration of housing, hunting, fishing, clothing, and many other aspects of Native Alaskan life past and present.  the demonstrations are given by enthusiastic teenage Native Alaskans. 20100531-175 We had lots of time to wander all the displays and talk with the kids about their lives, native life and history, etc. 



Hope we get to see one (some) of these that are a little more lively than this guy.






Back on boat we cruised back up river.  Three and a half hour trip.  This is the top rated tour in Fairbanks and well deserved.

There will be more pictures of the day in an album soon.

May 30, 2010

Slow day

We didn’t do much today.  Spent much of the day driving around Fairbanks getting oriented and locating the sites we want to see.

We did start the day by going to the Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Center.  We wondered when we drove into the parking lot why it was so large a building.  In side we found out why.  The main lobby which has a high vaulted ceiling has a couple of information islands manned by docents to answer questions.  They have computers to look up answers on anything.  There is a desk manned by Dept of Interior people to give information on wild Alaska.  There is a wall with public access computers.  A store that carries items geared more to a National Park or National Geographic feel. Science, nature, Native culture, etc.  At the far end of the lobby is the reason the building is so large.  ‘Room’ after ‘room’ of outstanding displays on all aspects of Alaska.  I say ‘room’ because the spaces are not square but sort of wander around each other with one display leading into another or branching off to others yet.  Displays on mining, agriculture, settling the land, wildlife, oil, nature, much information about native peoples, displays about cold (COLD) and darkness and how they affect people, wildlife, and plant life in adapting to the extremes .  The whole center was a very unexpected and pleasant surprise.

We had dinner and a nice evening with Tabby Buzby’s family.  We will be attending Tabby and Rick Glover’s wedding after our trip.  It was fun to meet them and learn a bit about life in Alaska.  Look forward to seeing them again in a few months.