Fairbanks May 30-June 4

Saturday, May 30, 2009
Fairbanks, Alaska, United States
Drove around town to see some of the sites. Rode by the Rivers Edge RV Park on the other side of town. It's very nice; a little tidier than Riverview but more crowded. It's also closer to most of the attractions.
On Saturday there is a Farmer's Market--yum, fresh vegies. Unfortunately, we were a little early; they only had a few green peppers and cucumbers. There are other homemade goodies like breads, cakes, jellies, etc. plus lots of crafts.
Sams and Walmart are here so we did Randy's favorite thing--shopping for food (which takes forever because he has to look at everything down every aisle). Sams' prices were pretty much the same as ours at home--were we shocked!  Time to stock up on food!
Had to see Santaland in North Pole. Thought it would be shops in a cute little village setting. Wrong! Just a store full of Christmas decorations. The Santa and the reindeer were real!  
Our second day in Fairbanks started out sunny so we jumped in the jeep and headed for downtown. The Information Center is on the Chena river next to the Golden Heart Plaza.![This is a very nice park with paved paths lined with choke cherry trees that were in bloom, and a pedestrian bridge crossing the river. Great place to take a walk!
Drove along the river to a restaurant called the Pump House, which was really used to pump water for the mines. After seeing all the homemade delights on the dessert table, we had to have the Sunday brunch! Guess what we ate first? Of course, you know Randy--dessert. It was impossible to resist the many temptations. The rest of the buffet was equally delicious, and we ate way too much food. We've "munched" our way for 5300 miles, so what's a few more calories.   The buffet ends at 2:00, and we were the last people to leave so talked to the waitress and owner quite a bit. The restaurant and grounds have lots of relics from the "Gold Rush" era. The furnishings are all antiques; loved the bar, pool table, full-size grizzly, and the moose antler chandelier. Two moose died because their antlers became locked. All their furnishings have such interesting stories. You can sit on the deck overlooking the Chena River--too cold for us.   The inside is just as great because of all the antique furnishings. This is such a fantastic place - wonderful food and gold dredging history too. How can you beat that!
Then a bit of bad luck. The car wouldn't start. Tried jumping it; determined it wasn't the battery; thought it might be the starter. Randy got under there to do the old standby--hit it with a hammer; still no luck. The people here are so nice; lots of offers to help. In the end, we called AAA and had it towed to the Chrylsler Jeep dealer. The tow truck young man drove us to the campground. He was born here and told us all kinds of stories about living in this area, what it's like during the winter (glad we're not here during all the 60 below days), and places he's been to tow cars. You sure don't want to drive your own vehicle on the Dalton highway up to the Artic Circle!
Lucky us--the jeep got fixed the next day! Heard about a restaurant the "locals" like—Ivory Jacks. We drove outside of town and up the mountain to this lodge-looking place with all kinds of local memorabilia. The door handle from the previous bar that burned down was an Oosik, which was on display. Great atmosphere; so-so food. Drove around Ester Dome road; great views to the south of the distant mountains. First time seeing a caution road sign for “Dog Sled.” 
Creamer's Field Migratory Waterfowl Refuge & Nature Trails is very interesting, especially if you like birds/nature. The people in the visitor center are very nice; they loan binoculars and mosquito spray. Thank goodness for the bug spray; mega mosquitoes! The trails are very good. We walked the trail to where the birds were being banded to track their migratory patterns. There are long nets set up throughout the forest to catch the birds so they can be tagged; even saw a bird in the net. Not a lot of birds at this time of the year—Canadian geese and Sandhill cranes.
Took the Riverboat Discovery cruise up the Chena River. Bought the Alaska Toursaver, which has buy one, get one free coupons for many Alaska activities. It was a beautiful sunny day so the 3½ hour tour was wonderful! The tour included watching a bush pilot take off and land on the river, Susan Butcher’s sled dog kennels, and an hour tour of a replica Athabascan Indian village narrated by native Alaskans.

They even give you samples of the salmon spread they make. Thoroughly enjoyed everything!
Went on the tour with our Tennessee friends so had dinner at the Pump House restaurant again. The burgers were excellent; the seafood chowder fantastic—full of crab, shrimp, and fish.
The one-hour tour of the Large Animal Research Station (formerly the musk ox farm) at the University of Alaska Fairbanks was interesting. The tour gave good explanations about the research being done on musk ox and caribou. The animals were fed willow leaves so we got to see them up close with their babies. Also saw a marmot run across the field. In the spring, musk ox shed their fur and the fine hair on the back is made into a yarn (qiviuq), which is given to the native Alaskans to knit into scarves, hat, etc. They are extremely soft and warm; also extremely expensive.

Alaska Museum of the North 
is wonderful. We spent four hours looking at their many exhibits on the history of Alaska—native cultures, gold, animals, early explorers, art gallery. Watched two films—Aurora Borealis and Winter in Fairbanks.  We were impressed with the variety and quality of Alaskan-made items in the gift shop, and the students working even explained the native history of the items.
It’s been fun comparing our day's adventures with our Tennessee friends. One day we rode with them to Chena Hot Springs.  Nice drive through the forest with views of the Chena river. At one of the stops along the way, a group of young people from Univ. of Fla. were doing research about the effects of fire in the forest.  Sure surprised to see U of F students up here! The resort is at the end of the road, and the hot spring is a good size pool surrounded by boulders—nice setting. Since the day was very warm, no one felt like going in the hot springs. 

Toured the Ice Museum, which is really unique!  Ice sculptures were incredible—jack-o-lantern with a lift-up lid, two life-size horses with knights jousting, a chapel, the coke bear, a bar, fireplace, igloo, four bedrooms you could actually stay in--for $600 per night. Each bedroom had something different—bed was a bear lying on its back, Christmas tree, outhouse, shower. All sculpted out of ice blocks—very impressive! The colored lighting from under the sculptures made the pieces look very dramatic.
Also saw the Alyeskasection of the Pipeline just north of Fairbanks. The display shows how the “pig” cleans the pipeline.
The highlight of our stay in Fairbanks was visiting with the North Pole couple and their friend.  He was a bush pilot so heard all kinds of stories about his adventures and those of their friend's husband. They sure were brave--or a little crazy! They also take their boat fishing out of Valdez, which sure sounded like what we love to do. We thoroughly enjoyed going to their friend's house to see the life-size musk oz--yes, life size!!! Not only that, there were 2 grizzly skins and a black bear skin. The one grizzly has a bullet hole right between the eyes; the bear was stalking her husband while he was hunting; finally, it got too close! There must have been at least 10 bear skulls plus a basement lined with various mounts. It was better than going to an Alaska animal museum; there was a story to go with each one! Talking to "Real Alaskans" sure gives us insight about living in Alaska--they are true adventurers!!
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