Friday, June 17, 2011

Fairbanks, Alaska

We’re still taking it easy and let me tell you it has felt good to just hang around home for the past couple days.  It’s hard not to try to do it all, but we have to work in a few rest days or else we won’t enjoy the trip.  These two days have greatly improved our attitudes and dispositions.

Fairbanks is a small city (pop. 30,000; North Star Borough 98,000) compared to many cities in the US, but the second largest city in Alaska.  For the Alaska traveler, that means a major resupply town.  There are malls and shopping centers, large supermarkets, restaurants of all kinds, RV dealerships and repair places, and all the other stuff not readily available for the past 1400 miles or more.  The last city of any size was Whitehorse.  We’re all real glad to be in town.

Check out that map.  Don't see that very often.

Not only does Fairbanks have a variety of goods and services, but it also offers several good attractions for visitors.  Since this is not our first visit to Fairbanks, we aren’t planning to do any sightseeing here.  In fact, we weren’t even planning to come this way, but did because it shaved a couple hundred miles off our intended route.  However, we did a few things when we were here before and I wanted to share those with you.

One of the best museums for cultural history we’ve ever been to was the Museum of the North on the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus.  It was very well done and may have been the highlight museum of our entire trip last time.

The Riverboat Discovery was also very good.  I think the current price is about $50, but there may be a two for one ticket in the Alaska tour saver coupon book.  This is a family run operation and the owners have been doing riverboat cruises for several generations. This ride down the Chena River is narrated by very knowledgeable folks.  Periodically, the boat pulls closer to the river bank for a bird’s eye view of life along the river.  On our trip, we saw an active reindeer farm, chatted with Susan Butcher, an Iditarod winner, whose home and summer training field is on the river (Susan died in 2006 of Leukemia), a mock Athabascan fish camp, and then we got off the boat for a couple hours at a replica of an Athabascan Indian village.

Creamers Field Migratory Bird Refuse was another of our favorites in Fairbanks. Creamers used to be a dairy farm.  Creamer had cows and grew all the things cows like to eat.  Apparently, what cows like to eat is also good for birds, so the birds stopped by as they were making their way to wherever they were going.  Creamer eventually gave up dairy farming, but the folks of Fairbanks enjoyed the birds so much that they contributed to the purchase of Creamer’s Field.  Now, the cows are gone, but the birds still come.  About this time of year, the sandhill cranes are here.  When we were at the refuge there were trails out to viewing platforms which was a nice way to get pretty close to the birds.

I mentioned previously that I’ve read several recommendations for the TransAlaska Pipeline exhibit.  Several bloggers have also mentioned visiting Gold Dredge No 8 and liked that.  If the Arctic Circle is on your bucket list and you don’t plan a trip to Dawson City and a ride up the Dempster, the other road that goes north to the Arctic Circle is the Dalton Highway from Fairbanks.  We have no experience with this road, but we’ve heard it is worse than the Dempster and the big rig truck traffic is much heavier.  From Fairbanks, there are commercial tours available for a price.

Last night for dinner, Gene and I went to the Alaska Salmon Bake.  We had been to salmon bakes before and enjoyed them.  This one was perhaps a little more up-scale than most.  All are on the same concept--salmon cooked over a wood grill, served with a potato of some sort, beans, and coleslaw.  Food is served on a sturdy paper plate and guests dine at long picnic tables covered with plastic tablecloths.  It’s very casual and our experience has been very good.  The Alaska Salmon Bake in Fairbanks has the salmon cooked over a wood grill, but they also serve prime rib and fried cod.  There is a salad bar consisting of Caesar salad, potato salad, and pasta salad.  Baked beans were also available along with a hot roll and soft drinks.  They had wine and beer for an extra charge.  They also had dessert and coffee.  The food was served on real plates with real silverware.  There were picnic tables outside and there was also a large indoor dining room.  We chose to sit inside away from the mosquitoes.  The price was $31 per person for all you care to eat.  We didn’t eat $31 worth, but the experience was worth quite a bit.

Next door to the Alaska Salmon Bake is Pioneer Park, a historic theme park.  We walked over after dinner and many of the shops were already closed for the evening.  Pioneer Park is a family place with amusement park type rides, popcorn and funnel cake for the children, boutiques for the ladies, and museums for the guys.  Many of the buildings were private cabins around Fairbanks in the early 1900s and have been moved to this location and restored.  Some are museums and others have been converted to small shops.  I was sorry not more of the shops were open.  It would have been fun to browse.

Today, we have continued to leisurely work on our chore lists. I’ve spent a lot of time organizing photos, and we’ve each had lengthy phone conversations with family.  It’s been a very good day.

Tomorrow, we’re leaving Fairbanks to wander down the Parks Highway toward Denali National Park.  Our reservations don’t start until the 21st, so we’ll just find a place along the way to park for the night.

That’s all I have.  Thanks for tagging along.

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