June 1-3: Fairbanks offers a myriad of ways for getting a taste and feel for the city. There are riverboat rides on the Chena River, salmon bakes, bus and train tours, an assortment of museums and all varieties of entertainment. Not having any pre-planned activities, we made impromptu choices that played well for us – even if some of them weren’t the most advertised.
The visitors center on the Chena River in downtown Fairbanks is a beautiful place, offering information at computer banks in addition to the personnel you can speak to personally, both local and state reps. After receiving updates from the national park rangers about our future Denali visit, we took in the excellent Alaska exhibits. The life-size displays give a slice of how it is to live eight months a year in relative darkness. As they say, “We don’t hibernate, we celebrate.” The Alaskan people seem to be a happy group, loving the “land of the midnight sun.” After all, they do have some reflection of light from the snow for those long winter months. And for a portion of the population, transportation across the ice and snow is easier than when rivers are flowing and they have to use the roads. They break out the snowmobile, atv, skies or dog sled. And away they go! We enjoyed these visuals.
While we were in the neighborhood, we found the Fairbanks Community Museum, just a few blocks away on 5th and Cushman in the old courthouse building. This smaller one isn’t as popular as the large and well-funded Museum of the North at Alaska University on the outskirts of town. But we thought it might be worth a look. You just never know what you may find. Sometimes the larger, more elaborate places are somewhat overwhelming and tend to wear out the brain and the feet. Sure enough, we found the size and scope to be just right for our concentration on that afternoon. The historical section on mushing was very interesting, with stories of citizens, their dogs and the impact of dog sledding on Fairbanks and Alaska. Did you know that the Alaskan Huskies used as sled dogs are not a pure breed at all? They are actually a mixture of various dogs, although they are carefully chosen. The strength, stamina and personality of the animals are the main objectives. Also, the exhibits on the history of the city’s development during the gold rush in the late 1800s and early 1900s explain why Fairbanks is here today. Thanks to the volunteers who are committed to keeping these type of historical places open.
Another of our choices for exploring Fairbanks was Pioneer Park. Since we were parked right there nearby in a section of their lot, we just had to take a look inside. Maybe it would be an amusement park with rides, cotton candy, elephant ear stands and souvenir shops. We watched people come and go quite a bit, so we did venture inside one morning. There is definitely more than an amusement park.
The pioneer story is the point here. At the entrance, free admission, each person walks through the authentic-feeling gold mine shaft that brings home the reality of the miner’s life. The log cabins and buildings each bear a historical plaque telling their story. They were moved from the original Fairbanks community in the early 1900s. Several contain historical museums, although there is a mix of shops and eating establishments to please everyone.
Further investigation uncovered a railroad depot and museum, an aviation museum and the Pioneer Museum. Inside the Pioneer museum is an intricate diorama that portrays clearly the processes involved in working the streams and the gold mine shafts. The aviation museum is bursting with information and examples of Alaska’s aviation, a key means of transportation before roads existed and still a popular way to get around the state. The railroad depot displays a working, restored steam locomotive that hauled the supplies for gold miners and other residents, long before any highways. Again, folks volunteer their time and get satisfaction from preserving these pieces of the past.
On our final evening in Fairbanks, we decided to drive north of town a few miles on the Steese Highway to see and learn about the Alaska Pipeline. On the map of Fairbanks there is a note about a viewing site, so we had to investigate. Wow! Standing right there looking at this vessel and thinking about what is going on for 800 miles is impressive. (Point your cursor at these two photos to get more facts.)
The pipeline a capacity of 9 million barrels, crosses 834 rivers and streams and three mountain ranges. Purdue structural engineer, Dr. James Maple, designed the innovative pipe and its support system that withstands permafrost and earthquakes. Very dynamic!
All that learning did develop our thirsts. But we knew that in the neighborhood is the Silver Gulch Brewery and Restaurant. The brewery is actually open for tours, but that didn’t fit into our schedule somehow. No problem, we made the restaurant our stop for our last night in town. Jerry had already sampled their Fairbanks Porter in our preceding weeks of Alaska travel and he found it “very nice.” It made a great accompaniment for his yummy pork ribs meal. I chose the Amber….went down smoothly with my Italian meal choice.
By the time we were ready to take the Parks Highway south toward Denali National Park, we were satisfied that we had a flavor of Fairbanks.