Saturday, October 26, 2013

Alaska: Botanical Garden and Pioneer Park

The next day, we took it a little easier and visited the Georgeson Botanical Garden at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Many of the plants were still being planted or weren't quite in bloom yet, due to the short growing season. However, we did find several that were ready.

We went to Pioneer Park for a salmon bake dinner, which was really good and filling (all you can eat). Before the salmon bake started, we walked around and checked out a few things.

The Harding Car (used by President Warren G. Harding on his trip to AK in 1923 to drive the spike for the AK railroad)
Many original buildings and cabins are now used as shops and museums

We visited the Pioneer Air Museum (in Pioneer Park), which had more items than you would expect inside. There were lots of interesting things to see there.

Outside the Pioneer Air Museum

Steam-operated shovel used to build the Panama Canal and the Davidson Ditch (the Alaskan "water pipeline")

Next: On to Denali!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Alaska: Riverboat and Gold Panning

Back in Fairbanks, we went on a three-hour tour of the Chena River on the sternwheeler Riverboat Discovery III. The tour included a demonstration of a bush plane taking off and landing on the river, a sled dog team presentation and demonstration, and a walking tour of Chena Indian Village.
Riverboat Discovery III

Bush plane taking off
And a smooth landing

The dog sled team was training for the Iditarod.

When we got to Chena Indian Village, we got off of the boat for a tour. The dog team's musher talked about their training, etc. and let us pet the dogs.

Cute little dog cabins!
They had some native Alaskan staff members show off native clothing and other handmade items, as well as furs.

In the afternoon on the same day, we went to Gold Dredge 8 for a tour and to pan for some gold.

We started at the Tanana Valley Railroad station near the pipeline and got on a replica train to go to Gold Dredge No. 8.

Because of where we were sitting on the train, our photos of the gold dredge are pretty obstructed, so I pulled this one from another web site:

Photo source:

Gold panning demonstration:

While we were at the gold dredge, we got off of the train to pan for gold.

Pay dirt!

Ed was evidently better at panning than I was and got more gold, most likely because he didn't accidentally dump some of his pay dirt two seconds after receiving it, like I did. Oops. Mine came out to around $7, and his came out to around $18. We decided to keep our little flecks of gold as souvenirs. After that, we had just enough time to get some complimentary hot chocolate and cookies before the train left to take us back to the station.

We finished the day with dinner at The Pump House restaurant on the river. Ed had seafood chowder and reindeer tenderloin with mashed sweet potatoes and vegetables. I had a salad and elk meatloaf (wrapped in bacon) with mashed potatoes and vegetables.

The Pump House Restaurant (from the Riverboat Discovery III that morning)
Reindeer tenderloin

Elk meatloaf

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Alaska: Arctic Circle Tour

We just got back from Romania this week, so we'll post about that soon. But first, we'll finish talking about our Alaska vacation....

We got up really early for an all-day tour to and from the Arctic Circle with Northern Alaska Tour Company. We left their terminal around 6:30 a.m. on a coach bus with about 15-20 other tourists and got back around 9:30 or 10 p.m. We spent most of the day in the bus traveling about 200 miles (one way) on the Dalton Highway, but we made several stops. Our driver was a college student named John. He was a good driver and had some interesting tidbits to keep us informed and entertained, like that only about four percent of visitors to Alaska travel as far north as we did that day.

Our first stop was in the town of Joy at the Wildwood General Store (a.k.a. Arctic Circle Trading Post), owned by Joe and Nancy Carlson. They sell souvenirs, handmade craft items, and some food/drink items. They also have primitive restrooms (i.e., outhouses).

We continued traveling from there. The road is pretty rough, with lots of potholes and gravel. There is very little traffic--mostly trucks and the occasional biker.

We stopped at a pull-off to take a closer look at the Alyeska Pipeline (Trans-Alaska Pipeline), which parallels the highway. It has a 48-inch diameter, is 800 miles long (380 miles are buried and 420 miles are elevated due to permafrost), and extends from Alaska's northern coast (Prudhoe Bay) to the southern coast (Valdez).

Alyeska Pipeline along the Dalton Highway
There were some nice mountain views along the way. We saw the Ray Mountains and the White Mountains, and we got a glimpse of the Brooks Mountain range.

We made a quick stop near the Yukon River around lunch time and continued on from there. We stopped again at Finger Mountain. However, it's not actually a mountain, but a broad hill. It's named for Finger Rock, a granite formation that points toward Fairbanks. It was pretty windy and cold. There was a short trail with some information signs. It was a good place to take in some panoramic views.

Finger Rock (near center)
Close-up of Finger Rock

Mountain avens (Dryas integrifolia)

We continued on and finally made it to the Arctic Circle! When we got there, it was 48 degrees F, so it was a bit cooler than the average temperatures in Fairbanks while we were there (60s-80s). There really isn't much there--just the sign, some information signs on that deck behind it, and some outhouses--but it was exciting to be there.

Ed had to get a shot with his "Tiger rag" (Clemson bandana). There probably aren't very many photos like this out there!

On the way back, we stopped to walk on the tundra and touch the permafrost, which was only maybe six inches or so below the surface. It just felt like a solid block of ice.

Taking a walk on the tundra

We stopped for dinner at the Yukon River Camp. We had placed our orders from their menu earlier in the day, and we were pleasantly surprised at how nice the meal was. I had a salmon wrap, and Ed had a salmon burger. It was good food for such a remote place.

Yukon River Camp

It was a long day, but we enjoyed it. The thing that struck me most was how quiet it was. We didn't even see or hear any wildlife all day, except for a few birds. Animals do live there, such as foxes, hares, wolves, and voles, but we didn't see any. It was nice to take some moments throughout the day to enjoy the silence and marvel at this part of God's creation that so few get to see.