Friday, July 19, 2013

Alaska: North Pole

We went to Alaska for vacation in June. We decided to go there because Ed won two round-trip tickets to anywhere in North America and the Caribbean, and it was the farthest we could go that we wanted to go. We flew into and out of Fairbanks, so we stayed in Interior Alaska the whole time. We spent several days in Fairbanks and a couple of days in Denali National Park.

As with previous vacation posts, I'm going to split this trip into several parts, since there's so much to include.

We spent our first whole day of vacation traveling. It was a long day, due to a long layover in Denver, but because of the "midnight sun" in Alaska, it didn't seem quite so late when we landed in Fairbanks around 11:30 p.m. local time (which was 2:30 a.m. our time).

Landing in Fairbanks around 11:30 p.m.
It was neat to see the many winding rivers from the air.

View of Fairbanks area rivers from airplane
We rented a car and checked into our hotel to crash for the night. The next morning, we were abruptly awakened by the fire alarm and quickly determined that someone burnt something in the breakfast area, having experienced this before. The fire department was quick to respond, though. So much for sleeping in....

For our first day in Fairbanks, we decided to drive to the town of North Pole and just generally check out Fairbanks. We went to North Pole first. It was only about a 20-minute drive from our hotel. Of course, North Pole is just the town's name; it's actually about 1,700 miles south of the earth's geographic North Pole.


We went to Santa Claus House, where we met Santa Claus, of course!

 
Check out the sunrise and sunset times!
Santa Claus House, North Pole, AK


When we met Santa and had our picture taken with him, Ed pulled out his Clemson tiger rag for another photo, and Santa got excited and said he went to the Humanitarian Bowl in Boise, Idaho, which we went to with the marching band while we were in school there. This was only our first Clemson connection on this trip!


We got a kick out of the digital sign with a countdown to Christmas, down to the second.


Outside is the world's largest Santa Claus statue, which is 42 feet tall and weighs 900 pounds.

World's largest Santa Claus statue
We also visited the reindeer. There were only four, though. Hmm...guess everyone's having to cut back these days.



Four not-so-tiny reindeer!

Fun facts about reindeer:

  • Reindeer and caribou are the same species, but reindeer are considered domesticated livestock while caribou are considered wildlife.
  • Reindeer were introduced into Alaska from Siberia in 1892.
  • Reindeer are the only members of the deer family where both males and females grow antlers.

To conclude our visit to North Pole, we sent postcards to family members and assured them that we put in a good word for them with Santa (small bribes may have been involved, but we think it worked). ;)

For lunch, we returned to Fairbanks and went to Big Daddy's Barbeque for the northernmost Southern barbecue, and it was pretty good. Ed had a pulled pork sandwich and I had a cowboy sundae, which was a bowl of baked beans, pulled pork, coleslaw, and sauce. We also split a side of fried okra. We can't get fried okra at the barbecue joints here in Illinois, but they had it in Fairbanks, and it was good.


In the afternoon, we went to the Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Center. Inside, there were some informative exhibits about the culture and nature of Alaska. It was a good place to get some information for our visit. The staff were also friendly and helpful.

Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Center
And we even spotted Smokey the Bear.

Ed hanging out with Smokey the Bear
The visitor center is adjacent to the Chena River, so we checked out the river walkway while we were there. It was a nice, quiet area with some pretty flowers begging to be photographed. The antler arch below was made from more than 100 moose and caribou antlers collected from Interior Alaska.

Interior Alaska Antler Arch
Chena River, Fairbanks, AK
 





Chena River, downtown Fairbanks, AK
The photo above was taken from a bridge on the walking path downtown. Nearby, there was a World War II memorial commemorating the flights of American planes from the continental U.S. via Alaska to Siberia and lives lost in the 177 crashes along the Alaska-Siberia Airway from 1942 to 1945.


Next up: Our Arctic Circle adventure!

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