Day 15 July 20 The Discovery

Discovery TripSometimes popular tourist attractions are popular for a reason.  The Riverboat Discovery is just such an attraction.  I’m glad we chose it to be one of the extra excursions we would do while in Alaska. I’m going to quote from the Milepost here:

“Owned and operated by the Binkley Family, whose riverboating experience spans four generations and more than 100 years, the Riverboat Discovery tour has been rated on of the top boating attractions in North America. Captain Jim Binkley and his crew of children, grandchildren and native Alaskans take you back to the heyday of sternwheelers, to an era when prospectors, fur traders, and Native people of the Interior relied on rivers as their only link to the outside world”

omigosh, it's the buses again!We drove to the parking lot on the western edge of town along the Chena River, once again inundated with row after row of buses from the cruise lines, mainly Holland America and Princess.  I’m not sure how many people could be on the boat, but there were hundreds of people lining up to board and filling the huge gift shop at the entrance.  I am glad that I purchased my tickets online last night from the comfort of my motorhome. This is definitely a very big very much tourist attraction.  There were very few cars parked in the lot, and most of the passengers were from the cruise buses. We took the 2PM cruise because the 8:45 was booked solid, so I’m just glad we were able to at least get a sailing.

Susan Butcher's kennelThe boat trip was great.  We followed blogger advice and took a left side seat on the third deck out in the open.  I didn’t have a sweater and the sun was warm even on the river. Even though there are excellent video screens conveniently placed all around the boat, we were on the side of the bush plane take-off and a special highlight, on the side of the visit to Susan Butcher’s kennels where come the dogshere her husband and his daughters brought out the dogs for a sled dog demonstration.  It was wonderful to see how happy those sled dogs are and how excited they get when it’s time to pull the sled.  He hitched a team up to a non motorized 4 wheeler, and they raced around the roadways and burst back out onto the lawn going full speed before his shouted “Whoa” stopped them instantly.  Amazing. I read all the stories about Susan, her strength and love of the dogs, and about her death to cancer.  Her name always brought up something inside about what women can do, powerful women.  It was a special treat to see her kennels and her husband.  Her famous dog, Granite, passed on not long before Susan, but we saw a memorial to him as well in the village later.

Discovery Trip-42After the dogs, the boat went downriver to the confluence with the broad, braided, wide path of the Tanana River, the largest glacially fed river in North America, in fact, I think they said in the world.  It was filled with silt and dAthabascan young woman telling storiesebris and the current looked rough and tricky.  I wouldn’t want to put a boat in that river! The boat turned and we pulled alongside the Chena Village, a replica of course, but still a place that felt very special with the young women from the Athabascan tribe telling the stories of what their life was like before the coming of the white man.

Discovery Trip-45It was a lovely place, with a fish camp, and sod roofed cabins, smokehouse, and a cache, in addition to the Susan Butcher cabin and memorial to Granite, who won the Iditarod for her four times. We learned a bit about how the people caught and processed salmon, how they made their clothing, and saw some beautiful examples of parkas, dresses, and even the girls wearing what they referred to as “summer parkas”. Matriarch of the Discovery, a family owned business for five generations

Once back on the boat we continued back toward the landing, passing the home of the Binkleys, where the matriarch of the family came out to wave at the boat which she does every day as it passes.  In front of her home is the original Discovery.  It was her vision that kept the sternwheeler tradition alive in Fairbanks as this tourist excursion.

Miles driven today in the MoHo: 0

The rest of the photos from this trip are linked here.

Day 15 July 20 Playing in Fairbanks

We woke this morning to gorgeous sunny skies and warm temperatures. I had reserved our tickets for the Discovery the night before online.  One nice thing about the paved parking lot at Pioneer Park was free, fast WiFi! I uploaded lots of photos and caught up on previous blog posts with abandon, and for a minute was even ahead of the game.  Of course, that wouldn’t last for long and I am actually writing this final catch-up post from our rainy camp in Talkeetna.

Day 15 FairbanksOur plans for the morning were to drive the Chena Springs Road and then return to go as far north on the Steese Highway toward the Dalton Highway as we could manage and still make our 2PM boat cruise.  The drive was beautiful, and paid off with a leisurely visit with a young bull moose munching away at a river crossing.

We traveled as far as the Chena Hot Springs resort, checked it out a bit and then returned the same way to the Teese Highway. Along the way we stopped along the river Abby play time.

Once back on the Teese Highway, we marveled at the wonderful views from the ski area north of town and stopped for photos of the Alaska Pipeline.  Day 15 Fairbanks2

boats on a mountain againLater in the evening, after our boat ride on the Discovery (a separate post) we visited the Aurora Ice Museum in downtown Fairbanks for the digital wide screen photo symphony of the northern lights, produced by LeRoy Zimmerman.  Before the show we saw amazing ice sculptures lit by colorful lights and had a few moments to watch an ice sculptor in action.  It was definitely a bit of touristy action but the photos were beautiful and even though they were still images, the transitions gave the feeling of movement and the lights looked very much like what I have seen in the night skies above Edmonton, and even from my hot tub in Rocky Point.  The photos were presented accompanied by lovely classical music.  Try staying awake after a day like ours in a dark theater listening to Leibestraum!

The rest of the photos of our explorations around Fairbanks are linked here

CaptureMiles traveled in the MoHo today: 0

Miles traveled in the Tracker: 102

Road condition: Another great two lane paved highway with joints and an occasional frost heave

Day 14 July 19 Delta Junction to Fairbanks

moose north of Delta Junctionrain and gray on the Richardson HighwayWhen we left Delta Junction this morning, it was raining hard, but within minutes of getting on the road, we were treated to our first moose of the trip.  She was running along the road, but then conveniently stopped for me to take her photo.  Along this part of the highway, moose are a constant problem, or I should says cars are the problem, with hundreds of moose killed every year by motorists.

the Fairbanks Visitor CenterOur drive to Fairbanks was short, and we arrived in time to spend the afternoon visiting two places on our list of must-see sights.  2 Morris Thompson Visitor Center-6The Fairbanks Visitor Center is at the Morris Thompson Cultural Center in downtown Fairbanks along the Chena River. The display gardens are wonderful, filled with the huge flowers and vegetables that thrive in the long daylight.  The center itself is filled with interesting and lovely displays, including painted dioramas and artifacts from the area.  We really enjoyed it.

3 Museum of the North-5greenhouse at the University of AlaskaWe then traveled across town to the northwestern hill above the river to the dramatic Museum of the North at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.  This university is in the perfect place for studying polar climates, and for materials testing in climatic extremes. The Museum itself is fantastic, with a controversial architecture that represents the landscapes of the north, tremendous displays from all the regions of Alaska, and a gallery dedicated to Alaskan art.  There are hourly movies scheduled, one that we are sorry we missed was called “Dynamic Aurora”.  These cost an extra $5, but it was more the time than the money that kept us from attending.  We also knew that we were going to see another aurora presentation at the Ice Museum in town, so thought we could skip this one.

the mummified steppe bison, Blue BabeWe spent enough time there to get “museum fatigue”, with our eyes and brains overloaded with tons of information and our legs and feet tired from all the standing around reading rather than actually moving.  I loved seeing “Blue Babe”, the steppe bison killed by something with teeth that may have been a lion and then preserved in the cold climate with skin and hair that could be studied by scientists for clues about his existence.

the outhouse of the northWe had already decided to stay at Pioneer Park in their pavement parking lot for $12 no hookups, but with a nice row of shade trees behind us. It seems we managed to arrive in Fairbanks during their Gold Rush Days and the parking lot was full.  I still laugh at the fact that we never managed to actually go inside the park to see all the stuff there that was drawing the crowds.  It was a noisy place, and for the first time on the trip, I used my ear plugs to sleep.  Once the shades were drawn and the ear plugs were in, we could have been anywhere!

After a bit more exploration of Fairbanks we found out that we could have joined the many RV’s at the east side WalMart for free and had access to shopping and probably less noise.  Also, just up the block from where we were parked was a lovely, quiet state park, with access to the river and hookups for a bit more money.  Still, it was kinda fun being in the parking lot directly across from the famous Salmon Bake.

3 Museum of the North-17This is supposedly another great thing to do in Fairbanks, and I had my heart set on doing it.  Mo agreed to the spendy $32 per person, but she wasn’t in the mood to do the ‘all you can eat’ thing and was going just for the ambience since I didn’t want to do it alone.  After our museum visits, we came back home and I decided to go read the blogs and then checked in with TripAdvisor about the bake.  I am sooo glad that I did. Even though some folks may have enjoyed it, the reviews were less than stellar, and we decided  to skip it.  Lots of money saved on that one, I think, and we won’t have to try to walk off all the unneeded calories.

3 Museum of the North-15While we watched the cruise buses and Salmon Bake blue bus shuttles started rolling in, one after the other, unloading people by the dozens.  The bake is offered from 5 to 8 and there must have been hundreds of people in that place.  No wonder the food is reputed to be cold and the service non-existent.  Remember, this observation is rumor only and not my personal experience.

I also can’t believe that I never took a single photo of our parking lot campsite or the mine entrance to the Salmon Bake.  I guess that may have been because it was actually pretty warm out there, and there were so many people that we would quickly retreat to the safety of the MoHo when we arrived.

CaptureMiles traveled today: 95

Road condition: excellent paved highway

The rest of the photos for this day are linked here