Saturday, January 10, 2015

Fairbanks Fun

In late summer last year, my husband and I decided to spend a week in Fairbanks with my sister. Usually, this week vacation would have been spent in beautiful Valdez, but my dear sibling had moved up to a small cabin deep in the woods outside of the city and there was no way I could resist a week of that. I was not disappointed.

A seat made of rigid foam insulation,
 hanging at the ready in a public
toilet in one of the area parks.
I had previously spent time in North Pole, just outside of Fairbanks. My family enjoyed renting a sod roofed cabin for a week each summer, watching the lazy Chena River slowly flowing by in the back yard. It was almost guaranteed that the week would be gorgeous, with temperatures near 90 degrees. That's a big point for the Fairbanks area, to those wanting sun and warmth in their Alaska vacation. Finding lodging in the area can be expensive, depending on location and luxury, so an RV is a good option for spending more than a day or two. Area campgrounds are peaceful and plentiful and I have also enjoyed tent camping as well as RV camping. Hotels are pricey, but many have blackout curtains to provide a more restful night of sleep in a land where the sun just doesn't quit in the summer. Cabin rentals are available for short or long-term stays. My sister rented her cabin for a couple hundred dollars a month for the spring, summer and fall seasons. This type of accommodation is great for someone who wants to rough it, as they are typically hidden far into the city's surrounding forests and have no plumbing or water. Expect outhouses, in varying states of decay. These types of cabins are usually used by the Forestry Firefighting crews, as these guys tend to be out at fires for long periods of time and are happy to have a base in which to return. 
The steam train runs around the perimeter of Pioneer Park as the
shadows grow longer on a beautiful August evening.
A visit to the Santa Claus House and its reindeer was a must, though my parents never once led us kids to believe in the jolly old fat man. I was that one kid in school who didn't have any problem telling classmates that the man in the red suit who they caught placing presents under the tree was their father. It was still exciting to visit the colorful building, where it's always Christmas. You don't have to believe in Santa to enjoy all the decorations and gifts. Tour buses make frequent stops at this giant gift shop, so it can be crowded at times. There are gifts for everyone in every budget, and no one can resist a souvenir from the Santa Claus House in North Pole. Expect to spend an hour or two exploring the complex. It's a lovely location for a picnic, as there are peaceful spots outside with gorgeous views of the Chena and reindeer.
One of Santa's reindeer in North Pole.
The Santa Claus House in North Pole, with one of its murals taken from old issues of Harper's Magazine.
A peaceful day on the river behind Santa Claus House.
Another spot I always visit is Pioneer Park, inside Fairbanks along Airport Way. This is a 44-acre historical state park with free admission. Various events are held inside, and there is a nightly salmon bake, arts center, small restaurants, museums, mini golf and historical buildings. A walk around is always worth it and I've never resisted touring the free Pioneer museum with its amazing dioramas of typical Fairbanks mining history. Tour the large sternwheeler, Nenana II, take a whimsical ride on the small train around the park perimeter and picnic in the park or along the pond. It's dog-friendly with several dog clean-up bag stations. Not everyone visiting is dog-friendly, however, so it's good to keep your furry friends leashed. 
A Kashim in Pioneer Park, part of the
exhibits and Native Museum in Pioneer Park.
It is an example of a sod home,
once used by the Natives of Alaska.
One of the exquisitely detailed scenes from the
dioramas in the Pioneer Museum of Pioneer Park.

My husband poses next to the beautifully carved
mechanical salmon near the Salmon Bake in Pioneer Park.
A fire scar near Chena Hot Springs. Forestry fire-
fighters from Fairbanks worked quickly to stop this
forest fire from spreading to the Resort and homes.

A panorama of some of the shops and museums in Pioneer Park.

There are a couple of tourist trap type of locations: a tour of a working gold mine with a short train ride and its affiliation, a large riverboat which travels to a native village. The gold mine tour ends with the ability to pan for your own gold in a sluice. Everyone finds about $10 in gold. A lot of people have enjoyed both activities, though I opted to pan the old-fashioned way. We traveled up to the Fox area, where we found Pedro Creek. The creek was panned by Felix Pedro, an Italian who put Fairbanks on the map when he discovered the creek's hidden riches of gold. We chose to follow in his footsteps and spend a day enjoying the cool water and warm weather while painstakingly swirling mounds of dirt in our pans. We didn't strike it rich, but we had a lot of fun.

A close-up of a mechanical salmon, something I can imagine must be quite a
source of amusement after the guests at the evening Salmon Bake have enjoyed a few libations.
A tribute to Felix Pedro. There is more information about his life at the Pioneer Museum at Pioneer Park. 
My sister plays with her husky in Pedro Creek, her gold pan
temporarily resting while the dog frolics in the cool stream.

I had never visited Chena Hot Springs, so my sister decided it would be a fun trip to take in the evening. It's about 60 miles north of Fairbanks and we chose to go in the evening for better chances at  spotting wildlife. We spotted a couple moose and a fox on the ride back. There are plenty of areas to explore along the way, including great hiking trails and fishing opportunities. I did not partake in the hot springs experience, but I enjoyed touring the grounds. The gardens are beautiful and there are numerous pieces of antique mining equipment incorporated into the designs. The reviews of the restaurant are fantastic and they grown their own produce in greenhouses heated geo-thermally. There  is an indoor heated pool for the family, indoor hot tubs and an outdoor hot springs rock pool for those 18 and over. The resort also has shuttle service for those flying into Fairbanks. A trip to the hot springs during Fairbanks' bitter winter is something I can only imagine to be heavenly, with the aurora dancing vividly above the rock pool. 

A metal dragon sculpture seemingly breathes fire as the late evening clouds cross the northern sky.
 It is around 11 pm in August at Chena Hot Springs.
A dog lounges comfortably upon a table outside an Artist Studio in Pioneer Park

A hot springs filtration pond at Chena Resort.

The Fairbanks area has enough activities to keep someone busy and my husband and I were active from early morning to evening, thoroughly enjoying our stay. Though much of our enjoyment came from just relaxing with my sister at her little cabin in the woods, the area provided us with a lot of fun and sunshine and I plan on exploring the surrounding areas further. In fact, we began considering a move to the area, as long as we can stay in the woods outside of the city with my sister. Anyone else who may be interested in a move to this northern metropolis should consider how many residences are without plumbing. There are water stations around town where many residents fill up large tanks to transport home and fill up their own holding tanks. Gym memberships can provide a way to shower each day in the city, or one can brave the laundromat showers. Air quality in the winter is bad, due to the cold weather holding pollution from heating vehicles and wood stoves. Summer doesn't always mean good air quality either, as the thick spruce forests surrounding the city are like tinder boxes. Amazingly long days of bright sunshine also mean frequent lightning strikes and forest fires. Not everyone can brave this climate and its rough and tumble citizens. The Fairbanks residents still seem to live in the rugged past, sometimes making it feel like you've stepped into the old Pioneer days. 
A view of Denali from the outskirts of Fairbanks.

No comments:

Post a Comment