We have some unscheduled time before our next set of reservations in Fairbanks. A nice soak in the hot springs sounds about right, so away we go.
Chena Hot Springs
This stop involves a 60 mile or so drive where the first 20 miles is uppy downy the whole way. That rippled roadway I told you about. That’s ok since we’re getting used to it and we hope to at least see some wildlife. Pat actually gets the first moose sighting, or so he thinks. I’m texting and miss it – drat! This resort has a lodge, but also a campground. No frills, no services including cell or wi-fi, but we are right by another babbling brook. And by right by, I mean about five feet away.
First the cold – about 25 degrees in the Aurora Ice Museum. I’m seated on snuggly caribou hide covering barstools made entirely of ice. In fact, everything in here is made from ice. A couple carved everything in the place. They win ice carving awards every year and maintain the exhibits. Phenomenal work and I’m sure gives them something to do during the dark, cold winters.
We’re mesmerized by the gal carving the martini glasses out of ice blocks. If you want, you can pay extra for an apple-tini served in one of these babies. We’re not martini fans, so we just watched that part. Apparently this is super popular in the Winter and they have to make 150-180 of these glasses a day to stockpile for the busy season. This is a great Aurora Borealis viewing spot. Not so much now since we don’t get any darkness! A few of our favorite ice items – the expressive face, ice wall, jousting knights and the flowers encased in ice. So interesting to hear about the carving techniques. They had a sticker in there – “Alaska Chainsaw Club – 1 and 1/2 thumbs up”, plus an amazing array of carving tools and, of course, chainsaws.
The Aurora Ice Museum – amazingly, this is not a permanent structure. It is a giant greenhouse looking thing with canvas walls that are insulated to protect the ice sculptures inside.
Next – the hot! We had to take a soak in the hot springs. I am not a water person at all, but did break out the bathing suit for this part. The springs are 165 degrees, so they actually have to cool the water down for the outdoor soaking pool. Some parts of the water are so hot there is steam rising from it. We steered clear of those spots and had a relaxing soak.
This place is proud of the fact that they are off the power grid and make their own electricity using the natural geothermal energy. They offer free tours of their power plant and on site green houses. Not only do they make their own power, they grow all the lovely plants used to decorate the property, and grow all the tomatoes and lettuce for the restaurant.
It’s all grown using hydroponics. We ate in the restaurant and enjoyed the super fresh tomatoes and lettuce in the salads.
They are also raising animals in the hopes of providing all their own meat eventually. They have a small reindeer herd with a one month old baby reindeer. Such a cutie, but I didn’t take a picture of him when I had the chance. There are also chickens and goats who were not fans of Jackson, and neither was mama duck who steered her nine babies away when we got too near. We didn’t tour the sled dog kennel, but we could hear them. All in all, a very interesting place and we did see a big moose cow on the way to Fairbanks. I wasn’t fast enough for a picture.
Fairbanks is a big enough city to finally source a few replacement items. I now have a new cell phone, and we managed to ditch the old microwave/convection oven and buy a new microwave/grill at Wal-Mart. We’re also able to eat a few meals out and buy our Alaska Tour Saver book. This has some great two for one deals in it, and everyone says you much have one.
We saved our first few dollars at the theater. The live production at Pioneer Park’s theater was hilarious and showcases how Fairbanks came to be, and how the full-time residents live. We hadn’t been to an “act out” as Ethan used to call them in ages, so it was a nice evening out. Plus, when else can you exit the show at 9:30 pm and still have broad daylight for the drive home?
We saved again with a 2 for 1 deal on the Riverboat. It was a few hours on the Tanana River complete with some other sightseeing moments. We got to see a bush pilot take off and land on the river.
There was also a stop alongside the dog kennel that belonged to Susan Butcher – 4 time Iditarod winner. This is the rugged 1100 mile dog-mushing race that takes place every year in the dead of winter. She passed away from cancer, but her family maintains the kennel and they showed off the very enthusiastic dog team.
One of the many dog kennels on the riverbank.
Finally, we stopped off at an Athabascan Native American village replica.
This young lady told about her Athabascan heritage and described her family’s fish camp up river. They still spend the summers there catching salmon and preparing them using their family recipe.
She demonstrated preparation of the salmon for dogfood. The dog teams need lots of fat and good protein to maintain their energy in the winter. The people salmon is usually the better quality fish, but all are initially dried this way. On the return boat ride, we got to try a scrumptious salmon dip. I’m not a fan of cooked salmon, but have to say that dip was awesome. I’m not ashamed to say I went back four times!
They Athabascans are also great trappers and the guides showed off the fox pelts – four different breeds – red, gray, silver & arctic. Isn’t the Arctic Fox gorgeous?
The North Pole
We actually stopped here on the way to Chena Hot Springs and again before departing the Fairbanks area. Our campground technically had a North Pole address, so we can say we’ve lived at the North Pole – at least for a week!
The visitor’s center is great fun and they directed us to see a group of authentic log cabins complete with sod roofs. The residents in this little area live in them year round.
Santa Claus is on duty full-time in this town. Well except when he is busy on Christmas Eve. I figured it didn’t hurt to get in a good word early this year. Next to Santa’s house is a reindeer herd and the Police Department is located at One Santa Claus Lane. The streetlamps are all striped like big candy canes and the church? Well that would be named after Saint Nicholas.
Fairbanks was also the starting point for our big Arctic Expedition, but I’ll save that for a post all its own. It was that awesome! See you on the way!