Denali to Fairbanks

This morning we woke to blue skies and cold breezes.  After a leisurely start, the bus picked us up at 10.00am for the 2½ hour drive to Fairbanks.  We drove on Highway 3, also known as the Parks Highway (there are only 3 highways in Alaska) – the highway goes from Anchorage to Fairbanks for 360 miles.   We left the Alaska Mountain Range and descended into the Interior of Alaska.

We drove through a little town called Nenana, whose claim to fame is that each year they hold the Nenana Ice Classic, which is where people can bet (for $2.50 each) on the exact date and time, down to the minute, of when the ice will break and the water will flow through the Tanana River.  They have electronic equipment that registers the first movement of water, The total money raised is dispersed among the people who guessed the exact time – this year it was $318,000.

We stopped at the Parks Monument and were able to take photos looking down on the Tenana Valley, with the mountain range in the background.

Our bus driver told us a funny story about how the little town of Esther got its name – 2 men came to the area in the early 1900s in the gold rush era and a lady by the name of Esther followed them.  According to our bus driver, Esther was “a woman with negotiable affections” (which cracked up the whole bus) and she stayed and opened a hotel and was very well liked, so they named the town after her.

We arrived in Fairbanks, which is the largest city in the Interior region of Alaska and the second largest in the state behind Anchorage, at approximately 12.30pm and were taken to the Steamboat Landing for our Riverboat Discovery tour.

We boarded the only remaining authentic Alaskan sternwheeler for a cruise along the Chena River.  With the feel of an old-time steamboat that frequented the river during the gold rush days, the modern-day Riverboat Discovery had an open sun deck, heated glass enclosed decks and was equipped with video equipment so we didn’t miss any of the scenery.

On the first leg of our journey, we saw a bush pilot perform a takeoff and landing demonstration on the river.

We made a stop at the home of Dave Monson and Susan Butcher, the late four-time Iditarod champion – we all stayed on the boat while her husband and daughters showed us some puppies on the riverbank and also David harnessed a team of huskies to a wheeled cart and mushed them along the river bank, past their house, back past the back of their house, up along the river and back to the house. The huskies seemed to be enjoying what they were doing and we loved the demonstration.

During the narrated tour, complementary coffee and donuts were served while we witnessed the ”wedding of the rivers.” The marriage of these two rivers creates quite a unique demarcation line – when the clear waters of the Chena meet the Tanana, the world’s greatest glacier river carrying tons of glacial silt from the Alaska Range, the result is clouds of silt that rise and fall over the river.

We continued on to the Old Chena Indian Village, and got off for a glimpse into Alaskan Native life and history. Young Alaskan Native guides took us on a tour of an Athabascan Indian village, a spruce bark hut, a trapper’s cabin made of spruce logs, and showed us how a fish wheel operates, as well as the difference in the village after western contact.

We were supposed to have 40 minutes to explore the village and talk to David Monson but as the guided tour finished, it started pouring with rain, so we headed back to the boat for our return journey.

The bus picked us up and brought us to the Fairbanks Princess Riverside Lodge, which is close to the airport, and we checked in.  The room is on the top floor, is big, with big windows and is bright and cheerful and has a king size bed!!!

We had our Farewell Dinner last night and there was a lot of laughing and reminiscing over the past 26 days.  Everybody has thoroughly enjoyed the tour and the time we spent together.  Our Tour Director, Inge Stamm, was fantastic and ensured that we were picked up for all our excursions and gave us lots of information and funny stories.

Some of our group are leaving at 3.30am tomorrow and some are leaving at 6.30am, while the remainder are spread over the next two days, with us being the last to leave in 3 days.

One Response to “Denali to Fairbanks”

  1. Janet says:

    What are you doing taking photos at 2.45am?! 😛

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