More Fairbanks and Fun Facts

We found Fairbanks to be a very interesting place – with the contrasts of very warm temperatures in the summer (it can reach 90 degrees) and very cold temperatures in the winter (-20 isn’t unusual, and it can get colder).  On this late November morning it’s a balmy 18 degrees there (according to Intellicast), and the number of daylight hours are quite short – with 30 days still to go before the shortest day of the year, and the sun will rise in Fairbanks at 9:50am and will set at 3:30 pm.  (Here in Petersburg the sun rose at 7:48am and will set at 3:30pm.)  We noticed that the thresholds at our Fairbanks motel were very high, and realized it was to accommodate winter snow accumulation.  We also noticed that EVERY vehicle had an electric plug hanging out of its front end.  The plug is for an engine block heater – an absolute necessity to keep the engine warm enough to start in the extreme cold.  Every parking lot had outlets to plug cars in, and in places where it would be normal to park a car for more than 5 hours at a time there was an outlet at every parking space.  You don’t want to be stranded with a car that won’t start in those temps!

Another interesting thing we saw in Fairbanks was a large number of pickup trucks with big poly tanks in the back.  People who live far enough out of town that they can’t connect to the city water supply need to provide their own water.  In most places you would just have a well to supply your home, but the land around Fairbanks has so much naturally-occurring arsenic in it that wells aren’t safe.  Those homes have a large water supply tank underground, and they either get water delivered, or they save a bit by hauling water themselves.

We travel because it’s a wonderful way to learn things.  Did you know that the hippocampus (part of the brain) of the chickadee grows by 30% in the fall so the bird can remember where it stored all its seeds for the winter?  Did you know that a moose – a pure vegetarian – can go up to 20′ underwater in search of its favorite vegetation to eat?  If you were designing a vegetarian animal that can go underwater, would it look anything remotely like a moose??

We took the opportunity of great weather to do a little hiking, and we chose the Angel Rocks Trail to enjoy the fall color and sweeping views.  Note the perfect fall color – this photo was taken on September 5th.20150905 0633 angel rocks view 2 r20150905 0653 angel rocks jim r20150905 0647 full frame fall 2 rAfter a good workout climbing up all those rock outcroppings we decided to head out the road to check out Chena Hot Springs.  Chena is a privately owned resort with natural hot springs piped to indoor and outdoor pools, as well as an ice museum – originally designed to be an ice hotel, but I can understand why that idea really didn’t catch on.  Despite sore muscles and tired feet, Jim opted for the ice museum rather than the hot pools so we took the tour.  The museum employs two ice carvers who repair and maintain some of the elaborate ice sculptures in the museum, and they periodically add new pieces.  The jousting knights on horseback were tough to photograph well, but they were incredible!20150905 0691 chena ice museum jousters r20150905 0708 chena ice museum jouster closer rThe ice museum was really fun, with an ice bar where you could get an appletini in an ice glass…20150905 0715 chena ice museum rr at the ice bar r…and where you could sit by a fake fire on an ice chair with a reindeer hide cushion to keep your tushie warm.20150905 0720 chena ice museum drinking by fire rIn one of the rooms they had a bed with a giant polar bear for a headboard, with raised paws to complete the effect.  I know there are some ice hotels in Scandinavia, but I couldn’t imagine staying overnight in one.

We explored all the major things on our list in Fairbanks, sadly missing the last of the migrating birds at Creamer’s Field since they were well on their way south in early September.  With an extra day before the next adventure, Jim wanted to see the car museum.  This didn’t sound like the most exciting way to spend a day, but we believe in compromise and he never complained when I dragged him around to look for birds.  He lingered outside looking at the odd snow tractor and I braced myself for a loooong day…20150907 0900 fairbanks car museum tractor jim r…until we got inside and saw a stunning collection of beautiful classic cars and period clothing, learning that all but 3 of the 91 cars on display actually run!20150907 0938 fairbanks car museum 2 r20150907 0903 fairbanks car museum 1 rWe thoroughly enjoyed this place – an unexpected delight.  The knowledge and care that goes into maintaining these lovely machines is impressive, and it makes us long for the days when cars had a lot more style.20150907 0915 fairbanks car museum detail 3 r20150907 0921 fairbanks car museum detail 2 r20150907 0932 fairbanks car museum motoring jim 3 rJim was even a good sport and showed us what it must have looked like to venture out in one’s motor car back in the day…

Fairbanks was an unexpected delight, though we couldn’t handle those weather extremes, even with the promise of so many clear nights to see the auroras in winter.


Road Trip – Alcan Highway to Fairbanks

The 1422 miles of the Alcan (now called the Alaska) Highway were built in 1942 to carry military supplies.  It took 15,000 men and 11,000 road construction machines to get the job done in only 8 months.  I can’t imagine how difficult it must have been to build this road through such very wild country, but we’re glad it exists because we certainly enjoyed all the fall color and beautiful views along the way…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA…as well as wildlife, such as these mountain goats just below the snowline…OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA…and this grizzly bear that was chasing something into the woods.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe saw a number of gray jays…OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA…but the fall color was the star of the show!20150904 0568 pretty fall color 2 rWe arrived in Fairbanks, the second largest city in Alaska, and lucked out with some gorgeous weather.  A trip up the hill to the University of Alaska Fairbanks was our first stop, to check out the Museum of the North.20150904 0542 fairbanks museum of the north r20150904 0543 fairbanks museum totem rEveryone who visits the museum is greeted by the large bear in the lobby – as close to a brown bear we ever hope to get.20150904 0544 fairbanks museum jim and big bear rIt’s a great museum with history and artifacts from all the Alaskan native tribes as well as natural history and art pieces.  As we were leaving around 5pm, we were treated to some of the last sandhill cranes migrating south for the winter.20150904 0817 fairbanks sandhill cranes 3 r20150904 0860 fairbanks sandhill cranes 6 rWith nice clear nights in the forecast, we stayed up late and headed out to see the aurora borealis – the northern lights.  Around midnight we saw some waves in the sky…20150906 0737 fairbanks aurora waves r…followed by the rising moon and some brighter activity.20150906 0762 fairbanks aurora 9 rThe later we stayed up, the better the light show got!20150906 0744 fairbanks aurora 6 rFairbanks is known to be a great place to view the aurora in the winter because there’s a high percentage of clear nights, though winter temps often get down to -20, -30, or even colder, and the thought of standing outside for hours in that kind of weather is a high price to pay.  We were lucky that the fall nights were cool, but not too cold.