Thursday, June 28, 2012

Fairbanks Museum and North Fork of the Chena River

After driving away from Fairbanks the Verizon signal isn't so strong for loading pictures.  The truth is it wasn't so strong for checking e-mail, either.   We are now sitting in Nenana, AK, and have some signal strength, which means maybe if I try to upload a few pictures I can read a book while they upload and come back later and write in some captions.  These are the things that you learn traveling from spot to spot.  On a good note the cell phone, though dropping a few calls, has been working even in these wilds.    (...An hour or so later I have to accept the fact that no pictures are going to be added today....)

Last Saturday after Liz's daughter and granddaughter flew into the Fairbanks and got picked up real late...I would say "O'clock dark" but hey, this is Alaska and it was still sort of light out.....anyway....on Saturday we headed over to the Museum of Alaska and spent some time listening to short videos and looking at artifacts of history, the pioneers settlers and the First Nation peoples.

The narrative and photographs about the Aluetian Islands and the deportation of the First Nation peoples from the islands during WWII filled in a section of history that had never been mentioned down there in Ohio.  The movement was all done "for their protection" but conditions were terrible and they were not protected from a bunch of other negative outcomes.  It is just another history chapter that is often ignored.

The whaling video was also informative and demonstrated the techniques that are used even today by the subsistence whalers from different families and or villages and how they worked together in the small boats to harpoon the whale and then divide up the meat and distribute the day's haul to all the parties.   

There were kayaks and large skin covered wooden canoes on display, also.  I couldn't help thinking of the techniques that went into making and maintaining them and how dependent the individuals in the early days were to these fragile boats that held them between life and death in frigid waters.   I'm not putting my kayak into some of these waters even in the summer.

The displays of the tightly woven baskets were outstanding and I could clearly understand how a few of those baskets could hold water.

The remains of the prehistoric "Blue Babe" were also on display with a marked up photo that assisted your eyes in recognizing the teeth and claw marks left on the hide from the predator that had brought him down.

After spending our morning in the museum, we all headed out to the parking lot of Gold Dredge #8.  After a short train ride out to the retired dredge while we listened first to some history of mining in Alaska we all got our chance to practice panning for gold.  Again, think of the summer jobs this provides for the high school and college students  in the area, they all get to guide us in our attempts to find riches.  Apparently a few nuggets were found and when they were weighed back in the gift shop were valued up to $150.  No one in our party was able to contribute towards the gas fund with their findings.  I now have $9. worth of gold flakes per the young lady. I declined the opportunity of a life time to pay $14. to put my flakes in a small locket.  My flakes still reside in their small black plastic film can type canister.   I couldn't sell anyone on the idea of putting all our flakes together.  It could have made some real money...maybe $100 or so.

Sunday, before Nan and LIz and I headed up the Chena River Road. We drove the rigs out to the Creamery Wildlife and Bird Refuge.   The land and buildings had originally been a dairy operation whose large green fields and ponds had been known to attract migratory birds every year. When the dairy closed in the mid 60's, fund raisers were held and the land was bought and preserved for the birds and the wildlife that land had always served.  The dogs appreciated that they were allowed to walk the trails while on leash.  Besides beautiful fields, ponds and woods....I have quite a few pictures of the Sandhill Cranes.   There were enough gathered around the one pond for me not to bother counting. I think they were having a crane "convention" of some kind.   I also reminded Stuart that cranes were not one of the birds that spaniels were expected to retrieve.  I don't think he believed me.

Birdie drove her car back to the campground in Fairbanks and the rest of us headed up Chena River Road to check out the Chena Hots Springs and find a camping space for the night. Liz discovered our potential camp spot about 10 miles this side of the Hots Spring. We followed her back one of the many public river access points to find a wonderful stone covered beach and a beautiful river flowing past.  Since it was Sunday, most of the few RVs and trailers that were there were getting themselves put together to head back from a weekend of fishing and watching the river. That worked out great for us. We drove on over, checked out the Hots Spring lodge and campground and returned later in the afternoon to claim our spots on the then practically deserted beach area.  Only one large class A remained set up over by the edge of the river on the right and they looked like they were set up to enjoy their spot for sometime with a stock pile of firewood, a nice fire ring and comfortable chairs.

Sorry about not being able to post the pictures from the Hot Spring, though you may get to see some of them in a few days, internet willing.   We were not impressed with the Hot Springs themselves but most of us had seem the lovely setting at Laird Hot Springs so we were spoiled.  The lodge and cabins were built to satisfy couples and families with multiple things to do, including horseback riding and swimming. You could sign up for your massage or to get your hair cut.  The campgrounds themselves looked like a poorly maintained after thought of the enterprise.  Nan did notice that there was an active little airstrip so that you could fly in with your own plane or charter one up from southern Alaska somewhere. 

We did enjoy the moose that we found hanging around. The first one was munching on greens in an overgrown area in a small pond maybe thirty yards off from the man made Hot Springs pool.  Next as we were walking back towards the parking lot and our rigs, young Mr. Moose, with his fine velvety early summer antlers started, came strolling up to another small pond that was right off a main walk way between some small cabins.  He proceeded to stroll right on into that pond, get a nice drink of water, look around at the ducks and people watching him and strolled on out of the pond and was last seen by us as he skirted the playground equipment (which we were keeping between him and us) and walked on up the path towards the office and central area of the lodge.  Maybe he wanted one of those massage appointments.

Following our moose encounter we headed back the 10 miles or so and found our quiet river and settled in for the evening.  We watched several kayakers make their way past to access points further down the river or pull out on "our" beach.  Many folks up here have the large inflatable boats as well as kayaks.  We initially contemplated putting our kayaks in the next day, until the next day came and the sunny 80 degrees forgot to come along with it. 

The morning looked like rain and we already knew that the river water was cold so we changed the "jello" plans once again.  Nan and I stayed out on the river one more night and Liz and family headed back into Fairbanks to take a ride over to North Pole and explore the Santa Lands there.  Nan and I were graced later in the day with more sunshine and a return of warmer weather.  We both acknowledged that the river was the best camping spot of the trip so far.  All other boondocking spots  will have to compete for a spot on the list after this experience.  I promise pictures of that one will be posted, especially the one taken about 4am in the morning.   

Coming through Fairbanks, Nan and I both stopped to get our hair cut, some gas and I refilled the propane.  After being off grid for a few days we were happy to head down the road and to pay for our camping spots here in Nenana RV park.  It means nice long hot showers and catching up on the laundry. 

While here we have all placed our guesses on the date and time of the "Ice Break Up" next spring. Last year's jackpot was over $300,000. but none of us are going to rush off and pre-spend our winnings, yet.  We did complete a walking tour of the town and later Birdie drove some of us across the river so that we could walk through the town's cemetery that is on the hillside across the river from town.  Only a picture will tell that story completely....well it will be worth a thousand words at least.  The hill side is fairly heavily treed and has a steep slope.  There are no formal "plots" and no rules. This is Alaska.  Families can maintain the burial site or not.  These are not manicures lawns and headstones but it all seems to work and I am betting with a lot less money being spent.  The over all effect is nice and peaceful with a great view looking over the river and the town below.

On another topic, I can now say that I have learned how to play Mexican Train.  Unfortunately, unlike the card game "Hand and Foot", I have also learned that in this case the player with the highest score is not the winner.  I have been very good at having too many points left unplayed when someone (like say...Liz) quietly goes out and leaves me with too many domino dots to count.


  1. Can't wait to see your photos to go with this post. It was great. Glad you enjoyed the boondocking spot.

  2. I watched some people play Mexican Train one time and decided they were making up the rules as they went along. lol