Friday, July 4, 2008

Alaska Day 2: Fairbanks

Our schedule was so jam packed today. We didn't rest for one moment throughout the day and got back to our hotel at 12:30AM!

We were taken to 4.5 hour sternwheelter Discovery river cruise tour on the Chena river early morning. Che means "good hunting" and na means "river" in Athabascan. The Athabascan Indians traditionally lived along major rivers of Interior Alaska. One interesting fact is that there are no Indian or Eskimo reservations in Alaska. The 1971 Settlement Act granted Alasakan Natives land and the Native Corporations were formed to benefit shareholders (Alaskan Natives born prior to 1971) by making money from their land's natural resources, investments and business operations, which pay dividends or provide employment opportunities.

The Discovery boat took us to a bush plane and dogsled demonstration. We were then taken to where the clear-water Chena flows into the glacial-fed Tanana River, which creates this coffee & creamer effect ("the wedding of the rivers"). The boat couldn't continue onto the Tanana because the water was too shallow from the silt that had accumulated from the glaciers.

The boat headed back up the Chena and dropped us off at the Chena Athabascan Indian Village. On the way back to the landing, we shared the much talked about reindeer hot dog and reindeer chili. Reindeer is a bigger, domesticated version of caribou, and it's super lean and tasty!

The next stop was the Trans Alaska Pipeline System, one of the longest pipeline systems in the world (from Prudhoe Bay to Valdez). The 800 miles pipeline was completed in 1977 and is elevated above ground for more than half of the length because of permafrost.

After our short pipeline visit, we were whisked off to Gold Dredge No. 8 (, I panned $20.10 worth of gold flakes! I was glad we had that reindeer mini-brunch on the boat because the miner's stew was very questionable. The meat in the stew did not have the same texture as any meat I've ever tasted before.

We separated from our tour group after the Gold Dredge to go to Chena Hot Springs., 1.5 hour outside of Fairbanks. This optional tour was money well spent. The prime-rib and halibut dinner there was sublime, especially compared to our lunch.

After dinner, we were herded into the Ice Museum. Here comes another superlative: The Aurora Ice Museum is the world's largest ice environment (1000 tons of ice and snow kept at 20 degrees Farenheit) with carvings by 13 time world champion ice carver Steve Brice. The ice museum guide, Spencer, gave mom and me a VIP tour after other guests left to get back out into the 80 degree weather.
I had an appletini in an ice sculpted martini glass at the Stolichnaya Ice Bar mainly to look cool, but it was too strong to handle. I almost had an "incident" in the locker room after a dip in the hot springs.

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