Friday, September 17, 2010

As Promised - Catching Up

Well we've been home for a few days and it's been crazy trying to get things done around here plus at work, so there's been no time to wrap up the blog on our weekend in Fairbanks. Our big activities while in town were the El Dorado Gold Mine and Riverboat Discovery.

As already posted, we enjoyed our time at the gold mine and would recommend it to others, if for no other reason but than to learn about the gold rush in this area back around the turn of the century along with what's currently happening in the gold industry here. There are several very successful mining operations in the area so it was an interesting way to spend the afternoon.

Guests are taken on a train ride through the mining operation, including a permafrost tunnel where the process of identifying gold is explained. Stream panning is demonstrated along the way, with the train stopping at the station at the other end where their gold camp is set up complete with a huge pile of dirt ready for flushing through the sluice box. Of course, the four panners found A LOT of flakes and even a decent sized nugget. Yukon Yonda did a nice job of whetting everyone's appetite to find their own gold nugget, but alas, nothing in our group came close to worthy of "nugget" status. (The flakes in the pan in this photo were my $27 worth!)

On Sunday we took in Riverboat Discovery, which is a three and a half hour tour that is largely spent aboard the 900 passenger Discovery III on the Chena River. They have do a very nice job of telling a story as you meander down the river. On our trip, the boat was practically empty (probably around 100 people) and the weather could not have been any better. "Postcard Perfect" our host kept saying. I think he was right.

Along our journey, we learned about getting around in Alaska including bush pilots who fly into remote areas . . . and dog mushing including four time Iditarod champion Susan Butcher's kennel.

Demonstrations on the river and/or shoreline of the Chena made for a nice relaxing experience. (By this time, I was ready for some passive activities, like floating down a lazy river and being lazy watching the world go by.)

The big feature stop on this tour is the Athabascan Village where the Chena and Tanana Rivers converge. Here we learned about their native subsistence lifestyle and how today, they try to retain and preserve their culture while also being part of a 21st century American society. Hunting, fishing and mushing are all part of their heritage on exhibit here. This was an actual stop where everyone got off the boat and received three short (10 minute) presentations. After that, we were free to explore for another 30 minutes or so.

Back on the Discovery III, we were treated with a sample of Capt. Jim's Smoke Salmon. While pretty good as a cracker spread, at $10/four ounce can (or three cans for $27) we felt that was a bit too rich for our blood. When we returned to the main dock, guests were encouraged to stop back in the gift shop to take advantage of their end of season specials or perhaps an ice cream cone. For us, dinner was on the agenda!

We sought out a Mexican restaurant and after wandering around Fairbanks for a while. Eventually we stumbled upon Gallo's next door to the Sam's Club on Illinois Ave. The food was very good. We were surprised, however, that you cannot purchase a pitcher of margaritas in Alaska. Go figure.

When we got back to our hotel room, we spent a quiet night watching a little TV before going to bed. I think I was fast asleep by 9:00pm, with David not far behind me. Unfortunately, there were no northern lights to see. Timing is everything with the aurora and in our case, we were leaving a couple of days too early for the early fall display that was spectacular by all local accounts (and photographs). Thanks to my friends Susan and Lara for sharing their images from Tuesday and Wednesday night via Facebook.

We were up early and on the road to the airport by 6:30am. The lines at the airport were horrendous . . . nearly 45 minutes to check our bags and another 20 at the TSA. We knew there was no way we'd make our scheduled 8:00am departure time. I think it was nearly 8:30am when we finally took off for Minneapolis.

Our travel home was really uneventful. David's brother Chris picked us up, and Miss Heidi was in the van too. She was happy to see us, as we were her.


  1. Well, at least you had $27 more when you left the gold panning,then when you went in! All in all, the vacation sounded wonderful!

  2. Touristy the mine visit may be, but fun ... we did this and the Discovery in 2001. I found both to be informative.