Thursday, July 24, 2008

Alaskan Idyll, Days 34-36 Fairbanks

We like Fairbanks. It is growing, but still retains somewhat of a small town America feel. It’s also a university town (University of Alaska Fairbanks), which influences the feel of the place. On the way into town, we snapped the following photo, showing suburban Fairbanks, crowned by a beautiful fair weather cloudbank.

The Parks Highway Rolls Through Beautiful Suburban Fairbanks

Our first stop in Fairbanks was the old reliable, Fred Meyers, for gasoline and some groceries. This store, on the west end of town, used to be “the” big box store in Fairbanks. It now has been superseded by a much larger new Fred Meyers store on the other end of town, next to the new Wal-mart supercenter, the Lowes, the Home Depot, and the Circuit City. However, the old store is handy to the campground, and we like it.

Our campground in Fairbanks, River’s Edge, is one we have stayed at on several previous trips, and we like it too. It is a pretty and very well managed place located on the banks of the Chena River.

Fairbanks benefits from more than one base of economic support. Government is big here, with the university and the military. There also is some residual support from the old pipeline industry, and a new pipeline boom is in the offing, with the recently approved Denali Natural Gas Pipeline. Gold mining is also coming back, with the recent resurgence in the price of gold. Last time we were in Fairbanks, in 2005, the town was all in an uproar over the closure of Eielson Air Force Base, and the consequent economic impact. There’s less doom and gloom this trip.

The evening of our arrival we were bussed to Pioneer Park (formerly Alaskaland), where we were treated to a very tasty meal at the salmonbake, followed by a good show at the Palace Theater. Many of the buildings in Pioneer Park are from the original town, moved to the park to preserve them as the downtown ares developed and modernized

The salmonbake included three kinds of fish (salmon, cod, and halibut), plus roast beef for the non-fish eaters. The show featured four fairly talented players and a pianist who presented a succession of vaudeville style skits, all focused on some aspect of Fairbanks history and life. We’ve seen this show before, and enjoyed seeing it again.

Fairbanks Pioneer Park Salmonbake

Three Hungry Tourists

The Palace Theater in Fairbanks Pioneer Park

Theater Players “dramatize” Fairbanks Culture

The morning after our arrival we piled on a bus for a city tour, followed by a visit to the El Dorado Gold mine. The tour took us past an old Episcopalian Church, then to the downtown visitor’s center, on the Chena River at the core of old Fairbanks. The church is the oldest building in Fairbanks. The front half was destroyed by fire, but has been rebuilt. The rear half (the sanctuary) is original. Included in rebuilt part are several interesting stained glass windows depicting various aspects of Alaskan life. At the visitor’s center we saw more beautiful Alaskan flowers, and another interesting fence, featuring bird silhouettes.

Historic Episcopalian Church in Downtown Fairbanks

More Beautiful Flowere, Courtesy of the Midnite Sun

More Fence Art at the Fairbanks Visitor’s Center

The balance of our morning was spent at the El Dorado Gold Mine. Originally a working gold mine, this venue now mines the tourist pockets with demonstrations of historic mining techniques. The tour begins with a reproduction antique train ride through a reproduction mine tunnel, where the basics of rock mining were explained. We then rode past various pieces of antique mining machinery, arriving at a massive gift shop adjacent to a mining demonstration. The big attraction was free coffee and cookies in the gift shop.

Demonstration of Antique Mining Machinery at the El Dorado Gold Mine in Fairbanks

Lunch was at Chena’s, a nice restaurant adjacent to the campground. Following lunch we were scheduled to tour the University Museum, but we elected to postpone our visit until we were more rested. This excellent museum deserves a morning schedule placement.

Our second full day in Fairbanks was a free day, during which we had planned to visit the aforesaid museum. However, the day dawned sunny and bright. Since this was only the second suny day of our entire trip, we decided not to waste it on an indoors activity. Instead we drove to North Pole, a small town about 10 miles east of Fairbanks. In North Pole Kathy discovered, of all things, Santa’s workshop. She spent well over an hour in the Christmas shop, while Keith napped in the car.

Santa Claus at North Pole, Alaska

A Very Happy Camper at North Pole

Have You Been a Good Girl This Year?

Returning from North Pole, Kathy snapped another magnificent skyscape. We probably wouldn’t be so fascinated with these fair skies, if we only saw more of them.

Another Beautiful Sky Approaching Fairbanks

Our last full day in Fairbanks featured a ride on the Riverboat Discovery and our farewell dinner, which wil be described in a subsequent post.

No comments: