Sunshine with a mix of clouds greeted us on Tuesday, as we hit the road at 8 a.m. traveling to Fairbanks. We are back on the Alaska Highway, with great views of the Alaska Mountain Range and three of its high peaks: Hayes, Hess, and Deborah.
We stopped at Delta Junction, first visiting the Delta Meat and Sausage Co., where they give out free samples of game sausage, from reindeer to bison. Mmm, Mmm, good! And Mom bought me a bison steak! A bit pricy at $22/lb, but we all know I am worth it! LOL
Delta Junction is where the Alaska Highway ends, so we stopped at the official marker.
Across the street was the Sullivan Roadhouse. It was built in 1905 by husband and wife team John and Florence Sullivan to offer food and shelter to the weary traveler along the Valdez to Fairbanks Trail. It is the oldest original roadhouse in interior Alaska, and was physically moved not once, but twice! A really cool place worthy of a visit, chuck full of history and a collection of roadhouse artifacts.
We spotted 3 moose cows today, all about 50 miles outside North Pole!
One of three moose spotted in one day
Speaking of North Pole, I visited the Santa Claus House. Met with the Big Guy himself, giving him an early start on my Christmas list. I met all the reindeer as well—that is all but Rudolph. I learned that reindeer are actually just domesticated caribou, taken out of the wild and living in captivity! Unlike other members of the deer family, both boy and girl caribou/reindeer have velvety antlers, which they eventually shed. The males lose their antlers right after mating, but the females keep theirs on longer to protect their young.
Comet and Cupid
After settling in to our sites at Riverview RV Park, we ran a bunch of errands: Banking, food shopping, and getting our Alaska BOGO (Buy one get one free) Tour Saver Book.
We reaped the benefits of the tour saver book immediately by visiting the Museum of the North at the University of Alaska. The Museum had interesting, diversified exhibits. Plus I took a selfie with Otto the Bear, posted right on the Museum’s Facebook page!
We saw more reindeer/caribou on the university grounds, and stopped outside the Large Animal Research Station (LARS) to watch the muskoxen. And what a show they put on for us—ramming each other and bucking horns!
Muskoxen Bucking Horns
On Thursday, we boarded the Discovery III Riverboat for a 3-hour tour. No, not to a deserted island, but down the Chena River. Owned and operated by the Binkley family, their steamboating tradition dates back more than 100 years and five generations. This was another BOGO for us, but we all agreed it was well worth the full price of $62.95 each. In addition to an entertaining and interesting narrative, we were awed by a 1950 cub bush plane demonstration. We fawned over the sled dogs from Trail Breaker Kennels, owned by dog sled champion Dave Monson and his wife, Susan Butcher. Before succumbing to leukemia, Susan was a four time Iditarod champion and held the distinction of leading the only climbing party to reach the top of Denali via dog sled. We disembarked to visit an Athabascan fish camp, learning their customs and traditions for preparing for winter. The Athabascans inhabited these Interior lands for 10,000 years before they encountered Westerners just over 150 years ago. Their ingenuity and environmentalism are commendable. They only take what they need from the land. And they use every part of a fish or animal—nothing goes to waste.
1950 Cub Bush Plane
The late Susan Butcher, 4-time Iditarod winner
Mush Dog Demonstration
Athabascan Fish Camp
I learned that mush dogs are actually mixed breeds, just mutts! They are bred to take the best character traits from various breeds. Let me tell you, they did a great breeding job at Trail Breaker Kennels—these dogs were friendly, playful, and clearly loved mushing!
And did you know that 1 out of every 78 Alaskans has a pilot’s license? That is the highest per capita rate of all 50 states!
The ship narrator taught me that Fairbanks is the largest city in Interior Alaska, Interestingly, this area is an arctic desert! It only gets about 12 inches of precipitation annually (we experienced at least an inch of that during our stay here), but temperatures can dip to 40 degrees below zero. I entered an ice chamber to simulate winter in Interior Alaska. Trust me, 40 degrees below is pretty darn cold! I froze my whiskers off!
Look at the ice cycles on this stuff!
Wish our dining experiences were as good as our Riverboat tour. But the renowned Big Daddy’s BBQ, as seen on Guy Fieri’s Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives, was a big letdown. Their “award-winning” brisket and ribs were so dried out, it was like eating shoe leather! We learned there are new owners and the website menu has not been updated for recent changes. All the entrees incurred price increases and decreases in portions (from ¾ pound to ½ pound). One of the worst meals we have ever had. I’m generously giving it a 1-cheese rating, since the wheat beer and the onion rings were good. We also ate at Bobby’s Downtown, a restaurant that says its house specialties are prime rib, lamb, and traditional Greek dishes. But the prime rib was nothing special—in fact, it was a bit dry and not very tender. I’ve had far better and spent less buckaroos than $29.95 for 12 ounces. But the salad, rice, potato, and carrots were all generous portions and tasty.
We visited Pioneer Park, a quaint collection of historic cabins and homes from throughout the Fairbanks area. With its Railroad cars, carousel, and Pioneer Museum, it is a step back in time. And it is FREE! Also, if you want to boondock in the Fairbanks area, you can park in their spacious lot for just $12/night.
We toured the downtown area, including the First Family Sculpture, the Visitor Center which had terrific exhibits, and the Ice Museum. Fairbanks is the ice sculpting capital of the world, holding an international competition each March since 1980. For $15 you see a documentary film about the competition, receive an ice sculpting demonstration, and you get up close and personal to several carvings on display. Pretty cool—including in temperature! The ice chamber housing the carvings was 20 degrees below zero.
First Family Project
Rambling RV Rat Acting as Musher
We got out the motorcycles and headed up Steese Highway. Completed in 1927, the 161 mile road was built to service the Circle Mining District. It was in a creek along this highway route that an Italian immigrant, Felice Pedroni (whose name got shortened to Felix Pedro), discovered gold in 1902, starting the Fairbanks Gold Rush. We stopped to photograph a monument dedicated to this paisan.
Dad, Mike, and I went fishing at a nearby pond. Plenty of fish all around us, but not one little nibble—I really don’t want to talk about it. At least we got to see a moose cow share a fishing hole with us!
Mike and the Moose Cow
Dad made a second attempt at fishing for grayling while Mom and I hiked the dog sled trails near Ballaine Lake. We went a couple of miles but turned around pronto once we saw some bear scat.
We spotted bear scat and made ourselves scarce!
We hiked some trails at Creamer’s Field, a dairy farm turned migratory bird refuge. Saw lots of sand cranes, chickadees, and those God-forsaken Canadian geese! They are everywhere!
Sand cranes in takeoff formation
I just can’t get over how pretty the wildflowers are! Now there are wild Alaskan roses, or prickly roses, blooming in addition to the lupines and fireweed. We bought some fireweed jelly, a Made in Alaska product. Very light, almost honey flavored, very tasty. And they make jelly out of the rose petals as well.
It’s been tough getting accustomed to the constant daylight here in Alaska. Unable to sleep, Mom and I have been taking midnight walks in the campground and surrounding areas along the Chena River. Quite an experience.
Tonight it is raining, so I’ll be getting some much needed rest.
Talk to you soon!